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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Valuing the Mindful Intelligence of Work in All Its Forms
Trent Gilliss, online editor

I loosely pitched Matthew Crawford, a political philospher who traded in his credentials to run a motorcycle repair shop, as a possible guest for SOF several weeks ago after reading "The Case for Working with Your Hands" in The New York Times:

…mechanical work has required me to cultivate different intellectual habits. Further, habits of mind have an ethical dimension that we don’t often think about. Good diagnosis requires attentiveness to the machine, almost a conversation with it, rather than assertiveness, as in the position papers produced on K Street. Cognitive psychologists speak of “metacognition,” which is the activity of stepping back and thinking about your own thinking. It is what you do when you stop for a moment in your pursuit of a solution, and wonder whether your understanding of the problem is adequate. The slap of worn-out pistons hitting their cylinders can sound a lot like loose valve tappets, so to be a good mechanic you have to be constantly open to the possibility that you may be mistaken. This is a virtue that is at once cognitive and moral. It seems to develop because the mechanic, if he is the sort who goes on to become good at it, internalizes the healthy functioning of the motorcycle as an object of passionate concern. How else can you explain the elation he gets when he identifies the root cause of some problem?

This active concern for the motorcycle is reinforced by the social aspects of the job. As is the case with many independent mechanics, my business is based entirely on word of mouth. I sometimes barter services with machinists and metal fabricators. This has a very different feel than transactions with money; it situates me in a community. The result is that I really don’t want to mess up anybody’s motorcycle or charge more than a fair price. You often hear people complain about mechanics and other tradespeople whom they take to be dishonest or incompetent. I am sure this is sometimes justified. But it is also true that the mechanic deals with a large element of chance.

(“Sumo Zamboni” by Jean-François Chénier/Flickr)

Admittedly, I have a great admiration for women and men who work with their hands and their feet — barbers and electricians, waitresses and bricklayers, potters and linemen. My uncles just knew how to fix farm machinery and build chicken coops and grain silos without a set of drawings. The skill of engine repair I’ve never quite acquired, but I discovered a love of building and remodeling homes — a latent penchant I never allowed myself to explore until 15 years ago. Thinking back to boyhood, the desire was always there, manifesting itself in constructing wood and log mud dams as the heavy Plains rains flowed down the rounded L-shaped gutters. I thought of it as frivolous play; now I recognize it as new sense of play, and purpose (although I suppose Stuart Brown might take issue with my definition).

(“Fixing the tractor” by Nirava Rasila/Flickr)

There’s a value and a spirit in learning from people who don’t sit in a cubicle all day, who don’t migrate from one meeting room to the next, and live only in words and ideas — much of what I do now and love. I’m not trying to romanticize these professions. Much hard, physically demanding work is involved. But, blue-collar jobs require different approaches to problem-solving, to collaborating, to communicating, to organizing, to tolerating; you do think differently. My many years waiting tables, repairing asphalt cracks with diamond blades and boiling tar, driving a Zamboni machine, cleaning campgrounds, etc. taught me this.

(“Lunch at Ella’s Diner” by Chuck Patch/Flickr)

I also know there’s a different persuasion of intelligence and honor involved in these pursuits. The character traits these many professionals know and practice are common truths that might help us understand ourselves and the values we hold dear with better insight. Shared ideas of loyalty and honesty, camaraderie and community may lead us to be better workers and spouses, friends and neighbors — for the many truths in this world teach and touch all of us, if we let them. We become a greater society as a result.

Hearing others like Matthew Crawford and Mike Rose (author of The Intelligence of Work) and Barbara Ehrenreich and the late Studs Terkel articulate these many perspectives is worth pursuing. And the first step is evaluating voices, which is where Stephen Colbert’s interview comes in. Admittedly, Colbert’s interviews are great fun, but sometimes his quick wit and comic interjections aren’t the most helpful in deciding if a voice for a long-form public radio show. What do you think? Are there other voices for this type of show you might recommend?


The Fastest Pitch-to-Interview Ever
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

It’s been a hectic several weeks around SOF, with various staff vacations and Krista traveling to New York in mid-July for an event at the Council on Foreign Relations and her moving in to a new home. So, before she hits the road again, Colleen made an appeal to the staff for a guest Krista could interview by the end of the week.

Somewhat hesitantly, I sent an e-mail containing a brief pitch early Monday morning:

Over the past five years, I’ve had ample opportunity to grab a few volumes from the dead books pile. The most memorable one was snatched during the first month of my tenure in 2003 — back when Tippett and Farrell shared the top of a file cabinet. And, to boot, it was a story about fly-fishing (Fly-Fishing the 41st Parallel).

I don’t fly-fish, but he makes me wish I did. Here’s a brief sketch.

James Prosek tells stories and ruminates about life through the lens of angling. His appeal to me is that the ritualistic act of fly-fishing serves as a meditation on place and self, on people and the world around us, on our communion with nature, on art, on home and the necessity of leaving it. Yet, I don’t sense an agenda or a lecturing, didactic man.

He’s in his early 30s, has a somewhat soft, pubescent voice (which I find endearing) and has published nine books — his latest a work of fiction. He writes and talks about trout in such intimate ways that he gives me a sense of the importance of solitude and contemplation.

For Prosek, fly-fishing serves as a way of crossing class boundaries. He won a Peabody and an Emmy for his film, The Complete Angler. Watch the first chapter to gain a better flavor of his voice and sensibility: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwZAR4mJEa8.

NPR produced a 12-minute piece with him as part of their Creative Spaces series: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=3622503. What does he mean when he talks about “creation is the act of playing God?”

He’s a wonderful artist who illustrates in the style of James Audubon. Although he’s renowned for his portraits of trout, he currently has a series “Life & Death–A Visual Taxonomy” exhibiting paintings on birds in various states of life (quite reminiscent of J.A.): “The boxes conceptually reference how man tries to fit nature into neat little containers through collecting, naming, classifying, and cataloging.”

He’s also partnered with the founder of Patagonia in a conservation effort called the World Trout Fund: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kpx_fsMRkYs.

By the time we had our staff meeting at 11 (Krista hadn’t read the e-mail yet), I did a quick 60-second recap. I got a fair nod from Colleen and Kate, and Krista gives the go-ahead to book the interview.

So, here we are, just minutes before 3 p.m. Central and Krista will be talking to James Prosek from the studios of WSHU at Sacred Hart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. I hope it’s magic, and I’ll be uploading some video of the interview in the coming days!