I grew up with my grandmother who preferred listening to AM radio more than she liked watching the television. More than the news, she stayed tuned to the drama—voice actors portraying various roles, depicting real life domestic or love problems, moral dilemmas, and sometimes, even horror stories. I can still remember the opening credits of ‘Gabiiii ng Lagiiiim.’ Sometimes we would listen while eating kropeck and drinking Coke, fanning ourselves during a hot summer evening.
My grandmother has passed on and I am no longer a child, but these days, in the age of the Internet, it is actually quite possible to relive the glory days of being transported to the drama world. And I am happily absorbed in it.
I happened upon this belated realization in late January, when I finally got myself a tablet and my daughter informed me that Modern Love, my favorite column on The New York Times, was now on podcast. I knew what podcasts were but the few I had actually tried listening to I found chatty and shallow, much like the banter of radio show hosts who get paid to talk about anything and everything but actually end up saying nothing.
It proved to be a revelation. I had been following Modern Love —where NYT readers contribute their personal essays on love and life and anything in between—for years. Listening to the well-written essays, spiced up by appropriate background sounds (fish swimming, for instance) and read aloud by noted actors, was a good destressing experience.
I had searched and been advised to try other podcasts, some of which I heeded and some of which I nixed. And then, about two weeks ago, I found the New Yorker Fiction podcast where published writers read the stories of other writers from the Magazine’s archives, which stretch back to decades ago.
Here’s how it goes. The writer, who must himself or herself been published in the New Yorker, chooses a story and discusses with the fiction editor why he or she chose it. The story is read. After the reading, there is another discussion of the story which is as engaging to listen to as the story itself. The characters, the contexts, the literary devices are analyzed, heightening the listener’s appreciation of the story.
Since one can only listen to a limited number of stories (in my case, one) per day or every couple of days, because I like to stew in it and because like any other grown-up I have a million other things to do, I now have a huge backlog of things to listen to—and that is just from one site alone. On my list are the poetry section of the same magazine, two documentary sites, two horror and of course, Modern Love. There, I am current.
The children find me in the early morning, seated on my rocking chair and looking out the cityscape, or toward midnight, home from work and calling forth some sleep, sporting my headphone. Sometimes they talk to me and I don’t reply and they know why. “Ayan na naman si mommy at ang drama nya,” (There goes Mom again and her drama), they would say.
I have tried to plug my device onto a speaker and gather everybody in the living room. I figured listening to a podcast could be a great family activity. To my utter befuddlement, the children stand up and leave, muttering one excuse or another.
So I get that it’s not for everybody. I like it because it makes learning just a bit easier. For someone who has to read and write for a living and spend a crazy amount of time on the road every day, it is a consolation to know one can still pick up a few things or two while lying down, resting, or sitting by the window gazing at the view. Talk about multi-tasking, still.
I like it too because while it looks easy, it’s not mindless chatter. The “drama” is well-written, well-researched and the discussions occasion further thought. Sometimes what I hear inspires me to write a few things—things I dare not publish in this column.
Finally, and this is perhaps the most ma-drama of my reasons, it brings me back to my days with my grandmother. She’s been gone nearly 12 years. She was a simple woman with simple aspirations—she had wanted me to be a pharmacist so I could work at the local drug store and be home and spend no more than 10 minutes getting home. Her forms of entertainment were as down to earth and humble as her roots. Our magazines at home were hardly the New Yorker type—more like Kislap and Teenstars. I learned to read using Wakasan and grew up with Niknok of Funny komiks. Name a moviestar and I could immediately tell whether he or she belonged to the Monday (or Tuesday, or Wednesday, and so forth) group in That’s Entertainment.
Everybody has his or her preferred mode of entertainment. We upgrade our standards every so often, but it’s no reason to scoff at the preference of others. We live and let live, so long as what works for us continues to work for us and allows us to transcend our daily hassles and woes.