Why I love “This American Life”

I would love to tell you, beloved radio listener, that this phase of jealousy and competitiveness passed quickly on my part, that I moved with grace and ease into the world of “just friends.” I would like to say that. But, you know, one of the rules of getting over “it,” in fact maybe the main rule of getting over it, is that you cannot choose the time and place. You cannot will it to happen. You cannot think, “Okay, now! I have the right attitude right now! I’m over it, I’m ready, and it’s now!” It’s like when Jesus returns; I say this to you as a Jew. None will know the exact day or hour. It can come like a thief in the night, the getting over “it.”

— Ira Glass, from Episode 42 | Get  Over It!

What I really love about This American Life is the honesty that lies between the words of Ira Glass, his other radio correspondents, and the multitude of his wonderful guests. That honesty, that in-your-room kind of closeness that comes across the radio waves, those words of I-know-what-you’re-going-through, it’s just beautiful. It’s just beautiful, you know, that kind of empathy. And it’s an empathy that comes from a complete stranger, which makes it beautiful. And maybe, maybe the feeling of empathy is just a farce that springs from the tone of voice Ira Glass uses, but I find that it doesn’t quite matter. Maybe it is a farce. But, like any story-telling, that’s the whole point of it. Maybe a short story or a novel or a poem can only go as far as telling an experience with the rose-colored glasses of empathy. But that’s the whole thing about fiction, or the whole thing about story-telling. Fiction is about the human experience that deals with the differing, complexing exploits that humans live. It simply tells something about the world we live in, that we partake in, and it’s to study how we live. Sort of.

The other thing I love about This American Life are the little snippets of wisdom Ira Glass gives. It’s usually in his first act, or intermeshed between the stories of his very human guests. And I mean “human” as very blurred or marred or imperfect. The wisdom is found in the strain of their voices. It’s such a beautiful thing to hear the range of emotions in Ira’s guests, from utter joy to helpless sadness to fleeting laughter. I think the power of the human voice, with all the ambivalent emotions it carries, is the driving force of story-telling. It is the catalyst of empathy. And when it’s done well in writing, it stays with you. It will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Holden Caulfield’s voice will stay with me forever, and I’m forever grateful to J.D. Salinger for that.


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