My American Life

Ira Glass’ 90-minute program + Q&A sesh at Jones Hall this past weekend ended on this pop-cultured note:

“Ira, when did you know that people were really listening to This American Life?”

“I knew people were really listening when my wife and I were watching The O.C.,  because we loved The O.C. when it was on (!!!), and a fictional character mentioned something about This American Life and another fictional character said, ‘This American Life? Is that that show by those hipster know-it-alls who talk about how fascinating ordinary people are?’ That’s when I knew.”

Ira’s touring show, “Radio stories and other stories,” began with only his iconic voice talking calmly, if not neurotically, from a dark stage. “I have gray hair,” he warned the audience. “And I look even Jew-ier than you thought I would, I’m sure of it.” The spotlight flickered onto his desk, and he began telling us about stories. His stories and other peoples’ stories, all while effortlessly arranging  the music and clips  through a CD player.

There were a few things that he mentioned that really stuck out to me. The first was that about half of TAL’s stories are gathered just from e-mails sent to their website. It’s that easy. I started thinking about the stories I’ve written and the ideas I could come up with for show themes. I tried to imagine myself reading aloud from some old non-fiction essay I had written. Could anyone find what I write interesting aside from the people who actually know me? I don’t know.

Ira also made note of his marriage, and how he thought it was a good one, but it’s so rare that he and his wife take the time to really talk about their feelings, which I thought was a way cool statement said by a fifty-something straight man. “We never take the time to say what we really think about. People open up on the radio because there’s anonymity there. You can hide while still getting your emotions out there.”


On Saturday, I spent the afternoon wandering around the Bayou City Arts Festival, which is kinda like Artsfest, only in a major city, and the point isn’t only to get wasted. I brought Zack’s digital SLR with me and took some pictures. I bought a keychain because I couldn’t afford any of the real art, which was much more innovative than anything I’ve ever seen at Artsfest in State College.

The whole time I was thinking, “Why can’t I do stuff like this? I need a hobby. How do you get a hobby? I want to take a photography class. But everyone takes pictures, right? I’ll never be that good. Dude, I want to start collaging. Yeah, mixed media. How do I do that without making myself look a bored eighth grader? I haven’t taken an art class since middle school.”

Then on Sunday, Zack and I went to Austin City Limits, where we listened to a handful of really fantastic bands and got horribly sunburnt. Pity party take two.

“I want to be a band (I used to play piano, but I can’t carry a tune). I want a jaw-dropping sense of fashion (need a bigger paycheck), and a waist line to match (need more self-control). I want to make music, or videos, or music videos. I need to learn how to operate computer programs that are useful. I gotta delete my Facebook.”

As Zack and I perused the art at ACL, I told him about the necklaces I used to make when I was younger and how I sold them at Rochelle’s in Wayne, and the t-shirt surgeries I used to perform in high school and all of the stencils I made. I used to have hobbies, I swear I did.


We met up with Matt Fox and his brothers for the Yeasayer set. I think I could count on one hand the times Matt and I hung out in real life. We’ve known each other for probably six years, but entirely through other, older Conestoga graduates and Livejournal. One of the first things he asked me was, “Are you still writing?” That’s how I was categorized by someone who doesn’t really know me, or knew me when I was eighteen. As someone who writes.

Goddamn. No. No, I’m not really writing.

I’m 23 now, and I’m feeling this insane pressure  to figure out what I really love and what I’m really good at. I need a passion. I need a hobby. Did I say that already? I need to either start blowing people out of the water with the stuff I was pretty good at in high school and college, like writing, or move the fuck along. And in the age of the Internet, how do you even get noticed for what you really can do? It feels like everyone’s trying to be the next big thing. It’s discouraging.

A lot of my extremely talented friends are doing really cool and creative shit with their lives right now. John is writing for the Denver Post and managing their music blog. Maddie is working for a badass design firm in SoHo, much like most of my other designer friends. Lindsay is interning at Bitch magazine in Portland.

My lack of radness makes me feel entirely mediocre. I need drive, or something. I womped to Zack before we fell asleep last night, staring at the ceiling. The dark room was my anonymity, my confessional, my personal radio show.

Zack tried to console me.

“I think you saw too much art this weekend,” he said.


3 thoughts on “My American Life

  1. I think this video is appropriate:
    It inspires me. And it’s good ole Ira.

    I think it is the curse of being a creative person, there is always a gap between what you are actually producing and what you think you should be doing. I work in a totally creative field and feel all those same inadequacies that you feel. You are singing my song. All that we can hope is that we find IT or that we DO it. Somehow.

  2. Lauren, I immediately searched for that clip after reading this! Thank you for sharing that with me, its soooo true!

    Allison- keep on truckin’ bb. You’ve got the taste and the talent, and you’ll build the experience until you are great 🙂

  3. We haven’t spoken in a long time. Spring 2005, I think. Jake suggested I find someone else to chat with. He was right. This is different. Sometimes your blog comes up on my mini-feed and I’ve enjoyed your writing. I’m not a stalker. I want to delete my facebook account.

    Generally I don’t comment–reaching out is challenging for me, and writing on the interweb feels so muffled and underwater and futile. But in this instance, I share your sentiments so exactly that it spills out like a compulsion.

    I’m going to quit my job tomorrow. It’s respectable work–I am, was, a financial advisor. I didn’t study economics, I studied philosophy. Mostly, the work wasn’t bad, but finance doesn’t fill me the way I wanted it to. Some people love it, but for me, it got no soul. That’s not the hard part though and it’s definitely not the point. The brutal end is I don’t know what does.

    I don’t know when passion becomes commitment. I don’t know how a sense of desire becomes married with reasoned sensibility. How do dreams become compromises? I know the hiding in possibility is over. The world demands the actual; school didn’t teach us anything about that.

    Your last section is spot on. Except for the quip quote at the end. You’re on the button, let me know if you figure out how to push it.

    Don’t feel obligated to respond, this is just the internet speaking, after all.

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