Choose to be Curious

Big Data

What can we learn about flu forecasting from Twitter, Open Table and parking lots? A great deal, it seems. Dr. Naren Ramakrishnan, director of Virginia Tech’s Discovery Analytics Center (DAC), makes the case for curiosity and rethinking illness markers. Big data in a whole new light…

Listen to Choose to be Curious #49: Curiosity, Big Data and the Flu, with Naren Ramakrishnan.

Tantalizing idea: answers to all our challenges are hiding in plain sight, if only we can determine where and how to look for them. If only we choose to be curious. Arlington County Police Department Detective Sara Bertollini had something to say about that idea as well…

Listen to Curiosity to Go, Ep. 22: Curiosity Is Lying in Wait.



Choose to be Curious

Curious & Wondrous Travel

Of new roads and secret gates. A celebration of discovery, wherever you are!

Listen to Choose to be Curious #48: Curious & Wondrous Travel with Elliot Carter.

Tolkein wrote “Not all those who wander are lost.” In this week’s Curiosity to Go segment, Elliot Carter and Karen Ward celebrate their curious eyes.

Listen to Curiosity to Go, Ep. 21: Wonder As You Wander

My Curious Eyes Season 4 starts March 5! Join me, Karen Ward and others from across the globe indulging a passion for curiosity and picture-taking. Sign up here.

Not sure what you’d be getting yourself into? Check out my gallery from Season 3.

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How I Found Elliot, or My Curiosity Bread Crumbs

One of the many things I love about living in the DMV is that it’s a place people visit. Family and friends come and go with reliable regularity, providing endless opportunities to be a tourist in our own hometown.

After a while, that list of things to see can get pretty familiar, maybe a little thread-worn, so I’m always on the outlook for interesting new destinations —-

But I’ve come to understand I’m a total slacker in this regard.

Utterly eclipsed by an inquisitive young man with the tantilizing title of Chief Explorer.

This story begins with the theory of the transformative power of attention – that if you pay enough attention, things get interesting…no matter how dull it may have initially seemed. (I talked with Caetlin Benson-Allott about that power in some depth recently.)

I first came across this idea in listening to James Ward, the London-based founder of The Boring Conference….you guessed it: a day-long conference about boring things.

He traces his roots to Andy Warhol – who also famously liked boring things — and French writer George Perek who wrote “An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris” for which he sat in a cafe and described everything he could see.

And then came back the next day and did it again.

And then again.

He wanted to explore what happens when nothing is happening…which is, of course, never, because once you get curious – once you start paying attention — you notice all sorts of things are going on all the time. You discover that in paying attention, you confer – or finally perceive – meaning.

….and that’s powerful.

So — I had this idea that it would be fun to find someone locally who has made an intense study of something, or who had an unusual collection of some sort, whom I might interview about having made that choice, to be curious about something truly obscure.

And that’s when I found Atlas Obscura – which calls itself the definitive guide to the world’s wondrous and curious places”—and Elliott Carter, Chief Explorer, who writes about such places in and around DC.

Their subjects are not boring — obscure, maybe, but definitely not boring. As Elliot puts it, he focuses on “the little-known facts about the well-known places.” And what a delightful concept that is: to plumb beyond the obvious, to pay enough attention to learn something more. To explore what we call home with fresh eyes.

Pardon me while I step outside…


Choose to be Curious

Transformative Power of Attention

When I first started researching curiosity, one of the most interesting things I found was the Boring Conference.  No joke: an honest-to-gosh, annual gathering to talk about things one would typically consider deadly dull — what organizers call “a one-day celebration of the mundane, the ordinary, the obvious and the overlooked.”

remote controlI’ve been taken with the idea of the transformative power of attention ever since — I love the idea that if we choose to be curious about something, even something otherwise considered utterly boring, it will get interesting.

Lucky for me, Georgetown professor and author of a whole book on remote controls, Caetlin Benson-Allott is also fascinated with such stuff…

Listen to Choose to be Curious #47: Transformative Power of Attention with Caetlin Benson-Allott. 

And, lucky for us all, librarians live to steward our attention, whatever its form. Arlingtonian Jennifer Rothschild will make you fall in love with your local librarian all over again.

Listen to Curiosity to Go, Ep. Oh, Those Rabbit Holes!

You can subscribe to Choose to be Curious on iTunes.

I’m always somewhere between delighted and humbled when I come across a curiosity-centric enterprise that is new to me.

I think: I should already know about this!

And: oh, cool! Who knew? 

Which were precisely my reactions when I stumbled across the social media presence of The Atlantic’s Object Lessons, a series on the hidden lives of ordinary things. I realized I’d read these pieces over the years, but never followed the digital breadcrumbs. Then one day, there they were.

An hour on, and I was still wriggling down rabbit holes and delighting in one improbable post after another. The pictures of cookware were what finally snagged me. Having spent a lot of time in the kitchen over the holidays and having become rather inured to the setting, I thought this was the perfect opportunity for a little culinary curiosity, a refresher course in what surrounds me.

And so Choose to be Curious, Kitchen Edition was born. For a week, I tried to look around my kitchen with fresh eyes, to appreciate anew the objects there and wonder at their stories. Whence had they come? Could their function be improved? Did I favor one over another? Why? I was always tickled by the queries that had never occurred to me before.

It was like fishing for new stories among old friends. I recommend it.

Kitchen - consider the pilot
Have you ever stopped to consider the “things” in your kitchen? Consider the pilot. #choosetobecurious #kitchen
Choose to be Curious

What Makes Us Curious?

Astrophysicist and best selling author Dr. Mario Livio talks about "Why?" What Makes Us Curious" on

Knowing my interest, family and friends will often send me links or even old-school clippings when curiosity shows up in the news. When internationally-known astrophysicist and best selling author Mario Livio’s book Why? What Makes Us Curious came out this summer my mailbox practically exploded.

I missed a chance to hear him speak at the Air & Space Museum, but joined the throngs at Politics and Prose in Washington D.C. a few weeks later to listen to what he had to say. It was a delightful talk – filled with research that has become familiar to me, but also with insights and connections that were new and exciting.

From my ring-side seat in the audience I explained I produce a radio show all about curiosity and asked, “Do you think people can choose to be curious?”

“Oh, absolutely!” he replied. “We must!”

Listen to Choose to be Curious #45: What Makes Us Curious – with Dr. Mario Livio

You can subscribe to Choose to be Curious on  iTunes.

Dr. Livio makes a great case for the importance of fostering curiosity in kids. Nothing less than our future depends on it. And it was no accident that my very first show was with Micaela Pond, a teacher who does a lot to cultivate curiosity in her students.

Listen to Curiosity to Go, Episode 18: They’re Not Afraid to Ask

Why choose to be curious? Well, as Dr. Livio pus it, curiosity is one of the purest forms of freedom. It opens, first, our minds, and then doors and channels and paths and frontiers — whole worlds — that we can only begin to imagine. To choose the unknown is brave. To choose freedom speaks for itself.

purest form of freedom

Special thanks to my guest Mario Livio, and to fellow WERA producer Beverly Allen for making the introduction that made this interview possible. You can hear Beverly’s show Practical Security on WERA-LP, 96.7FM Thursdays at 11:00 a.m. ET and Sundays  at 8:00 a.m. ET, streaming at

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!

avatar fund drive 5

Choose to be Curious


The beauty in having total creative and editorial control of an enterprise is that you can do whatever you want with it. Few things in life are quite so wonderful — or so potentially overwhelming.

And so it was that when my Big Jar of Wannabe Analogies met an untimely end, I could pay homage in a way that made sense to me, through the medium at my disposal, for an audience I hoped might share some modicum of my sentimental reaction to the loss.

How is the Big Jar of Wannabe Analogies like curiosity? That’s for you to decide…

Listen to Choose to be Curious #42: #Analogy: A Tribute

Listen to all the shows on iTunes.

Professor of language and literature Tonya Howe was one person I felt reasonably certain shared my fondness for analogies, so I dropped in on her office hours to learn more about analogies — and was reminded what fun it was to talk with her about how much the language with which we express and explore curiosity is tangled up in our ideas of femininity.

Listen to Curiosity to Go, Ep. 15: Curiosity By Any Other Name

How is one thing like another, and how best to capture and express that comparison? How — or why — can our view of something be indelibly altered by our association of it with something else? How do we make the most effective (read: constructive, positive, creative-in-all-the-best-senses) use of that power? As we choose to be curious, how does that habit influence the analogies we feel tempted to make?

I’ve learned this: an analogy, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Through its sturdy soda-lime glass, with its clasp’s signature rattle, by serving up random slips of paper for scores of guests, the Big Jar has helped me see the world just a little differently. Couldn’t ask for much more from an old jar. R.I.P.  B.J.W.A.

Thanks to Sean Balick for permission to use his original composition, None.

Your Love Is Like Clean Water by SongAboutYourPost2 is licensed under a Creative Commons License. 

The World Is Like An Apple… (a mix for Test / Radio Nova March 2001) by Ewan Pearson is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Like A Pig in The Sunshine by Jorge CE is licensed under a Creative Commons License.