The biggest thing I’ve learned in the two-plus years since I graduated college is how little I know about, really, anything. And this isn’t meant to be self-deprecating. The world is just so big and old and complicated that what little bits I know are pinpricks of light on a canvas the size of the universe.
Take, for example, the realization that came to me during today’s workout:
All of the despicable things we heard Donald Trump say in that recording from 2005 — that is exactly the sort of talk and treatment that enslaved African-American women endured in silence from their owners. For centuries.
I knew about slave owners raping their female slaves, but I’d never thought of it in those terms before. And it took more than a week since hearing those comments to draw the connection between 21st century misogyny and historic brutality toward women legally rendered less than human. Suddenly, what those women endured is more real to me, more terrifying, more bewildering.
I tend to go through phases. I’ll create for a while, write a lot (relatively), squeeze out my soaked sponge on some small corner of the world. Then, I’ll withdraw — sometimes, out of fear that I’ll break something; sometimes, because I’ve run out of things to say. In all cases, because (whether I know it or not) I need to listen. I have so much more to learn than I have to teach.
Lately, I’ve been in sponge mode, trying to soak up as much as possible. Over the past month, I’ve subscribed to a minimum of two podcasts each week, signed up for so many TinyLetters and email newsletters that MailChimp makes me wait five minutes before subscribing again.
I’m immersing myself in information, some of it wrapped up in stories, narratives that flow beautifully from beginning to end, but just as much of it rendered loosely, unpolished. Most of the podcasts I’m listening to are conversations, ones I wish I could be part of. Much of what I’m reading is short, but thought-provoking. Much of it is opening doors into corridors I’ve hardly known were there.
Podcasts I’m listening to:
The Limit Does Not Exist: Dedicated to the intersections and overlaps of so-called right and left brain subjects and disciplines, this Forbes podcast places hosts Christina Wallace and Cate Scott Campbell in conversations with individuals whose lives and professions don’t fit in a tidy little box. Wallace and Campbell’s voices are sometimes too conscious of the microphone (that is, overly intoned), but it’s worth muscling through that audible discomfort to hear their conversations with people who can’t be limited to one adjective.
The Moth Podcast: Drawing stories from its live storytelling event series, The Moth Podcast is all true stories told by the people who lived them. They’re funny and shocking, heart wrenching and, at times (as all good stories are), uncomfortable. Not necessarily G-rated, but neither is life.
Kill Fee: Targeted toward writers who are trying to make it in the magazine world, especially as freelancers, Kill Fee is a new podcast by Jason Fagone, a freelance writer based in the Philadelphia area. Fagone interviews writers and editors with the goal of mining advice for those of us who have no idea how people actually write freelance for a living — and he doesn’t shy away from questions regarding dollars and cents.
Timothy Keller podcast: Listening to sermons as I make dinner is now a thing that I do (thanks, Mom). Timothy Keller is my favorite prominent pastor and the only one I listen to semi-regularly. He’s dedicated to orthodox Christianity, but not in a fundamentalist “I’m-right-you’re-wrong” way. His teaching brings fresh light to familiar Scripture passages, and he effectively employs cultural works (like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) to expound the text, while weaving in the full biblical story of redemption. (His books are pretty good, too.)
What I’m reading:
Crime Syndicate, a TinyLetter by Michelle Dean and Reyhan Harmanci: Crime Syndicate is a weekly newsletter that shares bizarre true crime stories that simultaneously make you wonder what the heck is this world I live in? and how do people get like that? and what would I be like if I were in their shoes? On the surface, the newsletter is just weird stories, but there’s more thought to it than that. You’ll learn things on a superficial, factual level, but if you allow a little reflection, you’ll also be pushed to acknowledge these criminals’ humanity. A TinyLetter is an email newsletter, so unless you subscribe to Crime Syndicate yourself, the only way you’ll be able to read it is if someone (like me) forwards it to you.
Adventuress, a TinyLetter by Rachel Syme: This one hasn’t really started, yet. Syme sent out the first one this week — a beautiful essay reflecting on our tendency to mythologize places and people and relationships, rather than facing the textured reality that they’re more complicated than that — but this isn’t what Syme plans the letter to be. The plan is for each edition to “romp through the life of a woman who is now dead.” My recommendation comes based on Syme’s writing in the first installment. Great sentences, unexpected but precise word choice. I’m excited to read more.
What I’ve read (outside of the longform/Good Reads vein):
Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr.: How I’ve never read this until now, I have no idea. It should be required reading for anyone participating in the national conversation around race. I might start reading it on a yearly or semi-monthly basis. Martin Luther King Jr. . . . man, we’ve simplified him so much that the general understanding of him is nothing more than a stick figure drawing when propped up next to the real man. This letter is simultaneously a philosophical treatise, cultural commentary, core-shaking challenge, and work of art.
The Sentimentality Trap by Benjamin Myers: Along the same lines of oversimplifying things to make them easier to embrace, this essay incisively criticizes the flowery, easy artwork the Christian community too often applauds. “Forgetting the direction toward honesty, many Christians seem to believe that what Scripture means by ‘pure’ and by ‘lovely’ is merely the pleasant and the naive, the Hallmark Channel, not the reality of a world in need of redemption.”
Annotation Tuesday: Brooke Jarvis and “The Deepest Dig”: I recommended “The Deepest Dig” in a Good Reads post over a year ago, so this was fun. It’s an interview with Brooke Jarvis, who wrote The California Sunday Magazine piece, and it walks through the whole story, asking Jarvis about different aspects of the reporting and writing process. (And, even better, it’s part of an ongoing Nieman Storyboard series, with an interview like this published each week.)
What are you learning?