This Podcast Will Mess. You. Up.

10 best podcasts for thinking, feeling, curious people

The Podcast You Must Add To Your Feed (If You Can Handle It)

And the podcast is: Strangers.

I am selective about the podcasts I listen to, so listen regularly to only a handful. Since they only come out weekly, I always feel a little starved for good, new content.  There are a million great podcasts out there, but to hold my attention you’ve got to tell me compelling stories, ideally in longform narrative, and the more complex and human the story, the better I like it (and likely the more messed up I’ll be about it). I rarely listen to interview shows.

But Strangers man. This is freaking one complex show, dude. Whoa. I listened to three episodes tonight as I was doing other things, which is super normal for me. But twice, I stopped what I was doing and just listened because I was so gripped by the story. And I mean I stopped for like several minutes and just listened. Wow. I don’t know how I’ve never heard of this before (because that means my circles aren’t talking about it and–what are you all doing then?) but brava, Lea and your team. Incredible. #trypod [also, I just read the about page and Strangers was featured on Sampler, which I loved and listened to every week (aside: yo, Brit! When’s your new show coming out?) but still somehow I only found this show tonight, scrolling through the top charts. I don’t know.]

But there are so, so many good podcasts, guys. Here is my top 10:

1. This American Life of course. Love Ira. Love that they produce such high quality, interesting, thoughtful stories time and time again. I’m trying to think of my favorites because there have been so many over the years. #304 Heretics maybe has had the greatest influence on me, and particularly in college. This part especially

And I thought, well, I’ll be. That’s weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. That’s where the pain comes from. We do that to each other, and we do it to ourselves. Then I saw emergency rooms. I saw divorce court. I saw jails and prisons. I saw how we create Hell on this planet for each other. And for the first time in my life, I did not see God as the inventor of Hell.

Oh, and this little video called The Cameraman, that I believe comes from their TV show and not the podcast. I still don’t quite know what to make of it, except to observe, as so many others have, that social media and cell phone cameras and our technology and means of communication affects us. Badly. Not always and certainly not simply, but there it is.

2. Reply All always entertaining, and incredibly thought-provoking, it is my favorite show. I love the hosts, and they help me understand the world around me a little better each time I listen. Thursdays are the hardest day of the week for me so what an upper it is to download their new episodes each week.

Probably my favorite episode is #56 Zardulu because what is reality dude? But I am most grateful to them for Email Debt Forgiveness Day.

Actually, I just remembered this and half to mention it: I first heard the show at a podcast festival in 2016, and did not like it. Like, the festival was at NYU so it was full of college students and when these guys came out, the audience went nuts! I don’t even remember the episode they did that night, but I remember those cheers being a persuasive recommendation and I’ve been listening ever since. Give it a shot.

3RadioLab. Words is probably the best episode I’ve ever heard, or at least my most listened-to episode. It is so fascinating. It features: deaf kids learning how to communicate but without ever being taught to! Super fascinating.

Now that I’m thinking about all this, it’s very easy to pick out the episodes of this show that have messed me up. I even posted one of the most beautiful stories already.

Reasonable Doubt, which I’ve never been able to listen to again because it so terrified me (and also, what happened to the man in the second segment? Crises of faith are tough, yo, and I’m curious about his journey.). And I never have felt compelled to watch Making A Murderer because I think all I need to know is in this episode. But also, don’t you agree that that woman’s gut was totally right?? Like maybe it was applied to the wrong situation but she felt something wrong about him and rightly so! I nearly wrote in and was like, Lady! Keep trusting your gut!

The Living Room is not originally a RadioLab story but that’s how I heard it (it’s from Love + Radio) and oh, it hurts. It’s so beautifully told, making it that much sharper. Ah.

4. The RobCast. Even when he talks too much, which is basically every time, he’s saying good stuff. I’ve quoted it here twice before. And he publishes on Mondays, so it’s kind of the best way to start the week.

5. Happier. Practical, insightful, and just varied enough to keep me returning week after week. Plus, Gretchen Rubin sounds like such a mom, right? But in the best way. I’m like, I can handle life. It’s crazy but doable, and I can even be happy.

6. Dear Hank and John. Because I have a thing for John Green, but also because it’s super funny and nerdy and just a good feeling show for the middle of the week.

7My Favorite Murder. Good stories, hilarious hosts, but also it scares me and has made me see my own world and life in a different way. Like, a more vulnerable way. I’ve learned to say Eff Politeness! (which is quite a polite rendition of the actual catchphrase) which has been very helpful. But I had no idea how many people were murdered in their homes so I’m a good deal less secure in the world, and also terrified to have any kids ever. So. Maybe I don’t recommend this one?

8. & 9. Serial and Invisibilia are two of my other favorites, but the seasons, man. I’m just too impatient for seasons. Listen to them anyway, and at this point you can binge listen to both of their past seasons while waiting impatiently for their 3rd seasons to drop.

10. The Memory Palace. I don’t listen to this one regularly anymore because I was so in love with the original microform stories (so to speak). But oh, Nate, you know how to craft a story. I recommend the first 37 (they start on this page) because those are what first drew me into the show.

I will say that I’ve recommended this to half dozen people, none of whom took to it. I don’t know if they were expecting something else or they just didn’t like the feel of the show (?) but each one of these first few dozen episodes is under 5 minutes, so they’re super quick, but really—what’s that word that means it gets you right in the heart? I don’t know. I’m just saying: expect vignettes. Radio vignettes. And tell me what you think.

What are your favorite podcasts? What am I missing out on?

Monday Wisdom | Authenticity, Pain, & Magic

Each of us today is obligated to live our authenticity. And if we do–as our spirituality says, as Jung writes about–when we try to live our authenticity, doors will open where other people see walls. Miracles will take place. Resources will show up that we never imagined could come our way. There is magic and mystery in the cosmos but it all is dependent on us living the person that Spirit intends us to be. And when that has to be lived in the face of others’ criticism, it’s painful, I know. And we need to do it. And everything will be okay.

In fact, everything will be more than okay. It’ll be great.

From RobCast #137 with Alexander Shaia. Quote begins 50:25.

Three Pieces for A Wise Life

To ponder: What do you do when you have nothing to do? And other questions taken from a mini-course for college students designed to help them decide their majors and the lives they want to lead. But really they’re good questions to consider at any age.

To hear: The RobCast

My uncle once told me that you have to have something to look forward to each day because if you don’t, it’s going to be a crappy day.

Happily for all of us, the RobCast is released every Monday morning.

Rob Bell, creator and host of RobCast, is a pastor, and I am not in the habit of listening to pastors in my free time (or, really, my church time). But I dig Rob Bell. His stories are often straight from the Bible but though you may have heard them a thousand times, you may as well have never heard them before.

#14 You Are Always With Me And Everything I Have Is Yours
This iteration of the Prodigal Son isn’t about sin and repentance, but transactional faith, inherent worth, and the stories we believe about ourselves.

#45 Grief Loss Joy
This is an interview with an expert on grief but, in a year of loss, I found this interview comforting and insightful.

Putting the Fun in Funding

putting the fun in funding happy baby in air

This American Life AND Serial on Pandora!

Not only is this uncharacteristically awesome news for a Monday afternoon, but this is also what makes This American Life (TAL) so compelling: it is constantly pushing the boundaries of radio.

Ira Glass pretty much invented the sound of modern radio; early last year they announced they’d be parting with their long-time distributor PRI to distribute it themselves! They taught us all how to listen to podcasts, a tutorial which we’ve no doubt to thank for the wild success of their spinoff show Serial (they launched a spinoff show! ) which went on to set the record for first podcast to reach 5m downloads  and, according to the above-linked NYT article has been downloaded over 100 million times(!) making it the Most Popular Podcast Of All Time.

The most interesting part of all this though is the business behind it. TAL has been innovative in funding practically since their inception. Ira Glass tells in this interview with The Public that in the program’s first year, they made these funny little radio spots for stations to play during their pledge drives–but if the station accepted the spot, they had to accept the show. He says about half of the stations that carried them the first year did it because of those spots.  So, TAL doesn’t do pledge drives. Once a year (if necessary, which it wasn’t last year) they take a minute of air time to ask their listeners to contribute to the show. That’s it! Just once! And it works incredibly well. Serial came into being because of a surplus of TAL money, and is able to continue thanks to its listeners.

So I’m really pleased with the announcement that these two amazing, creative, innovative, thought-provoking, compelling, interesting shows are going to be widely available. I’m even more pleased that those geniuses at TAL have devised yet another way to make public radio not just sustainable but profitable. It means they can devote more resources to producing more amazing work.

There’s a greater application here, and it’s one I hope we see more and more of: creative people getting paid their worth. We’ve seen it over and over again with This American Life. I’ve seen it with vloggers like Hank Green and his numerous spinoffs. I love seeing people in industries–especially creative, but also philanthropic–coming up with clever ways to make their work profitable. Maybe one day we’ll figure it out with education.