The investigative documentary podcast Scene on the Radio(produced by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University) should be required listening. In past seasons, the host John Biewen explored racism in America (season 2, "Seeing White") and toxic masculinity (season 3, "Men"), while this season focuses on American democracy ("The Land That Has Never Been Yet"). I was never a good history student — I was more comfortable with the symbolism and language of literature than with memorizing dates, treaties, and facts that felt unrelated to my life. But I LEARN from this podcast, and what I learn feels essential to understanding the time we're living in.
Morgan Harper Nichols is a writer, artist, and musician, originally from the South but now living in California. She combines beautiful paintings that are sometimes abstract, sometimes recognizable bits of nature — a flower, a mountain, the sky — with poetry fragments. A post will usually have multiple images, each with a part of the full poem. You swipe and are taken into her world, which feels dream-like and wise. Plus, the color palette she adheres to is soooooooo swoon worthy. I just got her new book out this week, and I've been reading one every morning, like a benediction to the day.
It's known as The Great British Bake Off in the UK and The Great British Baking Show in the U.S., but no matter which side of the Atlantic you live on, it is one of the most comforting shows on TV. When the world feels like it's going crazy on the regular, a show where the biggest tragedy is a pie's "soggy bottom," and where the contestants are polite and supportive of each other, is a balm to the soul (as my friend Manfred would say).
It can also be empowering to watch contestants battle their own fears and nerves to create something beautiful and delicious. I was so moved when Nadiya Hussain won season 6 and declared, "I’m never gonna say I can’t do it. I’m never gonna say ‘maybe’. I’m never gonna say, ‘I don’t think I can.’ I can and I will.”
My dog Chloe and I volunteer at one of SF's branch libraries a couple of Saturday mornings a month during story time. Marcie the librarian always selects a few books for the hour, and generally they're about animals. (Fact: kids who want to read to and with a dog tend to love books about dogs & other animals! 🐶) A book we read and that I liked so much I bought a copy for myself is The Wolf, the Duck & the Mouse by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Jon Klassen. The story is perfectly and imaginatively absurd, and the illustrations are both fun to look at and a great complement to the text. On one of my favorite spreads, the mouse stands with a pot on his head, clutching a hockey stick, and proclaims, "Tonight we ride to defend our home." It makes me laugh every time!
After seeing Little Women, all I could think about afterwards was the costume design (by Jacqueline Durran) and production design (by Jess Gonchor). It's an absolutely luscious movie to watch. All of the details felt real — like I could reach through the screen and touch the beautiful fabrics — and the rich colors of the interiors were a gorgeous backdrop for the costumes. Afterwards, I read that each character had her own color palette, which I wish I had been astute enough to notice while I was watching!
Three different friends within a two-week period recommended that I listen to the Dolly Parton's America podcast. Although I grew up in Virginia, I was never a country music fan — neither the twang or tropes of the genre appealed to me. But who doesn't love Dolly Parton? And that's really the point of this podcast. In the first episode, the host Jad Abumrad explains his personal connection to both Tennessee and Dolly along with the inspiration for the podcast. It's an insightful and fascinating in-depth look at and conversation with a woman and artist who's spanned decades with talent, humor, intelligence, and sass.