Lots of time to listen to podcasts and think/process these days . . . a few items that have been percolating in my brain …
Being a poet/imposter syndrome
I really like the Make Me Smart podcast (and adore co-hosts Molly Wood and Kai Ryssdal), and they end their regular episodes with "What is something you thought you knew but you found out you were wrong about?", and the answer from an episode last month (starts at the 31 minute mark or so), and is by Kate Baer:
One thing I thought I knew was what it meant to be a poet. I've been reading poetry my whole life, but I thought if you wanted to actually be a poet, you had to be a grad student, smoking a pipe in a haunted alley in France, so I stayed in my lane. I wrote short stories, I wrote first-person narrative, I wrote whole novels. I wrote anything but poetry, because I knew what a poet looked like. I knew what she wore, what she ate, what she smelled like – pine needles and the earth bathed in the moonlight, probably. And then Mary Oliver died in early 2019, and I started re-reading her work and picking up other poetry books written by all kinds of authors and I thought "why don't I just try it?" It doesn't have to be perfect, it doesn't have to be for anyone else, I have nothing to lose for trying. As it turns out, you don't have to be a pipe smoking wanderer to write poetry. In fact, you can live in the suburbs. You can be a wife. You can be a mother. You can enjoy really unpoetic things like the Taco Bell drive thru. And wow, it has been the best surprise.
This one resonated first as I thought about a co-worker who’s a poet and the few times we’ve touched upon her writing. A second pass at it made me recognize that this was really just another take on imposter syndrome and it reminded me of a good tech specific presentation on this by Berlind Bergsdóttir at PNSQC a few years back.
Enthusiasm beating intelligence
Next up was 68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice by Kevin Kelly, as featured on Freakonomics Radio. The actual item from the list as written was “Being enthusiastic is worth 25 IQ points”
Host Stephen Dubner and Kelly spend a bit of time discussing this, talking about how we want to hang out with enthusiastic people, and that enthusiasm leads to improvisation:
In improv, there’s this fantastic bit of advice that you always want to say not “no,” but you want to say “and.” You want to add into what someone had built before you and add onto it rather than kind of undermine it.
Definitely bumped on this one as a few years ago at work, we did this exact workshop during a team offsite, but it was done as “yes and … “, which has resulted in some coworkers who seem to use the phrase “yes and …” in very stilted manners, to the point where whenever someone now says “yes and …”, the connotation is effectively the same as the “but” that would have been used previously. The speakers seem to think it’s a get-out-of-jail-free card; one that lets them ignore what was just said and add whatever they want.
The lack of enthusiasm of some of my coworkers when they use the phrase is obvious, and just makes it one more bit of useless business jargon.
Lastly, I was listening to OPB’s Think Out Loud, where they had an episode with Viet Than Nguyen (who’s got some impressive credentials including a Pulitzer and being a MacArthur Fellow). While there are bits throughout that resonate with me, I was really drawn into his comments about the difference between the terms immigrants and refugees (question starts at the 26:45 mark). This is apparently a common theme in his work, as noted on Fresh Air with Terry Gross:
And the way that I think about it is that I have to insist all the time that I am not an immigrant and that I – the story that I’m telling in my novel is not an immigrant story. I’m a refugee and the story I’m telling is a war story because one of the ways that the United States tries to contain the meaning of these histories is to think that all of these Asians are here because they’re immigrants, and that their story begins once they get to the United States. But again, my understanding is that many of these Asians are here because of the consequences of wars. And many immigrant stories and refugee stories need to be understood as war stories.
This made me wonder about my father and his background. As far as I know, his parents came to the US, and all his siblings did as well, but they came separately, and I’ve never asked him what brought the whole family over, in bits and pieces. Nguyen talks about how his parents were reluctant to talk about much of their past, and I feel similarly about my dad, though I’m not sure why – for all I know, it’s just because I’ve never asked. In any case, on my list to ask him about it tonight during our family Zoom session.