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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.

An excellent TED Talk by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who speaks so eloquently about the danger of a single narrative. Our lives, our cultures, she says, are composed of many overlapping stories. If we don’t allow for the multiplicity of voices and narratives of a land and a people, then we risk something greater: understanding others, and ourselves.

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We release the unedited interviews of all our produced one-hour shows. Time constraints are often a good thing, helping us prune the tree to a more perfect form. But, it doesn’t come without a cost.

Sometimes we have to kill our darlings, and leave them strewn on the cutting room floor. And this conversation with Maria Tatar is a great example of editorial decisions made with a direction in mind. Listen to this unedited interview, and I think you’ll find it an entirely additive experience.

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This week’s show came about in the best possible way — while browsing illustrated books about classic literature at a quaint children’s book shop in Minneapolis (The Wild Rumpus). I pitched the brilliant folklorist Maria Tatar as a guest who could talk about why all these timeless stories are infusing our culture in fresh ways these days. The popularity of Game of Thrones and The Vampire Diaries is a testament to the great, inventive work being done.

The result? "The Great Cauldron of Story: Why Fairy Tales Are for Adults Again."

Fairy tales don’t only belong to the domain of childhood. These stories’ overt themes are threaded throughout hit TV series like True BloodGrimm, and Once Upon a Time too. These stories survive, says Maria Tatar, by adapting across cultures and history. They are carriers of the plots we endlessly re-work in the narratives of our lives — helping us work through things like fear and hope.

I think you’re going to dig this conversation. If so, spread the word: reblog, tweet, post on your own site, you name it.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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With the abundance of coverage of the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican, here’s our show about a Jesuit priest who’s living a life of Christian service that flies under the radar. Father Greg Boyle’s gang intervention programs in Los Angeles are becoming more well-known, but his ideas behind them often get short shrift.

He makes winsome connections between service and delight, and compassion and awe. He heads Homeboy Industries, which employs former gang members in a constellation of businesses. This is not work of helping, he says, but of finding kinship. The point of Christian service, as he lives it, is about “our common calling to delight in one another.”

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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The Science of Storytelling
by Colleen Scheck, APM producer
Scientists studying the origin of humans use the clues of ancient artifacts to help shed light on many facets of our evolution, including the development of culture in our species. In the World Science Festival panel "Why We Prevailed: Evolution and the Battle for Dominance," anthropologist Alison S. Brooks showed a photo of six snail-like shells thought to be 100,000 years old that had synchronized piercings with smooth edges and coloration, suggesting they were strung like a necklace and worn on a body-painted “person.” What was the purpose of this Neanderthal art? A primitive marriage symbol? A tribal identifier? A designation of leadership? And what story did the wearer tell about it? 
That question lingered in my mind at a subsequent panel "Why We Tell Stories: The Science of Narrative." While storytelling itself may have been a component of our prototype years, the science of storytelling is a very young field. Jonathan Gottschall, a writer at this intersection, noted its infancy — there’s only about 15 years of active scientific research in hand. Why? He said neither scientists nor humanities scholars feel it’s their jurisdiction. He advocates for bringing experts in these disciplines closer together to more rigorously advance our understanding of this uniquely human gift.
The panel was an intriguing and entertaining example of how writers and scientists can jointly explore the wide spectrum of theories and questions in this arena. Authors Joyce Carol Oates and Jeffrey Eugenides, psychologist Paul Bloom, novelist and psychologist Keith Oatley, and Gottschall discussed everything from the neurological functions in the brain of a reader to storytelling’s role in cognitive development in children, from the differences in the art of storytelling itself to its sociological implications in our individual and communal lives, from the nature of its psychological depths to the value of its aesthetic heights. What is the effect of “constantly marinating ourselves in fiction” like we do? Why do children’s stories often center around some type of trouble, when we would expect them to want to avoid fearful or sad narratives? What’s the future of storytelling? Will video games evolve beyond action genres to include virtual engagement in a Henry James or Jane Austen story?
In closing, moderator Jay Allison brought me back around to evolution. As one of the creative forces behind the popular public radio program The Moth, he noted the remarkable appeal of the show’s utterly simple and primitive form — individuals telling true personal stories, without editing or sculpting or elaborate production.
What’s the power of storytelling in your life? What do you think is important to advancing this field of inquiry?
(Click on the panel title links above to replay the live stream of both these events.)
Photo at top (l-r): Jonathan Gottschall, Joyce Carol Oates, Jeffrey Eugenides, Keith Oatley and Paul Bloom discuss the art and science of storytelling.
The Science of Storytelling
by Colleen Scheck, APM producer
Scientists studying the origin of humans use the clues of ancient artifacts to help shed light on many facets of our evolution, including the development of culture in our species. In the World Science Festival panel "Why We Prevailed: Evolution and the Battle for Dominance," anthropologist Alison S. Brooks showed a photo of six snail-like shells thought to be 100,000 years old that had synchronized piercings with smooth edges and coloration, suggesting they were strung like a necklace and worn on a body-painted “person.” What was the purpose of this Neanderthal art? A primitive marriage symbol? A tribal identifier? A designation of leadership? And what story did the wearer tell about it? 
That question lingered in my mind at a subsequent panel "Why We Tell Stories: The Science of Narrative." While storytelling itself may have been a component of our prototype years, the science of storytelling is a very young field. Jonathan Gottschall, a writer at this intersection, noted its infancy — there’s only about 15 years of active scientific research in hand. Why? He said neither scientists nor humanities scholars feel it’s their jurisdiction. He advocates for bringing experts in these disciplines closer together to more rigorously advance our understanding of this uniquely human gift.
The panel was an intriguing and entertaining example of how writers and scientists can jointly explore the wide spectrum of theories and questions in this arena. Authors Joyce Carol Oates and Jeffrey Eugenides, psychologist Paul Bloom, novelist and psychologist Keith Oatley, and Gottschall discussed everything from the neurological functions in the brain of a reader to storytelling’s role in cognitive development in children, from the differences in the art of storytelling itself to its sociological implications in our individual and communal lives, from the nature of its psychological depths to the value of its aesthetic heights. What is the effect of “constantly marinating ourselves in fiction” like we do? Why do children’s stories often center around some type of trouble, when we would expect them to want to avoid fearful or sad narratives? What’s the future of storytelling? Will video games evolve beyond action genres to include virtual engagement in a Henry James or Jane Austen story?
In closing, moderator Jay Allison brought me back around to evolution. As one of the creative forces behind the popular public radio program The Moth, he noted the remarkable appeal of the show’s utterly simple and primitive form — individuals telling true personal stories, without editing or sculpting or elaborate production.
What’s the power of storytelling in your life? What do you think is important to advancing this field of inquiry?
(Click on the panel title links above to replay the live stream of both these events.)
Photo at top (l-r): Jonathan Gottschall, Joyce Carol Oates, Jeffrey Eugenides, Keith Oatley and Paul Bloom discuss the art and science of storytelling.

The Science of Storytelling

by Colleen Scheck, APM producer

Scientists studying the origin of humans use the clues of ancient artifacts to help shed light on many facets of our evolution, including the development of culture in our species. In the World Science Festival panel "Why We Prevailed: Evolution and the Battle for Dominance," anthropologist Alison S. Brooks showed a photo of six snail-like shells thought to be 100,000 years old that had synchronized piercings with smooth edges and coloration, suggesting they were strung like a necklace and worn on a body-painted “person.” What was the purpose of this Neanderthal art? A primitive marriage symbol? A tribal identifier? A designation of leadership? And what story did the wearer tell about it?

That question lingered in my mind at a subsequent panel "Why We Tell Stories: The Science of Narrative." While storytelling itself may have been a component of our prototype years, the science of storytelling is a very young field. Jonathan Gottschall, a writer at this intersection, noted its infancy — there’s only about 15 years of active scientific research in hand. Why? He said neither scientists nor humanities scholars feel it’s their jurisdiction. He advocates for bringing experts in these disciplines closer together to more rigorously advance our understanding of this uniquely human gift.

The panel was an intriguing and entertaining example of how writers and scientists can jointly explore the wide spectrum of theories and questions in this arena. Authors Joyce Carol Oates and Jeffrey Eugenides, psychologist Paul Bloom, novelist and psychologist Keith Oatley, and Gottschall discussed everything from the neurological functions in the brain of a reader to storytelling’s role in cognitive development in children, from the differences in the art of storytelling itself to its sociological implications in our individual and communal lives, from the nature of its psychological depths to the value of its aesthetic heights. What is the effect of “constantly marinating ourselves in fiction” like we do? Why do children’s stories often center around some type of trouble, when we would expect them to want to avoid fearful or sad narratives? What’s the future of storytelling? Will video games evolve beyond action genres to include virtual engagement in a Henry James or Jane Austen story?

In closing, moderator Jay Allison brought me back around to evolution. As one of the creative forces behind the popular public radio program The Moth, he noted the remarkable appeal of the show’s utterly simple and primitive form — individuals telling true personal stories, without editing or sculpting or elaborate production.

What’s the power of storytelling in your life? What do you think is important to advancing this field of inquiry?

(Click on the panel title links above to replay the live stream of both these events.)

Photo at top (l-r): Jonathan Gottschall, Joyce Carol Oates, Jeffrey Eugenides, Keith Oatley and Paul Bloom discuss the art and science of storytelling.

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Our Words Are the Most Powerful and Connective Tool We Have

by Krista Tippett, host

Sarah Kay + Phil Kaye Perform on StageSarah Kay and Phil Kaye perform at Da Poetry Lounge in Los Angeles in 2011. (photo: Da Poetry Lounge)

I experienced Sarah Kay at a gathering on Nantucket Island last fall. Collected there were the CEO of Google, the founder of the X PRIZE, and an eminent Broadway director. But each time this lovely 23-year-old took the stage to perform a poem, the audience quieted, reflected, and delighted in a completely different way. On YouTube, at TED, and in classrooms around the world, Sarah Kay has become an inspiration and role model for teenagers (and others).

She herself is well aware that it might sound surprising that poetry could galvanize a modern audience. When she and her friend and fellow poet, Phil Kaye, go into schools to introduce Project V.O.I.C.E., she says she finds herself fighting two sides to the same argument. She reminds teachers and administrators that what we call “spoken word poetry” is the same thing Shakespeare and Homer were about. To skeptical teenagers — who, she says, have often internalized an idea that they should shield themselves against amazement — she points out that spoken word poetry is also what Regina Spektor and Jay-Z do. As soon as we forget this, we reinvent it.

Sarah Kay talks about helping teenagers find their voices, which feels like familiar language in the 21st century. Listen to her closely — and take in the layers of response you have to her own poetry — and you see that she is doing something much more instructive and nourishing.

Her Japanese-American grandmother says she is an old soul. There’s something to that. In her slam poetry and spoken word poetry and singing and teaching, Sarah Kay is reminding young people today that our words are the most powerful connective tool we have — and not merely our most personal tool. We are called to be creative with our words, and careful without words, in our age that is technological but still as human as before.

I’ll end by pointing you to Sarah Kay’s performance of her poem, “Hiroshima.” She wrote this after a post-high school trip to Japan with her cousins. She did a lot of thinking there, as she tells it, about what we mean when we say we want to leave an impact on the world. We’ve also interspersed the sound of her performing other poems between a quietly beautiful conversation with me, where she puts words to what she knows about poetry, stories, and what happens within and between human beings.

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Every time we air this interview with Matthew Sanford, people write and express such deep gratitude. It’s the best part of producing public radio.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Every time we air this interview with Matthew Sanford, people write and express such deep gratitude. It’s the best part of producing public radio.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Every time we air this interview with Matthew Sanford, people write and express such deep gratitude. It’s the best part of producing public radio.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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What Would You Be Willing to Sacrifice?

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

"This project isn’t about making images. It’s not about creating the world’s largest camera. It’s about doing what you love. If you had been searching your whole life for something you love, what would you be willing to sacrifice?" ~Ian Ruhter, from Silver & Light

I can’t remember watching something so heartbreakingly gorgeous, unswerving in its emotional sway, inspirational to the point of forcing me to wonder about my current station in life. What am I doing here?

(h/t Chris Heagle)

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Confessions on Life, Death and God (video)

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

This PostSecret video is imbued with a lot of light-hearted moments, but there are two people who tell stories that touched me deeply. Those are the takeaways that I’ll sit with and remember in the most unexpected moments. What are those two for you?

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The Story of the Cracked Pot

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Ashridge Park, Hertfordshire, UK | National Trust Woodlands carpeted with English Bluebells in Spring (4 of 5)English bluebells in spring of Ashbridge Park, Hertfordshire. (photo: UK Garden Photos/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)

On these early spring days, this story Kevin Kling told us is a fine way to kick off the week:

"Back in the days when pots and pans could talk, which indeed they still do, there lived a man. And in order to have water, every day he had to walk down the hill and fill two pots and walk them home.

One day, it was discovered one of the pots had a crack, and as time went on, the crack widened. Finally, the pot turned to the man and said, ‘You know, every day you take me to the river, and by the time you get home, half of the water’s leaked out. Please replace me with a better pot.’

And the man said, ‘You don’t understand. As you spill, you water the wild flowers by the side of the path.’ And sure enough, on the side of the path where the cracked pot was carried, beautiful flowers grew, while other side was barren.

'I think I'll keep you,' said the man.

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What a wonderful Monday morning surprise. Our show with storyteller Kevin Kling has catapulted our On Being podcast to #15 on iTunes’ Top Podcast list. It’s so cool to be in the company of such an eclectic and groovy array of podcasts — from The Moth to Real Time with Bill Maher and TedTalks. Kling’s insights are profound and delightful, and I only hope more people get to know him.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
What a wonderful Monday morning surprise. Our show with storyteller Kevin Kling has catapulted our On Being podcast to #15 on iTunes’ Top Podcast list. It’s so cool to be in the company of such an eclectic and groovy array of podcasts — from The Moth to Real Time with Bill Maher and TedTalks. Kling’s insights are profound and delightful, and I only hope more people get to know him.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

What a wonderful Monday morning surprise. Our show with storyteller Kevin Kling has catapulted our On Being podcast to #15 on iTunes’ Top Podcast list. It’s so cool to be in the company of such an eclectic and groovy array of podcasts — from The Moth to Real Time with Bill Maher and TedTalks. Kling’s insights are profound and delightful, and I only hope more people get to know him.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Turning the Gifts of Our Experiences Into Story and Laughter

by Krista Tippett, host

Kevin KlingFull disclosure: until I moved to Minnesota, I didn’t get the Midwestern accent/humor thing thing that the movie Fargo so iconically captured. But I remember hearing Kevin Kling on NPR and staying with him despite myself, always being touched as well as amused at where his stories took me.

Having only heard him on the radio, I wasn’t aware of the disability he was born with — his left arm much shorter than his right, with no wrist and no thumb. Then, about ten years ago, he was in a catastrophic motorcycle crash. The Associated Press and the local newspapers in Minneapolis and St. Paul reported the accident. Eyewitnesses thought he had died. The accident had paralyzed his healthy right arm, the one which had always done the bulk of the work.

Reading his stories from and about his childhood — they are legion — it is clear that Kevin Kling was always a natural humorist. And life has also made him wise.

Our losses make us human, he’s learned. They give us our richness and our wisdom. But wisdom doesn’t come cheap; it costs us. This is one of the endless things he says that makes you think hard just before or after he makes you smile.

We get the whole package of Kevin Kling in this conversation: funny guy, poet, wise man. As deeply down to earth as he is — in life as on stage — he also has an innate love of literature and philosophy, weaving Shakespeare and Dante into his stories as easily as Goofus and Gallant.

He describes himself as touched by Dante’s underworld. It’s a reality he feels he landed in, and wrested himself back from, after his accident. He also plays with Dante’s language about the underworld as he considers his very being and presence in the world. Dis, he says, is “the place of shadow and reflection where you round off the rough edges of torment and desire. You go to this world of Dis. And it’s the prefix for ‘disability,’ which doesn’t mean ‘unability.’ It means able through the world of shadow and reflection. And so it’s just another way of doing things… it is literally having a foot in two worlds.” This is how Kevin Kling experiences the “dis” in the disability he was born with, as well as the one he acquired in midlife.

And being able-bodied, he helpfully points out, is always only a temporary condition.

Sit back, relax, and prepare to reflect and to laugh. It’s a rare, lovely gift of Kevin Kling to make us do both. He helps us remember what he knows so well — that our sense of self and our sense of humor are great gifts in facing whatever life throws at us. Once we turn our experiences into stories and laughter, they no longer control us. The challenge is in not merely resting with the stories that help us sleep at night, but claiming the stories we want to grow into.

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Live Video: In the Room with Kevin Kling

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Live Video: In the Room with Kevin Kling and Krista TippettWHEN: Feb 9th, 2012 (1pm CT/2pm ET)

If you listen to NPR, there’s a good chance you’ve been regaled by the unparalleled storytelling of Kevin Kling. His popular commentaries and hilarious autobiographical tales have graced the public radio airwaves and his plays have been staged across the United States.

Born with a congenital birth defect, Kling’s left hand has no wrist or thumb, and that same arm is 75 percent the size of his right arm. And then, about five years ago, a motorcycle accident took away the use of his right arm when the brachial plexus nerves were pulled out of their sockets.

In a face-to-face conversation from the studios of American Public Media and Minnesota Public Radio, Krista Tippett will talk to this American humorist and writer about confronting and embracing these physical challenges and his own mortality, and the will to create rather than despair. Through his work and his personal story, we’ll focus on his work as an artist, the importance of humor and craft in his spiritual life, and how he finds meaning in the world around him.

You’re welcome to watch it here, or join us on our events page where you can chat with other folks watching it.

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If I did not see light in the story, I could not tell it.
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Tiya MilesTiya Miles

Our interview with the public historian who is unearthing the “complex interrelationships between African American and Cherokee people in pre-colonial America” is in the final stages of production. Look for our interview next week.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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This is storytelling at its finest and its darkest, but Auslander’s wry sense of humor and delivery give the heaviness of the situation a light touch. For those of you with delicate sensibility about the Holocaust or profane language, be forewarned. He does swear a few times and is brutally honest about his visit to a concentration camp in Germany. His ending is worth it and his point all the more salient because of this humorous approach. 

andymillsmedia:

Some people have a way of bringing laughter to deep, painful sorrow - but not in a way that ignores or diminishes the reality of that sorrow. It’s like some people have this ability to see the microscopic punchlines and jokes even in the darkest of places. Writer Shalom Auslander has this ability. Here, he tells a live story with The Moth in NYC about his reluctant trip to a WWII death camp. And if you like this, you can hear more stories from him on This American Life, read more stories in his (amazing) books & articles, or listen to him talk with Terry.

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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