Like slow-cooked food, good narrative requires attention. It’s not Twitter. It’s not Facebook. It’s different and it takes time. I love having my mind engaged. Perhaps that’s why, despite my “what am I going to do now?” joking, getting my cable TV turned-off was the best thing ever.
As far as time-investment-to-imaginative ratios go, podcasts are a terrific deal. TV? You feel your brain turning to mush as you sit there drooling on yourself, literally getting stupider by the minute – something I can ill afford. It’s the ultimate fast-food nation approach: don’t have to think, it’s just handed to you. To be fair, cinema can offer wonderful, brilliant art. Just don’t expect to find it on 99% of what you get with your monthly TV package. Sure, sometimes we just want to be entertained, and that’s cool on occasion.
And we all get busy.
Podcasts? I don’t have time to sit and listen – of course you don’t. But when I’m driving? I can’t read. And, thank god, I can’t watch TV. Music, I love it. Sometimes it moves me, sometimes it relaxes me, sometimes I just veg. Great narrative always engages me. The voice adds another dimension. I insert the visuals with my mind’s eye, I wonder things that get partially answered, and I feel a connection with the author through the personality of voice.
So, yeah, I’ve become a huge fan of podcasts – it started a year or two ago with the much-heralded and award-winning This American Life (hosted by Ira Glass; free download every week). It’s awesome, and Ira Glass is the master.
Then I started hearing about what some called “This American Life for climbers and adventurers” – The Dirtbag Diaries (also free), a creation of climber Fitz Cahall. I subscribe to both through iTunes, and love ‘em. I’ll put them on my mp3 player and listen while going for a walk or waiting for a flight. I’ll burn hours upon hours of them for road trips. Listening to them in my car makes regular daily driving tolerable – even enjoyable.
My praise for the DD might seem disingenuous (as if I’d ever be accused of being ingenuous…), since I’ve now done two “Shorts” episodes for Fitz. But I was a fan first. And mine aren’t the best – the best I’ve heard is The Crusade. Download it, burn it to a CD or onto your mp3 (iPod if you’re kewl), and just listen, forming pictures with your mind. You’ll love it.
A recent DD favorite is The New Conservationists – it’s about passionate people, from John Muir to the three featured in mini-stories on the show, people with a sense of purpose, who reinvent themselves, face failure, brush themselves off and try again, all for places they – and we – love.
Three Eighths to Eternity mesmerized me, a spellbinding and beautiful story about a homemade sailboat journey.
For those with lower expectations and wanting a good rant, my first episode was The Peach – a story of my history of deadend jobs (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, bread boy…) undertaken so I could climb more. Some commenters loved it, others thought me an ass-hole because I unabashedly ripped on a boss who deserved it, and also ripped on the American holy grail of mindless consumerism. OK. My most recent one, Friends in High Places, belies my earlier highbrow “ohhh, I like having my mind engaged” blather, as the episode follows my bumbling journey with Facebook – it might be closer to TV after all. Or not.
Regardless of your favorite episodes, I venture to say that any of them are better than rotting your brain in front of the TV or getting pissed-off while sitting in traffic, and the Dirtbag Diaries might even engage your imagination, might inspire you to quit your job and launch off on a homemade sailboat, or to become John Muir, or, if you have particularly low expectations, to get a job at Pizza Hut.
ADDENDUM: While writing the above (as subsequently prompted by Blake’s comment below), I forgot one of my favorite DD episodes — perhaps my all-time favorite, on equal ground with The Crusade: The Cowboy and the Maiden. I listened to it twice in a row when it came out, just amazing, inspiring, funny at times, wild, and very moving. An absolute must-listen.