Missing David Rakoff

David Rakoff reads before a crowd in 2008. (CC by Pop!Tech)

This past August, we lost David Rakoff — a gifted humorist and storyteller who has been affectionately described as a pointed pessimist and Gen X’s Oscar Wilde.

Like many other fans, I was introduced to David’s work through the hit podcast This American Life and have since put his many books on my to-read list.

His wry humour and keen observational skills, paired with his distinctive voice, helped make TAL the beloved podcast that it is.

(And — lest I go on too long without mentioning it — he’s Canadian.)

David’s first cancer was discovered when he was in his early 20s — and he was only 47 when he died of sarcoma. It’s a terrible thing, and a damned shame.

I’m thinking about him tonight because I recently re-listened to Our Friend David, a TAL episode entirely dedicated to his writing. I feel compelled to share a particularly beautiful excerpt from his autobiographical piece on realizing he liked men.

(I highly recommend listening to it in its original context, though.)

Have you ever had one of those moments when you know that you’re being visited by your own future?

They come so rarely and with so little fanfare, those moments. They’re not particularly photogenic.  There’s no breach in the clouds to reveal the shining city on a hill. No folk dancing children outside your bus. No production values to speak of.

Just a glimpse of such quotidian incontrovertible truth that — after the initial shock of the supreme weirdness of it all — a kind of calm sets in.

“So, this is to be my life.”

Thank you, David, wherever you are. We are worse for all the things we didn’t get to hear you say.

Listen to Our Friend David here.

Learning to Listen

“A wise old owl sat in an oak. The longer he sat, the less he spoke. The less he spoke, the more he heard. Why can’t we be like that wise old bird?” – anon.


Radio’s charm has changed. It used to be both intimate and fleeting–and while it’s still the former, we can now skip forward, select segments, go back, replay, tune in when we like and, importantly, we can easily share.

For a moment, I’d like to pretend we’re in a cozy living room and I’m inviting you in to sit with me by the radio, in an old rocking chair, and enjoy some milk and cookies.

There’s something special about closing our eyes and taking in a beautiful story, or allowing our minds to focus on the language of an incisive and stimulating debate.

For me, it started with audiobooks. I loved the way authors read their own stories. Over the years, as they’ve become increasingly accessible, I’ve fallen in love with a few really great podcasts.

As a seasoned listener, I’ve made attempts to lay out my best sample for skeptics.

If you’re starting to explain why it’s not worth it (you’re too busy, you always listen to music, you think radio is boring)…shhhh. Turn your speakers to a comfortable level.

Here’s a fantastic piece with which to start:

Recently, the team at This American Life produced an episode called Island Time, which took on several very difficult questions about relief efforts in Haiti.

Months after the earthquake–and months after stories about reviving fading interest have themselves faded–this story grabbed me by the ears and affected me profoundly.

Among other things, they ask: why, after so many years and so much money, is this country getting poorer? What does it matter that so much Haitian artwork was destroyed? Why should anyone care if their mangos are bruised? How many would-be-heroes have left Haiti without finishing what they came to do?

It’s so well done, and so important to pass on. This is the kind of journalism that really matters, and that we really need to support.

Photo credit: “African Owl” By Bill Hails on Flickr.

Power to the Podcast

My friend Lewis, lost in his headspace

This is long overdue. I’m addicted to an unhealthy number of podcasts. I’ve been meaning to pick out some favourites and try to get some of you hooked.

(Here’s my vision: you take me up on my suggestions, become super fans, and then we have great chats about life, the universe, and everything.)

I’ll add to this post as time goes on, but in a curious break from my die-hard CBC fanfare, I’ll begin with two awesome shows based south of the border.

This American Life

As Ira Glass famously explains, every week they choose a theme and then bring you all kinds of different stories on that theme.

They have their own archive of favourites, but I’d like to add a few of my own:

  • Mind Games: Who’s playing. Who’s being played? Does such a line exist in the first place?
  • The Devil on my Shoulder: Sometimes something overtakes you… some mischievous or even sinister force that you simply cannot explain.
  • Frenemies: A contemporary word that finally captures, in three syllables, that time old expression: “With friends like you, who needs enemies?”
  • Rest Stop: Sometimes fascinating stories come from the most mundane places. Pull over and have a listen.

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