When talking about financial choices and financial philosophies, narrative is key. Most people who are thinking consciously about money have a story that ties the different phases of their life together and helps them understand their financial journey thus far. I have a story like this. Perhaps you do too.
Stories—whether about finances or about anything else—are incredibly powerful. Without stories, our lives are a jumbled collection of tiny, colorful fragments of emotion and sensation ricocheting off each other like particles in Brownian motion. With stories, however, our past, present, and future take a clear shape: I did that one thing because of that other thing that happened to me. I used to be that way, but now I am this way. I am growing in that direction, not this one, and that other thing is what I’m striving towards. Stories are how we make sense of ourselves and our experiences. They are how we explain to ourselves and to others where we’ve been and where we’re going. They are how we create meaning.
It’s Thanksgiving this week (in the U.S., at least). There are a lot of things that I’m thankful for and could write about: my family and friends, my health, the existence of WordPress, the weirdly mild fall we are having in Boston this year… But here in this space today, I’d like to talk about something else that is a big part of my life, something that I want to thank the universe for, and share with you. And that something is:
Wait, stay with me!
Ok, first things first: if you by chance do not know what a podcast is, please take a moment to watch Ira Glass’s video explanation. And if you do already totally know what a podcast is, please still take a moment to watch Ira Glass’s video explanation, because it is ADORABLE. Be sure to watch till the end.
There are a lot of different types of podcasts, but I’m talking about the ones that are, essentially, audio stories—in most cases true stories about human lives, honestly and courageously shared by the people who have lived them, and produced by incredibly talented individuals who care about getting those stories to you. And as for podcasts that are intended to be informational rather than narrative-based, I notice that in those ones both the human factor and the storytelling factor still tend to be very high. Good podcasts are almost always, at their heart, about people: their voices and their stories.
So, why am I so thankful for stories?
I’m thankful for stories because they help me connect with other people whose lives, experiences, and values are totally different from my own. Stories let me know that I am not alone. They remind me that everyone goes through difficult experiences and learns from them, and that everyone is usually doing the best they can. Stories keep me company when I’m lonely, they comfort me when I’m sad, they remind me of the humanity of others, and they encourage me to try to be more empathetic and compassionate. They help me remember that everyone is fighting a great battle, and that I should therefore be kind.
And the best part is: the amazing stories delivered to our ears and hearts via podcast are all free. Listening, connecting, laughing, crying, empathizing – all for $0. What an incredible world we live in. Yes, you do need Internet access, and a smartphone or computer, but as long as you can locate a decent public library, you can log onto a computer, borrow a pair of headphones, and stream the episodes online. Free podcasts for everyone! Truly, we are living in an amazing time.
So this year at Thanksgiving, in addition to everything else I’m thankful for, I’m thankful for stories—for the people who are courageous enough to share them, and the people who record and edit and produce them and bring them into our lives. The list below is my attempt to give all of you a gift at Thanksgiving. Want to hear a story about a Hasidic Jewish man who accidentally discovered the Internet and in doing so changed the course of his life? It’s on the list (Reply-All, “Exit & Return”). Want to hear a story about two babies who were switched at birth and raised in the same town, and didn’t find out until they were adults? Got it (This American Life, “Switched at Birth”). A story about a trip to a sketchy ATM in the far reaches of Brooklyn to pay the ransom on a kidnapped computer? Got that too (Radiolab, “Darkode”). Even if your iTunes queue is already full of podcasts, I bet you can find at least one awesome new episode here.
One last note: unlike reading books and watching movies, podcasts are particularly great to listen to while multitasking. So if you’re spending Wednesday and Thursday cooking, download some podcasts. If you have a long car trip this week and need something to listen to, download some podcasts. If you find yourself sitting around the house bored, or going for a walk to digest all that turkey, download some podcasts. If you’re Canadian and you’re like, um, Thanksgiving happened like a month and a half ago, download some podcasts and listen on the way to work.
End of Love Song.
* * *
Start of Awesome List of Podcast Recommendations, aka Free Gifts from the Universe.
So with perhaps 180,000 unique English-language podcasts out there, how can anyone know where to start? Never fear: it’s The Yachtless to the rescue! I’ve compiled an annotated list of some of my favorite storytelling podcasts and specific episodes below. There are so many that it was hard to choose—and I’m sure I left some great ones out accidentally—but this is what I’ve got right now. I’ve included web links, although personally I think it’s much easier to listen via a smartphone app. [Instructions for this: download the iTunes Podcast app, or Stitcher if you use Android, search for the podcast name, then scroll through the episodes to find the one you want, or subscribe to the podcast to get new episodes to download automatically].
Be forewarned that while many podcasts are appropriate for kids, some are not, due to content or language or both. In 80% of these cases the host will give a warning at the beginning, but just be aware.
Ok, here’s the list!
- The Moth: True stories told by regular people.
- Life on a Möbius Strip (An astrophysicist, a coffee shop, and a story that brings her life full circle.)
- Modern Family (A very funny story about making the best of a difficult interpersonal and interspecies situation.)
- Flight (A seriously crazy story about someone who was in the EXACT right place at the right time.)
- My First Story (a writer tells the story of how he became a writer. I absolutely love this story. But please note that it includes some difficult and upsetting themes.)
2. Radiolab: It’s hard to define the theme of this podcast. It’s sort of about science, sort of about history, sort of about culture, and definitely about storytelling.
- A Very Lucky Wind (One of my favorite episodes of any podcast, ever. Don’t miss it!)
- Brown Box (Fascinating. They don’t specifically say that this is about Amazon…but it’s probably about Amazon.)
- Darkode (A seriously awesome Russian lady tells a spooky and unbelievable story about the Internet.)
- Birthstory (An incredibly moving story about parenting and surrogacy that just came out two days ago.)
- The Living Room (Really, really excellent storytelling, but the topic is difficult and sad, so be forewarned.)
3. Reply-All: Awesome stories that all have something to do with the Internet.
- Exit & Return, Part 1 & Part 2 (One of the best examples of the power of information that I have ever heard. Also, heartbreaking.)
- Silence and Respect (A very moving and important tale of Internet shaming)
4. Serial: An investigation into a murder case that happened in 1999. Can be upsetting at times, and definitely not for children. The story arc extends across the entire season, so be sure to start with Episode 1. Also, make sure you have some time blocked out to keep listening once you’ve started, because most people are hopelessly addicted by Episode 2.
5. The Sporkful: I’ve only ever heard one episode of this podcast, but it was awesome.
- True Crime: Investigating an Office Fridge Food Theft (It’s a Serial parody and a crazy story! This link is unfortunately not streaming well, at least on my computer; probably best to get it through the iTunes app.)
6. StartUp: Like Serial, StartUp has a story arc that extends across an entire season, so start with Episode 1 of whichever season you’re interested in.
- Season 1 (The newly hatched company StartUp makes a reality-show style podcast about themselves as they struggle to survive as a new business. Love it. Lots of drama, lots of financial stuff.)
- Season 2 (The story of a new company run by two women in their early 20s. Really great commentary on gender issues, in addition to being a great story.)
7. Mystery Show: Love love love this. Starlee Kine solves mysteries that can’t be solved on the Internet. Hard to explain. Just listen.
- Britney (A mystery about Britney Spears. Starlee goes straight to the source.)
- Belt Buckle (This search for the owner of a belt buckle is one of the most random stories I’ve heard, and also one of the coolest.)
- Vanity Plate (Starlee investigates what’s going on with a very unusual license plate.)
8. This American Life: Started as an NPR radio show 20 years ago; now it’s the quintessential storytelling podcast. I mentioned This American Life to a roomful of 19-year-old college students last week and none of them had ever heard of it, which frightened me. As I told them: LISTEN TO IT. Even if you are not American. It’s SO GOOD. (Note: You have to listen to archived episodes via their website – only the newest episode is available through iTunes.)
- Switched at Birth (I heard this several years ago and haven’t been able to get it out of my head since.)
- Abdi and the Golden Ticket (an amazing story about a man trying desperately to get out of Kenya and start a new life in the U.S.)
- Three Miles (a really important collection of stories about education and inequality.)
- Harper High School, Part 1 and Part 2 (really excellent in-depth investigative reporting about an inner city Chicago high school impacted by gang violence.)
9. Budgets & Cents: Ok, I haven’t actually heard this podcast, because it’s not going to be out till January, and I actually don’t know too much about the format or storytelling factor, but I will recommend it here anyway because it’s being created by Cait Flanders and Carrie Smith, which means it will definitely be awesome! You can follow it on Twitter to get updates: @budgetsandcents
Heard any of these podcasts and want to share your thoughts?
Want to recommend more podcasts and/or episodes?
Want to share your thoughts about the Adnan/Jay question?
That’s what the comments section is for!