Posted by: Mark Nielsen | February 5, 2009

This American Life: On the Mend

Lot’s going on with me, internally at least. Some very hard, some really good. Yet I can’t really go into specifics until I process some things, figure them out privately.

So instead, I will use one of my default tactics: pointing readers toward a recent source of inspiration, as I try to mine the soil of my life and the American cultural landscape for some gems that may be for *us*, not just for me.

I’d have to start by steering you in the direction of “This American Life”, a “spoken word” radio show on NPR that I’ve listened to on and off for years. In listening closely, this show has sometimes even healed something within me, helping me genuinely understand the world and my place in it a bit better. 

Syndicated out of WBEZ in Chicago, TAL is essentially a storytelling show, disguised as a newsmagazine. People telling amusing or deeply moving first-person (usually) narratives about what they do, why they do it, where they’ve lived, and what they’ve experienced –from age six all the way up to sixty and beyond.

Recent episodes have featured stories on the historical roots of the present financial crisis (in layman’s terms… so refreshing and clarifying), on a battle between department store Santas (I’ve been a Santa, back in 2001 –some of my experiences made it into this blog awhile back, and may see publication someday), on one of the other acts doomed to appear on the Beatles’ chaotic but groundbreaking first Ed Sullivan appearance in 1964 (the same week my wife was born), and on two hipster foreign aid workers out of Boston who worked in Iraq, just on a lark (my past work with an Egyptian organization offered similar blessings and challenges).

If you’ve never heard the show, I highly recommend it. Excellent writers like David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell and John Hodgman are frequent contributors, but at other times it’s just regular Joes (except NOT Joe the Plumber… wish that idiot would just GO AWAY already…). If your local NPR-affiliate doesn’t carry This American Life, or it’s on at an inconvenient time, it is also available as a free podcast, or streaming on your computer.

Lastly, if you listen close and often, and really let it sink in, I can almost guarantee you’ll be changed by the experience. Because any genuine confrontation with reality, and acceptance of people as they are, warts and all, can only be a good thing for the soul.

And as for you cynics, or jaded, stuck-in-a-rut readers who don’t believe adults can change their core selves very much… well, as my mom used to say, go jump in a lake! Because you’re wrong!


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