Student Examples

Below is a small collection of sample student work. The quality of each one varies, but all of them, we think, have quite a bit to offer students learning to compose their own podcasts.

First-Year Composition Students' Examples

Hope for the Best
by Dree Koger

Dree Koger's audio essay "Hope for the Best" discusses the future of Village Books, an independent bookseller in Bellingham, Washington (thumbnail image courtesy of Village Books's press kit).

Female Voice: So, Sidney, what is your favorite thing about Village Books? Why do you like to come here?

Child's voice: 'Cause I like to look around.

Male voice: It's a really good bookstore that's survived by being pretty much true to itself.

Male voice: I like the mix of used books and new, and it's just a nice atmosphere.

Female voice: I like the atmosphere.

Male voice: Their selection is really good. All their sections are good, and they've integrated used books.

Female voice: The feel of it, it's cozy.

Female voice: It's cozy, yeah.

Male voice: Well, we were just kind of digging this little section down here, you know, all the interesting, the locally published stuff.

Male voice: It's not Barnes and Noble.

[piano music plays, becoming a mellow pop song]

Dree: Alright alright, you caught me. I am a self-proclaimed bibliophile. Whenever I get the chance to stop by a bookstore, I struggle to contain my elation. And no bookseller satisfies my bibliophilic tendencies quite like Village Books in Bellingham, Washington. It's cute, it's quaint, it's local. Gosh, I get goosebumps just thinking about it. But I'm not here to talk about how much I and many other people love Village Books, or how I feel like time stops when I step foot in the store and begin to browse shelf after wonderful shelf. I'm here to take you in the past so we can talk about the future of this remarkable local bookseller, because time never actually stops for any of us, though I may sometimes feel otherwise. And the funny thing about time is, it's a paradox. You see, time itself never changes. There will always be 24 hours in every day, 7 days in every week, and so on. But the passage of time is the underlying reason why the world is so, well, changeable.

[music fades out]

Hello everyone, Dree Koger here. And on today's episode of Never Stop Dreaming, I am going to talk about change.

[cash register sound effect]

No no, not that kind of change. I don't have a penny to my name to talk about anyway, because, you know, I'm a college kid. But that'll change. Everything changes after all. People, the weather, bank account balances, and places. Places like Village Books. They tend to change much more than we ever realize.

So what was the store like when you first opened it in 1980?

Chuck Robinson: It was small. It was just the two of us, it was Dee and I who were doing the store. We were in a little less than half of what is now the Paper Dreams side of our building over here. So we were in that spot, on the south side, and there was a cookware store on the north side of that space.

Dree: That was Chuck Robinson. He and his wife Dee opened Village Books in 1980 in order to begin living out a dream that they had been mulling over for a long time.

Chuck Robinson: Truthfully we had, my wife and I, both been liberal arts majors and always interested in books and reading, and the idea of a bookstore was sort of a romantic idea with us for a long time, but it was…

Dree: Both Chuck and Dee, who are natives of the Midwest, had been working in education for about 10 years prior to opening Village Books. And while they were taking a yearlong break from work to travel, they decided they would act on that romantic dream of bookselling that they had long been pondering.

Chuck Robinson: We both liked what we were doing at the time, but we decided to try a bookstore.

Dree: After searching high and low along the Pacific Coast for the perfect location, this ambitious duo settled on the seaside town of Bellingham, Washington, and began making their dream into a reality.

[sounds of waves]

Dree: As you can tell from my earlier conversations with Chuck, Village Books had modest beginnings. In 1980, Chuck and Dee were running their small, independent bookstore on their own in a space not much larger than the shipping containers you see being transported in and out of Bellingham Bay, just to the west of the store. But their tiny space has grown immensely over the years.

Chuck Robinson: And so we were in about 1,500 square feet, and by comparison today if you count both the Paper Dreams side, which is part of the store, and the bookstore side, we're pretty close to 10,000 square feet.

Dree: And aside from the significant increase in square footage, quite a few other changes have come about for this Bellingham bookseller. An expansion of the selection of works, as well as the choice of gifts in the expansion of Paper Dreams, the addition of an in-store cafe, and the integration of technology in the store are just a few of the changes since the opening of Village Books. And the business has even grown enough to open another store in Lynden, just down the road from Bellingham. Perhaps the greatest change since 1980, however, has not been within the store, but in the world of bookselling that developed around it.

Chuck Robinson: No large bookstores had really been created at that point.

Dree: When Chuck speaks of large bookstores, he's referring to the mainstream establishments like Borders, Books-A-Million, and Barnes and Noble, which has a location in north Bellingham. The names of these bookstores are recognizable in nearly any American household, so it would be logical to infer that these companies serve as some pretty stiff competition for local booksellers. And when I think about this, the first thing that pops into my head is a scenario like that in You've Got Mail, when Tom Hanks plays a chain bookseller who puts a local book shop, run by Meg Ryan's character, out of business.

Tom Hanks in You've Got Mail: There's only one place to find a children's book in the neighborhood. That will not always be the case, and it was yours, and it is a charming little bookstore. You probably sell, what, 350 thousand dollars worth of books in a year?

Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail: How did you know that?

Tom Hanks: I'm in the book business.

Meg Ryan: I am in the book business.

[classical music plays]

Dree: I really do wonder if a similar scenario could be in store for Village Books, maybe not in the near future but someday nonetheless. I mean, locally owned businesses often do well for a while, but don't they usually meet their demise by succumbing to a bigger, more powerful, and oftentimes less pricey chain company? And, is it not true that American consumerism is dominated by these mega-corporations?


Well, yes, it is these large, nationally recognized businesses that garner the most success with customers on a large scale. But oftentimes these same businesses that were once so successful also suffer the worst repercussions when things come crashing down.

Newscaster female voice: It's the final chapter for Borders. The national book chain has announced it is closing all of its stores.

Newscaster female voice: Barnes and Noble incorporated said that William Lynch has stepped down as CEO effective immediately, just weeks after the book retailer announced weak sales, big losses, and the declining popularity of its NOOK eReaders.

Dree: Borders, once the leading bookstore chain in the United States, went out of business in 2011, and Barnes and Noble has had their fair share of trouble in the past few years as well, dealing with buyouts and plunging stocks. So maybe, at least in the bookselling industry, a market run by major corporations doesn't work quite as well as everyone might think.

Chuck Robinson: So it's not really clear that that's really a good model even. A better model might be independently owned businesses, and independently owned businesses contribute much more to their own community than a chain store does.

Dree: So, essentially what Chuck is saying is that the secret to the success of not only his business but any local establishment that's well off is support for and involvement in the community.

Chuck Robinson: And I think the local connection and the involvement in the community has really been the prime thing for store that I know have continued to exist and been successful over the last 10–15 years. Any store that I can name around the country that has been, you know, a prominent bookstore has been very engaged in their community.

Dree: However, success within a local bookstore is very different than what a large corporation might consider successful.

Chuck Robinson: That doesn't mean that any of those people are getting rich. I mean, it's not a business that most people go into to get rich, but it's a sustainable business model that I think will last a long time into the future.

Dree: So independent ownership seems to be the best option for booksellers. But what happens when those independent owners are no longer able to run the store? I mean, this is a morbid thought, but everyone dies eventually. Wouldn't that provide a good opportunity for larger corporations to sweep in and take over what was once a thriving local business?

Chuck Robinson: That scenario just isn't very likely to happen. There's only been a couple of cases that I know of in the country where a big chain has bought an independent store. Most of what's happened with the larger independent stores in the country in the last few years, they've transitioned to other independent owners.

Dree: This transition from one independent owner to the next keeps the business locally centered. And that's what Chuck has planned for his own business when he and Dee can no longer run Village Books. In fact, they're counting on one of their longtime employees to take over the management of the store in the future. And this local change of hands is ultimately what makes these small bookstores thrive when compared to larger companies, because local owners know what local customers want to buy. For example, Barnes and Noble carries the same inventory across all of their locations. That has been a part of their success because customers like the reliability. But it also could be the root of their shortcomings. Because when a corporate bookseller like Barnes and Noble is buying books to sell in its stores, it doesn't cater to the specific wants of each individual community it operates in. And that is what makes all the difference.

Chuck Robinson: When our buyers buy books, they're sitting there looking and they're thinking, who in this community might be interested in this book? And we've been selling books to some of those people for almost 36 years.

Dree: It's this insight into local interest that has kept Village Books running strong since 1980. And this Bellingham business doesn't show signs of slowing down anytime soon. In fact, the market as a whole for local booksellers is doing quite well. There are more independent bookstores in business now than ever before. But we can still never be 100% certain about the future. It may be very unlikely that Village Books will ever be squashed out by a chain store, but it's still a possibility. Heck, Village Books being taken over by a rogue troop of aliens is a possibility. Anything can happen, right?

[classical music plays]

Dree: So perhaps that's why we shouldn't worry so much about what lies ahead, not just for Village Books but for anything of significance in our lives. We'd never be able to stop worrying otherwise. Of course, it's good to do everything in our power to prevent worst case scenarios, say like a corporate buyout or an alien invasion. But maybe we shouldn't overthink things, maybe instead we should just do the best we can with what we have and not stress about everything else. The time is going to pass regardless, so why waste it worrying? As long as we hope for the best and work for the best, chances are, the best will happen.

In regards to the production of this podcast, special thanks goes to Chuck and Dee Robinson for allowing me to spend time in their store, and barrage anyone and everyone, including Chuck himself, with questions about Village Books. You guys are the best. Also I'd like to credit CNN, IMDB, SoundBible, YouTube, and Sleeping at Last with research, sound effects, and music. And last, but certainly not least, thanks to you, dear listeners. Once again, this is Dree Koger, coming to you from Bellingham, Washington, and I hope you enjoyed this episode of Never Stop Dreaming, a podcast that taps into why you should make sure your dreaming never stops.

[music fades out]

Final Podcast
by Scott Rhodes

In his audio essay, Scott Rhodes explores the relationship between place, emotions, and acting (thumbnail image courtesy of Rhodes).

[intro sounds of film reels and trumpets]

Scott: Where are you? Right now, what place are you in? If you had to define place, how would you do that? I'm going to give you a few seconds to think about that. Got it?

Okay, good. Now, if you take a look at [Lynn] Staeheli, she presents many facets of place to examine that we often would not have thought of otherwise, such as place in regards to social and cultural location—the idea of being in place or belonging—while place in context deals with the identity of place. If you put a person well-versed in theatre art into an actual theatre, they identity with that place differently than a person going into a theatre to be taught a class, yet they have never worked in a theatre otherwise, nor do they plan on it.

Staeheli goes on to talk about place as a social construct, and her paper really digs deep into how place does not have a well-defined definition but instead is a great big idea with many sides to see it from. Along with all of her ideas, she also gave validity to what we were all thinking when I first asked the question, that place is a physical location, a place you can point to on a map or see with your eyes. She reminds us that place is a pretty loaded word.

Okay, with all of her ideas and concepts now floating out in your conscious thought, what would you think of if I brought in the idea of place in context of emotion? I'm an actor. I feel weird saying that, but it's true. At least I hope it to be by the time I finally leave this school. As an actor it's imperative that the work I do deals with emotions.

[in a monotone voice] I promise you that you wouldn’t want to see a single movie again if all of the sudden all the emotion was taken out of the characters, and they all talked like this 'cause there was no need to show emotion.

[back to his typical voice] That would be boring, right? Well, let’s dive a little deeper.

[Richard] Boleslavsky, a profound scholar in the art of theater, or just some dead guy depending on how much you care—he teaches the art of method acting, and tells his students that in short, "To even start becoming your character, you have to know where they are emotionally." I have never played Hamlet, the murderous psychopath who kills a bunch of people. I also have never killed anybody, but just like Hamlet, I have dealt with death. If I take the feelings I had when I had to deal with a loved one's death, I could then understand how emotional he was about his father's death. I've also never felt the need to avenge anybody's death, but I remember how much the taste of sweet revenge when I got my brother back for getting my grounded all the times while we were growing up. According to Boleslavsky, you can put yourself in an emotional place to become a character, whether or not you have ever had the same exact emotion or situation. That's why it’s called acting. I can put myself back into an emotional state with practice and concentration that can mimic the feelings Hamlet has, and bring me closer to that character, so that it's believable on stage.

In the big picture, if you go to see Wicked, Glenda is not Glenda, and she is not in Oz. She's an actress on stage right in front of you. She's physically in the same place as you, the same room even, and she's an actress whose name is most likely not Glenda the Good Witch. But her job is to make you think that you are physically in Oz, and that she's in fact the good witch. And while the actress might be feeling excited since this is the last show of the week and she will get the next few days off, she needs you to believe that she is feeling hopeful, excited, or sad and disappointed in how Elphaba's story turns out.

Acting is an art that takes you to an emotional place. If you've ever walked out of a movie theater crying because you felt so deeply about a character, then you were taken to a place emotionally that you hopefully weren't at before the movie started. Emotions and some wild idea could be put on a map, and through life, you travel on this map. Your emotions are ever-changing on this journey. If you go to see a play or a movie, then it's almost as if you are walking through a mini-map of emotion for the few hours that you are there to see a story unfold. Same for the actor; you have to understand this map in order to effectively navigate your audience through it the way you want them to go.

Okay, bringing everything together, I want you to take into consideration real quick what we talked about. Think of this map of emotion in life. Think of what you are feeling today. Take yourself out of this room and think of the big idea that has been following you since you tumbled out of bed this morning. And let me ask you this: where are you?

[closing sounds of film reels and trumpets]

Conversational Inspirational
by Natalia DiGiosia

In "Conversational Inspirational," Natalia DiGiosia explores questions related to holding conversations with someone you've just met and the need to actively listen (image courtesy of Couleur, 2017, public domain).

Natalia: I like to think of conversation as an art. It's filled with layers, different dynamics, body languages, sounds, laughs. And when you can get a conversation to click with someone—you kind of—almost vibe.

[funky, jazzy music]

I get that satisfying, punchy feeling when I know the two of us are brewin' a quality conversation. Listen to me like I'm crazy, but why not get a little flushed when chatting with someone new goes beyond the small talk we engage with every, single, goddamn day.

[music fades out]

Aren't you a little tired of it? Of meeting new people and instantly forgetting their names?

[begin funky pop music]

This is "Conversational Inspirational": a podcast about becoming more aware of your words in a conversation with someone new.

The topic's more helpful than you'd think. Conversing with people is a major component of how people make connections and thrive in this world. Meeting new people in college and actually forming a relationship with them is easier said than done. Oftentimes meeting a person for the first time can be the most important part in building a relationship.

[music fades out]

Colin: The very very beginning, the intro is the most important part of a conversation, especially when you are just meeting someone new.

Natalia: What about it?

Colin: It's the most influential part of the conversation, it steers what will happen later on. It determines the mood, and often—well, actually 100% of the time—the topic, could be a really boring one or interesting one, depending on the intro.

Natalia: So if the beginnings are really the most influential part of a conversation, as my friend Colin said, then you have to make your first impression stick, right? Why bother taking the time to talk to a person if you aren't going to be active and interesting? I think we have become passive, and almost sleepy.

Where has the spark gone? Where is the passion? Really, what's the point?

[loung pop music fades in]

I asked my friend Dawson some of these questions. I met Dawson at a strange party I went to recently. Our initial conversation wasn't very typical at all. We didn't even know each other's names 15 minutes in.

But I'll let him tell the story and the conversation.

Dawson: I was standing alone in the kitchen because I was having a terrible time at that party. And I was sitting against a cabinet in the kitchen, and we talked about empty spaces. I don't know… I felt raw; it felt real. I feel that a lot of people are disingenuous with conversations when they first meet people—like small talk. A lot of people don't really like to show vulnerability and show who they are. A lot of people kind of hide behind a certain persona. I think at least our conversation—and the way that I have conversations with people that I connect the most with—is when I can tell they are being genuine, and I don't know if you can really read that well, its something that I can decently pick up well on, and it definitely brings me closer to people through conversation.

Natalia: I think we can all agree with Dawson, that explaining who you are in the most genuine way can really make you get to know someone, and also make for some really interesting convos.

[music fades out]

But also, too much of a good thing can be bad.

One of my biggest pet peeves with conversations is when the other person won't stop talking about themselves.

I experienced a lot of this during my first few weeks here at Western Washington. I would meet a new person, and we seemed to get along fairly well, I guess. But pretty soon into the conversation, we would get into this extremely exhausting pattern of telling stories back and forth, back and forth.

And the amount of stories just piled onto each other, each one sounding exactly the same as the next, and it continues on forever and forever and throughout eternity, and before you know it, it's—

[Clip: 2 hours later.]

[lively music fades in]

Natalia: and you snap out of it and realize you know more about her grandma and already forgot her name.

Mikaela: You're telling a story, and people are listening that you don't really know very well, it's hard for them to understand the humor of your story because they don't really know who you are as a person. And they can't really relate to who you are. They don't know how you react to different situations. So they don't find it funny as you do.

Natalia: There really is nothing worse than being bored in a conversation. I mean a few stories can be beneficial: They can spark a common interest that pushes the discussion more on a topic rather the individual. But if someone continues to chat about their own lives, then you start to question if they are actually listening to you, or if they only want to talk about themselves.

Justin: It just seems like some people just don't really care what you have to say.

Natalia: This is what I mean when I say being "active" in a conversation. It's important to pay attention to the other person, unless they keep rambling about grandma. You really can tell if someone is listening or not. If they are truly engaged in wanting to get to know you, they will make eye contact with you, ask you follow up questions, and ultimately ingest the words you find valuable, the ones that make up the story of your life.

Celeste Headlee (2015): We are not listening to each other. A conversation requires a balance between talking and listening, and somewhere along the way we lost the balance.

Natalia: This is Celeste Headlee's TED Talk on conversations. I really got a lot out of what she had to say about how—

Headlee: Listening is perhaps the most, the number one most important skill that you can develop. Buddha said, and I'm paraphrasing, "If your mouth is open, you are not learning."

Why do we not listen to each other? Number One: We'd rather talk. When I am talking, I am in control. I don't have to hear anything I'm not interested in. I'm the center of attention. I can bolster my own identity.

And look, I know, it takes effort and energy to actually pay attention to someone, but if you can't do that, you're not in a conversation. You're just two people shouting out barely related sentences in the same place.

You have to listen to one another. Stephen Covey said it very beautifully. He said, "Most of us don't listen with the intent to understand. We listen with the intent to reply."

[music fades in]

Natalia: I really think that listening kind of ties up all the little conversational techniques in one big package. The act of listening is that big fat red bow that makes your birthday present a keeper. Without listening to the person and being active, making friends in college and other social connections in life might be pretty difficult. But also, just don't forget to listen to your own voice. And at the most basic level, be yourself.

A wrap up for "Conversational Inspirational": Life's too short to be wasting time and wasting words. You've got to make everything count for something. Thanks for listening.

[music fades out]


Headlee, Celeste. (2015, May). 10 ways to have a better conversation [Video file]. TED Talks. Retrieved from

Happiness Revisited
by Brandon Wanthal

In his podcast, Brandon Wanthal explores the notion of what makes us happy (thumbnail image courtesy of Markus Spiske, 2015, used through Creative Commons).

Brandon: "We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have." —Frederick Keonig

[Fade in "Wax," written by myself. A faster paced electro jazz song. The instruments are relaxed (jazz piano, soft percussion) but the drums are heavy.]

Hello, my name is Brandon Wanthal, and this is a podcast about happiness. To start, there are two fundamental characteristics of happiness I want you to know: 1) Happiness is universally desired by all people; and 2) the meaning of happiness is different for every single human being on this planet.

Kind of like a snowflake. Perhaps this is why it is so hard to answer the simple question, what is happiness?

Female voice: Happiness… uhh, it means being around people you love.

Male voice: Freedom.

Male voice: Doing things you love, and being with people you love.

Female voice: Family, security…

Male voice: Sex.

Female voice: Dogs.

Female voice: Love. [laughing]

Female voice: Like, being with people and talking with people, and also just being out in nature and by the water.

Male voice: When I'm done with all my stuff, and I have like free time, and I can just hang out with people and not have to worry about deadlines.

Male voice: Probably free time.

Female voice: Being positive.

Male voice: A burrito on the beach.

Female voice: Not having to go to linear algebra right now.

Male voice: Contentness, man.

Female voice: Something that makes you smile, or like feel safe.

Female voice: Other people.

Female voice: Comfort—something about comfort, without any like looming feelings of anxiety. Like not thinking past the comfort of right now.

Brandon: And what would make you more happy?

Female voice: If I could be more mindful of the present.

[Buildup of music, concludes with reverberated cymbal. Slow fade into "Autumns of Evening Breeze" by the Sound Providers.]

Brandon: Those were the voices of various Western Washington University students I spoke to while wandering campus for a couple hours. Interestingly enough, across the nearly fifty interviews I conducted, nobody answered my calculus class, engineering paper, or studying for countless hours in the library, spending weekend nights writing finals essays, or drinking 14 cups of coffee to prevent nodding off in biology. I also did not once get any answer involving a desired job, materialistic objective, or salary, which according to a study published by the University of California, Los Angeles on Freshman College Motivation in 2012, is the number one driving force of students to pursue higher education. In fact, it's nearly 90% unanimous. I know what you're thinking: "Of course that isn't the meaning of happiness." But oftentimes in my experience as a college student, I spend a lot more time doing these activities than I do engaging in what actually makes me happy.

[traffic noise]

CCTV Male Interviewer speaking to Sonja Lyubomirsky: Why is it so elusive? Because you hear people who are just like, God, if I got this I'd be happy, if I lost 10 pounds I'd be happy. And yet if they lost 10 pounds they wouldn't be happy, right, because there would be something else down the road…

Sonja Lyubomirsky: Exactly, and that's actually what my book The Myths of Happiness is about, because one of the myths is that you think that well I'm not happy now, but I'll be happy when, I get married, I lose weight, I make more money. And it turns out that those things do make you happy, but they don't make you as happy for as long as you think that they will because you get used to it. People adapt to almost everything.

Brandon: That was the voice of Sonja Lyubomirsky, one of the leading experts in the field of positive psychology. Undoubtedly, everyone listening to this podcast can relate to desiring more in our lives. It is human nature to want to progress in life, and, in many ways, it is healthy to have reasonable aspirations. However, in order to achieve these goals, it would help to be the best possible version of ourselves we can be. This entails being better thinkers, learners, and innovators, all of which are positively correlated with happiness.

Sonja Lyubomirsky: And we know that happier people are more productive. We know that happier people are more creative, they make more money, they are better negotiators, they are better leaders. So I think it's good for companies to make sure their employees are happier. Not just because it is good for the employees, but it is good for their bottom line as well.

[cash register sounds]

Brandon: So, to optimize our life, it would help to increase our daily happiness. However, remember what I said in the first 30 seconds of this podcast: Happiness changes over time. Kind of like a snowflake. If happiness is changing constantly, how can we achieve sustained happiness? The answer is in baby steps. Because happiness is ever-changing, it is best to think of sustained happiness as a sustained effort to be happy every day. If we can identify the trends that make us happy in several consecutive moments, we will be conditioned to live happier lives.

So, to help us better understand the relationship between our lives and our happiness, we can look to the 50–40–10 model. The 50–40–10 model, widely respected and regarded as the number one conclusion on happiness and human nature, suggests three prominent factors which make up our happiness. Genetics, the first and largest determining factor, is responsible for over half of our ability to be happy. This means that naturally, there are just some human beings that are predisposed to live happier lives. While 50% is quite a high value, the other 50% can be attributed to life circumstances and voluntary activities. Contrary to popular belief, life circumstances, such as wealth, material possessions, or the absence of linear algebra, composes a mere 10% of our happiness, leaving 40% to voluntary activities, such as community involvement, spending time with family, or exercising.

Male voice: Doing things you love and being with people you love.

Kelsey Matthews: I always thought I have to have a job where I'm making money, lots of money.

[Fade out of "Autumns Evening Breeze." Fade in "Smooth While Raw" by Gramatik.]

Brandon: Kelsey Matthews, my loving girlfriend and graduate of Sonoma State University in 2014, cultivated a passion while she was at school, a passion for social sciences, and a passion that ultimately led to the fulfillment of the voluntary activity component of happiness. Causing her greater happiness, greater life meaning and greater satisfaction.

Kelsey: Umm… Well first entering college… [laughs] I didn't necessarily pick the right courses. I picked based off of, what I was told to take in freshman orientation. You know: You need to take this university class because every freshman should take it to meet friends. And, you know, I was not motivated, I didn't do well in my classes, I almost flunked out of college. You know, my parents are both very successful people, and I'm used to certain lifestyle, of, getting what I want, when I want it. No matter the cost. And, you know, entering college, you kind of think that that's what you're supposed do: You're supposed to go for engineering, or you're supposed to go for computer science, or you know one of those majors where you come out of college and automatically get a job. And, um… I went to college with the idea that oh no, I'm going to have to find something like that, that I love and I think once I was kind of, introduced to social sciences, and I found something I was passionate about, that need to be successful in, you know, a field because of financial reasons quickly faded.

Brandon: Over the course of a few years, happiness can shift completely. The more people I talk to, the more I see how the human body naturally gravitates towards feelings of happiness. In simpler terms, as Kelsey experienced the discovery of a passion, which according to a Stanford University study has a profound impact on happiness, she naturally shifted her priorities away from wealth. In terms of the 50–40–10 model, over the course of six years Kelsey subconsciously transitioned from the pursuit of life circumstances—

Kelsey: … what I want when I want it…

Brandon: —to the pursuit of voluntary activities.

Kelsey: … to social sciences…

Brandon: Not surprisingly, she became happier.

[fade out "Smooth While Raw"]

Leslye Wanthal: I think life is ever-changing, and people don't like to think of it in those terms, but it is.

Brandon: My mother, a national retail chain manager, turned stay-at-home parent of two, speaks on the change of happiness over time she has experienced.

Leslye Wanthal: I think when I started school, I wanted to find out who I was, what inspired me to be better, greater, work harder, be more successful, but yet, once… I decided to have children with my husband, all my priorities changed. And money was still significant, because you need it to raise children a certain way, you set goals on your expectations for your family. However, you know nothing that you do, outside of raising your family, will ever be as important as your family. There's an old saying, "Youʼre only as happy as your saddest child," and it's absolutely correct.

[Fade in "About You," written by myself. The tone and feel of this song is slower.]

Female voice: It's when my little nine-month-old gives me a squeeze around the neck.

Brandon: Are we chasing a moving target? My research, scientific studies, and history says yes. The concept is very simple, really. The Western Washington University students I interviewed in the beginning of this podcast are completely incapable of realizing the implications of a family because—well—they don't have one yet. The point is, whatever the circumstances, things are going to happen in our lives which are going to have profound transforming effects on our priorities. These circumstances are often unforeseen, like Kelsey's stepping foot into her first anthropology class and discovering her passion for social sciences. It is impossible to prepare for the unforeseen. However, recognizing happiness as a function of time and focusing on what makes us happy in the moment will allow us to have the most positive impact on our communities and increase our likelihood of experiencing sustained life satisfaction.

Bonnie Ware, who worked in palliative care for many years, published an article on the five regrets of the dying, where she discussed opinions on life regret from hundreds of her patients. Coincidentally, one of the more popular responses was, "I wish that I had let myself be happier." The key word I would like to focus on from that quote is let. Let, opposed to try or chase, suggests happiness is within all of us, not something we need to find but rather something that we need to notice and feel.

To complement this idea, I give a quote from Edith Wharton, a 20th century Pulitzer Prize winner who said, "If only we'd stop trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time."

Happiness will always be a personal, ever-changing idea. By shifting our focus away from life's circumstances toward the enjoyment of voluntary activities, we can, as Edith states, have a pretty good time.

[instant start of "You Can See Everything," mixed by myself]

I would like to thank my girlfriend, Kelsey Matthews; my mother, Lesleye Wanthal; and the various Western Washington students that let me interview them while walking around campus. I would also like to thank the students at Western Washington University for their feedback and my teacher for supporting me throughout this project. Have a so very happy day.

[music fades]

Upper-Division Writing Students' Examples

The Woman with a Thousand Cookbooks
by Rose Pettitt

In "The Woman with a Thousand Cookbooks," Rose Pettitt interviews a hobbyist chef (thumbnail image courtesy of Pettitt).

Rose: How many cookbooks would you guesstimate you have now?

Tamara: I have no idea, but it's hundreds of cookbooks.

Rose: Hundreds of cookbooks?

Tamara: Yes.

Rose: Tell me about your living room.

[acoustic guitar track plays]

Tamara: I have a large wall of cookbooks.

Rose: With hundreds of cookbooks on it?

Tamara: Probably, yeah.

Rose: Okay!

[acoustic guitar continues]

Rose: That was Tamara Gold speaking. She is a hobbyist chef, and everyone who has had the opportunity to eat at her house always wants to know what her recipe is, and I can tell you from looking at her cookbook collection that she's being modest. She doesn't just have a few hundred cookbooks, but well over a thousand. This episode is called "The Woman with a Thousand Cookbooks."

Rose: So, tell me about how you got interested in cooking.

Tamara: Well, when I was a teenager, I don't remember being interested at all in cooking, and my mom just had a few dishes that she did well, and she really wasn't interested in cooking. But, when I was sixteen, I graduated high school early, and I traveled in Europe, and I also lived in Israel for a short period of time and I volunteered on a kibbutz, and my job on the kibbutz was to work in the kitchen.

[acoustic Middle Eastern track plays]

Tamara: So, I was working with a chef who had come from Tel Aviv with his family, and he began to teach me how to cook. So, it was very interesting to me; it was just like something that was new, and I really enjoyed it.

Rose: So, would you feel like that was, like, kind of like an overnight change for you? That you weren't that interested in cooking and then suddenly, when you had this mentor, you became interested?

Tamara: It was… it was… it was an interesting thing to do, and I was in a foreign place, and it was a way of relating [clears throat] to somebody, that, you know… we didn't, we didn't—he didn't have very good English, and he spoke some French. My French wasn't that great, and, but we could kind of communicate and have fun in the kitchen.

Rose: Mhmm, so you feel like that was kind of like a cross-cultural way to bond was through food?

Tamara: Right, yeah, yeah. It was a lot of fun, and so when I got back from this trip to Europe and started college, I was interested in cooking and I slowly began to acquire some cookbooks. Basically kind of hippie food, vegetarian food, and that kind of stuff.

[Middle Eastern track fades to European accordion track]

Tamara: I was in Europe for quite a few months, and during that time, eating in Italy, eating in France, eating in Spain, eating in Israel, in Germany, Sweden. I was all over Europe, and I ate all different kinds of food, and the food that I grew up with—we hardly ever ate in a restaurant, as I was growing up—and, the food that I grew up with was really kind of bland.

[accordion track fades into upbeat jazz guitar track]

Tamara: Some of the things were good, I mean, she made great homemade bread, we had fresh milk from our cows, you know, sometimes we had our own butter, that we, you know, we—my mom had a jar that she would shake as we rode on long car trips, like a gallon jug, to make, you know, shake the butter up. And you know, she had a few dishes that were good. But, like, for instance, her spaghetti was made with a can of Campbell's tomato soup.

Rose: Mhmm.

Tamara: I mean, compare that to now you're in Italy, and you've had… and you get a real, you know, a real sauce.

Rose: So it was kind of like a whole new world was opened up to you?

Tamara: Right, yeah, and it was, you know, I mean, vegetables that weren't overcooked? That was really a revelation.

[jazz fades into rock song]

Rose: So, after that point, how did your interest in cooking… did it kind of snowball, after, after you came back from Israel?

Tamara: No, um, I was mainly occupied with college, but I lived in group houses, and I seemed to be the only one that had, like, any interest in trying to figure out how to put together a meal that was edible. And my first attempts weren’t all that edible.

[sounds of chopping vegetables]

Tamara: But I kept trying, I kept looking, you know, reading recipes and stuff in books. And I began to realize that I had kind of a knack for it, and, you know, pretty soon I was the best cook among anybody I knew, and so I was always the one doing the cooking in the group house.

[sounds of chopping vegetable fades into mellow electric guitar track]

Tamara: I have always had an interest in health and nutrition, and… it was a way of making food that was really healthy, and I was also, just, you know, trying to get really healthy myself. And the food at that time…

Rose: At what time?

Tamara: At this time in the seventies, the food really wasn't very good, and so, if you wanted to eat something healthy, you basically had to make it yourself. Although, occasionally, I would go out to some kind of hippie café or restaurant and have a meal that was pretty cool, pretty interesting, you know, might involve foods that we weren't normally served like sprouts, or avocados, or green chilies or something. You know, my mom had a very limited repertoire. So there were a lot of foods that I had never been served. You know, like, a pepper. You know, I had never had that.

[mellow electric guitar fades into African acoustic guitar]

Tamara: The cookbooks that you can learn from are the ones where the voice of the person is really speaking to you, and they are really giving you their philosophy, and their style of cooking, and you feel like a friend has taken you into the kitchen and is helping you to learn their cooking style. So, a lot of cookbooks aren't like that, and they're just like a collection of recipes, and there is no trust, there is no understanding, and, you know, some are good, some aren't so good. The cookbooks you love and the ones that I like to collect are the ones where I feel like I'm now in good hands, and I'm going to learn from this person. And I have learned from—like, sometimes you just have a singular experience, like, a long time ago I was dating somebody that was working in the high stalls in the Pike's Place Market. And he had a friend there that was an old lady who invited us over to her house, and she was a seller of Asian greens, which, at the time, was kind of a rare thing, you know. I suppose she supplied the international, you know, restaurants at that time in the international district. And she had a huge, old wok that was just black inside. And I had no clue how you would cook with that, and she just took me into the kitchen and showed me how to use a wok.

[wok stirring and sizzling sounds]

Tamara: And, boom, I knew how to use a wok from that point on. And it really—my cooking style really stepped up, just from that one quick lesson: her showing me how to do it. Because, I—otherwise, I think I would have been floundering around for years. And, many, many years later an excellent cookbook came out that explained the technique this woman taught me, but that would have been like twenty years down the road.

[African guitar fades into mellow acoustic]

Tamara: Yeah. It's definitely easier to learn cooking from a mentor than it is from cookbooks. And I’ve just never really had—I've had very few mentors.

Rose: And why do you say that?

Tamara: Because, it's—cooking is something physical that's a hands-on thing. It's like trying to learn dance steps from a book or trying to learn, you know, a certain art technique from a book. That's hard. I mean, you can look at pictures and you can kind of get the idea, but if someone was actually showing you and you were physically doing it—like bread making? That was really—I learned that—I, nobody taught me how to bake bread. I had to learn that from a book, so it was difficult, because kneading is something that you really need somebody to show you. My mom tried to show me when I was young, but I just didn't pay attention. Later when I had my young family, I really had a chance to cook because you couldn't afford to eat out, and you, you know, you have a lot of time in the house with really young children, so I learned to bake my own bread, and I did all kinds of cooking for scratch: I made my own pasta, you know, all that kind of cooking where it's labor intensive but you have plenty of time, and you don't have very much money, so you just go ahead.

And so, these cookbooks would reach out to me, and it was like having this interesting person in my kitchen who knew more about a certain kind of cooking than I did, and was sharing all their wisdom, all their tips, all their expertise. So, it was just, you know, I've never gotten tired of that feeling, and so, I still am acquiring cookbooks because there is always something new. You know, here is someone that is like a fantastic Thai cook and knows all kinds of things that I don't know about that and can teach me. And, so, you know, it's a cheap thrill, for the inexpensive price of a cookbook—it's pretty exciting. And then, you know, you want to go to the store, you're looking for a certain kind of store, or you might need to buy some ingredients online, but suddenly you've got new flavors and new things open up. And I mean, maybe you get that from a restaurant meal, but usually you think, "This is delicious. I have no clue how they did this." And no one is going to tell you.

[acoustic guitar fades into mellow pop guitar track]

Rose: So what would you say to people that are trying to learn how to cook? Can they learn from cookbooks or mentors like you did? Or do you think that you need to have a natural knack for cooking?

Tamara: I don't think so. No, I don't think so. I think that if you work—if you do something a lot, you get good at it. You just get really good at it. And, so then, you get really quick at it, and, you know, even though I have all those cookbooks, I almost never even look at a recipe, because most of them are in my head now, and I can vary things and change things depending on what's available and modify it or just go with a different option. And lots of times when I make something that's really great, somebody wants the recipe, but I'm not exactly sure of everything that went into it and—if a few days go by then I have no clue what it was, if they call and say, "Gee, that was great." Well, I don't even know what I did. Because every time you make something, you're kind of reinventing it, and when you use a recipe, it's not like that. So, breaking away from the recipe, you get something maybe more satisfying.

Rose: Describe for me the feeling you have after you know you’ve made an excellent meal and everyone is enjoying it.

Tamara: Well, it's a very, very satisfying feeling, to say the least. Because you feel that you have nurtured the people that you love. You feel like you've entertained their palate, you've satisfied something very elemental, you know, for people that you love, and it's a wonderful feeling. Maybe like—maybe when a musician has played something, and everyone is nodding and kind of very satisfied to hear the music. It's that kind of feeling—of creating something that everyone has just loved and enjoyed. It's a great feeling.

Rose: A big thank you to Tamara Gold for sharing her story with us today. I hope that you’ve enjoyed listening to "The Woman with a Thousand Cookbooks," and I hope that you also feel inspired to go home and cook a meal for your own loved ones.

[music fades]

Pay No Attention: Staring
by Tennyson Morin

In "Pay No Attention: Staring," a part of a series on what we don't pay attention to, Tennyson Morin explores why people stare (thumbnail image courtesy of Morin).

Speaker 1: Umm, I found them to be attractive.

Speaker 2: Probably because they were doing something weird.

Speaker 3: Yeah.

Speaker 4: I think this is probably my most common reason for staring at a stranger is I think that they're one of my friends.

Speaker 5: Oooh! Umm, just talking to them, having a conversation.

Speaker 6: Probably to get their attention.

Speaker 7: Someone came into the computer lab, and I thought I recognized them, but they were far away. I was trying to figure out who they were. So I stared at them for a good like 30 seconds. And then I was like, that's not my friend.

Speaker 8: Times I stare are times when it's confronting social norms. Like someone's standing the opposite way in the elevator or something like that.

Speaker 9: Jewelry! It pops out, you know. 'Cause it's shiny. That's the first thing I always notice. Like a nose ring.

Speaker 10: Probably because they're real attractive.

Speaker 11: I was staring at a girl over there that just had a sports bra on. And I was like perhaps you…

Speaker 12: I thought that I knew them, so I was trying to figuring it out.

Speaker 11: I was just staring at her and I was like, cool… it's hot out.

Speaker 13: The last people I stared at was this little family and I stared at the two little boys, because one of them had the other upside down, and like holding him by the stomach.

Speaker 14: Um, to see how big of a bite they took.

Speaker 15: Probably just spacing out and like realizing that I was staring at someone by accident.

Speaker 14: We were just in the dining hall. And I was like look at that girl, she just took a really big bite.

Speaker 13: I was afraid that he was gonna drop him on his neck. And for some reason I wanted to make sure I saw if that happened. But I also didn't want to see. I was gonna run over there and save him.

Speaker 16: Maybe clothes? If somebody has a cute outfit, I'd be like, Oh, that's cute!

Speaker 17: One time this guy came out of the bathroom with bare feet. At a gas station. I was just horrified. [other person's laughter] I was horrified. People don't make the toilet every time! I'm not staring at their face, just their feet. Like what's on them? Are they conditioned? Are they hobbits? I don't know.

[sound of cymbals]

Tennyson: So I have a confession to make. I am addicted to people-watching. Which might explain why some of my favorite places are cafés, coffee shops, and cafeterias. I mean they're not just great places for food. They're also like these giant buffets of constantly revolving menu of all the different types of people you could ever feel like learning about.

[background cafeteria noises]

People are just too interesting not to look at, especially for extended periods of time. But is there anything that should really stop me from staring at someone?

I mean, A of all, they usually don't know I'm looking at them. They're unaware. And B of all, I'm hardly ever caught, if ever.

But I've always wondered if I should feel at least a little guilty? Is staring really a bad thing to be doing? Am I committing some terrible social privacy crime by watching my fellow humans just be? Or is there really nothing to worry about?

[saxophony jazz comes in]

Well, hey there, my name's Tennyson Morin, and you're now listening to "Pay No Attention," a podcast where we look at the things that typically escape our attention until we can't help but notice them. And this time around, we're taking an extended glance at staring. Technically this is a podcast about not paying attention to things, but I thought it might be interesting to look at staring because of the obvious contradiction to the theme I'm working with. Staring is paying attention, though it's often paying attention to the things that we shouldn't be paying so much attention to.

It's always seemed to me that most conversations centered on staring is based on how negative staring can be. As kids, most of us, if not all of us, are taught not to stare at others. It's rude. It's an invasion of people's space. It's weird. And nobody wants to be evaluated. Behaviorally, it's often seen as a form of aggression. People stare you down, engage in staring competitions for the gain of dominance. And give one another the evil eye.

In fact, the evil eye is like this malevolent embodiment of staring. While many people probably don't believe in this nowadays, the evil eye was actually meant as a curse, cast with a malicious gaze to cause, well, ill-fortune onto another person.

A friend of mine recently experienced this.

Aki: Hi. My name is Aki.

Tennyson: And she works at Starbucks.

Aki: It's a really great environment. Most of the people that come through our doors are really nice, they're really patient. So one day, when I was studying at the store I work at and my friends are working, and this woman is kinda causing a ruckus. She is being really rude to the baristas and she comes up to the counter a little bit later and she's like, Something is wrong with my drink. Fix it.

Background voice: Something is wrong with my drink. Fix it.

Aki: And the barista at the register is like, Ok, you know, just give me one minute. Like, I'm helping out this customer.

Tennyson: The lady kept hassling the barista. Until eventually, Aki…

Aki: … stepped in. And I was like, Hey, he's doing the best he can, there's only one barista on the floor, and he's helping someone out. He'll get to you. And she didn't say anything. She just kept staring straight ahead.

Tennyson: So then Aki went back to her own studying.

Aki: And all of a sudden, I kinda, I feel this like, tingling. Like, you know the feeling of someone staring at you. Like if you feel like there's something touching your neck. Like a tingling. Or like when someone's like hovering so close to your arm you can feel them but they're not actually touching you, that's what it felt like. Like a tingling, tingling. And I look over and there's this lady and she is staring at me, and it is the most hateful gaze. The way she was staring was so intentional, like, it was very obvious why she was staring. Because she didn't like me, or she didn't like what I did. It was almost physical, like I could almost feel her wanting to hurt me, or, like, like not even, maybe not physically. She wasn't very physically threatening, but, and I could have held my own. Shoot, I could have snapped her with my little finger, let's be real. [laughs]

I feel like there was some malicious intent there, and so, I told her, "Hey, could you stop staring at me? That makes me feel uncomfortable." And she continued to stare at me. She's like, "You don't want to start a fight with me," she's like, "Do you want to start a fight with me?" And I said, "No, I don't, like, I'm just stepping in for someone because you were talking to him, you know, you weren't talking to him very nicely." And she kept saying, "Do you want to start a fight? Do you want to start a fight?" And I was, "No, I don't want to start a fight with you. That's not why I am talking to you right now." And she kept trying to antagonize me and I kept saying, "No, that's not my intent. That's not my intent."

And then I said more assertively, "Will you please stop staring at me?" And she responded, uh, "I can stare where I want." And I said, "Well you can't stare in this direction because this is my personal space. So will you please stop staring at me?" And she wouldn't. So I maintained eye contact with her. [clears throat] Because, after all, I did kind of bring this on myself, and I felt justified in what I did because I was standing up for someone. And so I held her gaze because I didn't want to back down. And I know that sounds silly, but I felt so threatened by her stare that I needed to show her that I didn't feel threatened by her, even though I really did. That stare was meant to intimidate me. You know, because that's the way that she fights. And I've never had such hostility, like, I've never felt that much from someone staring at me. But I just felt, yeah, it was so, like, visceral.

[drum roll sound builds, then fades, then builds again; trumpet music comes in after drum sounds]

Tennyson: The human gaze doesn't have just one meaning. Looking at someone can communicate a plethora of things—too many to even list. And the meaning of that gaze can mean something significantly different from one person to the next.

[Mash-up of voices] Woman's Voice: Uncomfortable, maybe something's wrong with me.

Tennyson: It makes you think something's wrong with you?

Woman's Voice: Yeah, maybe. Why would they be staring at me? Is there something wrong with my hair, or like, something in my teeth?

Woman's Voice: When I get stared at it makes me feel uncomfortable. I'm not expecting someone to look at me, so you never know what I'm going to be doing, especially with my face.

Man's Voice: I don't really feel uncomfortable, like, I know how people would feel that way, um…

Woman's Voice: I don't know, sometimes it kind of catches me off guard.

Man's Voice: Well, I actually like catching, uh, people staring at me, because it makes them feel awkward and then I, like, make funny faces at them or something, and then they get really, like, weirded out. Well, I like make a humorous thing out of it. I like people staring at me, I guess.

Woman's Voice: Oh, mmm, that's just rude. Like, okay okay, there's like a certain type of stare. There's like, the stare, like, the stanky stare, where it's kind of rude. And then there's a stare where it's like, "Oh maybe she's checking out my outfit, you know."

Woman's Voice: What's the word? The small spaces word? Claustrophobic.

Woman's Voice: The stanky stare where it's like kind of like an attitude. Just like, throws me off, because I think that's rude.

Woman's Voice: But if you're staring me down, I think I'd just get defensive, like, "What do you want?"

Woman's Voice: But like the other stare is nice, because it's like, Aw, maybe she likes my outfit.

Woman's Voice: Yeah, if someone's like staring, and you can tell if it's out of admiration, then you're like, okay, I'll stare back, smile.

Woman's Voice: And then there's like those creepy stare.

Woman's Voice: I guess it depends on the situation. Um, I had a roommate that was a starer. And it made me really uncomfortable. I would be sitting at my desk and I would just catch her staring at me doing whatever I was doing, and that was weird. But if it's someone that I love and care about and they're staring at me, like, kind of in the situation I was talking about, then that's okay. But if it's someone who's like staring at me wondering what I'm doing, or trying to analyze what I'm doing then that weirds me out a little bit.

Woman's Voice: It depends on who it is too. If it's people my age then I'll smile back, but if it's like an old man smiling at me, I will not smile back. I would probably, like, just keep walking or something, or look down and pretend like I didn't see him.

Man's Voice: If I notice someone staring at me who's a stranger then I will smile at them. If it's one of my friends, they're usually spacing out, so I'll make a weird face or something.

Man's Voice: I usually just try to make eye contact with them and smile, and be friendly. I don't ever, I don't find it as threatening. I'm just like, "Oh hey, how's it going?"

Man's Voice: I usually just smile, and a lot of people smile back. And sometimes, sometimes, a smile is enough to make somebody's day better. So, it's worth it.

[jazz sounding music]

Tennyson: With so many various ways of reacting to another person's stare, there's no doubt that we've misinterpreted from time to time.

[jazz music fades out]

Tennyson: I got in touch with some experts.

Clary: Hi, I'm Clary.

David: And I'm David.

Tennyson: And they may or may not be students that I randomly ran into one day.

Clary: Usually like, I mean I'm a costume designer, so like I'll stare at people 'cause of the their clothes. If there is like something interesting about what they're wearing I'll just stare at it, trying to figure out how it's made.

[Clary's voice continues in the background]

Tennyson: So instead of looking at people and their clothes in an effort to judge them and make sense of them, Clary looks at other people for inspiration. She's looking for the differences in their clothes—the things that she hasn't necessarily come into contact with.

Clary: I would like kinda of stare and then blank out and not realizing I'm still staring at the person. I'll keep staring and not even realize that they're looking back at me until they say something. That's happened to me a lot where I'll just be blankly staring at someone, and they'll be like, "Can I help you?" And I'm like, "What? Oh, sorry!" But I've had instances where people are like, "Were you staring at my chest?" and get insulted, and I'm like, "No, you just have a really cool pattern on your shirt…"

David: I feel like the polite thing is to like nod or something, but I feel like 9 times out of 10 I just look away quickly and, Look at this interesting thing over here—my, the ground!

Tennyson: David, on the other hand, was looking for a little more than just patterns, fabrics, and colors.

David: In a word, I guess I'd say differences. I guess I'd say I tend to analyze people a little bit more, um, so the differences stand out a little more to me. I'm not necessarily drawn reflexively to somebody if they have the same behaviors as myself; it's more the ones that are… not outlandish, but just not what I'm expecting. Um, and it's interesting to see tics people have or physical behaviors or even aesthetic choices, like for example in what they're wearing, that would speak to experiences or beliefs or opinions they have that shape who they are. If somebodyʼs got a limp in their foot or something… Then there's stuff like somebody who makes eye contact with everybody they interact act with versus somebody who doesn't make eye contact at all.

Tennyson: David and Clary really showcase two pretty different perspectives on staring. Clary, who mainly looks at people for their aesthetic differences, and David, who looks at some of the same things, but in an effort to see through them to the person beneath the surface.

How do you guys react to being stared at?

Clary: I mean, yeah I usually won't notice unless they say something or they're staring aggressively and trying to make eye contact. I've made eye contact with people looking at me, and I'll ask them, "Can I help you?" I try to be friendly about it 'cause I know do it and I zone out. So I'll usually try and be nice about asking them. And not be like, "What are you looking at?" 'Cause like, I feel like 9 times out of 10, it's usually just like, "Oh, I'm sorry. I just zoned out and I was looking at you." Or, it's like, "What are you doing? Why are you dressed like that?" So…

David: I tend to take the more standard reflexive reaction of feeling like I'm being evaluated or judged. Like "Oh no, did I do something wrong? Was there a social faux pas, or did I do something, or is something on my face?" But those are all based on personal insecurity. People have the tendency to see everything pretty self-centeredly. Like when you walk into a room and you hear people laughing at a joke or something, but the feeling that they're laughing at you or something. But it seems to me that most things nowadays, people are so involved in their own stuff that a lot of people aren't paying attention. I mean, I don't know, everyone's so worried about themselves and what they're doing, the idea that you're worried about doing something silly in public, because 9 times out of 10 they're not even gonna notice.

[piano music plays]

Tennyson: Staring isn't necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, it just kind of is. It is aggression, but it can be courage too, like when we stare death in the face. It's also curiosity—curiosity that sometimes overrides our sense of other people's boundaries. It often seems like our reasons for staring at people don't line up with our understanding of why people stare at us. We're so quick to assume the worst of a stare, thinking that our characters are being judged and qualified, but most of the time that stare is the result of someone just spacing out or being curious. Curiosity does not equate to judgment. So when we do catch somebody in the act of curiosity, maybe we shouldn't turn so quickly to anxiety or become offended, especially because we're so prone to misinterpreting things. Maybe we should just acknowledge that sometimes people look at other people because that's what people do. People are curious, people look for differences, people like to observe and guess what other people might be like. So here's a little bit of self-help advice: Don't assume the negative; instead strive to assume positive intent, because most people aren't as evil as we make them out to be.

[guitar music builds]

I think it might be time for a little Joni Mitchell…

[Joni Mitchell's "Car on a Hill" (1974)]: "I've been sitting up waiting for my sugar to show / I've been listening to the sirens and the radio / He said he'd be over three hours ago / I've been waiting for his car on the hill"

Tennyson: Well, that's it for "Pay No Attention." Thanks for listening. There may or may not be another episode? I haven't quite decided what I want to do with this podcast. But I appreciate you taking the time to hear my voice. Well, see you later.

[song continues] "He makes friends easy, he's not like me / I watch for judgment anxiously" [song fades out]

Pap Smears
by Rosa Tobin

In this episode of Gyno Girl, Rosa Tobin discusses her and others' anxieties about getting a first pap smear (thumbnail image coutesy of Tobin).

Sean: Cervical cancer is like one of the most common gynecologic cancers. The reality is, it's nearly 100% preventable. So, anytime we have a cervical cancer death, it's like really a failure of our medical system.

Rosa: Welcome to Gyno Girl.

[Childbirth's "Women's Rights" plays]

Woman's voice: Is this the part where she just starts chanting "vagina"?

Women's voices chanting: Vagina, vagina, vagina…

Sean: I think that with women's health it's a little bit more complex than like men's health, as far as prevention goes. So, I think women actually have a lot more that they need to know than men. None of this stuff is beyond the comprehension of anybody. So I guess that would be a starting place: talking about pap smears. You know, why do we do them, what's our rationale, when do we start doing them, how often? Maybe the basis for anxiety is, like, not knowing.

Rosa: That's Sean, one of Planned Parenthood's medical directors—and he's right. At least for me, the basis for my anxiety in regard to my first pap smear came from not knowing what a pap smear was or anything about a pap smear, other than the fact that society and my mother really, really wanted me to get one as soon as I turned 21. So let's talk about pap smears…

[upbeat music starts playing in the background]

[rough/fidgeting sound]

Rosa: Okay y'all, I'm putting on my shoes. I'm getting ready to head out the door, and I'm actually just kind of looking forward to just having this experience after talking to so many people. So, this is kind of cool. Okay, I've got to go catch my bus. Peace!

[music fades]

Rosa: It took me over six months and a lot of different people in order for me to feel comfortable enough to even walk out that door to catch that bus. First, I met with a ton of different women to hear about their own personal experiences with their first pap smears.

[upbeat music starts playing in the background]

Rosa: When you were going in did you, like, know what a pap smear was and why you were getting one, or were you just going to do it to do it…

Woman 1: I always thought it was poop, because pap sounds like poop. So I was always like, it was testing your poop, like I didn’t know so…

[music fades]

Woman 2: I went on and just like read what I could about it, read people's personal experiences online—which is also very interesting and sometimes good and bad because you hear about the negative ones and you're like: "What? What?"

Rosa: During the six months that I spent putting off getting an actual pap smear exam, I googled a lot too. And sure the information was beneficial, but eventually it all started to sound like the side effects portion of a medical commercial…

[overlapping mumbling about pap smear information played at high speed]

Rosa: … and if anything it made me more anxious, especially the diagrams.

[upbeat music starts playing in the background]

Rosa: What did it feel like for you all?

Woman 1: Like, okay, if I were to like scrape the inside of my thigh right here, like just scrape it a little bit more than I would…

Rosa: Like softly or…?

Woman 1: Like, here I’m going to do it for you… like that, like it's not painful but it's just like mmm… you know it's not comfortable, right? Like you know when you like push really hard on your belly button, you can kind of feel a little bit inside—so it's almost like a scrape mixed with that, that's how I’d describe it.

Woman 3: They were just like, "You're gonna feel some pressure," and then it was like, "Wow, yep, that’s some pressure." But it wasn't like painful, it was just pressure.

Woman 4: It just felt like someone was like tickling, like, tickling your um, cervix.

Rosa: That almost sounds pleasant. It's like you're advertising the pap smear here: Not only does it save you from cancer, but you can just have a nice little…

Rosa: Um… I guess one of the funny things too is like when I think about prepping, you know it's like there's the pain factor and then I'm like, "What are they gonna think when they look at my vagina?"

Woman 2: Okay yeah, yeah, that is true. I actually, 'cause I did, I went through that too, I was like, "Alright, I'm taking off my panties for this person and they're gonna see like everything I’ve got, alright…"

Rosa: Exactly!

Woman 2: But I also made a comment, I think, to my nurse about that, I was like, "Alright, well I’m taking off my panties for you," you know, trying to make a joke, and she was like, "Honey, you just need to remember we’ve seen it all." I had anxiety, I think that was also it, like, Do I need to shave, do I need to trim…?

Woman 1: I think for me it wasn't really—I wasn't worried about like the shaving but just like the cleanliness… because like I don't shower every day. I'm remembering now I rode my bike… I don't know, there's like juices that your vagina produces… I was like, "Oh, like, hopefully that's not too gross." I was just like, "Well, she's probably seen worse," I guess that was my thought.

Woman 5: I guess I almost was thinking the opposite, like, if I shave is my doctor going to judge me: "Oh, she's one of those young women that conform to social standards of pubic body hair."

Woman 1: I was thinking along those lines, like, if I do shave she might think, “Oh, she’s probably just shaving for her boyfriend."

Woman 2: I went into it, like, with what I would just normally do for myself. I prefer to have hair, so the doctor's gonna see hair, because I was like, this is silly, I'm not prepping my vagina for my doctor, like, that’s not how this is supposed to be.

Woman 1: Having a doctor who's seen a lot of vaginas and a lot of uteruses, like, look at yours and say everything looks good—I kind of felt really relieved, and I didn't realize I was nervous about that until they like told me, "Oh yeah, everything looks super good down here."

Woman 6: I was proud of myself, not only because I'm usually squeamish and I got through it, but just because I checked something off my list that I had to do to stay healthy, and you know, I did it all by myself without a lot of anxiety. So, there's some pride that comes with that. Adulting.

[music fades]

Rosa: After a week of listening to different women's experiences, I realized maybe it was time for me to set up my own pap smear exam. [sigh]

Okay, I lied. My mom should get all the credit. She called me at the end of that week for like the millionth time, asking if I had called to set up my pap smear appointment, and that's what finally spurred me to take initiative. What can I say, adulting is hard.

[overlapping voices of Rosa's mom repeating questions about when I will get pap appointment]

Rosa: When I went to make the call, I was feeling empowered. I realized no one should feel embarrassed to talk about women's health. In fact, we should all be talking about it more. [background noise of chattering and footsteps] I was calling to set up the appointment on my way to class, so there were a lot of people around and I found, despite all the conversations I'd had in the past week and how empowered I was feeling about my own health, I was still embarrassed to say the words: "Hi, I’m calling to set up an appointment for a pap smear exam." So, I went into the woods. I'm not even joking. Our university has a large arboretum full of trails, right behind it, and I went out into this arboretum to make my phone call about my pap smear appointment.

[phone ringing and footsteps]

University Health Center Receptionist's voice: You have reached the student health center at Western Washington University…

Rosa: And then of course I tried to play it off like no big deal as soon as the nurse answered the phone.

[upbeat music starts playing in the background]

Rosa: It was official, I was scheduled to have my first pap smear the following week.

[music fades]

[ruffling/scraping noises—Rosa adjusting herself at the Health Center]

Rosa: Well, I am sitting in the chair, and I have the robe on. Kind of think I put the robe on wrong, but we'll see… little nervous…

In the 1940s, cervical cancer was a major cause of death among women in the United States and worldwide. However, in the 1950s, when the pap smear was introduced in the U.S., the incidents and death rates associated with cervical cancer declined by more than 60% in less than 40 years.

My pap smear lasted somewhere between two and three minutes, which in terms of pap smears is a long time. I asked Sue, my doctor, to talk me through the process as it was happening so that I could learn more about the procedure, my own body, and just to make me more comfortable throughout the experience. It started with me spreading my legs and putting my feet into the stirrups, and honestly from that point on it was a piece of cake. Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration, but it can't get more awkward than having a stranger stare at your vagina underneath florescent lights, can it?

Sue: Okay, so the drawer under you is warmed up.

Rosa: Okay.

Sue: I want this to be as least uncomfortable as possible. Feel like you've got the scoop?

Rosa: Feel like… yeah… It's happenin'.

Sue: Cradle your feet in these lovely carwash nets, Rosa… then you'll scoot down all the way with your bottom…

Rosa: So, after that, it was smooth sailing. The pap smear itself involved Sue lubing a speculum, which sounds and looks way more intimidating than it actually is, and inserting it into my vagina. Then, using it to spread open my vagina enough so that she could see my cervix.

Sue: Okay to insert?

Rosa: Yep.

Sue: Focus on your breathing… wiggle your toes… and, I can see your cervix, it's really cooperative, it's right there. You doing okay? That's a bit of pressure.

Rosa: I did feel pressure while she was doing this, and breathing deeply and relaxing those muscles like I would when inserting a tampon helped to relieve this pressure. This all took less time than it's taking me now to explain it. Then Sue used a long brush to swab the walls of my cervix for cells.

Rosa: Oh yeah, you kind of just like feel a thumping. It's almost just like there's a drumbeat inside my body, which is weird.

Rosa: And after that… it was done! Six months of anxiety and the pap smear was done in three minutes or less.

Sue: K, so it makes you bleed a little bit but that's totally normal. Hang on one sec. If you do want to look in a mirror, I'll have you prop up on one elbow. Can you see? That's your cervix.

Rosa: Whoa, that's so crazy!

Sue: Now you've seen everything you can see.

Rosa: Freakin' saw my own cervix.

Sue: You did! And you did great. You are done with your first pap.

Rosa: Normally I'm not the type of person that wants to see internal organs. But, I mean, how often do I get the chance to look inside my own body at my cervix? That's pretty cool.

Sue: That is all.

Rosa: Wow, Sue, that was awesome. Quite the Tuesday.

Rosa: On the same day that I had my pap smear, I also had the opportunity to talk with Susan, another physician at the health center.

Susan: The pap was this big innovation. The benefits are actually immense, and we are forgetting about them nowadays, because in our generation, my generation, your generation, you don't hear about people dying from cervical cancer very much. Um, but it does still happen in women in parts of the world that don’t get the access to paps. Um, mostly it's happening now in developing countries, in poor communities in our community, who don't get in for their pap smears. So, it's actually a real innovation and a privilege to be able to get paps.

Rosa: When I hear you saying that, that we forget about it, it's interesting because it's like we forget about them because we have them. So we have the pap smears, and we’re doing the pap smears, and then we forget why they're important.

Susan: And when you have to put up with this thing, it's hard to remember it's a privilege.

Rosa: Yeah, it's like, oh it's great, I'm so privileged to go get my pap smear today. That's what I was thinking first thing this morning.

Susan: I know, but in the big picture it is.

Rosa: Worldwide, cervical cancer is the third most common cancer among women and the second most frequent cause of cancer-related death—accounting for nearly 300,000 deaths annually. Cervical cancer incidents and death rates are still high due in large part to limited access to cervical cancer screening. Regions who lack access to cervical cancer screening, such as pap tests, are where more than 80% of cervical cancer cases occur.

Susan: It's odd to say it, but it is a privilege that not everyone has. And, it's for a woman to be protective of her long-term health. Um, and I worry that because it's become less common among developed nations and young women, that we'll forget that it happens and the pap is part of taking care of yourself.

Rosa: After my pap smear I felt like a badass. I like me, and I like making sure that I'm healthy, and by getting a pap smear I not only did that but I also learned to feel more comfortable in my own skin. It feels like a weight has been lifted. I no longer have to worry about the pap smear, and some of the anxieties I have over my own body have disappeared.

[Chastity Belt's "Giant Vagina" plays]

Rosa: Thanks for joining the conversation about pap smears, and if y'all remember Sean from the beginning of this episode, the medical director from Planned Parenthood? Well, soon you'll be able to listen to his full length interview about women's health and pap smears on the Gyno Girl Soundcloud. Many thanks to all the folks who contributed to this episode, and last but certainly not least, thanks to you listeners. Join me next week, for another conversation on women's health.

[Chastity Belt continues to play]

Rosa: The music you heard throughout the podcast in order of appearance was Childbirth's "Women’s Rights," Bensound's "Retro Soul," and Chastity Belt with their song "Giant Vagina." Check them out, they're all great.

[music fades]

Digital Voices Podcast
by Ian M. Ferris

In Ian M. Ferris's second podcast installment of his series on attunement to nature through the digital, he listens to plants through digital technologies (thumbnail image courtesy of Ferris).

Opening: Questions Left from the Previous Podcast

Ian [voice echoes and reverbs]: What does it mean to talk to a tree? Does a tree have a voice? What does the landscape talk about? Are you really engaging in a dialogue with a plant?

Scene 1: The Experiment

[percussion music in background, guitar slowly added in]

Ian: So I was hanging out in my living room the other day with my roommates, and when I went to plug in my phone to a speaker to put on some music, I heard a noise you might be familiar with: [buzzing noise] It's that little buzzing sound you hear when the connector on some sort of audio cable, say an auxiliary audio cord or an instrument cable, is plugged into a live speaker and comes into contact with your skin. If you haven't heard this before, go ahead and try it with a pair of speakers right now.

Anyway, this [buzzing noise] sound was something I've heard probably a thousand times before so I didn't think anything of it, but then my roommate said something that got me, maybe a little bit too excited.

Female voice: You know it makes the same noise when it touches a plant, right?

Ian: I've been walking around outside trying to talk to trees for a year now, and you’ve got plants making noise over your speakers? This was a big moment for me.

So we set up a little experiment. We gathered some of the plants of various sizes from around the house and set them around our sound system in the living room. I touched the audio cable to the tip of a succulent's gleaming leaf. [faint hum, slowly crescendos through next few sentences] As I lightly dragged the cold metal of the connector along the leaf towards the stem, the hum got louder. And when I tried the same thing with larger plants, the hum was louder still. We tried touching the cable to other items around the room—a table and a couch. [noise stops] Nothing. And then I tried sticking the jack down into the soil, and this was one of those moments where everyone in the room goes [collective voices saying, "whoa"]. The noise from the soil was even louder than from the plants.

So… what the heck was going on here? Clearly, there was something similar between myself and the plants and the soil that all produced this mysterious humming noise. Was it some universal life force interacting with the electronics of the speakers? Well, I did some research, and what I found isn't quite so profound, but it is a matter of energy.

Our little noise [brief sound clip] is actually known as a "Mains Hum." It's generated from the AC electromagnetic field produced by our electrical energy systems. As we are cast in a bath of electromagnetic waves, our bodies, plants' bodies, even the soil act as a conductor, transmitting a signal when contact is made with the cable. Interestingly, in the U.S. the noise registers at 60 Hz, whereas in other countries the sound registers at 50 Hz because of differences in the electrical currents used.

[plays buzzing at 50 Hz and then buzzing at 60 Hz]

See the difference?

[bsackground music ends]

Scene 2: Secret Life of Plants

Ian: Well, I didn't exactly find that the plants were somehow trying to communicate with us, but our experiment did get me thinking about how plants and the digital can interface. I started foraging around on the web and stumbled upon a documentary from 1979 called The Secret Life of Plants, based on a book written by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird in 1973 of the same name. And let me tell you, this movie is a gem. The film showcases several experiments which explore potentials of the use of digital technologies to connect with plants. Plants are hooked up to polygraph tests, MIDI controllers, all kinds of devices in kind of borderline wacky ways. And that's the kind of stuff I am way into. The movie even has a full soundtrack written and performed by Stevie Wonder.

[brief clip of Stevie Wonder]

I know right? This stuff is too good.

[background music starts]

The documentary first goes into this guy Baxter, who apparently back in the seventies was the…

Clip: … world's foremost authority on the polygraph.

Ian: Baxter decided to try a little experiment of his own one night, hooking up a plant in his office to a polygraph machine. He watered the plant, expecting the polygraph to reflect an increase in conductivity from the water. But…

Baxter from The Secret Life of Plants: Strangely enough, I didn't get this at all, and in fact, it did just the opposite. Instead of tracing the edging upward as it should have on the charge, it went into the sort of wild excitation very similar to the first part of a human taking a polygraph test.

Ian: For some reason, Baxter then gets this idea into his head that he should hold a lit match up against the plant and see how that affects the polygraph. But before he can even go through with the test, in fact…

Baxter: Right at the split second that imagery of fire entered my mind, the tracing reflecting the changes in the plant just went right off the top of the page.

Ian: The plant's polygraph starts to go haywire, just like you might see on an excited or agitated person. Baxter infers that the plant must have read his mind and was alarmed at the threat being imagined. Now that is a pretty interesting hypothesis.

Inspired by this experience, Baxter engages in a series of experiments, hooking various plants up to polygraphs and trying to see if they are somehow attuned to things like other living things being threatened in their environment. He becomes pretty convinced that the plants are indeed attuned to the emotions and thoughts of people around them. Whether or not there is any truth to these conclusions, the experience itself of trying to interact with plants in this way does change him:

Baxter: Before working with plants, I hadn't really thought much about the idea of greater consciousness or awareness. Now I look around, but what I see has a different meaning.

Ian: Though most of the scientific community scoffed at Baxter's work at the time, some others saw this as an exciting new area of research. One included in the documentary, Randy Fontes, a parapsychology researcher in Menlo Park, conducts an experiment where they analyze a plant's reaction to human emotions. Fontes has a plant attached to a polygraph, and in the same room there's a guy hooked up to a polygraph watching film meant to induce various emotional stimuli—a shot of naked women splashing in the water flashes on screen. The plants and man register a parallel spike in their polygraph reading:

Fontes: He's doing real well with that image.

Ian: Houses disintegrate in nuclear explosions—another spike in both polygraphs. They're looking to see if there's any correlation between the human's polygraph reading and the plant's. And kind of amazingly, there were.

Fontes: That looks very convincing. I'll have to think about that one.

Ian: This is a colleague in reaction to Fontes's experiment:

Male voice: Let's say that the experiment is quite well done. Then you're claiming that the individual's response is producing some kind of energy display. When you finish analyzing your data and it supports your contentions, you can imagine what importance this will be. You can imagine it'll change our whole picture of how we relate to plants, that we're interacting with them all the time.

Ian: Polygraphs weren't the only digital technologies people had started using to interact with plants. Secret Life of Plants mentions John Lifton, an artist seaking a tangible expression of plant emotions. He devises something he calls Green Music—plants are hooked up to a series of computers which translates the plants' reactions to passersby and to sound.

[background music ends; humming sound begins]

Woman's voice: Now look at the fern, it's right over there. [Humming noise and mumbled voices]

Ian: Lifton isn't the only one doing this, though. I found several examples of people capturing music made by plants. If you want to look into this more yourself, try checking out Singing Plants at Damanhur, Sounds of the Soil, or Music of Plants on YouTube.

[background music begins again]

The documentary also highlights a Dr. and Mrs. Hashimoto, who are experimenting with plants and language. Hashimoto had designed a machine which translates electrical signals from the plant into modulated sounds. On the premises that plants can perceive and learn, they are attempting to teach a plant Japanese.

[Mrs. Hashimoto speaking Japanese]

Ian: This is Mrs. Hashimoto going about a little Japanese lesson with the plant.

[Mrs. Hashimoto speaking Japanese]

Ian: Secret Life of Plants covered some interesting territory. Clearly there are people out there pursuing new ways of interfacing with plants through the digital. This survey felt somewhat limited, not to mention outdated, but that's ok because…

[background music ends; Stevie Wonder clip plays]

Ok—the ideas presented in the documentary are all very alluring to believe, but when I started to look into the reception in the scientific community, I was a bit… discouraged. The general consensus seems to be that plants don't have brains. They have no central nervous system. And therefore it would be ridiculous to think that plants could have anything resembling human feeling or thought, or so they say. Critics lambast the notion as at best a metaphor, but often just a gimmick. Scientists have argued that Baxter's experiments lacked proper controls, and most of the research done to replicate his results has turned up inconclusive. Even the MythBusters put the theory of plant behavior and thought to test and determined that the notion was…

MythBusters: The myth as we know it, yes, is busted.

Ian: Even if Tompkins and Bird’s work can be nothing more than an interesting inquiry and a metaphor, I think there is still value in that. They explore important questions in the relationships and interactions between man and the environment. These types of questions drive explorations in more current research into ways digital technology can augment our understanding of plants. The documentary What Plants Talk About surveys some of this work being done.

Scene 3: What Plants Talk About

[background music begins again]

Ian: What Plants Talk About focuses on theories regarding plant behavior.

Male voice: If you talk to a layperson about plant behaviors, they'll just think you're crazy. If you talk to a scientist, they'll think you're crazy and wrong.

Ian: And it turns out…

Female voice: It seems plants are doing [Other voices: Whoa! yeah!] and saying quite a bit.

Ian: This documentary explains that while yes, observing plant "behavior" can be about as engaging as watching grass grow—literally—when observed on a different time scale, the plants appear to spring to life in completely new ways, ways that are uncannily like animal behaviors.

Most people are familiar with plants exhibiting animal-like behavior at least to some degree. The infamous Venus flytrap is renowned for its carnivorous tendencies. But scientists like naturalist James Cahill argue that all plants in fact have behaviors; others just aren't as explicit as the Venus flytrap. Up to 80% of a plant's biomass can dwell underground. Until recently this world was largely unknown to us, but thanks to new technologies, we are now able to see that a plant's roots move in a way reminiscent of a foraging animal:

Male voice: So when an animal moves through the forest and is foraging for berries like a grizzly would, it will find a berry patch and it will slow down and it will spend more time there, maybe walking without really going in a far distance. The plants do something roughly similar to that.

Ian: Some plants are even completely locomotive, like the daughter vine. The vine cannot produce its own food and so leaches energy from a host plant. And this vine is something that has to be seen to really understand how incredible it is. Shown in high speed, the plant moves snake-like, wrapping around plants like tomatoes and latching onto their stems. The daughter then gorges itself like a vampire, swelling up bulbous and red. And Cahill and his team even demonstrate that the daughter is able to detect and seek out suitable hosts based on chemical signals.

Plants release a whole range of chemical signals—they don't only move like animals, they also communicate like them. One chemical signal that you might be familiar with is that smell of freshly cut grass. For me it stirs up images of summer, of sentimental memories, but this smell is actually, well, the screams of grass. When plants are cut or agitated like this in some way, they release a chemical signal which we interpret as a pleasant aroma, and through digital technology we are finally able to observe these chemical communications. Some, like the knapweed and lupin, even release specific signals in the presence of one another, chemicals that directly influence the ability of the other to grow. The plants enter into a network of chemical correspondences with their neighbors.

Through the digital, we are just now getting new insight into the world of plants.

Male voice: It's a really exciting thing to consider in terms of potential ways that plants may interact. That really has not been explored.

Ian: Plants have been shown to forage for food like animals and enter into dialogues with their surroundings through chemical signals.

Female voice: Is it communication? Are they deliberately sending a signal? That we don't know. That's something that we can't answer yet.

Ian: But evidence is beginning to suggest that there is far more going on in plants than the scientific community has ever recognized before. The network of plants is beginning to become clear.

Female voice: They're really being nurtured and grown up as a community, as a family almost. And it's those relationships that really build the forest. It's really a beautiful, self-organizing, complex system.

Ian: The technology that allows us to attune ourselves to plants in these ways is still very new, and there is still a wide swath of territory to explore. And as we begin to nudge our way into this new understanding of plants, a complete re-envisioning, a reawakening, is unfolding in our relationships with our environments. What Plants Talk About leaves us with a nice closing sentiment:

Female voice: Maybe we're not quite as smart as we thought we were, and perhaps plants are a lot more intelligent than we ever imagined.

[background music fades out; sounds of birds chirping and insects]

Scene 4

[background music begins again]

Ian: As I said in my essay "Ecocriticism in the Digital Age," the digital is fundamentally changing the human experience within nature. New avenues of dialogue are opening up through digital technologies, and we are beginning to recognize the complex network that has already existed among plants, unbeknownst to us until now. The nature of today is a vastly more complex and nuanced place than ever before. Again, as I've said, mine is not a new path. I may walk along the same shady groves and mountain trails as the likes of Thoreau. But my experience is cast awash in digital networks, in a new understanding of the environment. Who knows what's around the next corner?

If the documentaries covered in this podcast sounded interesting to you, I highly recommend them. Both Secret Life of Plants and What Plants Talk About are available on YouTube. Once again, all original music in this podcast was produced by yours truly. Thanks to all of the voices in the documentaries, Adam, Jamie, and the rest of the MythBusters crew, and of course my roommates Zach, Lani, and Kaylee. And a shout out to Stevie too, whose soundtrack on Secret Life of Plants is pure gold. Thanks for listening.

[music fades out]


Buffie, Erna (Director & Writer). (2013). What plants talk about [Television broadcast]. In Fred Kaufman (Executive producer), Nature. PBS.

Green, Walon (Director). (1978). The secret life of plants [Motion picture]. Infinite Enterprises.

Hyneman, Jamie, & Savage, Adam (Performers). (2004). Exploding house [Television series episode]. In Peter Rees (Executive producer), Mythbusters. Discovery Channel.

Tompkins, Peter, & Bird, Christopher. (1973). The secret life of plants. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Wonder, Stevie (Producer & Performer). (1992). Stevie Wonder's journey through "The secret life of plants" [Digital album]. Motown. (original work published 1979)