In these strange days, living by myself in lockdown, there were days, weeks, when my concentration was shot. I couldn’t pick up a book, I was exhausted by screens. Compulsive doomscrolling ate away my peace of mind, watching a film, or a TV show felt too much like work, too divorced from reality, a kind of junk food distraction to numb out. I’d call and Zoom with a handful of friends but stretches of time when I’d sink into silence.
That’s when I’d flip on On Being. On Being’s a public radio show, a podcast with Krista Tippet. The blurb says this:
A Peabody Award-winning public radio show and podcast. What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? And who will we be to each other? Each week a new discovery about the immensity of our lives. Hosted by Krista Tippett.
I found it a few years back. Krista had been the last person to interview Irish poet and writer John O’Donohue before he died and I remember the immense beauty of that interview, on the inner landscape of beauty. How it rang inside me like a golden bell and to borrow from Charlotte Bronte, changed the colour of my mind.
Some of that was John, wonderful John, but it was Krista too. Conversation is an art. An interview is an art, and Krista is one of best interviewers I’ve ever heard.
I was listening to an interview she did with Seth Godin, a man who’s done thousands of interviews in his life and he, like other guests, was delighted to be there, as a listener and a fan. Hers is the only interview he sends to people. Because she brings out the best in her guests. Because Krista is as Seth says, so generous as an interviewer. She listens, she asks attuned interested and interesting questions. Because the episodes are a delight of a conversation, the kind that’s a privilege to listen to and a joy to have.
The kind you’d have over dinner with a really good friend, new or old, where the ideas are bright, where you find yourself stepping into another world. There’s laughter in it and sharing and deep listening, kind curiosity, to be with complexity and such a willingness to understand and like Rilke says, to live the questions.
The conversations made me ache for days walking through art galleries and sat in bookshop coffee shops with my friend Emma and talking poetry, writing and ideas. The kind of nourishment I get when I talk to my fairy godmother where our conversation loops and weaves activism, plays and people, evenings when I’d cook and invite people over for story dinners, or go over to dinner with friends, the richness you get when you sit down with people and you really hear them, you really see them.
I learn when I listen to On Being. I stop to write down books, Google people, and scribble down sentences, a web of ideas woven, interconnected growing in me. Part of the magic for me is her guests are a forces for good in the world.
There’s a phrase I learnt from her interview with Jacqueline Novogratz, hard edged hope, which I love. She leads a company called Acumen, that works in creative, human centric capitalism, backing people who want to do good in the world, including a pair of young entrepreneurs who had the heart-full audacity to say, we want to eradicate kerosene in the world, how do we bring light and electricity to the poor? Not as an act of charity, but as collaboration, solidarity, to make the poor partners in the endeavour. Committed patient compassionate passionate action.
There’s an edited version of the interviews that’s an hour and she shares the unedited conversations too, which if I have time, I always listen to.
I sank in the bath and listened to her interviews with writers and poets Ocean Vuong and Ross Gay (so joyful. The laughter in his voice was such honey and delight.), and as she does with poets, she invited them to share their work and I’d close my eyes and let the beauty of their words wrap around me. I stayed up too late last night listening to her conversation with therapist, author and trauma specialist Resmaa Menkakem on race, cultural trauma and embodiment, which made me catch my breath, cry in recognition and smile in hope.
Because in these days which were and are dark, when the enormity of the times we’re in felt crushing, On Being was a quiet beacon. There is good in the world. There is beauty. There are people who live the questions, who choose radical joy and practice delight, who know to live with love and to act with love isn’t about softness, it is about the fierceness of integrity, the willingness to admit when you are wrong, the courage to look at injustice and inequality, and the urgency of now, and have the moral imagination to imagine and say yes, let’s make a better world. And do it.