About

I'm Mike Pope. I live in the Seattle area. I've been a technical writer and editor for over 30 years. I'm interested in software, language, music, movies, books, motorcycles, travel, and ... well, lots of stuff.

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Intolerance of ambiguity is the mark of an authoritarian personality.

— Theodor Adorno



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Blog Statistics

Dates
First entry - 6/27/2003
Most recent entry - 12/14/2018

Totals
Posts - 2538
Comments - 2589
Hits - 2,103,048

Averages
Entries/day - 0.45
Comments/entry - 1.02
Hits/day - 372

Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 11:08 PM Pacific


  12:20 AM

Zack's got two more weeks of school, and we thought it might be a good idea to haul some of his junk back home early, else we might not have enough room in the car when he comes back for the summer. As it happens, it was also some sort of parent weekend at WWU, beats me why, although this turned out to be to my benefit. I also have a pile of books I was done with, and I'd been advised by my friend John that it was worth a trip to Bellingham if you wanted to sell books. So yesterday I went up to Bellingham.

This is how excellent a son I have: on Thursday while we were embroiled in a company meeting, Zack left me a message saying "Ira Glass will be here Saturday, so I'm on my way to buy tickets. Call if you don't want to go." Ha. As If. The parent weekend thing, it worked out ok.

John's advice proved to be excellent. I took three boxes of books up and sold only about one box's worth, but got an extremely satisfactory price.[1] Much of which of course I immediately turned around and spent on -- what else? -- more books. For the record, then, you can't do a whole lot better than Henderson's and Michael's in Bellingham both for selling and buying books.

After this delightful multi-hour experience, Zack and I got some dinner and then headed to Ira Glass. I must say that I marveled. Glass had been in Seattle a couple months ago (with Sarah Vowell, I think), and from the price, you'd have thought the tickets were gold plated. At WWU Zack used his student ID to buy tickets: $11 each.

This was Ira Glass by himself, alone on stage with two iPods, a mixing board, and a microphone.[2] One iPod had clips from the show, the other had music. What we were experiencing was a radio booth that happened to have 500 people looking on.

And it was fabulous. Glass talked about the show; about stories; about radio; about the FCC; since it was a college, about doing the thing you want to do.

Perhaps a little surprisingly, Glass is a funny guy in person. I say this because we know him only within the confines of a one-hour show, where every second of sound has been scripted and pored over. But it turns out he can keep hundreds of people enthralled for two hours with what looked like little effort. Perhaps that's an illusion, but if so, it was a very good one.

He talked about the success of his show. It's about stories, he said. And it's about how you tell the stories. He observed that most "stories" we hear aren't real; they're ways to convince us, to sell us, to scare us. He got a big round of applause when he fingered journalism and TV news as major culprits. He said their stories were not interesting, not stories. "And you know who I blame? The topic sentence." he said, which was perfect -- so true and so much on the minds of a roomful of undergraduates. He told us how to create a story, which he did by example. He played an excerpt from the show, in which a guy was in the habit of teasing someone, and one day he sees this person and starts his usual routine, and ...

Then Glass cut off the story. And there was not one person who did not want to know what happened next. Glass explained how the story was built up. It was not, by description, a compelling story. But as Glass said, it was built up the way they do all of their stories. Some action, a comment; some more action, a comment; some more action, a comment; each action pulling you to the next. Glass continued the story, in which the man mistakes his intended victim in a very embarrassing way. And Glass then talked about the universality of stories -- the man had made an ass of himself, and who hasn't done that? Who doesn't wince when they see someone else doing it?

Thus the power of stories.

There were many funny moments. Glass said that he'd had the insight about action, comment, action, comment at temple when he heard the rabbi tell a sermon, and he thought, "Hey, that's how it works!" Only to find out later that everyone who's ever been to seminary has actually been taught this thing that he had to laboriously discover for himself ("atom by atom"). He talked about learning the craft of building stories as a tape cutter at NPR in his early career, turning 60 minutes of interviews into four minutes of compelling on-air time.

He dispensed advice about how long you have to do something before you don't suck at it: a very long time. He illustrated this with a piece he'd done in the eighth year of his own show, where the script he'd written for the introduction ... well, it sucked, no question. You have to be willful, he said, and he repeated something I've heard him say before ("Everything wants to be mediocre, so what it takes to make anything more than mediocre is such a fucking act of will"), and that the only way to get better is to do it over and over. Your parents, he said, they might not help you out here. He told about how after only the first year of his program, they won a Peabody, and there they were with celebrities in the audience and famous people handing him an award, and his dad leaning over and saying "I still don't understand why you do this radio thing."

He took the opportunity to rant as well -- about PBS ("should be killed, an experiment that didn't work") and about the FCC. Especially the censorious tear they got off on after Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction. Exactly how does it harm kids to hear the eff-word? he asked. A question they'd devoted a program segment to, talking to a man whose unenvious job it was to tag along behind kids in school and preschool and record their use of the words they clearly heard from their parents. "I will now blow your mind," he said, and proceeded to explain that the fine for saying "fuck" on air was now $500,000 per instance per station. His program is on 500 NPR stations, so if the word comes up one time on his program, it could cost NPR 25 million dollars. Then he played us a David Sedaris story about a giant turd, a story he said he'd never air today. ("And eight-year-olds are the natural audience for a story like that!" he reminded us.)

He closed by talking to us about the story of Scheherazade and the 1001 Arabian Nights. It's a collection filled with stories that tell us about our own experiences, that put us in the protagonist's shoes. But the real story of the stories in 1001 Arabian nights is about how Scheherazade used stories to cure a king's madness -- it's a story, as he wanted us to understand, about the redemptive power of stories.

[1] Most especially compared to the paltry price paid by Half-Price Books.

[2] Heh.

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