Milchtoast

Chronicles of a writer abroad

Recommendation: This American Life

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A pattern referred to as “dream lag” has been extensively documented by scientists, as well as laypeople interested in their dream lives. Put simply, dream lag refers to a time delay in dream content. It explains why you dream that you’re still home while you’re on vacation, and then, after you go home again, your dreams “catch up” and you begin dreaming that you’re in the place you were a week ago. The unconscious mind apparently takes some time to chew on things before it spits them out again, if you’ll excuse the rough metaphor.

I find the dream lag phenomenon to be intensely interesting, and I thought I’d share that in addition to still having many a dream set in Canada rather than in my new life here, I’m also noticing a similar lag in my awareness of cultural things – that is, I’m being exposed to North American things that I never knew about while living in North America. For example, a newfound friend in Switzerland, herself originally from Illinois, said, “you should watch Ira Glass’ youtube series on creative endeavors — it’s really good.” Who is Ira Glass — am I supposed to know? I wondered. I watched the videos. The content was really good, and the creator/narrator of the videos — Glass himself — was a person with an interesting voice, and a really compassionate attitude towards people trying to find their way in fields such as radio (though his advice was broad enough to also apply to writers, and people in a whole range of other endeavours).

I wanted to learn more about Glass and his career in radio, and what I found out is that his show, This American Life, has been running since 1995 and is kind of a big deal, with a lot of listeners and a number of awards to its credit. I started listening to it on the internet right away, and found that the show has everything I look for in entertainment media (and everything that’s often hard to find in entertainment media): intelligence, outside-the-box thinking, bookishness, irreverence, and a kind of off-beat, indie vibe that is maintained despite its popularity.

I have been downloading weekly, hour-long podcasts of the show from itunes (for free; you can also listen to episodes for free on the show’s website), and each week, as I’m downloading, I see the show’s topic in the title, and I try to imagine what their treatment of it will be. For example, last week’s title was “Oh, you shouldn’t have!” — the topic was gifts, and especially how they can inspire reactions other than the intended ones. I was somewhat let down, thinking that the topic wasn’t that interesting — we’d probably just hear about a lot of unwanted socks and sweaters that had people had received from their well-meaning relatives. But the show went far, far beyond what I expected on this topic.

The 60 minutes of This American Life that air each week are typically divided into three or more stories, or “acts,” all of which touch on the week’s themes. For the gift-giving show, the acts involved an examination of the 1950s TV show, “This is Your Life,” and its assumption that telling someone’s story in a public forum is a gift to them; a story about an Israeli woman who gave extra medical marijuana to a patient (later revealed to be an undercover officer) who begged for it; an interview with a woman who discusses the very interesting practice of Tarof in Iran (a type of hospitality that involves forcing things on others whether they say they want them or not); and an actor reading the short story “What Of This Goldfish Would You Wish?” by author Etgar Keret. This episode was so absorbing and thought-provoking that I decided I had to spread the word about it. If you haven’t listened to the show before, but I have piqued your curiosity about it, this episode would be a great place to start (note: this week’s wasn’t hosted by Ira Glass, who was away, but by Nancy Updike, another great radio journalist).

I have to admit that, as much as I enjoy the show, it’s a little hard for me to sit and listen to radio: I’m just used to enjoying it on the move. So I save This American Life for one of my longer runs each week (the podcasts would also be great for while you’re cooking, driving, biking, etc). As I run and listen to them, Chicago, which is where the show is broadcast from, seems suddenly so near. Funny how going away brings you close to the place you left in certain ways. I’m so happy that this blog has the same ability to bring us closer, despite the distance that lies between us.

Schönes Wochenende!

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