Podcasts – voices and stories

For a few years now, I have subscribed to various podcasts. It’s interesting to me how few people in my daily life understand what I am referring to when I share with them that I listen to podcasts. For me, it’s a regular part of most days, particularly a regular feature of my daily commute. My current list of podcasts is about a half a dozen long and includes spiritual matters with Pray As You Go (a Jesuit daily prayer exercise that I find soothing, thoughtful and helps me enter the day with a renewed gratitude and peace). There are three podcasts that are all about knitting, in various forms. The first two are more traditional in that they feature knitting tips, what’s on the podcasters needles, a fiber artist guest speaker and in one case, there can be some added Piper highlights as the podcaster is a bagpiper: Knitting Pipeline. I really enjoy this one- her cast of characters tends to be the same so one gets to know her regular co-podcaster voices. Then there is Curious Handmades, an Australian gal shares her knitting universe with the rest of us and again features special projects she is working on and key guests from the knitting community. These two are likely a big puzzle for non-knitters, after all how can it be interesting to listen to someone talk about knitting. If you are at least more than an ultra beginner, the sessions offer insights into knitting challenges, provides inspiration with new projects and can also offer tips on which yarns (wool, alpaca, cashmere or should I use silk?) are best for certain projects. Another knitting podcast I enjoy is called Teaching Your Brain To Knit; this one is focused on the mental aspects and benefits of knitting. This could be meditation, memory, well being and more.   This last podcast is hosted by two gals in the Northwest- they also talk about their geographic location and highlight their own projects as well. So one gets to know these personalities and at times, instead of local radio, I reach for the podcast to accompany me on my drives between home and work.

Depending on the season, that ride can take anywhere from a half hour to an hour an a half! In the last six months, I have added two podcasts that have been a great balance to the knitting and spiritual. These are basically radio journalism. Stories- true stories. The first one is called The Lapse, and the host offers these 20-30 minute episodes that are stories brought from real lives. He invites people to write in about their stories and then he creates the broadcast with their voices, throws in sound effects and brings interesting perspectives about the human condition to the air waves. These have been thought provoking as well as humorous in some cases; definitely mind opening.

I leave the best for last. A new discovery called Serial. This podcast is a weekly series delving into one important story. They are only on their second story- which drills down into the facts and situations surrounding Bowe Bergdahl. This is their second “season” or perhaps best called “series” .  The producers of the show have uploaded two episodes so far covering Bowe Bergdahl and the story; they are featured weekly on Fridays.  The episodes go into depth as the host Sarah Koenig, from NPR’s This American Life, explores questions of:  what happened, how, why… how did it affect his fellow platoon mates, his family and the controversy it drew with his release and swap for the 5 Taliban detainees.  Before the Bowe story, I listened to 12 episodes of the story behind Adnan Syed, a seventeen year old Baltimore high school student who has served 15 years so far of his sentence for being convicted of murdering an ex-girlfriend. Those episodes went through a process of interviewing a large volume of people surrounding the case, his sister who believe in his complete innocence, class mates, teachers, expert law sources and Adnan himself. Sarah Koenig, the host of the show, has this soothing intellectual voice, as one might hear in France “Sympatique”; meaning, she sounds like a friend – a smart friend, that is helping to open up the conversation again about this young man behind bars, is he guilty? Was it Muslim racial profiling? Does he have it him? Is he a pathological person? Is he too kind and too good to have done anything so heinous? The podcast, literally, casts new light on the situation and Adnan is up for a retrial in February 2016.
Podcasts, an extension of talk radio with the benefit of it being on demand, allowing one to connect with stories and voices. Opening a window for thought provoking analysis. Or, focus on a simple prayer for the day, a meditation with the odd cast on and knit two together, a yarn over discussion.  It’s a whole different world.

NaNoWriMo 2015- the adventure begins!

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the written word. My bookshelves carry dozens of books on how to write, what to write, when to write and reasons why I should write, along with piles of magazines to motivate me to write. I have had a user ID for NaNoWriMo(National Novel Writing Month)  since 2012, and I believe back then, when I signed up, I had full intentions of carrying out my first full blown writing challenge. But something got in the way.. and looking back, I am not even sure what the culprit might have been. It could have been work, other family commitments or simply my lack of passion and discipline. And, I have not looked at the site since.  A couple of days ago, I picked up yet another Writer’s Digest magazine volume, this one a special edition “Yearbook Issue” presenting the Writer’s Workbook. Initially, I leafed through it and then put it back on the shelf at the bookstore. In its place, I picked up a Publisher’s Weekly and another magazine that claimed its focus was the novel. I brought these back to my spot in the cafe inside the bookstore to enjoy a latte and some glances through these periodicals, a possible help in inching me along to the next stage. The one magazine on novel writing had this really large font and every article had the same layout. It felt as if this was a self-publish magazine. The content blurred through my vision, for some reason, absolutely nothing about it captured me. The Publisher’s Weekly was completely focused on children’s literature; almost every page had cartoon images of children playing, dogs frolicking, monkey’s in trees, dogs barking, frogs jumping. I push this edition aside. I return the magazines to the shelf and find myself picking up the Writer’s Digest issue once again. Opening to the index, I spot the first offering has to do with writing a novel in a month. Sounds familiar, could this be about NaNoWriMo? I flip to the page indicated and sure enough, a section completely dedicated to throwing oneself into the challenge. Steps, inspirations… and I realize, this is the perfect timing. It’s mid-October, I still have time to figure this out before the challenge begins! Plotting, planning, brain storming- these are steps I must do before the actual day. I am a planner. Of course there are those who skip this step and according to NaNoWriMo, these folks are called pantsers (aka: people who wing it).
The NaNoWriMo site has come a really long way since I last set eyes on it. I had to send myself a password reset since it had been so long, and as I finally accessed the site I was blown away. Amazing amounts of energy went into creating that site and they must have quite the crew behind it. There are some workbooks that one can download that they have created for the purpose of bringing the concept to school children of all ages. The site invites me to take a look and download one of the workbooks. I choose the high school one and save it to my iPhone and send it to myself so that I can access it later on my iPad. The document is 93 pages long and contains everything one needs for the basics to novel writing, an essential novel writing 101. And it’s awesome because while I have been writing for years, the truth is I have not really written anything of substance. I love writing but have never had any focus on plot, characters, purpose, or point. It’s just a lot of journal drivel that I enjoy for the purpose of allowing my thoughts and feelings to have a place where they can land. It’s back to that whole discussion about having no one really to rely on for discussion. I do not have a close friend in my life to whom I can share everything anytime I need to – nor whom I offer the same in return. I do have friends – but they are the occasional once a month encounters or long distance support and texts. I don’t have a best bud that I can go to for my personal shares and needs. I wish I did have one of those but that just has not been my fate – to date. Anyhow, so this writing thing, the journaling, has been a way for me to stream my thoughts and line them up so that I can look at them, and make sense of things. It’s been useful. These moments have been my friendship with myself. I actually enjoy my own company and writing and readng what I write, has been an interesting form of dialogue.
What if? What if I could be a writer in the more traditional sense? What if I could write and create something worth publication? Something others wanted to read and once they read it, they wanted more? How do I go about making that happen? And, more importantly, what story do I have to tell? What characters can I develop to help unfold a tale that is worth telling?
I am excited because even though I don’t have the answers to those questions right now, I feel certain that I will in time. Write what you know. That’s a piece of advice I have read in so many of my magazines and books. There are so many threads I can go back to from my journaling days to mine a story line .. a character, a feeling or an opinion. Good story needs conflict and resolution. Well, I have plenty of that in the store room. No need to go out and find those ingredients. I just have to figure out how I take real life experiences and shake them up into a fictitious piece that will make sense and flow and keep the reader’s attention. Back to the workbook: there are great exercises in there. Not to mention all those books I have on writing. Everything from genre, to character, dialogue and pace. Maybe… just maybe, this is finally my year to move myself up a rung from dreamer to doer.
In less than a week, I leave on an Western Caribbean Cruise journey – a work trip.  This is a chance for me to experience a MegaShip that holds 5400 passengers.  My good friend from very far away is flying in to the port city to join me. I love this person like a sister. I am so grateful for her and her personality and her values. She and I will do well on this trip because of our mutual in advance understanding of what will make this cruise a great cruise for each of us. She has liberty to hang out at the pool for hours at a time without worrying about me. And, I will be spending time on the iPad typing away. She knows I am not a pool or beach person and she’s ok with that. And we are both OK with doing our own thing during the day (on some days) and then coming back together to enjoy the evenings. No pressure to have to bend to each other’s agenda. Yay. I am not even bringing a bathing suit because I hate them, hate wearing them, and uncomfortable all the way around in this arena. I have declared it, and claimed it and will be spending my time doing those things I love most: writing and knitting. During several evenings, we have scheduled shows that are included in the cost of our cruise- can’t wait to see the production: Cats. We have a superior balcony cabin which means a large balcony. I can imagine myself hanging out there with tea and books and iPad or yarn & sticks. Thoroughly kicking back to my own version of complete and thorough bliss.  Throw in complete awareness of the cruise experience for future clients… the “work” part of the trip.    Write down those impressions to record on my work place blog when I return, to help colleagues learn from my experiences as well.  I can hardly believe that I have this blocked week for this purpose and I am getting truly excited about it. I had considered bringing my actual laptop but it is so heavy and so I am hoping that my iPad holds out and stores all my writing without problems; this is one of the original iPads that came out so long ago and it’s still chugging along but at times, it does not cooperate so I need to make sure to send all writings to myself by email to ensure that I have a copy of everything. I will bring several notebooks and really good pens in case I have to resort to the handwritten method.

This morning, on one of the local public TV stations, there was an interview with a creative writing professor from the U of M. She had just published a book that was written from the basis of letters of recommendations. I did not catch her name but the interviewer, Kathy Wurzer, commended her for only writing by hand. The professor responded that this was the only way she could write. That, while she has a computer, the computer is like this eye watching her, waiting to criticize her. All that I could think of in that moment was that my writing flows so much better when I type. Partly because my hand seems to cramp because my hand can’t keep up with the speed of my mind. I end up with these very hard to understand written pages that are chicken scratch at best. What also struck me about this professor is that her personality seemed so dry and dead pan- perhaps she was nervous. The interviewers were both so delighted with her product, praising her writing as one that would definitely garner her more requests from publishers for new novels. This delighted the professor of course and for a moment, she brightened with her face softening, a smile displaying as she agreed this would be lovely if it were to happen. It was marvelous that this morning, amongst the political news of the day, that the show had featured a writer since on this day in particular, I am preparing to meet with a friend at a local coffee shop to have our monthly “writer’s meeting.”   When I enter the world of writing, my awareness of life and people and ideas is heightened. I feel that there are signs all around me that I am doing the right thing. That I am pursuing my passion and moving forward with the plan. That I am following my bliss. That I am doing what I was meant to be doing on this planet during my lifetime. And, rather than worry about wasted time or allowing my inner critic to take over to suggest I can’t do it, or that I don’t have it in me, I push forward and reach for my inner victorious self and urge myself to give it a shot. I have nothing to lose… and everthing to gain.
NaNoWriMo suggests 1667 words a day. Today, I have managed to type around 1950. These were merely journal threads on writing and the idea of diving into the 30 day challenge. Still, what I know is that I don’t have a problem these days with getting words onto the page. My focus right now will need to be unearthing a viable direction. The plan. Plotting my course and providing myself with a compass for the challenge. What is my final destination? I have read somewhere that authors at times will write the ending first.. so that they know where they are headed… then, they plot their way backwards in time to create the moment that lead up to that ending- that might work for me. One thing I know from reading other NaNoWriMo participants encouragements- if this is the first challenge, just jump in – don’t worry about it, see what happens. Don’t create a huge expectation, just do it. And, that sounds marvelous to me! I will dive in and see where the journey takes me- how very exciting. The NaNoWriMo prep counselors suggest creating the name of my novel … I am not there yet. But, it’s October 18th …and exactly 14 days from now- the challenge begins. I have two weeks to prep- so grateful for that valuable time.