A Few Seconds of Sanity

January 3, 2012

I am not a lover of poetry. I am not a lover of Garrison Keillor. I have, however, been taken in by The Writer’s Almanac podcast. It’s a daily show that runs about five minutes that’s sponsored by The Poetry Foundation and available on iTunes. Keillor reads a few bits of information about what happened on that particular day in literary history (so that I get my fix of information; everything I do involves gathering some information for later use), then reads a poem. I find myself listening to the podcast on my way home–either on the train or on my twelve-minute walk from the station to the house. There’s something about the tone of his deep, resonant baritone voice and the pace at which he reads that I find quite calming and soothing, especially after a day at the office. As a result, I’m hooked.

There was one poem that particularly caught my ear a while back, called “The Return of Odysseus” by George Bilgere. It is reprinted in full below, but to get the full effect I’d suggest you go to the link here and have Garrison Keillor read it to you. It should become obvious why I’ve become so enamoured of this particular work and the daily dosage.

Enjoy.

The Return of Odysseus

by George Bilgere

When Odysseus finally does get home
he is understandably upset about the suitors,
who have been mooching off his wife for twenty years,
drinking his wine, eating his mutton, etc.

In a similar situation today he would seek legal counsel.
But those were different times. With the help
of his son Telemachus he slaughters roughly
one hundred and ten suitors
and quite a number of young ladies,
although in view of their behavior
I use the term loosely. Rivers of blood
course across the palace floor.

I too have come home in a bad mood.
Yesterday, for instance, after the department meeting,
when I ended up losing my choice parking spot
behind the library to the new provost.

I slammed the door. I threw down my book bag
in this particular way I have perfected over the years
that lets my wife understand
the contempt I have for my enemies,
which is prodigious. And then with great skill
she built a gin and tonic
that would have pleased the very gods,
and with epic patience she listened
as I told her of my wrath, and of what I intended to do
to so-and-so, and also to what’s-his-name.

And then there was another gin and tonic
and presently my wrath abated and was forgotten,
and peace came to reign once more
in the great halls and courtyards of my house.


An Unexpected Education

July 17, 2011

I’m a podcast listener and have been since the technology came into being.  I subscribe to thirteen podcasts (see below) and am listening to something almost every free moment, including when I mow the lawn.  Yes, that means that I wear headphones over top of my ear buds and yes it looks ridiculous.

For a while, I’ve meant to write of my love for American Public Media‘s daily podcast called “The Writer’s Almanac“.  Garrison Keillor spends five minutes talking about some event for that particular day that has a literary linkage.  More on that later.

Earlier today, I was listening to the After Words podcast from C-SPAN.  The podcast consists of a rebroadcast of the television show in which an author of a new work of non-fiction is interviewed by an expert on the book’s topic.  It usually makes for a more interesting interview than if it were conducted by a journalist with no prior knowledge of the topic.

The podcast in question featured Eduardo Porter, speaking on his book, “The Price of Everything–Solving the Mystery of Why We Pay What We Do”.  I’ve not read the book but as I understand it, it is in the field of “rational economics” a la “Freakonomics”.  This has been, until today, a topic of mild interest to me.

Mr. Porter begins the show with the following example:

“There’s some great research done by these psychologists at the University of New Mexico, who studied the tips paid to lap dancers.  And they found…that tips given to lap dancers at the peak of their fertility were much much higher…than for lap dancers who were at any other point in the[ir] cycle. And this was going on without anybody noticing. I mean the patrons did not know this, but something was happening to them, either it was a smell or the way the lap dancer moved or something that was leading them to pay more for that lap dancing experience. So clearly this was not some rational decision to pay more for a lap dance.”

I’m sure the next five minutes of what Mr. Porter had to say were interesting, but I can tell you that I didn’t hear it.  I was stuck on the concept that someone thought it would advance their economic research to talk to lap dancers about their menstruation cycles and then correlate it to their tips.  It’s a shame that Mr. Porter didn’t bring a graph with him.  Perhaps there’s one in the book.

It was when I came back out of my “economics of lap dancing tips” fog that I realized that it was time to reassess “rational economics” as a field of study and to be somewhat more selective in my podcast choices.  But I will admit that I did learn something new.  I can’t wait to spring this on someone at a cocktail party.

. . .

My Current Podcast List (in order as they appear in my iTunes):

APM’s The Writer’s Almanac

C-SPAN – After Words

ESPN: PTI

NPR: It’s All Politics (a comedy routine that’s in the guise of a political news show)

NPR: Planet Money

Old Jews Telling Jokes

PBS NewsHour

Slate’s Hang Up and Listen

Slate’s Political Gabfest

This American Life

Vanity Fair’s Writers Reading (authors read a chapter from their own books)

WTF with Marc Maron (a comedian interviews other comedians)


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