My Reflections on S-Town

If you haven't listened to the S-Town podcast by the Serial and This American Life team, what the heck are you doing reading this blog post? Get thee to your podcast app and buckle up for an adventure.

If you have listened (and hopefully finished, though I'll avoid spoilers), you know why I'm still thinking about it. Here's my thesis statement:

Everyone has a story worth telling. Be it joyful or tragic, or likely a bit of both.

I listen to a lot of podcasts. What is a lot, you ask? I subscribe to and listen consistently to more than 50. I've tried hundreds. My friends ask me for reviews and recommendations. I love podcasts. The series' that are most memorable for me have a few things in common:

  • A story with many layers and interesting themes
  • Great audio quality, music, and effects
  • An approachable narrator or host
  • Rich human drama
  • Surprising twists and turns
  • A satisfying ending

For me, S-Town met these qualifications and exceeded all of my hopes. The Serial & This American Life team did something I was sure they could not achieve again. They set the bar for podcasts even higher. Serial changed the game. S-Town blasted off into orbit.

My first tweet about S-Town (about 15 minutes into the first episode) said this: "I adore this guy so far, with his giant garden maze and his rubix cubes." That sentiment never changed.

I've embarked upon my second listening of the 7 part series, and there are a few topics and quotes that especially stand out to me today. 

"I've been finding stuff out slowly over the years."

Tyler, one of the integral characters, says this about John, the protagonist. It's a simple statement, but it's poignant. That's the crux of relationships. You can't meet someone and figure them out in one conversation. People are beautifully and tragically complex. To really get to know someone, it takes years of shared experiences, conversations, and picking up on what goes unsaid. This podcast inspires me to dig deeper in my relationships. Ask more questions. Spend more time. Really listen and observe.

"Life is tedious and brief."

A quote on a sundial, a contemplation of the passing of time. In this season of my life, it speaks to me. We try to bounce between big events and major milestones and our memories don't hold onto the stuff in the middle. But our lives are made of the morning cups of coffee. The afternoons spent writing or looking out the window. The quiet evenings at home. Our lives are structured by doing dishes, washing loads of clothes, making mundane appointments. The time in between IS pretty tedious. But here's the truth - if we don't embrace the tedious, our lives WILL be brief. We can stack up all of the "big deal" moments on top of each other, and they won't reach all that high. If the exciting is all we count as living, our time will feel brief. I'm ready today to hold on tight to the tedious, and be grateful for the people I spend it with, in the place that I love.

What will I leave behind?

This may sound morbid. I don't mean it to be. But I'll die someday. We all will. If I was suddenly no longer here, what would I leave behind? What notebooks would my loved ones read to learn more about the details of my life story? What writing have I done that would share enough about who I am, to share what I've learned from the days of my life? I want to do enough with my days - not necessarily to achieve some cultural definition of success - but to honestly share the story of the beautiful and terrible in my life. To define my "worthwhile life." 

Today I purchased the beautiful score by Daniel Hart. I'm always looking for music to listen to while I write, and this fits the bill perfectly.

Next I'm planning to dig into John's "bedtime reading." The two short stories mentioned in the first episode are available to read online.

A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

S-Town will stick with me, as my favorite books, albums, films, and conversations have. Honest, human, emotionally resonant. I'm grateful that Brian Reed took the time to get to know John and share his story with us. I think we're all a little better for having known him.