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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.

Fishing as Metaphor

Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer

I’ve never tried fly fishing, and I haven’t fished at all since I was a kid. But working these past couple weeks on our show "Fishing with Mystery" brought back a visceral memory of that unmistakable tug on my line. Though I haven’t experienced it in almost 20 years, I’ll never forget what it’s like to go from reeling in an inanimate object to feeling that sudden connection to a living creature beneath the water’s surface.

It’s no wonder people often use fishing as a metaphor to describe the creative process. While working on this show, I was trying to come up with literary references to fishing. Luckily, the availability of searchable online texts makes this kind of literary fishing a lot easier. I cast my line into the pond of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, searched on the word “fish,” and came up with a whopper.

The abridged passage below became a part of the show, and I think it perfectly captures one of the ideas James Prosek explores in his work. Namely, that nature can help take us away from reality, and into our dreams, but that it simultaneously pulls us back to the immediate reality that’s always there if we pay attention.

Sometimes, after staying in a village parlor till the family had all retired, I have returned to the woods, and, partly with a view to the next day’s dinner, spent the hours of midnight fishing from a boat by moonlight…communicating by a long flaxen line with mysterious nocturnal fishes which had their dwelling forty feet below….It was very queer, especially in dark nights, when your thoughts had wandered to vast and cosmogonal themes in other spheres, to feel this faint jerk, which came to interrupt your dreams and link you to Nature again. It seemed as if I might next cast my line upward into the air, as well as downward into this element, which was scarcely more dense. Thus I caught two fishes as it were with one hook.

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Don’t Say the Words

Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer

Races: athletes in China, candidates in the U.S. My mind races ahead to the month of Ramadan, which begins in September.

Upcoming guest James Prosek — fisherman, writer, artist — insists that some species should be left nameless. Let nature be mysterious. I agree with that when it comes to my own quiet spiritual/religious practice, of which the thirty-day marathon of daily fasting is a public part.

It’s hard to wake up before sunrise, try to eat something, sneak in a few more hours of sleep, then go through the day without food, water, or a full night’s sleep. I’m already a clumsy space-case on most days; then, it only gets worse. For thirty days I strive for grace but battle irritability. I reach for understanding but collide with doubt. I pray for a compassionate heart but am too hungry to be unselfish. That’s when the meaning behind this marathon, this race, shines.

I know, too, that the Muslim world struggles the same way. I’m not talking about Asia or Africa. I’m talking about my parents in their empty nest fretting about their unmarried 31-year-old son. I’m talking about my little sister who just moved by herself to Toronto. I’m talking about the bounce of my grandmother’s laughing belly. I’m talking about family I have here and the eagerness of my cousin’s kids to earn holy Brownie points. And in this small world of mine, we are exhausted by the political talk about the larger Muslim world, salt in a wound — a wounded body that once soared like a gymnast.

Krista just last week interviewed dapper expert Vali Nasr. It’s a great interview about the political situation in the Middle East. We planned to broadcast this program in September, in the lead-up to the November election… and in the middle of Ramadan. Something about that felt off to me, like a program about the Catholic sexual abuse scandal on Christmas.

Discussing the Timing of a Show on Islam and Ramadan
(photo: Trent Gilliss)

So I explained that to the rest of the gang, trying not to get caught up in the emotion of naming something I prefer to keep nameless. I’m a radio producer, supposedly professional, but some things hit close to home and push you away from objectivity.

All other times of the year, we have our daily toils and the evils in the news. But not in Ramadan. Ramadan is a time of self-perfection and moral beauty. Ramadan is something to protect, for all the discombobulation I feel at 4 a.m., when sleep makes sense but fasting doesn’t. And even though I don’t know how to say all this out loud, I hoped to have said enough when we huddled to discuss my concerns about the air date.

Part of me felt unreasonable trying to mess with the production schedule, but I’m grateful to the others on staff for understanding my concerns. We pushed the broadcast date of that Vali Nasr show by three weeks, to October.

And, hopefully, we’ll be able to put together a true Ramadan show next year.

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