If I were a photographer (which I'm not...I actually get anxiety about taking pictures), I'm almost certain that I'd only want to use telephoto lenses because I love getting hyper-focused on tiny details. The lines in peoples hands and faces, the bark on trees, moss on an old railroad tie, freckles in peoples irises, you know, artsy stuff. This is also how I get when I set goals. I get very specific and nervous and anxious, and I tend to focus on small details instead of looking up and out. The problem, which is not actually a problem, is that I want to meet my goals very specifically, and with gusto. What that looks like to me, is people benefiting from what I have offer as a writer, educator and person in general. So, it is with a very narrow focus that I slam my metaphoric truck door, rev the ol' engine up, shut down the choke, and (at ramming speed) pursue my sometimes half-baked dreams thinking that I know exactly what I need to do to change lives...because that's the ultimate goal. This is often when the Big Crash happens (right after ramming speed is reached). My focus is readjusted in an inspiring series of events and I am handed a new lens with panoramic capabilities. As a hypothetical photographer, I would start to notice the hands themselves, and maybe the arms to which they're connected, I'd see the leaves on the tree in front of me, I'd see that the railroad tie is a foundation for an old tack shed, and that the eyes I'm looking into are brimming with joy...not just freckles. And I also realize that my goals, in the grand scheme of things, are small and their impact might be minuscule at best. So I limp my broken down and hypothetical truck home and PANIC about how how I'm going to reach more people, change more lives, and write really, really interesting shit that will make people say, "Whoa." Then I think, "How, how, how am I going to do this and live in the beautiful bowels of Deep America?" It poses quite the conundrum, I assure you.
The latest Big Crash happened last week at the NPR Weekend in Washington (#nprWiW). El fiancé and I ventured out to Washington DC to listen to all of our favorite radio show hosts be interviewed, discuss international refugee crises, talk about why people are bad with their money, and how young people need to start listening to radio because it's okay to be a public radio nerd. The weekend was hosted at The InterContinental Willard Hotel. Not only was this a pretty clutch location (across the street from The Treasury Department, and close neighbors with The White House), the hotel was beautiful, and they had excellent sheets on the bed, plus wallpaper that looked like many, many tiny little faces with well-manicured mustaches.
The meat of the weekend was spent in conferences and small breakout groups with my favorite NPR personalities, whose acquaintances I made, and about whom I will now brag. I met Ari Shapiro, Eleanor Beardsley, Michelle Keleman, and Pam Fessler. I ate dinner with Caitlin Dickerson, a young fireball and investigative reporter for NPR. I watched Linda Holmes interview Trevor Noah from the Daily Show, and listened to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar answer questions about his life (which seems filled with ambition). And, for the second time this year, I watched Shankar Vendantam on the stage, except this time, he was talking to Richard Thaler about his new book, Misbehaving, which was a hilarious combination of personalities to listen to. If you have a chance to see them together, I doubt you'll regret it.
The most impactful encounter I had, however, was with the founders of a program called Generation Listen. It's a program geared toward youngsters ages 18-34 with the intent to get them interested in listening to, and talking about public radio. The few board members who formed the panel at lunch last Saturday were awesome. Genuinely. They inspired awe. They spoke about how radio is the one thing that has not let my generation down once in our lifetime. They spoke about reaching millions of people through having listening parties and getting people engaged in national and international conversations, they spoke about the power of community and discussion. Amanda Slavin, a founding board member, and CEO of her own company, CatalystCreativ, said something about the ROI of Generation Listen, the range of impact. Enter: The Big Crash.
The onslaught of doubt sounded something like this: How can I possibly measure up to NPR? Is what I am doing in the world really going to make a difference to anyone anywhere? Why don't I just quit everything I'm doing and move to Washington DC so I can have a direct hand in administering greatness to the people? I could be an investigative journalist. Why not? I love living in cities, except that you can't see the stars, and the mountains are usually pretty far away, and the Potomac isn't as clean as the Wind...and Patsy isn't here. And there are very few backyards, and even fewer cowboys. Okay, maybe DC isn't the place for me.
In any case, watching people my age, with even better ideas than mine, and a stream of successes behind them already is extraordinary. I am grateful, and humbled, and my perspective has been broadened about how I can be a part of a great, and greater force than what I can create as an individual, and it keeps me motivated to see how my goals are important. They do foster greatness (or at least they will foster greatness, eventually). I can be a part of NPR. All I need to do is use my charm, brains, drive, and uniquity (that's my new and improved term for uniqueness) to have all of the rad things I'll be doing be featured on the radio. Because you know what? I am awesome, and I have kick ass ideas about how to make peoples lives better, and I'm going to do it, dagnabbit.
Try n' stop me. (Now, envision a rusty '78 Ford rolling into the distance at ramming speed, and a telephoto lens in my hand as we hustle into the sunset).
And now, a few guiding words in support of public broadcasting.
- Become a sustaining member of your local radio station, or a radio station of your choice. You will feel good about donating to something that really does educate millions of people.
- Join the conversation about NPR and things that are happening world wide, or in your community. Check out how Generation Listen hosts listening parties all over the country, and understand why people listen, or begin to share why you do. http://generationlisten.npr.org/
- Listen to your local radio station, and find your favorite shows OR download the NPR One app on your phone. That way, you can listen wherever you are, and tailor what you listen to so that you hear stories that truly interest you.
- Find podcasts that are cool, and fun, and that feed your soul. Oral story telling is not a dead art, and this is proof.