September 23, 2020

Three Cheers to Ring in the New Year

Guest Opinion
By Gary Howe | Jan. 4, 2020

Indelible in the hippocampus was the media onslaught of 2019. Everything was everywhere all the time. Federal hearings were all-consuming. Impeachment was (is) exhausting. Climate change is still dreadful. Traffic deaths, shootings, global cities and forests on fire … . Without the cute animal videos in my Twitter feed, I might have already snapped.
I exaggerate, of course. It's not all bad. To supplement videos of dogs saving the world and pandas sneezing, I purposefully set aside time for three sources of inspiration and artful sustenance in the past year. Consider giving yourself one of the following gifts in 2020. They make for stimulating discussion over holiday cocktails, too.
Reasons to Be Cheerful
In David Byrne's newly-launched online magazine, the Talking Heads musician brings his energizing artistry into a new realm. It's a nonprofit editorial project to amplify all the things that are going right, "part therapy session, part blueprint for a better world."
Earfuls of cheerful endeavors like these can lean Pollyanna-ish. However, these stories and lessons for a better future from across the globe are virtually curmudgeon-proof. I was particularly fascinated by Vienna's 100-year public-housing program. Publicly funded developments attract top-name architects, designers, and artists who create projects so successful and desirable that 62 percent of Viennese live in them. Other favorite stories include women winning the battle against malaria across countries in East Africa, a Japanese city’s model for being zero-waste, and the math behind the low-flow toilet's tremendously positive impact on water conservation out west.
Beautiful Anonymous
The premise of comedian Chris Gethard's weekly podcast dive into the unknown and unexpected is simple: He talks to a stranger by phone for one hour. No names. A discussion about life. Gethard is a relaxed, engaging, and empathetic interviewer who excels at derailing the protective agendas of his callers. He welcomes people to open up about the intimate details of their lives, and more often than not, they do. The discussions reveal stories of love and loss, struggle and success, roadblocks and breakthroughs. Secrets are commonly spoken. The show could easily be called, "I've never told anyone this before."
“Beautiful Anonymous” listeners take a leap of faith that given space and opportunity, a conversation between two strangers can be magical. As a comedian, Gethard is undoubtedly funny. But he never dominates or overpowers the caller on the other end of the phone. Instead, he lets the conversation develop. Sometimes this approach leads to dead ends. Still, even in these cases, the podcast showcases the successes and failures of everyday people and finds the heroism and life lessons in our shared humanity. 
“Beautiful Anonymous” has been out since 2016, so it's not new. If you're new to it, you'll discover an invaluable archive to mine, but don't miss these episodes: “Aspiring Pro Wrestler,” “Partner in Prison,” “Motor City Mayhem (Murdered Dads)”, and, of course, “I Never Told Anyone.”
The Red Hand Files
Each week, Australian musician Nick Cave sits down to respond to letters from his fans. The resulting weekly newsletter is poignant and profound. As he reflects on life, relationships, and music, he explores truths that readers see reflected in their own lives.
Cave began the project after his 15-year-old son fell off a cliff to his death, in 2015. In a world full of glib, The Red Hat Files are intimate and genuine, providing a therapeutic break for writer and reader alike. Often, people write to say that the music of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds enriched their lives or pulled them through difficult times. Sometimes they ask questions about specific lyrics and songs. In reply to a question about writer's block, he gifted some new lyrics and offered this advice: “You are not the 'Great Creator' of your songs, you are simply their servant." Others ask for advice on overcoming imposter syndrome, dealing with grief, or coping with the world.
A 10-year-old boy wrote because he felt different — none of his peers listened to the Bad Seeds. "How will having your music in my life so early on affect me, and have you got any advice for me?"
In reply, Cave describes his childhood growing up in rural Australia, listening to the strange music of his older brother. "Listening to the Bad Seeds music at your age is like having a secret knowledge. When I was about your age, I had a secret knowledge too. I carried [my brother's music] with me all through my kid-years until I went to a school in Melbourne, where I met three other people who also had this special knowledge — this secret power. These people became my best friends," wrote Cave. They went on to form the Bad Seeds.
Cave ends his reply by describing the value of this secret power the boy has and how it will inspire him in whatever it is he chooses to do. "It will give you the courage to take on anything that the world might put in front of you. It's a wild power that can be of untold value to the world … The world is waiting for you. Blow ’em away, kid. Love, Nick."
Gary Howe writes in Traverse City.


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