When I’m not in the middle of an audiobook and looking for a “good listen” for my commute, I look to podcasts to occupy my drive time. Recently I opened up my long-neglected list of favorite podcasts in the Stitcher app, and selected an installment of This American Life with the intriguing title “In Defense of Ignorance.” The lead premise, “Some things in life are better not to know about. And sometimes there can be a benefit to not knowing. In this episode — examples of ignorance truly being bliss, or even being an asset,” made me curious to hear more of the three featured stories.
LuLu Wang and her family’s real-life story of how a secret is kept from her grandmother in China, Nainai, is now a film, The Farewell. Without directly talking about the film, this audio episode, “What You Don’t Know,” is her explanation of how she came to record the footage which became the basis for the movie (playing at The Princeton Garden Theatre) and the stories behind a very elaborate deception of Nainai on a grand and conflicting scale.
A short interview with David Dunning about the Dunning-Kruger Effect convinced me that indeed, the scope of people’s ignorance is often invisible to them. Perhaps this explains a lot of what we’re exposed to on social media and in news commentaries, not to mention Twitter and everywhere else online where comments and opinions are offered.
In the last audio segment, Stephanie Foo contemplates the differences between being obsessed with the past and actually having the recall to remember the past if you’re an individual with the condition called HSAM, Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory. There are about 60 people officially diagnosed with HSAM and two are interviewed here. While their memories can be flawed and biased like everyone else’s, people with HSAM have amazing and accurate recall and excel at remembering things of personal interest. The joy, the conflict and the pain of living with this condition are gracefully unpacked and contrasted with more-everyday remembering and forgetting.
If you are interested, explore the podcast and consider that Ira Glass, creator, producer, and host of This American Life, will also be appearing live in town at McCarter Theatre this month for an evening performance, “Ira Glass: 7 Things I’ve Learned.”
For more episodes of personal storytelling, you can’t go wrong with The Moth. Since its founding, The Moth has presented more than fifteen thousand stories, told live and without notes, worldwide. The Moth Mainstage, a live, curated event featuring five storytellers who have developed and shaped their stories, will be at McCarter Theatre in November.
Tracy K. Smith, 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States from 2017 to 2019 and teacher of creative writing at Princeton University, hosts another exquisite five-minute audio program and podcast called The Slowdown, which aims to bring poetry into our daily lives. Her reflections and observations are offered thoughtfully and inquisitively in these calm, soothing-yet-thought-provoking audio gems. Diverse poems, themes, and voices surface in contexts which help us understand ourselves and the world around us. This prescription for five minutes of contemplation and storytelling paired with a poem heals the soul.