I’ve gone and done it: I’ve become someone who listens to podcasts all the time.
I don’t know if this is a long term shift for me, or if it’s just because I’m particularly addicted to “Two Girls, One Ghost,” but the other day I flipped to Spotify’s music tab, threw on some Jenny Lewis and had the thought: music feels new again, whatever that means.
I know there are already a million people apparently eager to discuss the intricacies of podcasting, podcast culture, and its significance in the media landscape, so I’ll spare you. That’s not what I came here to talk about.
What I did come here to say is that I’ve been thinking about why it is that listening to the same podcast for four hours on end has become a pleasurable activity for me — especially, I learned a couple of weeks ago, when I spent the bulk of the weekend painting my living room.
This isn’t a brand new thing in my life, I’ll admit. When I was in late middle school, I listened to talk radio stations at night, while falling asleep. I kept a radio at the foot of my bed, and I took to leaving it on all night with the volume set nearly as low as it could go. Paranoid that my parents would be irritated if they heard it, I slept in the opposite direction on my bed so that my ears would be closer to the speakers and I could keep the volume on my radio even lower.
By the end of eighth grade, I had memorized the various radio hosts’ voices, their programs, their theme songs.
I listened primarily to a now-defunct independent radio station that aired out of Boston or some other nearby city, but probably Boston. It was mostly comprised of editorial news programs, the kind where listeners call in to offer their opinions in an impossibly spot-on reply-guy tone of voice and during which everyone does a lot of “uh-huuuh, right, right, absolutely” —ing. You know what I’m talking about.
I don’t know if I began this because I adored listening to stories as a child or whether it was because I took deep, swelling, overbearing pride in being well-informed (or at the very least, aware) of current events, but TBH it was probably a bit of both.
My whole life I’ve had a delicate relationship with the dark, you see. I’m easily prone to spooking, and sort of probably inherently spooked from being raised on stories about angels and demons and all of the absolutely wild and supernatural stories contained in the Bible that only serve to make ghost stories all the more believable. Add into the mix the highly unfortunate attraction to tales of the paranormal, whether a movie or a book or whatever, and we have a tenuous intersection of self.
This continues to be a problem for me, and whether or not I’ve binge-watched Buffy before falling asleep seems to have little to no bearing here. It’s not every night, to be sure — it comes in phases, most certainly. But when I am in that particularly anxious mode, I wake up every night, like clockwork, between 2 and 4 a.m., afraid to look around my room, lest I peer into a dark corner, or out into the dark hallway, and see something.
My fears here lack precision. Am I afraid of seeing the ghost of a stranger? Of a loved one? A shadow person? Something else? The answer, truly, is that I’m afraid of all of it, and my mind will reach to the fear closest to the surface and latch on, completely, and entirely against my will.
This early-early morning terror happened a lot the winter that I spent living on Martha’s Vineyard, alone in a guest house that I rented in Oak Bluffs. I would wake up in a sweat, convinced I had heard a sound outside my room that indicated an intruder, or possibly something a bit less human, a bit more ambiguous. My body would feel like it was full of cold, wet cement and I would tell myself over and over again that those sounds happened in the daylight, too. Unfortunately, I’ve never been a good liar, and least of all to myself, and this rational train of thought did almost nothing for me.
The only salve I’ve found for this propensity is a specific cocktail of melatonin and talk radio, and I religiously imbibe the latter. The pleasantly droning voices analyzing the day’s news, or else dissecting some other niche cultural artifact, almost always rip me from my state of terror and rock me back to sleep. There’s a regularity to it — a predictability, to boot. I can’t, I’ve found, let my mind wander too far toward the mysterious when a perfectly metered news anchor is telling me about spats in the Senate or the price of gas. It’s beautifully, wonderfully mundane.
All of this is to say that I think this infantile desire to listen to someone else carry on a conversation that I’m not involved in appears to be bleeding into my waking life, and right now I’m not complaining. I find it hard to be nervous before work when I’ve spent the 45 minutes prior to my arrival listening to two friends recount their recent trip to Las Vegas, or else two friends sharing stories about haunted houses, or else whatever important lady has most recently talked to another important lady running for president. It’s easy to focus on edging my living room (although I’m still very bad at it) when I’m following the rise and fall of someone else’s thoughts.
And perhaps more insidiously, sometimes I want to be around other people but I don’t want to talk to them because I’m tired or emotionally thin or just feeling a bit into myself. Podcasts assuage a lot of that desire.
Surely, there’s surely an upper limit to the relative usefulness of this practice, but I think I’m tuned in enough to my own emotional state to ward off any concern that I’ll fall down too much of a rabbit hole. So here I am, truly — that person who listens to and recommends listening to podcasts. So much so that I’ve now written some one thousand words about it. Next stop, starting one for Manqué. And you know me by now; I’m only half kidding about that.