We can’t rewind we’ve gone too far: on work and radio favourites

October 11, 2013 § 3 Comments

I was thinking about how one day, I’ll tell a story. It’ll be about how I worked this boring job when I was finishing my PhD dissertation. I’ll tell how the work was really dry, humbling, data-entry, grey-matter-spilling-out-my-ears boring, but that it was all ok in the long game, because I moved on to bigger things.

Then I thought, maybe that’s a story I should tell now, or at least start to tell. At the moment the most interesting thing I do at work is what I do to get through it and that’s what this post is about. Below is another favourites list of sorts, this time of radio shows.

I tell myself that most people end up doing some pretty shitty work for money at some point, and a lot, of course, don’t even have the option of doing boring work. So in lots of ways I’m lucky, I haven’t forgotten that. The reality is I could be tutoring at Uni, which isn’t boring, but for various reasons, that’s not my preferred way to earn money right now.

The work I’m doing is for an organisation I care about, and it’s necessary work that seems productive and important to me, so that’s something too. Even so, it often makes me want to smash my head into a computer, or do something crazy like get up and interpretive dance in the office (what would I dance? the spreadsheets? most boring dance ever), or better yet leave. Except, there’s the money thing.

What I’ve been doing to rescue myself is a) teaching myself to touch type, that sensible skill where you don’t look at the keyboard but type the words from your memory of the keys, b) listening to some language podcasts, and c) going through episode after episode of This American Life, and more recently Radiolab and Paper Radio (my new favourite).

This American Life is an hour long radio show exploring themes and social issues, mostly through personal narrative and interview. It has been running since 1995, so there’s a lot of material, and there are, correspondingly, a lot of favourite lists out there, as well as a few biting parodies. Nonetheless I thought that the two people who read this blog (kidding, there are three of you!) might like a list of my favourite social justice episodes. Also, I wanted to keep a list for myself somewhere, because I learned some things from these shows and it feels good to be able to quantify that, somehow.

These are the shows, in no particular order, that taught me something about race, gender, poverty, the prison system and/ or politics in the US of A:

Teenaged girls

The final act in this show is a story by Rennie, about high school girl Jenine. She’s trying to loose weight, stay away from her creepy step dad, catch ‘babes’ and keep her friends. Some parts of this were so painfully familiar that I cringed and had to pause the stream.. The depiction of an overwhelming, useless sense that her body is a big fleshy problem that she can’t fix is agonisingly spot on.

Secret Identity: The blond avenger

Act three is about an anonymous female avenger, who takes the lives of those she believes responsible for the deaths of young women in Juarez, Mexico’s infamously violent border city.

Harper High School, Part One and Part Two:

It’s hard to explain how moving this two part story is, without resorting to cliches. So much for first world problems; the problems the kids and teachers in this story face are blood and guts real. There’s gun violence and gang violence, and loss, and barriers to getting out, and the kind of desperate giving of some teachers who peel away layers of themselves trying to stem the consequences of all of it.

The Republican Convention

To break the list up with some humour, this episode features a gay sex columnist who decides to join the Republican Party, and the results are hilarious. I know Dan Savage can be a bit of a jerk, but I loved this episode, and it made me wonder why I hadn’t thought of this idea here in Oz.

The Cruelty of Children

In the last Act of this show, a teacher in a primary school institutes a rule: You can’t say “You can’t Play”. The way the kids deal with this rule, and the way they debate who is ‘sadder’, the kids that get socially rejected, or the kids who now have to play with their former friend rejects, is absolutely fascinating.


This episode is another painful one. The final Act is a story produced and told by Amity Bitzel about growing up with an abusive father. The hook is that he adopted a murderer into the family, for real, but the parts of the story that reached into my chest and caught hold of something there, are those where Amity talks about what it was like to live with the fear and unpredictability of abuse, and the interview with her dad where he justifies his actions.

After the Flood

Stories about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the racism that drove a lot of institutional decisions about how to deal with the survivors of the flood.

Two Steps Back

Money isn’t everything, but when you don’t have it or you’re about to lose it, you realise maybe rich people made up that saying. This is a story about a public school in a poor neighbourhood in Chicago. The school is about to lose the extra funding that’s been helping the teachers make up for some of the disadvantage their kids face, and Cathy, the best teacher in the school, is thinking of quitting.

Bonus: Paper Radio, The Cosmic Frequency

Paper Radio is a relatively new Australian and New Zealand podcast, both fiction and real life. I listened to one of their shows this week and it made me laugh and laugh. As the blurb says: “The Cosmic Frequency tells the story of Maggie Iaquinto, an American-born Australian who forged a unique relationship with the Russian cosmonauts aboard the space station Mir.” It’s all done via amateur radio. There’s a scene where the protagonist’s young son is woken up, in country town Victoria, by Russian astronauts calling for his mum, whom they call Rita (Russian for Maggie), through the radio in the kitchen.

Runners up: Dawn; Act V; The Giant Pool of Money; Cicero; I’m from the Private Sector and I’m here to Help; Habeas Schmabeas; The Convert; The View from Here; and Very Tough Love.

Do you have favourite podcasts? How do you keep going when big parts of your life are really not that interesting?

Photo by by Joe Haupt via Flickr.


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