A couple years ago, I went through a period in my life where I listened to radio podcasts for eight hours, five days a week. I did this partly because I wanted to prepare for j-school by keeping up-to-date on the latest news and learning storytelling techniques but mostly because my job at the time was mind numbing and I didn’t want to lose the ability to think.
Spoken word is an art form that few people truly master. I have not and will not. I prefer a keyboard versus a mic. But some stories are more powerful when they are spoken rather than written. Learning to control the mic by stringing together words and sentences and pauses and breaths in a way that captures the audience can transform a story into an emotional, memorable moment, which is what all storytellers strive for.
No one does it better than Ira Glass and his team at This American Life. I will always remember sitting in the audience last May as they performed a live broadcast of their episode The Invisible Made Visible at NYU. It was David Rakoff’s last public appearance before he passed away from cancer. As Rakoff started to dance by himself, I sat watching, mesmerized, my heart beating just as fast as my friend’s. We, along with most of the audience, shed tears in the beauty of his words and his silent admission that he was near the end of his life. He died months later.
TAL also introduced us to comedian Tig Notaro, who would soon discover she had cancer. If you haven’t heard her legendary Largo set, check it out. Don’t forget your tissues. She courageously tells her story while mastering the art of combining comedy and tears together.
The ability to emotionally connect with strangers is what drew me to journalism and storytelling. While I’m not currently practicing the kind of journalism that I had hoped to (side note: journalism industry is not meant for those who can’t afford to take unpaid internships), I love escaping in the deep, intimate stories that strangers are willing to publicly share.
Here are some of my favourite stories:
This American Life, What Happened At Dos Erres
I first heard this on the D train heading to back to Harlem when I lived in NYC last year. I was tired and disappointed because I was chasing a story that was leading to nowhere. Then I heard the beginning of this episode. While I don’t think it’s fair to compare people’s lives because we all have different forms of personal pain, some stories can temporarily make your problems seem small in comparison to the devastation that other people suffer.
Other favourite TAL episodes:
Switched At Birth
Very Tough Love
Shouting Across the Divide
Def Poetry, Bassey Ikpi, “Apology to My Unborn”
The Moth, Nancy Finton “I Never Saw His Face”
Most StoryCorp are audio clips but they created animated stories and the following two are my favourites:
StoryCorps, “Danny and Annie”
StoryCorps, “John and Joe”