What I listen to

I used to be all about my music. I got into it. One of my more embarrassing memories is sitting in my room as a teenager, playing solitaire and crying as I listened to Sting’s Shape of My Heart. Yes, shut up, I know that’s melodramatic. Don’t act like you were never 15. Between that and spending my Friday nights around the piano with my fellow theater geeks singing Broadway… ach, the retroactive pain of embarrassment.

Earphones Playing Guitar Man Instrument Headphones
This… was not how it looked.

Aaaanyway, I don’t get too fussed about music these days. Incipient middle age has both mellowed and calloused me, and there’s just not much popular music that moves my heart. I mean, I like most of it just fine, but I rarely bother to seek it out. The only time I’ll actively turn on music is when I’m sitting down to write, and that’s almost always instrumental stuff of the film score variety. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but I find that it helps me tune out the world and get immersed in the alternate reality of my story. A Pandora station based off Bear McCreary’s work has seen me through many a plot-line tangle. (If you want to hear something truly sublime, try his Shape of Things to Come from Battlestar Galactica. I’m pretty sure that will be the music I hear from the heavens as I lay dying. (Also, just go watch BSG. Again. It’s never a bad choice.))

Far more commonly, I fill my ear-holes with podcasts. They’re the perfect driving-time occupation once you get tired of waiting for NPR‘s fundraising drive to end (i.e., twelve seconds). I’ve got about 20 minutes in each direction from work, and that’s several hours’ worth of listening per week that used to be filled either with a carousel of the same thirty pop songs or endless droning news. I like things much better this way. Here are the ones I’ve stuck with:

  1. Writing Excuses – An absolute must for an aspiring genre writer like myself. Brandon Sanderson is pretty much the writer I’d like to be, and each of the co-hosts brings a unique perspective to the table when it comes to how to make a story work and how to break into the business. Episodes are short, only 15-20 minutes, informative, and lively. I started at the beginning of Season 10 and found it to be a great place to jump in, though the start of Season 11 would work nicely as well.
  2. This American Life – Once I realized I could listen to this via podcast, I pretty much ditched NPR. (Sorry not sorry!) Lovely true stories of modern American life, by turns motivating, heartbreaking, ennobling, and trivial. I get bored with it sometimes, but I always come back. Its offshoots Serial and S-Town are both worth a listen, as well.
  3. Movie B.S. with Bayer and Snider – Reviews of currently-released movies and other shenanigans. Eric D. Snider was the critic for my local paper growing up, and he’s the only one I’ve ever found whose movie opinions frequently line up with my own. On top of that, he’s a genuinely funny person, and the banter between him and co-host Jeff Bayer never gets boring. I mean… you gotta have a movie podcast, right? This one’s mine.
  4. Stuff You Should Know – I’ve sort of cooled on this one, I have to admit. It’s a hodgepodge of those questions that you have for two seconds before forgetting to look up, like, “What’s the deal with accents?” or “Why isn’t the US on the metric system?” The pleasantly laid-back hosts Josh and Chuck then walk you through the research and currently knowledge available on that particular question. My interest in it at this point varies depending on whether the question of the week is an interesting one… and it isn’t always. I pick and choose which ones to download and skip the rest, but the ones I listen to are always fun and usually informative.
  5. Hardcore History – Holy buckets, I love this podcast. It’s on my permanent must-listen-to list. Each episode is several hours long, and sometimes the host Dan Carlin will take five or six episodes to adequately cover the historical topic he’s covering. I’m almost done with his World War I episodes, and it’s twenty times better than reading a history book. First of all, Carlin is a captivating speaker – he really puts some passion into it as he talks about his subjects. Secondly, he researches his topics exhaustively, and expertly weaves together primary and secondary sources into his narrative without losing the flow of it. Third and lastly, he toes just the right line between being academic and being human, always grounding his stories in the human impact of huge events. I cannot say enough good things about it. As an added bonus, I have picked up all sorts of great little nuggets from his narration that will make for great seasoning for my own books. You know, those weird little facts or characters from history that are too strange to be fiction – I love that stuff, and I keep a running list of historical incidents I want to crib from.

That’s all I’ve got. Occasionally I try to add others to the rotation, but I find that getting backlogged on my podcasts stresses me out, as stupid as that is, so I curate my listening list with a sharp knife. The only things I listen to besides the things I’ve listed above are the barking of my dogs, the wisdom of my wife, and the usually-melodious sounds of my kids singing and playing the ukulele.

I hope there’s something here that you’ll like! Any that you’ve found that you want to share with me? Tell me in comments!


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