🎙️There's a podcast for that 🏘️ The Way We Live Now's Dani Shapiro💕
💌Podcast The Newsletter is your weekly love letter to podcasts and the people who make them.💌
I celebrated Easter by unleashing a 2-hour seminar on the historical Jesus onto my husband, and I realized he had a lot of questions about Good Friday, the history of the Bible, and Christianity in general (my favorite topics.) It can be annoying when some people talk about religion, but it’s not annoying when I do it. I’m not trying to convert anyone, I just love history and ancient storytelling. Justin’s interest was piqued and he wanted to know how he could learn more, if there was a book or something. “Like the Bible?” “No, no, no,” I told him. “Don’t be silly. There’s a podcast for that.”
2009 was the year there was an app to solve everyone’s problems, and of course I could have given Justin a book. (Certainly not the Bible.) But in this moment in time, podcasts are the new problem-solving tool. They can teach us about history, how to do things, they can answer our questions and connect us, they provide us with comedy and interviews with interesting people, they deliver us book and movie reviews I COULD GO ON.
And they teach us about the Bible! I sent my husband to The King James Virgin, where hosts Adam and Alan relive the Bible stories from their childhood, along with their friend Nick, who is a complete novice to both the Bible and Christian culture at large. The Bible stories ARE FUNNY, and The King James Virgin makes going through the stories fun. I can totally see how this show was born: two friends making jokes about the wild stories they remember from Sunday School, and their third, less brainwashed friend saying, “wait, what? Are you for real?”
Justin and I are listening to the whole podcast together from the very beginning. It starts out with a bang, one of my favorite Bible stories of Jonah and the Whale (most people don’t know the whole story and it’s much weirder and funnier than it gets credit for.) And just gets better from there.
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The Way We Live Now's Dani Shapiro
Can you tell us about The Way We Live Now? How did the idea for it come to you?
Like most of us, I have been staying home since the middle of March. My husband was in LA directing a film, and he came home. My son was spending a semester in London, and he came home. The three of us have been rattling around our house, trying to stay safe, be kind to each other, not get on one another’s nerves, when all our lives have been put on indefinite hold and the news is unbearably grim. There’s so much suffering all over the globe right now. I found myself thinking about what brings me…if not comfort, then a sense of connection. And the answer that came to me was that I want to know what’s going on in other people’s lives. How are they feeling? Coping? Sleeping? Eating? What are they thinking about? And the idea for a daily show in which I ask these questions of all sorts of people — creating a quilt of voices — might be an offering that would help listeners feel less alone.
This show has had an incredibly quick turn around. You had the idea a little more than a week ago and it's launching on Tuesday. What has this process been like? Has it felt rushed or very natural?
It doesn’t feel rushed, and has come together in an amazing way that feels like kismet. I’m obsessed, of course, and thinking about the show every waking minute. It’s fantastic to be so absorbed in a new project at this moment. But it does feel natural, and every single potential guest I’ve reached out to has said yes with something like gratitude and relief. We all want to tell our stories.
What is the goal of The Way We Live Now, and how will this show be different than other COVID podcasts? (I know it's not a COVID podcast, really, but COVID is why it was born.)
I want The Way We Live Now to be an absorbing pause, away from the news cycle and the information cycle. I think we all feel better when we feel connected, and in this moment when we can’t gather, this is a way of being invited into the homes — the inner and outer worlds — of others.
You'll be interviewing a nurse, a grief counselor, Anne Lamott...so many great guests. What do all of these people have in common?
I’ve been choosing my guests to cover a wide swath of humanity, and following my gut instincts. Everyone has a story to tell, but I’m choosing people whose stories might in some way help others either in practical, psychological, emotional or even spiritual ways. Not that the show is self-help — it’s absolutely not — but I want it to help in the way that great storytelling can. We need to be reminded that there are complex, tender, beautiful lives behind every single face mask out there.
I think on the show you will be asking people to look outside their window and explain what they see. What do you see, right now, when you look out your window?
It’s late afternoon as I write these words. I’m sprawled on a chaise in the corner of my small office on the second floor of my house in rural Connecticut. Downstairs, I hear the sound of my husband’s footsteps, my son watching a movie. The dog is somewhere, sleeping. I’m wearing the same yoga pants I’ve worn for three days, but I did take a shower. To my left is a window, and through the slats of the blinds I see a stone wall, and bare-branched trees that are just beginning to redden, showing hints of spring. See, don’t you feel like you’re with me now? That’s what I hope for.
How does being a writer help you be a great podcaster?
That’s such an interesting question. When I started putting together Family Secrets, I began to realize that a big part of the art of this particular kind of podcast is in storytelling and structure. Each one of my episodes is like a mini-novel. There’s an arc, there are layers to the story that need to be balanced and teased out. There’s character and there is narrative. There’s also the awareness that not every detail belongs, picking and choosing what will make the story and the episode sing.
Women podcasters are constantly getting criticized for their voices. What is your relationship to yours?
It’s funny, I’ve been speaking and reading in public for so many years, but I never gave any thought to my voice. But in recent years, especially when I’m teaching, or when I narrate my own audiobooks, I hear from people that they find my voice soothing. I guess I can hear that now. It’s certainly not something I’ve tried to cultivate, but I’ve become aware of it. The trick is not to become self-conscious. I just want to lose myself in the conversation.
🎙️I have known about the show Love Me but never listened to it. The name turned me off—I thought it was going to be a bunch of sappy love stories. But it is a well produced, beautiful, and addictive show about human connection. I blasted through the first season. Each episode offers a few snippets of tiny moments, delving into interesting relationships, like this one about two best friends who have never met because one of them never wants to (she is ashamed because she is obese) or this couple who is dealing with the intrusion of another woman—a bonobo. Each story has allowed me to explore how far my empathy can go and to consider the meaningful bonds I have with the greatest and smallest relationships in my life.
🎙️Ear Hustle released a difficult, taboo episode, Sorry Means Nothing, which explorers a crime that’s treated differently than all others, both inside and outside prison—people who commit sex crimes against children. I am so glad they did this. Pedophilia is something everyone is afraid to talk about, but conversations about it are needed for coping with it and stopping it from happening more. It reminded me of a fantastic episode of This American Life, Tarred and Feathered, where reporter Luke Malone, who spent a year and a half talking to pedophiles, discusses why pedophiles are often desperate for support, but why it is almost impossible for them to get it. We can’t be afraid to talk about pedophilia if we want to cut back on it, and there are so few podcast episodes that go there.
🎙️This Is Love, “stories of sacrifice, obsession, and the ways in which we bet everything on each other,” has launched a season about our interaction with animals. The first episode was a lovely portrait about wolves, the second one about Michael Hingson, a blind man and his guide dog Roselle, who were on the 78th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and together survived. It’s an incredible story about trust and dogs in general. When Michael was on The Today Show, this story was presented as a stereotypical human interest story, it almost feels like a parody of that kind of story. But on This Is Love, we hear the story from Michael, with wonderful questioning from Phoebe Judge. It’s amazing how a well-produced podcast treatment can enrich a story.
🎙️Working for Dean Koontz (you’ve seen his books…everywhere…I help him with his social media platforms) is one of the best jobs I have, because Dean Koontz’s social media accounts are the happiest places on the internet. Other than the frequent questions from fans about “how Dean predicted Coronavirus” (ugh,) the interactions are all gushingly positive—people talking about their favorite DK books, sharing photos of their dogs, and telling stories about how Dean has made their lives better. Dean deserves all of it, he is a great writer and a wonderful person. He loves dogs more than anyone I know loves anything. If you aren’t a Dean Koontz fan yet, listen to him on Dog Save The People. He makes a connection between dogs and spirituality, and discusses how dogs have made him a better writer. And I now invite you to like him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the happiest places on the internet.
🎙️I have long been a fan of Betsy Sodaro and Mano Agapion—I used to love Horny 4 Horror, and now I turn to We Love Trash, their podcast dedicated to all things TRASHY. I also love trash and this show has been sort of a balm for me these last few weeks. I put it on the in background sometimes and find myself laughing, even when I have no idea what’s going on, because I love Betsy’s laugh, her chemistry with Mano, and listening to them talk about trash is the best kind of escapism. (I listened to a watch/drink-along episode of Tyler Perry's Acrimony (”we’ll be talking through the whole thing because it’s fucking terrible!”) while I was doing some light work, and I wasn’t following the film at all but I was lolololing anyway. THESE PEOPLE MAKE ME VERY HAPPY, THANK YOU BETSY & MANO.
🎙️I love how Femlore (formerly Feminist Folklore) uses old stories as springboards into fascinating feminist topics that impact us on a daily basis, today. If you’ve never listened before, the Clementine episode is a great place to start. (You remember the song, “Oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’ Clementine…”) Hosts Mindy and Rachael, along with guest Natalie Craig, start there and reveal what this song is really about—hating fat bodies? unrealistic expectations for women? literally drowning in patriarchy, which harms both men and women? All that and more!, in this innocent little ditty, which tells us so much about what our culture has valued for centuries, and how little those standards have changed.
🎙️The New York Times has launched Rabbit Hole, an audio series about how the internet is changing and how our personalities and preferences are being shaped by our digital surroundings. It starts with the first episode of a three-part segment about a misfit, Caleb, who found direction and solace on YouTube, but ended up being pulled into a far-right universe, watching thousands of videos filled with conspiracy theories, misogyny and racism. The first episode of Rabbit Hole boasts great, insightful storytelling that is an important examination of the world we live in now.
🎙️Kate Lindsay has launched Most Embarassing Thing On The Internet, where people share regretful online moments of their lives. Kate’s friend and writer Maya Kosoff is on the first episode to talk about getting dragged across the internet for appearing in a Vanity Fare video that got taken completely out of context. People who have been dragged on the internet love hearing other people’s horror stories. (I know I have, and I do.) So this show is kind of my kink and I’m down.
🎙️I cannot stress this enough: Bob Carlson’s UnFictional is one of my favorite shows, and if you haven’t listened, you have an entire archive waiting for you. It’s a collection of true short stories and audio documentaries that are both fascinating and funny. Each time I listen, I feel like a kid being comforted by well-told bedtime stories. Mauricio Across The Border is a two-parter that starts with an undocumented immigrant in Los Angeles who found himself working on the set for MTV’s Pimp My Ride, then brought the franchise to Mexico, although his family was in the US. The story of him trying to later reunite with his family in the states is harrowing and sad. Mauricio is a memorable character, and this is a story of immigration you haven’t heard before.
🎙️When it comes to thinking about how people are dealing with quarantine, I often feel like I’m playing a game of Whack-A-Mole. The second I wrap my brain around how one group of people has been impacted—medical responders, people locked indoors with domestic abusers, the homeless, the imprisoned, people in immigration detention centers…another group pops up and my brain starts to cry. I didn’t even know my brain could cry. Bodies has an episode about what it’s like to be postpartum in isolation, and though it did a wonderful job laying out the impossible issues, like not having a support group or any sort of break, I still am not sure I can imagine what it would be like to feel like you’ve been stranded on a desert island with a newborn who relies solely on you and hormones that seem to have a life of their own. It sounds like some cruel psychological horror situation that this episode perfectly captures. There’s also a really interesting discussion about doulas, and why they are needed more in communities of color.
🎙️I’m not one to love true crime, but Somebody is incredible for so many reasons, in part because the narrator is the mother of the (deceased) subject of the crime, making her two kazillion times more invested in the story than any other podcaster. It doesn’t feel like we are being told a story, it feels like we are on a frustrating, wild journey with a mother who could uplift a car to save her baby, or to find out how her son was murdered, when nobody else would help her crack the case. (Or, more accurately, everyone, including the police, seem to working against her.) I am only a few episodes in and the series isn’t done, and this is one of those shows that has me, at the end of every episode, saying aloud GODDAMIT I want to hear more ASAP.
🎙️For a calming, poetic escape, head to the lulling voice of Helen Zaltzman, who has been releasing episodes of The Tranquillusionist on The Allusionist feed. This time, she’s reading punchlines of jokes, and I cannot express to you how satisfying this is. I usually avoid commenting on women’s voices, but Helen’s is a blessing sent from heaven. Punchlines by design are usually playful mixtures of words. Hearing them out of context from Helen feels like a lullabye and a puzzle.
🎙️On each episode of the anthology audio fiction podcast The Familiar, Leo136 narrates tales that at first listen seems incredibly normal (a young woman at her boyfriend’s house, someone going to the grocery store,) but then reveal an expected twist for your brain. It reminds me of watching Are You Afraid of the Dark…each episode begins feeling safe…a little too safe. You always sense there is something unfamiliar lurking around the corner ahead. And you are always right.
🎙️Election Profit Makers is a podcast about election-related prediction markets, which is interesting (as I’ve mentioned before, hosts David Rees, Jon Kimball, and Starlee Kine make bets about things from who will win to what words will be used during debates) but FUN. David, Jon, and Starlee are so funny and this feels like a comedy show with insight into our country’s politics. The last episode had entertaining conversations about the Post Office and the Forever Stamp, and the Patrick Swayze movie Red Dawn. The political stuff is a great, but this show is a blast.
🎙️Believer is a fiction show with beautiful audio and a thoughtful story about Lara Campbell, who once believed in ghosts and the otherworldly but doesn’t anymore, and uses faux psychic skills to help others deal with their loss of loved ones. Her ex-girlfriend is missing, but nobody in her town, including her family, will admit it. This show isn’t just about Lara’s relationship with the (faux?) paranormal and her relationship to others, but it documents her investigation to track down her ex-girlfriend. I’m three episodes in and am hooked, with so many questions. Eager to hear more!
🎙️Decoder Ring is a show that dives into cultural mysteries (like WTF is up with gender reveal parties?) and the result is always an episode that will surprise and delight you. Often when I see the show in my feed, first I do a little dance, then I think, “can there really be an entire podcast episode about that?” But it’s never a trick! There always is. This episode on unicorn poop talks about why poop cultures is so hot for kids right now, when it wasn’t before, and how “gross” toys have finally entered the culture for girls, not just boys. Is this because girls are finally being treated equally to boys? Or is it because the girl poop toys, which are usually presented with glitter and unicorns, are strengthening the message that sure women poop, but when they do it’s beautiful and magical? You decide.
🎙️Next Stop is a TOTALLY FUN audio sitcom about some roommates in their 20s, their work, relationships, friendships and more. There are so many COVID shows, and so many shows leaning into the COVID subject, it feels nice to escape to a world where COVID isn’t there. When work, relationships, and friends was stuff we actually grappled with in an old-normal sense. Multitude, the team behind the show, released a transparent resource that explains how they made the show. It includes their budget and a downloadable template. (It works for any sort of podcast, not just audio fiction.)
🎙️You’re Wrong About’s Marie Antoinette episode is a perfect example of how the show can be both fascinating and full of jaw-dropping facts, and lol amusing. The guest was Dana Schwartz, who has a podcast called Noble Blood, where she explores the stories of some of history’s most fascinating royals. I loved this YWA episode even MORE than Noble Blood—I think You’re Wrong About’s format, and Dana’s chemistry with hosts Michael and Sarah, allowed Dana’s sense of humor to shine.
🎙️The Lonely Hour had a joyous episode on finding happy moments in our days of isolation. Host Julia Bainbridge goes through an audio diary of her cousin, who is doing IG workout videos and cooking, and it’s a reminder of the things we can do to brighten our days and brave waves of anxiety.
🎙️Dani Shapiro (her interview is above) launched The Way We Live Now last week (full disclosure: I am working with Dani on this show,) and it’s off to an amazing start. On Serge, Dani talks to a chef about keeping his business afloat and using cooking to stay connected to the outside world. Dani talks to Suzanne, a primary-care physician, and Jamie Lee Curtis about finding new ways to connect. All of these conversations are short and they bring me so much comfort. Adding them to my daily routine makes me feel like I’m taking care of myself.
🎙️Podcast lovers know Karina Longworth (You Must Remember This and the new It’s The Pictures That Get Small) but we don’t often get to hear Karina interviewed on other shows. If you want to hear more about Karina, her childhood, and how food and cooking play into her life, listen to her on Lunch Therapy, a show where food blogger Adam Roberts analyzes people's lunches.
🎙️I’ve been listening to chat shows less and less, but Night Call will forever be one of my favorites. As I’ve mentioned before, it feels like a old-timey radio show you’d hear in the middle of the night on some AM station while you’re driving across Kansas. Hosts Molly Lambert, Tess Lynch, and Emily Yoshida are so smart, I’d listen to them talk about anything. Today’s episode features Jia Tolentino, a perfect voice for this show. If you feel like eavesdropping on a conversation between smart, funny women, this show is for you.
🎙️TREAT YOURSELF to this hilarious, sweet episode of Everything Is Alive with Louise and William, Shirt and Pants. Ian Chillag’s imaginative interviews bring the personalities and backstories of shirt and pants to life, and this episode was so funny, I kept finding myself laughing to myself long after the episode is over. We get insight into what it feels like to be Shirt and Pants, but also about the man who is wearing Louise and William. It’s an interesting portrait of him, too.
🎙️On April 25 and 26, you’ll be able to “attend” Podapalooza, a two-day virtual podcast festival for the benefit of COVID-19 relief. Listen to podcasts at home, for a good cause, in your sweatpants. Buy tickets here and see you there?
🎙️I love you!