To honor the quiet brilliance of "This American Life," here's a writing challenge. The stories on "This American Life" are always told in such a specific style that I often find that after listening to the program, I hear Ira Glass narrating my every move. Though Glass's show may seem like one in which people tell their own stories, in fact, Glass is very much at the helm. By eliciting profundity from an interview, Glass is really talking to the listener. He makes sure that even the most off-handed story is part of a larger more meaningful arc and that you, the listener, get to appreciate that meaning through the show. Glass is the guru of tiny moments of consequence.
The Challenge: Can You Out "Ira Glass" Me?
So I've prepared a little contest to see if you too can narrate à la Glass. Take a childhood memory, profound moment, or fleeting epiphany and turn it into a "This American Life" masterpiece. Don't forget to shoehorn it into a "theme," and please keep entries at 500 words or less. Submissions should be emailed to me by 10:00 am Monday EST, and the winner will be announced on The Plank on Tuesday. To listen to "This American Life," check out their site: www.thislife.org. Here's what an entry might look like:
IRA GLASS: This is Sacha. When she was a little girl, Sacha loved the rock band Kiss.
SACHA: I was really passionate about them. To me, there was very little difference between Gene Simmons and a performer in Cats.
GLASS: The Broadway show Cats?
SACHA: Right. It was all theatrics and magic to me.
[Strange Phillip Glass-like music plays whilst we conjure Gene Simmons and Cats through the eyes of a child.]
GLASS: In 1978, Sacha received a Kiss doll--an action figure--for Christmas. She was ecstatic. Sacha's infatuation with Kiss became even more ardent. This could have been just a meaningless phase, a cute episode that Sacha's parents giggled about, but life was about to show them that the Kiss obsession wasn't so cute to everyone. One day, Sacha's kindergarten teacher asked her to write down and illustrate certain words.
SACHA: So, she'd say "anchor," and I would write the word "anchor" and then draw an anchor.
GLASS: Things were going pretty well for a while. ... Until, Sacha's teacher gave her the word "kiss" to illustrate. Sacha wrote the word out just fine, but then...
SACHA: I drew a black-and-white face with a huge red tongue. It looked like the spawn of Satan.
[More eerie music here whilst we ponder what a five-year-old's drawing of Gene Simmons might look like.]
GLASS: Sacha's parents were called in to the school. The teacher thought Sacha must be suffering from some kind of horrible abuse to associate a "kiss" with such a frightening image.
SACHA: My parents had to try to explain Kiss-the-band to the teacher.
GLASS: Luckily, Sacha had the Kiss doll.
SACHA: And this doll was pretty ridiculous. I mean, no one could take it seriously. When she saw the doll, the teacher realized that this nice couple sitting across from her weren't actually abusive.
GLASS: So ultimately, everyone--even the teacher--ended up laughing.
[Meaningful pause here.]
GLASS: Sometimes it seems like there is no logical way to explain something--and so you end up thinking the worst. And that's the theme of our program today: learning to see things not as what you fear but as what they really are--and how that can be beautiful or even funny. This is Ira Glass, and you're listening to "This American Life."
By Sacha Zimmerman