Category Archives: Podcasts

Obsessed with S-Town (Spoiler Free)

Spending time in Shittown was the best part of my utterly exhausting, challenging as hell week.

(I’m so not kidding. This week ground me into a psychological pulp by Monday night, had me up until 1:30 a.m. Wednesday working on a freelance assignment, peeing into a cup–no, there aren’t any surprises happening and everything is fine, thanks–and paying more than $1,000 total for two sets of car repairs within two days.)

So, yeah, this week Shittown was a fucking paradise.

If you’re a podcast junkie like me, you probably know that Shittown — or, S-Town, as it’s commonly known — is a new podcast from Serial and This American Life, hosted by Brian Reed.

And if you haven’t heard about it yet, chances are someone or several someones will tell you about it soon, because it’s the sort of thing that you have to talk about without specifics because you don’t want to be that asshole who spoils an amazing thing.

And S-Town is freaking amazing. It combines all the elements of excellent storytelling with dogged, investigative journalism. (Reed started reporting this story more than three years ago.) It evokes everything possible — love and hate, greed and kindness, sorrow and sex, depression and art — and starts with a compelling premise: an eccentric clock restorer in Woodstock, Alabama (“Shittown”) emails journalist Reed of “This American Life” and asks him to investigate a murder that’s been covered up in his corrupt town. They begin corresponding and talking at length on the phone and Reed eventually visits Woodstock only to discover there’s much, much more to this story than a murder (which would be fodder enough for a podcast, to be sure).

S-Town will make you laugh and cry, gasp and cringe — all within the same minute. It’s addictive listening — one of my coworkers was so engrossed she drove right past the exit she takes every day to get to our office. It’s completely immersive and its the kind of thing you have to talk about it with other people who have had the same experience. I told one Facebook friend that I felt like I needed a support group after listening to this. I’m completely obsessed with all things related to this story now.

Apparently me and my coworker aren’t alone; S-Town has been downloaded 10 million times since it was released on Tuesday.

If you’re into podcasts, this is well worth a listen. (Consider this your #trypod recommendation — all throughout March, podcast fans have been sharing our recommendations.)

 

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In Appreciation: Chez Pazienza (1969-2017)

At a moment when this world needs every voice of reason, every champion of quality journalism and every don’t-give-a-fuck resister of the current political regime we can muster up, we have lost Chez Pazienza, someone who was all of these things and then some.

If you’re not familiar with his work, Chez was a brilliant writer and author of Dead Star Twilight, an award-winning journalist and media producer, blogger, podcaster and much more. But first and foremost, he was a father, fiancé, son, and loved one of many others who are grieving his untimely passing. My deepest condolences go out to his family.

Through his writing and podcasting, those of us who enjoyed and appreciated his work felt like we knew him. That’s because of what Chez shared with us, of course–a hell of a lot, as it turned out, from the personal to the mundane–and we also knew how much Chez loved those who were most important to him.

Mourning someone you’ve never met is an odd thing. It feels voyeuristic, like you’re trespassing on someone’s private life. You don’t feel entitled to your sadness or in any standing to offer up a eulogy–yet through their presence on this earth, this person was still part of your life and had an impact on it. Which is why this post is intended solely to be an appreciation of and respect for Chez’s work and how it added to my life. Nothing more, nothing less.

I first discovered Chez’s work approximately a decade ago, more or less, through his blog Deus Ex Malcontent. If his wasn’t the first blog I’d ever read, it was one of them. His was the kind of writing I aspired to–fearless, insightful, no-holds-barred, sharp witted as hell. Chez’s talent was to make you, his reader, feel every emotion possible in a handful of words.

And that’s exactly what he did, time and time and time again, regardless if he was writing about politics or his personal struggles, music or the media. Within one sentence, you could laugh and then be angry, with plenty of cursing in between. That was the case with his pieces for The Daily Banter, of which he served as editor-at-large, as well as his podcasts with Bob Cesca on The Bob & Chez Show. His perspective was on-point, always, and precisely what we need right now.

Free of bullshit and full of anger, Chez did not mince words about the implications of the sinister machinations and horrific incompetence in The White House. His newsroom experience provided him with a perspective of the media — good and bad — that one can only get from having been in the the industry’s trenches. And in a year that claimed countless icons who defined our coming-of-age years, Chez always had a relevant unique angle that resonated with those of us Gen X’ers who have the same cultural markers and touchstones.

His listeners and readers knew this election affected him profoundly and deeply. Maybe we didn’t quite realize how much. In the immediate aftermath of the election, I reached out to Chez via Facebook to tell him how much I appreciated and agreed with his commentary. I never expected him to respond, but he did and I am grateful that we had that brief exchange to commiserate and for me to express how much I thought of his work.

None of us need any more reminders or Hallmark card platitudes of how life is too fucking short or how important it is to tell people we care about how much we appreciate them. We get it. If not, Chez’s death makes that abundantly clear.

What is also tragically clear is that without Chez Pazienza’s voice, we need to make ours count even more. To resist, to point out bullshit, to call foul, to take those perpetuating the many injustices that have become calling cards of this regime to task by speaking out. Chez knew how imperative that was and I feel there’s no better way to remember him and honor his work and life.

I’d like to think he would expect no less.

My most sincere condolences to Chez’s fianceé, his daughters, his family and friends. If you are inclined to contribute, a fund has been established to help with expenses towards a memorial service and anything remaining will go to his fianceé and children.


If you weren’t familiar with Chez’s work, here are some links…

The Daily Banter: http://thedailybanter.com/author/chez-pazienza/

Deus Ex Malcontent: http://www.deusexmalcontent.com
(among Chez’s very best posts were “The Grand Finale,” written in June 2013 one week after James Gandolfini’s death and “15 Years On: 9/11 in Two Parts”, written in September 2016.)

Dead Star Twilight 


…and here are some Internet tributes. (But read the Chez links first. Seriously.)

Goodbye (tribute to Chez by Bob Cesca of The Bob & Chez Show podcast, 2/28/2017)

My Friend Chez Isn’t Gone … He’s F*cking Everywhere (Bob Cesca, The Daily Banter)

The Internet Has Lost One of Its Most Distinctive Voices  (from Pajiba)

Journalism Lost a Giant on Saturday: A Tribute to Chez Pazienza (from The State Today)

RIP Chez Pazienza (from The Tentacles of Yesterday)

 

 

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Read-a-thon 2016: Update Post

Readathon - Day and Night

Hour 15 update: Still going strong. Mind you, I started the Readathon at Hour 7 and have had several interruptions (grocery shopping, making dinner) along the way but I’m pleased with how this is going. Almost halfway through Love Warrior, which is a great Readathon book — it’s a fast read.

Currently Reading:

love-warrior

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

Books Read: 1

youre-the-most-beautiful-thing-that-happened

You’re The Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, by Arisa White. It’s a poetry collection that I’ll be reviewing on the blog this Monday.

Short Stories: 2
“To the Moon and Back” by Etgar Keret
“Two Men Arrive in a Village” by Zadie Smith

Both of these were from The New Yorker podcast “The Author’s Voice” which features authors reading their short stories from that week’s issue.

Pages Read183

Time Spent Reading: 4.5 hours

Social Media: Twitter. That’s where most of my cheerleading seems to be happening. As usual, I’m going to need several days to go back and discover the new-to-me blogs and add them to my Feedly.

Food Consumption:
Breakfast – Toast, Strawberry/Banana Yogurt
Lunch – Hummus, tortilla chips and cheese stick
Dinner – Tomato Lentil Soup
Snacks – Dark Chocolate Square; Trail Mix
Beverages – Water, Coffee

Are you participating in the Readathon? How’s it going for you?

 

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sunday salon/currently …70/99

Sunday Salon 4

With less than a month until Labor Day — not to mention two weeks (!!!) before school starts — summer definitely is winding down. The breeze on the deck is starting to feel a little different, in the same way that the light looks with the shortening of days.

Summer’s impending farewell means that my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project now enters the home stretch. This is post #70 and I will confess to you that while I’m glad I embarked on this (and I have all full intentions to continue for the next 29 days), part of me will be glad to say goodbye — to this particular project that is, not the blog itself!   Although 70 days is about 69 days longer than I anticipated lasting, I’m ready to switch my attentions elsewhere — to an exciting writing project I’ve been making plans for and certainly more time to read, which I’ve really been missing. Yesterday I spent most of the afternoon just reading while The Girl was at an all-day Teen Comic-Con event yesterday at the library — and it felt so decadent.

Reliance, IllinoisReading // Yes, I’m still reading Reliance, Illinois.  At the rate I’m going, you’d think this book was a thousand pages long rather than 368.  (It just misses qualifying for the Big Book Summer Challenge being hosted by Sue at Book by Book…which, speaking of, I need to get moving on if I have any hopes of finishing a 400+ page book by Labor Day. I have my doubts, though. Fortunately I have a few books in my pile that will easily meet that requirement — and if I supplement it with the audiobook version, this might actually be doable.

The Literary Others - An LGBT Reading Event Oct 2016Speaking of reading challenges, this week Adam from Roof Beam Reader announced The Literary Others, An LGBT Reading Event that he’s hosting from October 1-31, 2016. I will definitely be participating in this one and will likely do a longer post with some recommendations of excellent books to consider.

Watching // Rather, what I’m not watching: the Olympics.  It sounds terrible, I know, but I really have no interest. And everyone who is watching seems to be complaining that it’s more commercials than Olympics, so it doesn’t sound like I’m missing much.

Cooking // Made overnight oats (a.k.a., refrigerator oats) for the first time this weekend.  I checked out a bunch of new cookbooks yesterday from the library in my elusive hope of finding some new dinner possibilities. I created what I thought was a healthy dinner tonight — “steak” fajitas (peppers, portabella mushrooms) over brown rice — and it turned out pretty lousy.

Listening // Still on my political podcast binge.  Best of the week:

The Bob and Chez Show “The Yokel Whisperer” (8/4/2016) (I honestly cannot imagine this election season without listening to Bob and Chez. Love them.)

The Bob and Chez Show “The Evel Knievel of Racism” (8/2/2016) The opening to this episode had me laughing so hard on Tuesday’s afternoon commute home from work. Such great stuff.

Katie Couric has a brand new podcast (seriously, who doesn’t have a podcast these days?)  and  her 7/29/2016 show “Frank Luntz: Behind the Polls” includes an interview with the longtime political pollster.

And, just to prove that I still listen to other things besides political commentary:

Fresh Air: Novelist Jay McInerney (8/1/2016) Jay McInerney discusses getting fired from The New Yorker, dating Rielle Hunter, and his new book Bright Precious Days.

Linking // 
Paul Krugman’s op-ed “Worthy of Our Contempt” in the New York Times (8/1/2016)
“For rank-and-file Republicans, it’s presumably about feelings … . And indulging your feelings at a time like this amounts to your dereliction of duty as a citizen.”

From NPR yesterday: “Khizr Khan Says He Would Live This Week A ‘Hundred Million Times’ Over”

And to end on a humorous note, Nicholas Mirello’s piece for McSweeney’s on “Marie Kondo’s Election-Changing Magic to Saving the United States of America.”

Hope you had a great weekend!

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #70 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

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sunday salon/currently … ‘bye, july (63/99)

Sunday Salon 4


“The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color.”
– Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting


Goodbye to July and hello to August. I need to get focused on back to school preparations — clothes shopping, easing back into the routine of being out of the house by 6:30, fitting in last minute appointments. I’m hoping beyond hope that this is an easier transition than last year.  It was difficult, to say the least, ushering in one of the worst school years ever.

Reading
Reliance, IllinoisMost of my reading during the past week was online. (See Links I Liked below.) It’s quite possible that I didn’t read one page of an actual book this week.  Wait — no, that’s not true. There was a poetry collection that wound up being a DNF.

For the majority of today, I tried to disengage a bit from all things online. I needed a break from the political discourse, which I’ve been rather immersed in (to say the least). I’m still reading Reliance, Illinois, a historical fiction novel set in 1874 with themes of women’s suffrage. It’s purely coincidental that I’m reading this now in the midst of all this election craziness, but it is rather fitting.

Five books finished this month, which sounds impressive but most were pretty short.

The Man Booker Prize longlist has been announced! I always want to read all the titles, but instead I live vicariously through Nomadreader  and Simon of Savidge Reads, both of whom are my go-to sources for book prize news and reviews.

Writing
July has been an inspiring writing month for me. We met Judy Blume at an author event on July 12, a childhood dream come true.  Then, this past Tuesday, The Girl and I attended Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures Made Local event with three of Pittsburgh’s young adult authors — Jonathan Auxier, Nick Courage, and Siobhan Vivian. The Girl is an enthusiastic fangirl of Siobhan’s, and I felt bad that we couldn’t get Jonathan’s and Nick’s books to be signed too.  (We have them out from the library, so I’m guessing the guys will be OK with that.)  I still need to blog about both events.

Listening
My podcast listening was almost all politics related this week. I recently discovered The Bob & Chez Show with Bob Cesca and Chez Pazienza.  They present a fantastic balance of humor, commentary, and solid information that I love.  This week’s episodes (“Homegrown Demagogues, 7/28/2016” and “Trump Putin 2016 7/26/2016” were great recaps of the DNC goings-on and everything else regarding this crazy campaign.

Links I Liked

Op-ed in today’s Washington Post by Ghazala Khan responding to Trump’s comments on why she didn’t speak at the Convention. Ghazala Khan: Trump Criticized My Silence. He Knows Nothing About True Sacrifice.”

For This Republican, Never Trump Means “I’m With Her” (Medium) Caroline McCain, granddaughter of John, writes an honest, reflective piece about family loyalty, the Republican party, third-party candidates, and her decision to back Hillary.

Hillary Makes History and Wears It, Too (New York Times) – There was historical symbolism behind Hillary Clinton wearing all white to accept the nomination for President of the United States. Not your typical fashion article.

Gail Collins: From Bloomers to Pantsuits (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) – I was thinking about Gail Collins’ book American Dolls while watching Hillary Clinton give her acceptance speech. This article was a good reminder.

Blogging …
99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is the 63rd post of my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project, and like the end of summer, I can see the end in sight.  Only 36 more posts to go.

 

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becoming wise, in the body of the world (31/99)

You know I’m a podcast junkie.  One of my favorites is “On Being” with Krista Tippett. I don’t always catch every episode but I enjoy her conversations immensely, even when I’ve never heard of her guest. (Those can be some of my favorite episodes.)  I like how Krista  — she carpools with me to and from work, so we’re on a first name basis — asks thoughtful questions that produce insightful answers. Her voice is so resonant and calming, and I just feel better after listening to her, especially after a long day.

She launched “Becoming Wise” in March, a new podcast based on her recently-published book Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living.  (I have this checked out from the library now and it’s among the books I really want to get to this holiday weekend.)  At an average of 10 minutes each, “Becoming Wise” is much shorter than “On Being” which makes it easy to catch up on several at a time, as I’m doing (although not in chronological order).

Episode #15 of Becoming Wise (“I Feel, Therefore I Am”) featured playwright, performer, and activist Eve Ensler.  Now, I happen to think Eve Ensler is one of the most powerful and influential women on the face of the Earth. Her work resonates deeply with me as it has a significant personal meaning to my life.

In this episode of “Becoming Wise,” Eve echoes the themes of many of Krista Tippett’s guests as she talks about being connected with the world.

“How in our daily lives are we connecting with ourselves and everything around us? Because that’s where real, energetic transformation comes from.”

In the Body of the WorldIt’s a theme that Eve explores in detail with her memoir In the Body of the World, which is such a powerful book. (I listened to this on audio two years ago and it has stayed with me ever since.) It’s described as “a visionary memoir of separation and connection – to the body, the self, and the world.”

That is an understatement.

This is a cancer memoir and as one would expect from Eve Ensler, it kicks cancer’s ass. It is honest and raw. (Again, this is the creator of The Vagina Monologues we’re talking about here. You want bravery and telling-it-like-it-is?  Eve Ensler, poster child, right there.)

From the publisher’s description:

Playwright, author, and activist Eve Ensler has devoted her life to the female body—how to talk about it, how to protect and value it. Yet she spent much of her life disassociated from her own body—a disconnection brought on by her father’s sexual abuse and her mother’s remoteness. “Because I did not, could not inhabit my body or the Earth,” she writes, “I could not feel or know their pain.”

But Ensler is shocked out of her distance. While working in the Congo, she is shattered to encounter the horrific rape and violence inflicted on the women there. Soon after, she is diagnosed with uterine cancer, and through months of harrowing treatment, she is forced to become first and foremost a body—pricked, punctured, cut, scanned. It is then that all distance is erased. As she connects her own illness to the devastation of the earth, her life force to the resilience of humanity, she is finally, fully—and gratefully—joined to the body of the world.

Here’s a quote from In the Body of the World that I loved.

“Love was something you succeeded or failed. It was like a corporate activity. You won or lost. People loved you and then they didn’t…. I had failed at love or the story I had bought about love… I was reaching at love , but it turns out love doesn’t involve reaching. I was always dreaming of the big love, the ultimate love, the love that would sweep me off my feet or ‘break open the hard shell of my lesser self’. The love that would bring on my surrender. The love that would inspire me to give everything. As I lay there, it occurred to me that while I had been dreaming of this big love, this ultimate love, I had, without realizing it, been giving and receiving love for most of my life.

The life I was living was a life of love.”

Seems like it still is.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #31 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project.

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sunday salon/currently: the waiting and reading room

Sunday Salon banner

Finally, some sun. Although it’s cooler than I would prefer (I’m wearing a long-sleeved shirt AND a cardigan), I can’t resist the chance to sit outside on the deck after all the cloudy and damp days we’ve had this spring.  Like all good things, it’s probably not going to last; I heard it was raining at the Pirates game (PNC Park is within a half hour from here, depending on traffic and construction and whatnot).

It’s really something how the weather can have such an impact on one’s mood. Mine has definitely been affected. It doesn’t help that I’ve been spending much of the past several weeks in doctors’ waiting rooms, probably some of the most depressing places on Earth. I’m convinced the banality of the dreck that passes for morning TV has embedded itself into my brain. Seriously, I have no idea how the hell people watch that crap.

(Things are, physically-speaking, okay. Nobody needs to be alarmed. It’s follow-ups and regularly-scheduled appointments and answer-seeking still in progress.)

Of course, I never go to any of these appointments without my own reading material, so the positive side to all this schlepping and waiting around is that I’ve gotten through a few books, including some DNFs (Best American Poetry 2013 and Burning Down the House by Jane Mendelsohn, which I really wanted to love but didn’t).

The notable ones, though, have been stellar.

The Best American Essays 2015

A fantastic collection of essays — most by writers who are well-known (Hilton Als, Roger Angell, Justin Cronin, Meghan Daum, Anthony Doerr, David Sedaris, Zadie Smith, Rebecca Solnit, Cheryl Strayed, and others).  These aren’t gratuitous inclusions; this collection is a winner and these essays will stay with you.

The Art of Description

Being the huge fangirl that I am, I’ll read anything by Mark Doty. This little book was on display in the library’s poetry room (yes, we are lucky ducks here in Pittsburgh … our library has an extensive poetry section as well as its own room, which is rather grand). The Art of Description: World Into Word is a must for every writer. Doty examines description as part of poetry and the result is akin to being in a writing class with a master.

Tales of Accidental Genius

Yesterday I started Tales of Accidental Genius, a short story collection by Simon Van Booy.  I’ve read three of these and so far, so good. I would describe this collection as quietly surprising. (Short stories are, incidentally, great choices for waiting room reading material.)

LaRose

And finally, I was lucky enough to snag a copy of LaRose by Louise Erdrich from the library, her newest novel.  I’m engrossed in this story about two families who are also neighbors; during a hunting accident, one neighbor kills the other’s five year old son.  To atone for this, he sends his own five year old son to live with the bereaved parents and to be raised by them.

Listening (Audiobooks) …

Sin in the Second City

It’s been awhile since I’ve listened to an audiobook (this will be only my second this year),  but when I saw Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott at the library this week, I realized that would qualify for #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks since I have the print version. This is a nonfiction account of Ada and Minna Everleigh, sisters and proprietors of the Everleigh Club, a famous high-end brothel in Chicago during 1900-1911. The audiobook is great. (I’m fascinated with their keen marketing sense and financial savvy!)

Listening (Podcasts) … 
For months now, the Pocket Casts app on my phone has been acting strange. As a result, I haven’t been listening to many podcasts.  I think I figured out the issue and was able to catch “The Accidental Gay Parents #3,”  and “The Accidental Gay Parents #4,” episodes #80 and #81 from The Longest Shortest Time. LST is one of my favorite podcasts and I love this series and this family.

My go-to source for all-things-podcast is The Timbre, a fantastic site. I suppose that should be past-tense, because the site’s creators announced that they are closing up shop. Their reasons are understandable but I’ll certainly miss seeing their recommendations in my news feed.

Linking

PeaceBang’s post about “Outliving a Parent” resonated with me.

For reasons I can’t and won’t get into here, Dani Fleischer’s essay in The Washington Post (“Friends grow apart all the time but we rarely talk about it”) is very much something I’m experiencing right now. (And yes, I am aware of the irony of that statement, thankyouverymuch.)

This week was National EMS Week and my friend John (who writes the popular Pittsburgh blog Ya Jagoff!) explains why this is so important.   Because of our experience on Thanksgiving, we know all too well how valuable EMTs are and I’m so grateful they were there when we needed them. And thank you, John, for your service as an EMT to our community.

My Listen to Your Mother castmates have been writing some incredible stuff lately. Those pieces deserve their own post. Look for that later this week.

And now it’s raining. Of course it is.

Back inside I go.

 

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