Curiosity Journal, Life Lessons

Truth / Ode to Odinaka

My conversation with Felonious Munk, Calvin Evans and Odinaka Ezeokoli on curiosity, comedy and the power of observation was supposed to air today on WERA 96.7FM “Radio Arlington” but clearly the Christmas Elves were in a post-holiday lull and got up to some serious mischief, so you’ll have to hear the show on Friday, December 29 at 2:30pm ET here — and, after broadcast, the uncut version here. But in the meantime, there’s this…

Odinaka walked beside me down the corridor. “The word I would use is truth,” he said.

Odinaka, whose name replays with unexpected musicality like a staccato mantra in my head.

Odinaka, of the sinewy, elastic frame, equal parts expressive and exuberant.

Odinaka had hit upon something.

I had asked if he saw the observations that are central to comedy as an expression of curiosity. “That’s not the word I would have used,” he replied, “But I think it works.”  The conversation moved on. But he held onto the question and I’m glad he did.

It’s not the word I would have used, but I think truth works.

So: curiosity is the search for truth.

Patricia Hunt hopes to teach her students to find it among the stories masquerading as news. Writers Laura McBride and Tom King strive for some version of it in their own stories. So does Detective Sara Bertollini.

Which begs the question: if curiosity is truth seeking, what’s its future in a world that is less and less so inclined?

No wonder I’m out there making the case. Choose to seek truth.

Odinaka, self-described loving conscience and comedic sculptor.

Odinaka, younger, perhaps a little more deferential, a little less outspoken, proved to be the poet among them. Too much of him ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor. You’ll have to listen to the uncut version to appreciate what others will have missed.

Odinaka may get less air time in the conversation on curiosity, comedy and observation, but he’s the one who lives on in my imagination.

Odinaka, literally “in the hands of God,” for me now synonymous with truth.

 

Back Story, Choose to be Curious

Stand in the Place Where You Live

According to StoryCorps founder Dave Isay, “Listening closely is simple. When you’re curious, treat people with respect, and have just a little courage to ask the important questions, great things are going to happen.” I like to think it was a comparable curiosity that inspired this week’s show on oral history.

The Local ShopI started with ‘oral history’ as a concept, wanting to talk with someone who’d done work in this form of storytelling — and then I had the good fortune to be approached by Valeria Gelman, a graduate student in urban affairs and planning at Virginia Tech who, together with other students, had just completed a series of interviews with legacy businesses in Arlington.

Not only was an ideal Choose to be Curious episode born of that conversation, so too was a whole new show on WERA. The Local Shop debuts this weekend, featuring the stories collected by Valeria and her classmates. Before she hits the airwaves in her own program, I sat down with her for mine…

Listen to Choose to be Curious #43: Oral History with Valeria Gelman.

Now you can subscribe to Choose to be Curious on iTunes.

Being attentive to the stories around us is a central theme in Choose to be Curious. I like to come at it from all kinds of angles. One of my favorite was the smart, playful approach of Graham Coreil-Allen. A social practice artist and self-described “radical pedestrianist” in Baltimore, Graham leads tours that encourage us to dig into the stories of the people and structures and history around us. He was an obvious, delicious pairing with Valeria…

Listen to Curiosity to Go, Ep. 16: Stand in the Place Where You Live.

I grew up with my father’s refrain always in my ears: “If you change your point of view, you will see something new.” And so it is with people, and their stories, and the places in which we live, and the spaces we build for ourselves. If we change our point of view, if we seek another’s perspective, if we listen to the stories that bear no resemblance to our own, if we have just a little courage, I think Dave Isay is right: great things are going to happen.

If you change your point of view you will see something new.

Special thanks to StoryCorps for permission to use a clip from this video for this week’s show.

Check out StoryCorps’ new initiative One Small Step which will invite pairs of people of all backgrounds, who hold opposing political viewpoints, to record personal interviews with the goal of empowering participants and the people who hear these conversations to cross partisan divides and better understand each other.

Choose to be Curious, Life Lessons

My WERA Story

This week WERA-LP 96.7 FM “Radio Arlington” is celebrating both its second anniversary and its first fund drive. Both are pretty big milestones for a brave little enterprise that combines a lot of moving parts with not a lot of guarantees.

First, the pitch: please support Arlington’s only community radio station. You can do it right here, right now, and then you can read on in peace, secure in the knowledge that you’ve made an important contribution to the health and wellbeing of a wonderful community asset. Thank you. 

And now we’ll return to our regularly scheduled broadcast…

Before there was the radio show, there was the blog. Every week, twice a week, for two full years, I chronicled the path from where I was to…wherever it was I was going.  I wrote:

Lynn seasideI dodged cancer, wrote the last tuition check, mourned friends gone too soon and decided the universe was trying to tell me something. Life is short, it seemed to be saying. Don’t waste the free pass.

So I left the job I had held for a dozen years at an organization I’d loved for nearly 30. So did my husband. We stepped out into the unknown together – and here we are, figuring it out. My plan is to get a plan.

It’s like being the twenty-somethings our sons actually are.

So I’m listening to the universe, trying to learn the lessons it has to offer. Some of the lessons are awesomely big, some are tenderly small.

Every minor tragedy, victory or inane moment of my sons’ youth (and, admittedly, young adulthood to-date and likely well into our mutual decrepitude) has or will potentially be fodder for what I call a “Life Lesson.” I trust they’ve grown accustomed to my pronouncements in this regard. Here, I’m trying to collect the ones I’ve been learning – memorializing them for myself and anyone else who will listen.

Who am I to give life lessons? Just a girl grown up, with grey hair and laugh-lines to show for it. Daughter, sister, friend, wife, mother; hard-working, mission-driven former executive;  unrepentant volunteer; middling cook; reliable ear to the universe and others.

Life Lesson #1: The unexamined life isn’t worth living — and the best things in life are shared.   ὁ δὲ ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ

In the course of blogging, I chronicled my deepening relationship with Arlington Independent Media, WERA and community radio, not really knowing where it would take me, but enjoying the journey.

The adventure began at the Central Library, in the Fall of 2014. I attended the Leadership Arlington Homecoming “LEAD Talks” — like TED Talks, but way less intimidating. A lovely talk on the Five Precepts of Service stood out as both instructive and inspiring. I decided I wanted to give such a talk.

A year later, back at the Library, I fulfilled my promise to myself — with a talk about curiosity that proved far more fateful than I could ever have imagined. At the end of the event, Arlington Independent Media’s director of community programs Jackie Steven shared exciting news: a new low-power FM community radio station was launching soon  in Arlington. She urged us to visit and learn more.

I took my curiosity to AIM to check out the new station.

I was clearly the newbie in the room.

These guys were serious. They’d been DJs in college. They had recording equipment in their basements, maybe even their living rooms. They had opinions about FCC rulings, recent and historic.

They had their prepared program proposals at the ready.

And, yet, they were so gracious. They were delighted to have new people show up, thrilled to share what they knew, eager to encourage interest and involvement. I give them real props for this mark of true enthusiasts, that newcomers were welcomed and embraced, rather than regarded as just more competition to be crushed.

I never really thought about radio before, but now I’m checking my calendar to book basic studio training, and supplemental audio editing skills after that. It’s fun to be contemplating yet another learning curve on the winding river of this new life.

Life Lesson #28: You never know where life will take you – especially if you let it.

I began to experiment with audio blogs. I took classes. And then it happened…

boothI tested the mics and set the levels. I prepped the auxiliary track. I cued us up. I managed friendly banter with B., and a not-too-shabby segue to my clip. And it all worked. And it was all fun.  And I thought: wow.

I pulled the headphones off to friendly applause, flushed with the realization that I can do this. That this hypothetical can become actual in a not so unthinkable way. That even if the station doesn’t pick up my show, I can make a credible podcast, anyway.

That I can see myself doing this.

Days later, I got the call: my proposal to do a show about curiosity had been accepted. When did I want to start broadcasting? “Don’t let me think about it too long,” I told the caller, “I’ll start in May.”  That was just six weeks away. I had no programs. I was barely trained. But I hustled and the big day quickly came: ingestion.

I just ingested my first episode.

That doesn’t mean that I have swallowed the flash drive I was carrying in my sweaty palm, although it feels a little that way. It means I just took the irrevocable step of uploading for broadcast the .WAV file that is my first radio show.

It’s gone, or up, or in, or some place that shows go before they are on the air.  That happens on Wednesday, at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, at WERA-LP 96.7 FM. oh my!

It’s a B+ effort – good, not great; plenty of room for improvement, but credible for a first try. I could recite you all the places that could use more clean-up, that aren’t exactly as I’d like them.  But that would be true if I’d spent another 1,000,000,000 hours on it…and life is short.  I could recite all those places, but I’ve chosen to learn their lessons and move on. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Too much time on this would take the joy out of it — and what’s the point of that?!

Walking to the studio this afternoon I realized the lesson felt familiar, a little like the pottery class I took some years ago. I learned then that there comes a time with every pot when you just have to stop.  More messing with it won’t improve it; it will only collapse the whole thing in on itself. What was once a charmingly slightly off-kilter bowl will suddenly be a sullen lump of mud if over-worked.

The show began to feel like that. Improvements weren’t; tinkering risked clunkers. It was time to stop.

And — to go. Forward. On to the next show, to the new lessons, to a better version of good.

Life Lesson #41: The perfect is the enemy of the good.

And so the show was birthed. With it came accounts at Mixcloud, SoundCloudFacebook, Twitter and eventually iTunes. I’ve grown competent with field mics, mixing clips, and booking talent; with Canva, Spinitron, and even GarageBand. On the first anniversary of what I’ve come to consider my “curiosity adventure” I celebrated:

So, I feel pretty confident the universe has spoken. fullsizeoutput_301

One guest wrote to me after our interview that he though I had found my calling. A cousin described my picture in the WETA segment as radiant. Another guest, early on, said simply: “Look at you: you gotta!”

True enough: I gotta. I wake each day with conceptual threads weaving in my head. I keep long lists of conversations I still want to have. My email is a mess of leads and shows in various stages of incubation. My shelves are a tumble of related reading. My Christmas list? Probably Pro Tools apps and some decent headphones.

What a difference a year makes. What a difference a leap makes. What a difference.

In my most recent show, I paid tribute to analogies, a “Choose to be Curious” staple. At the close of each show, I ask my guests to make an analogy to curiosity with whatever word we pull from my jar. Here’s today’s: Community radio is like curiosity because it allows us to unearth treasures hidden in our midst…it encourages us to listen to new voices…and it provides a vehicle for discovery and adventure.

If you didn’t donate before, can I persuade you to do so now?

And, because I lack all restraint (see “unrepentant volunteer” above), in addition to the premiums offered by WERA in the fund drive, I’ve added an incentive of my own: If you donate $250 or more to WERA’s fund drive, I’ll take you and five of your friends for an Arlington #CuriosityWalk — a never-before-performed feat of ambulatory delight! My goal is to give away three of these. Think I can do it? Me, too.

Thank you!

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