I went to a fantastic PEN America event on Sunday to close the PEN World Voices M Word series. These are my favorite words of wisdom from Hasan Minhaj and Wajahat Ali:
“Every artist needs to play offense. You’re not asking [gatekeepers] for permission. Ask for support. Decide that your work is happening with or without them.” ~Hasan Minhaj
“What advice do you have for artists?” ~Wajahat Ali
“1. Move to the city that has a community
2. Immerse yourself in the community
3. Rise and help others find their voice
4. When you succeed, don’t be an asshole” ~Hasan Minhaj
If you make someone laugh, you know they’re listening. And once they’re listening, they’re paying attention. And once they’re paying attention, you can make a connection, drive empathy, and generate understanding. Sadly, our world is one in which science needs allies. At Caveat, a new performance space on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, science’s unlikely, though remarkably effective, ally is comedy. For the past few weeks, I’ve been consumed with NaNoWriMo and the first draft of my second novel. Having surpassed 30,000 words in 17 days, a comedy show is what I needed tonight. Plus, this gave me a chance to check out a cool new event space, hear from Dustin Growick, a scientist I admire, talking about his love for dinosaurs, and learn something about science and art. A perfect combo.
The event, aptly named Dinosaurs vs. Paintings, pitted two teams against one another to talk about which field of study is most impressive. It’s a funny debate combo, and the host, Meg Pierson, was delightfully self-deprecating and unapologetically passionate in her love for a good battle between academics. Along the way, the audience learned about the latest anatomical discoveries in paleontology (feathers, colors, and teeth, oh my!), the insanely forward-thinking insight that Hieronymus Bosch wrapped around his Garden of Earthly Delights, the Gardner Museum heist, and the vast variety of flora and fauna that existed during the time of the dinosaurs (~165 million years of time if you want specifics.)
Every minute, I found myself saying to my friends, “Really? That’s true? I had no idea!” And that’s the point of Caveat. The world may feel like it’s on fire at this strange moment in our history, and it’s still full of amazing discoveries and insights. While we may be completely wrapped up in our own day-to-day lives and times, our existence as a species is just the blink of an eye as far as the Universe is concerned. This too shall pass, and our job is to make the most of it while we’re here. It’s a humbling insight, and that alone was worth the price of admission.
Thank you Caveat and all the performers for a wonderful evening. I’m sure I’ll be back, ready to laugh and learn. Check out their full event calendar for science, comedy, books, live podcast recordings, and more.
If I have to live through four year of this new administration, then I’m turing it into art. It’s the only way I can bear it. In this chapter of the Breaking Bread Podcast, Mina meets her nemesis in Trumpville for the first time and her resistance is born.
Chapter 1 of the new Breaking Bread Podcast is live! Mina and her dog, Phineas, fall into a strange new world where never is now. Tap below to listen:
When I started the Breaking Bread Podcast, I had the idea to invite people over to my home, cook their favorite meal, and talk about the issues that are important to them. While that mission seems simple, it’s operationally more difficult than I anticipated. Booking guests is a time intensive job and it costs a good chunk of money. Also, audio editing is a bear and I don’t enjoy it. I like writing and live storytelling, and I want to do a podcast that’s an extension of those two things that also lets me be creative in new and different ways.
I spent a fair amount of time over my holiday break thinking about what to do with the Breaking Bread Podcast. I also spent a fair amount of time reading and talking to people about the election and Trump and what a complete sh*t-show we’re facing come January 20th. And a few things started to come together for me: truth reaches more people when it’s dressed as satire and comedy, world-building is a fun, creative activity (some of my favorite stories are The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter, and Welcome to Night Vale), and Trump is insane so I’m going to use his own words as material.
Here’s my premise: Mina Montgomery accidentally falls through a hidden portal at the corner of Constitution Avenue and 1st Street NE on the afternoon of November 8, 2016 and finds herself in a strange parallel universe known as Trumpville. Built by Trump himself, it is an idealized version of the world as he would design it and it’s populated by people faithful to his point-of-view. Or so it appears. Every day, there is a press conference delivered by Trump to the citizens of Trumpville that tells them how it’s all going “above ground”. To her horror, Mina learns that Trump won the presidential election on the day she fell through the portal. She thinks she’s alone in this mad, a*s-backwards world, but she’s not. What she needs to do is find her people, and together they will find a way out. Trapped in Trumpville for the forseeable future, she opens a bakery in Trumpville called Breaking Bread in an attempt to bring people together. In the episodes of the Breaking Bread Podcast, Mina processes her thoughts as a living diary of sorts in order to maintain some semblance of sanity while she figures out how to get everyone out of Trumpville and back to civilization.
Similar to a Trump presidency, I have no idea how this new podcast idea will play out. Who knows what he’ll do next? He’s leaving us in suspense, remember? My game plan is to speak out again, and again, and again because I care about this country and the people who live here, and to find and support people who need a friend during this wild ride. I remember the Bush years and they were brutal. My greatest hope for this podcast idea is that it will be a port in the storm where together we can ride out the mayhem while we try to right the ship.
We forget that Jon Stewart’s time at The Daily Show wasn’t all wine and roses. Personally, I didn’t become a fan until after those first bumpy years so I never knew that it was anything but the societal lightning rod it now is.
I didn’t know Jon Stewart had failed so badly in his early years. I didn’t know that if The Daily Show with Jon Stewart had failed, then he likely would have never been heard from again. I didn’t know any of that when I began the book and in the first handful of pages, on page one actually, he lays all of that out in no uncertain terms.
And that’s why he’s so loved by so many—for his raw honesty, his bravery, his unapologetic, educated opinions, for his desire to be as intelligent as he is funny, for his integrity, and for his uncompromising optimism heavily influenced by his deep knowledge of history. This book, told from Jon Stewart’s perspective and the perspectives of the show’s writer, actors, and producers, is a reminder to all of us that we have all lived through dark days—as individuals and as a society.
It’s the perfect time for this message as we head into what could be another sad and fearful chapter in our nation’s news and government. I miss Jon Stewart’s voice in the national conversation. I didn’t even realize how much I missed him until I read this book. Reading this book was like visiting an old friend: I’m so glad to hear from him and after 444 pages, I am also sad, again, to see him go.
I was and still am a big fan of Andy Rooney’s essays. The quintessential curmudgeon, he was honest, funny, and poignant all in the same breath. Here is an essay of his that’s always been one of my favorites.