Saturday, May 19, 2018

Dear Hank and John: Why Don't You Come To Your Senses?

Dear Hank and John,

I am not accustomed to vehemently disagreeing with you when I listen to your podcast Dear Hank and John, but in episode 140: The Spoon in the Road you were shockingly wrong. Desperado is a great song. Do you ever have the experience of hearing lyrics that are so true and so poetic that they fit into your heart like a puzzle piece? There are words like that in Desperado. It's part of a duo of songs that describe depression to my heart in a way that is both frighteningly accurate and somehow comforting.

Unfortunately, I can't quote them here because you can't quote song lyrics on blogs without permission. But you can listen here--from 1:57 to 2:28.

That's truly magical stuff right there, and I can't believe you don't appreciate it. Now you said something about listening to the Eagles through your whole childhood, and I didn't discover them until my 20s. So I would think maybe that was why, except the next song in my duo of Magical Descriptions of Depression songs is one I've known as long as I can remember. It's by John Denver. Listen from the beginning until 0:35.

I listen to that song sometimes and wonder how someone who never met me could understand me better than anyone who has ever known me.

Even though I've known Rhymes and Reasons since I was a baby, I didn't discover its mystically powerful words until I was older, and so I wonder if the same thing might happen to you with Desperado if you listen to it with your grown-up ears. :)

As long as we're talking Eagle's lyrics, can we just talk about this incredible description of addiction? Less hopeful than the other two, but still powerful. Start at 3:35 and go to 4:20.

No name specific sign offs for someone named 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Watching Old Video Clips of Muhammad Ali

A few years ago, my high school aged son walked into the room, sat down at the table across from me, looked deep into my eyes and proclamed:

I have rassled with an alligator
I done tussled with a whale
I done handcuffed lightning
Thrown thunder in jail.

That's bad. 

Only last week, I murdered a rock
Injured a stone; hospitalized a brick.
I'm so mean I make medicine sick.

Last night I cut the light off in my bedroom
Hit the switch--was in the bed before the room was dark.

(by: Muhammed Ali)

That was my first exposure to the words of Mohammed Ali. I knew who he was, of course, but not much about him. For the next few years, I thought I was getting to know him, but really I was just reading more of what they called his "trash talking." He was an insanely good trash talker, and much of it was what we might today call self-affirmations. He died on June 3, 2016, and I mourned with his other admirers. But there was so much more to him than I knew. 

On episode 166: Watch Old Video Clips from the Happier With Gretchen Rubin podcast, she challenged her listeners to find someone from the past that they are interested in learning more about and watch old video clips of them. She and her sister Elizabeth suggested that this might be more interesting than just reading about them, because the video clips were like time capsules, capturing them and their surroundings in a way you wouldn't otherwise see.  They were right! This was like a time capsule of prejudice and the civil rights movement. 

Muhammed Ali wasn't just the first person I thought of when they suggested doing this. He was the only person. I tried to think of other people, but as soon as I thought of a name, Muhammed Ali would box them right out of my brain.  

What I learned:

Muhammed Ali was funny. He was smart and passionate and he lived his life with honor and dignity. He wasn't just a proponent of black rights, he was a champion of it. His words were empowering to me, a middle-aged white woman, but as I watched his video clips, I realized something I hadn't fully considered before: he was alive at a time when black people in America were being degraded and demeaned and made to doubt their own humanity. To have Muhammed Ali burst into their lives, proclaiming that he could "Float like a butterfly; sting like a bee; The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see" was like a bolt of lightning on a dark night. Gena Golden said,
Ali taught us to love ourselves unapologetically. He made statements like “I’m so pretty!” while boldly and unabashedly telling the world that he is someone to be loved and adored. He demonstrated an outward expression of self-love when it was common place for television programs, magazine articles and radio ads that portrayed negative images of black people. When Ali, a man, and a boxer called himself pretty, it stirred feelings of self-love that most were unfamiliar with. It encouraged many to affirm their own beauty...
While the media, the government and various intuitions were persistent with their negative portrayal of African Americans, he probably sensed that the damaging messages were destroying the self-esteem and confidence of his people.  He probably figured out that repetitive, negative messages that permeated the culture would create irreparable damage to the minds of the people. I want to believe that his goal was not only to distract and weaken his opponent but also to encourage all those that could see or hear him, to never doubt nor criticize themselves, but rather to offer themselves words of praise and encouragement at all times. 
One of Muhammed Ali's most famous quotes is "I am the greatest; I said that even before I knew I was. I figured if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I was really the greatest." Knowing what we know now about self-affirmation, in convincing the world, he was probably also making it so.

I admire him for being an example of the power of words to transform a life. I also admire him for figuring out what he believed in and fighting for it. He's almost like a storybook hero in the way that he developed his own Honor Code and stuck to it, even through the most murky of circumstances. He allowed the Heavyweight Boxing Title to be stripped from him when he refused to fight in Vietnam.

He said, "My conscience won't let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big poweful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn't put no dogs on me, they didn't rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father...Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people?"

He didn't know how it would all turn out. He gave up everything to keep his integrity. It doesn't matter if I think he did the right thing or not. What matters is that he thought he was doing the right thing, and he was willing to give up everything for it.

I absolutely loved doing this challenge from Gretchen Rubin. However, I completely underestimated how long it would take. For some reason I thought I could spend half an hour on youtube and learn what needed to be learned. Half an hour got me through ONE video of hundreds. 

When Muhammed Ali died, the nation mourned. Here is Billy Crystal speaking at his funeral:

He was so much more than a fighter. He made all of our lives a little bit better than they were. He taught us that life is best when you build bridges between us, not walls. He is gone, but he will never die. He was my big brother."  ~ Billy Crystal

"Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing." ~ Muhammad Ali

Monday, May 7, 2018

2018 A-Z Challenge Reflection Post

In February of 2015 I wrote a post explaining that I needed to take some time off.  Even before that, my blog list has a stop-and-start quality about it that shows I was struggling.
I didn't post at all in 2016.
I posted twice in 2017.
This is my 28th post in 2018! Woot!

I miss blogging. But...
How do you restart a blog that has lost all of its approximately 100 readers?
WHY do you restart a blog that was never that popular anyway?
Now that I'm such a different person, what would the purpose of my blog be?
Can I justify spending so much time on blogging?

Enter the A-Z challenge! Hundreds of potential readers. Hundreds of blogs that might help me find my way...I'd forgotten how much work this challenge is! Getting each day's post out there was only half the battle. Each day I would scan the day's master list looking for familiar blogs and then I would try to go to some random ones as well. There are some extremely talented bloggers out there!

I didn't even think to look at the A-Z Facebook page until I was doing the survey at the end. That might have simplified the whole process a little bit. Next year!

About my topic
I reviewed podcasts. It was great! It wasn't until about the letter R that I realized I was sick to death of podcasts, so I call that a success! I've got a pretty great podcast list now. I'm ready to take a break from adding and deleting podcasts, but a podcast list is meant to be a fluid thing, I've learned.

(Bizarrely, a pillow fight my daughter's fiance was involved in is mentioned on the podcast from Great Britain called No Such Thing as a Fish. When I told him, he said, "Of all the things to be famous for!"  If you are interested, the episode was #214, No Such Thing as a Criminal in a Fabulous Hat.)

About networking
Podcasts are exactly like blogs! There are a few super popular ones, and a zillion more that flounder in spite of great content. I've been noticing this really interesting spite of their seeming to have nothing in common, a lot of my favorite podcasters appear as guests on each other's shows. Just today John Green from Dear Hank and John was a guest on Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, and they also had Gretchen Rubin from Happier on a couple of weeks ago. Those 3 podcasts are all in my top 5 favorite podcasts and they cover widely different topics. I learn from this the rather obvious lesson that networking must be important.

So what now?
I'm going to keep blogging. I'm not sure how much time I can spend promoting my blog, but I also know I'll feel a deep emptiness if I'm the only person who ever reads what I write, so that needs to be thought about.

One thing I'm really interested in is blogging about some of the challenges some of the self-help podcasts I listen to give. I had this idea while listening to Happier with Gretchen Rubin, episode 166: Watch Old Video Clips. What I do for that one will probably be my next blog post, and I will see where that takes me.

This was successful for me! I've learned that I want to keep blogging, and I have at least a temporary category for what I will write about. I think once a week is a do-able goal to begin with. I've made some friends whose blogs I plan to continue visiting, and I hope you'll all come back and see what I do here. Thank you for helping me sort through some very difficult questions. Good luck to you!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Z is for Vanessa Zoltan

Welcome to the last day of the A-Z challenge! This year I am reviewing podcasts, and I've been looking forward to reviewing this podcast all month long! Day 26 is the letter Z, and the podcast I will be reviewing is Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, hosted by Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile.

Where to begin? First of all Vanessa and Casper are such engaging, fun people. Each season they discuss one book of Harry Potter. Right now they are on Book 4: The Goblet of Fire. Each week they discuss one chapter. Here is where it gets complicated to explain...they treat each chapter as if it was a sacred text. The word sacred here can be a big turn-off for some people until they actually listen to the podcast. It isn't trying to create some kind of Hogwarts-based religion. On their website they explain that by sacred they mean:
1. That you trust that the text is "worthy of our attention and contemplation"
2. That through concentrated attention we can glean wisdom from its pages
3.  That you are reading it with a community
4. That there are universal themes in the text 
They use different spiritual reading practices that religions have created. In the time I have been listening they have mostly used Jewish mysticism practices. Personally I think just learning about the different types of reading practices is fascinating. They have a list of them here, and I think there is a Catholic practice or two as well, but I'm not an expert.

Yes, I know it sounds weird. It's not. I swear.

Category: Religion and Spirituality. Oh iTunes, you're killing me! There's got to be a better category to explain this podcast!

What's My Time Commitment Here? Once a week for about half an hour.

My Review:

The first episode I listened to was about the theme of delight in the chapter where Sirius's comes to visit Harry in the fire at Hogwarts. They talk about how Sirius was not in Harry's life for long, but how he became important to Harry because of delight. He looked for ways to bring people joy, especially Harry--giving Pigwidgeon to Ron, sending the permission slip for Hogsmeade, showing pictures of Harry's parents, giving the many little things. By the end of the episode I was sobbing.  That was my most visceral reaction to this podcast, but I am touched every week. It really is a beautiful show.  If you are a Harry Potter fan, please give it a try. I think you will love it.

You can listen to it here or wherever you listen to podcasts.

I have enjoyed completing this A-Z challenge with you! Thank you to the people who have visited throughout the month, and thank you to the people whose blogs I have visited. You have amazed me with your talent and with the goodness you are bringing to the world.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Y is for You Are What You Consume (And What You Don't)

It has been an unexpectedly powerful experience to be both thoughtful and random in my choices of podcasts. My podcast queue looks very different now than it did when I began. I've gotten rid of podcasts that I loved until the minute I considered sharing them with you. When I realized they weren't good enough for you, I realized they probably weren't good enough for me either.

There are 28 podcasts in my queue right now. Some produce content daily, some weekly. Some are short, some are long. If I listened to everything in my queue, how much time would I be spending on podcasts each week? I did the math to find out.

The Math
If all of these podcasts were producing weekly content at their normal level, I would have:

25 hours
of podcast listening. Every Week. Holy moly. And I haven't even subscribed to most of the great podcasts people have given me as recommendations yet. Now of course I don't listen to them all. I don't even come close. There are podcasts I haven't listened to even once during the month of April. They are great podcasts, but I simply don't have time! 

I'm also an avid audiobook gal. I listen to at least a book a month. Even here in April my son and I've been listening to an audiobook together whenever he's around. 

And it doesn't stop there! You'd hardly know it the past couple of weeks, but I love music. It's the passion that has suffered the most during this podcast A-Z challenge. Spotify is waiting for me patiently.

And of course I get content from a lot of places other than my smartphone: books, TV, movies, social media, live people...

Now I'm a reasonably busy person. I certainly know people who accomplish more than me, but I get my share of living done. It's one of the reasons I love podcasts so much. It helps me multitask--I'm learning while I drive, cut up vegetables for dinner or exercise.  

This morning, on my daily commute, I listened to the Ultimate Health Podcast. They were interviewing Sarah Wilson, the author of the book First We Make the Beast Beautiful, which is a book about anxiety. Although she wasn't addressing the habit of filling our lives up with noise specifically, it was a piece of what she was speaking about when she said,
"We are running away from our loneliness. We are running away from a need to actually sit quietly and face up to something every spiritualist and every deep thinker in human history has talked about: the path inwards. Salvation and peace come when we can turn around and do that very, very difficult walk back to ourselves." 
Ugh. I know she's right. I can get so obsessed with something that I forget about my own existence!

Balance. Some of my favorite A-Z challenge blogs this year have touched on this important topic. I'm crazy bad at it! But that's what I'm striving for. Step one begins right here, right now...since I'm the kind of person who feels an obligation to her podcast queue...let me begin to find a space for quiet in my life.

Passage of time...


So I purged a bunch of podcasts. But then I thought I should go back through and add all the blogs I thought sounded good that people have been recommending to me. And the new total appears to be somewhere around:
26 hours
Yeah, balance is a hard thing. There is so much great content out there! I hope this blog has inspired you to find some. But don't let it fill in the spaces of your life. The spaces are where the living happens. 

Good luck finding the balance.

Friday, April 27, 2018

X is for an Xtra podcast

At the beginning of this challenge I listened to an edgy news podcast, and I felt so uncomfortable whenever I thought about sharing it with you. I knew it wasn't an accurate representation of who I was. There were good things about it did that made it hard to give up, but there were so many other things that it did that I didn't like that I determined I couldn't share it, even though it was something I listened to every day. 

But why did I listen to it every day? Because it was a moderate voice in a polarized world. Because it was short--I could get a pretty good idea of what was going on in the world in less than 15 minutes.  Because it was entertaining. 

Surely I could find some other news podcast that would do all of that without making me uncomfortable. This one search has made April such a whirl-wind of podcast listening. 


There's a lot of left and right leaning news out there. There's a lot of super in depth coverage, which is less yucky, but more likely to sit in my queue and gather dust. 

But I found something, and of course it was right in front of my nose the whole time. It's slightly left-leaning, but it's close enough to moderate for me. I recommend it to you as well, if you are looking for a way to stay caught up on the news without it consuming your life.

Up First is a news podcast produced by npr. Each episode lasts from 15-20 minutes and it comes out every weekday. 

You can listen to it here or wherever you listen to podcasts. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

W is

Comedy is a funny thing. I crave it; love it; I want it in my life. But it is pretty easy to get wrong, and that happened to the podcast I'd been planning to review for W. It was on my first list of podcasts! Other W podcasts got relegated to different letters so it could keep top slot (like T is for The Walk). It's there on my Top 10 list of favorite podcasts. But they messed up. Jokes about Jesus on the cross are not jokes that I find amusing, and I realized how often I'd been putting up with aspersions on Christianity by this podcast, because the rest of it was funny and they probably didn't mean it. And if I hadn't been about to recommend the podcast to the world, maybe I would have let it pass me again. I hope not, but I'll never know for sure. But I know for sure that I can't recommend it to you.

So I've found a different podcast for the letter W. I listened to it on my way to work and on my way home from work--and it knocked my socks off! It wasn't funny at all, but it was so inspiring. I can't yet tell you if all the episodes are this good, but so far I'm impressed.  It was Whitney Johnson interviewing Tom Peters (the author of the classic book In Search of Excellence).

The podcast is called Disrupt Yourself and it is hosted by Whitney Johnson. You can listen to it here or wherever you listen to podcasts.

There is an important lesson to be learned here. It's one I used to tell my kids, but it's time I applied it to my own life...You don't need to listen to garbage, even garbage that is keeping company with quality stuff. For every bit of "but it's really great except for this one part!" there are 50 other equally amazing things without the garbage out there, and all it takes is a little bit of effort.  Have you ever seen the meme about "It's great except this one part" that has a picture of a scoop of ice cream with a couple of bugs in it? Welcome Whitney Johnson...a spot just opened up on my playlist.