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Four New Podcasts That Make You a Better Person

Lost in podcast, April 2017, Ottawa

I barely know how to turn on the TV in our house.

It’s pathetic but it was my little secret until, one evening, Mark asked for a movie and Feng was away.

“Honestly, Mark, I don’t think I know how to play a DVD other than on my computer.”

“Try, mommy! See, you just have to take the disk, put it in…”

“Yeah, I got this part, Mark. The problem is the remote. I mean, the remote controls, plural.”

There are three remote controls on the couch or the table. I pick them up and put them away all the time, but I never actually use them. One is to turn the TV on, the other is for cable TV, and the third one presumably controls the DVD player.

But there is theory and practice.

I turned the power bar and the DVD player on, Mark inserted the Ghostbuster disk and I pressed on the “play” button. The movie started but TV programming was still on. I vaguely remembered something about pressing on a “source” button to switch from Cable TV to DVD player.

Problem: three remote controls, three “source” buttons.

I tried one, no luck.

“You’re doing a good job, mommy!”

“Okay, gotta be this one, then… nope.”

“Mommy, I’m proud of you.”

“But it doesn’t work! Oh, fuck this shit. Sorry Mark. But frankly, why would you need three remote controls to operate a simple… see, this is what’s wrong with consumerism today…”

“Mommy, you tried, it’s good.”

“Right. Ahem, sorry. Do you want to… play with LEGO again?”

Mark gave me a pat on the back and went back to LEGO.

Then Feng arrived, fixed the issue and yes, you have to switch mode to DVD player with one of the damn “source” buttons—I think Mark knows which one, now.

I don’t watch TV. Not as a matter of principles—although I do find there are way too many commercials—, it’s just that whole sit-on-couch-don’t-move-just-watch part of “watching TV” doesn’t work in my routine. I read books on my Kindle before I sleep, at Starbucks or when I eat, and I listen to podcasts when I walk. These are the forms of entertainment that work best for me since I’m always on the go.

So yeah, podcasts.

I’m strongly recommending these four gems.

If you’ve ever wished you could eavesdrop on a therapy session, listen to Terrible, Thanks for Asking

“How are you?” is probably the top small-talk question, and society fully expect you to reply, “great, thanks!” Well, this podcast focuses on the honest answer we should occasionally be able to give—“terrible, thanks for asking.”

Nora McInerny Purmort, the host, knows something about pain and resilience: at 27, she was happily in love when her boyfriend learned he had brain cancer. They decided to make the most of the time they had left and got married, had a child and lived life to the fullest for three, short years until he passed away. Then Nora had to rebuild her life, which she does with humour, empathy and wisdom—in a way, she reminds me a lot of Gail, a talent Canadian photographer (and blogger!) who is now living a second (or third, or fourth…) life in Portugal with her husband.

A talented listener, Nora and her guest explore these moments when life really sucks. It’s not Hollywood, it’s reality. Heavy? You bet. Inspiring? This, as well.

If you’ve ever wished you could go back in time and fix a mistake, try Heavyweight

Despite its name, this podcast is not as emotionally charged as Terrible, Thanks for Asking, but it’s very touching.

Jonathan Goldstein, the host, goes right back to the moment when, in his guests’ lives, something still feels unsolved. From a man who wants to re-establish a relationship with his godchildren late in life to an old family feud, from a breakup to an episode where Moby, the singer, won’t give a CD back, explore different lives and different paths.

If you want to listen to a fascinating short psychological thriller, try Homecoming

I usually stick to non-fiction when it comes to podcasts but I was drawn to this scripted series from Gimlet Media, starring Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, David Schwimmer, David Cross, and Amy Sedaris.

Heidi Bergman is a caseworker from an experimental facility who is helping soldiers integrate back into post-combat life. While she is focusing on Walter Cruz, taking a holistic approach, her boss, Colin Belfast, has a different way of viewing things. Fast-forward five years, Heidi is now working as a waitress and is approached by a customer…

The story is told through an enigmatic collage of telephone calls, therapy sessions, and overheard conversations and each of the seven twenty-minute-long episodes ends on a cliffhanger—yes, the story is addictive.

If you want to listen to a long story that is a pure transformative experience, listen to S-Town

Announced by This American Life and Serial teams in February, the seven episodes of S-Town were all released on March 28 and the podcast has already attained blockbuster status.

At the beginning, you have a possible murder, a cynical horologist and the atmosphere of rural Alabama. Then there is a death, a treasure hunt and buried secrets. I won’t spoil it for you—just listen to the story.

This is one of the most quotable and surprising podcasts I’ve ever listened to. For the first ten minutes, as I was trying to decipher the local accent, I was wondering what I was listening to, fully expecting a story on corruption. But somewhere between the rambling of a cynical genius and the questionable clients and staff of a tattoo parlour, I lost track of the red herring and focused on what mattered—the people. I even cried. You might too.


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