99 Percent Invisible is a podcast in which Roman Mars explores “all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about — the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.”
The Anthropocene Reviewed is a podcast in which John Green “reviews different facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale.”
This episode is the crossover between the two that I didn’t know I needed.
I’m a John Green fan. I’m a Roman Mars fan. But the episode description didn’t sound especially interesting to me, so I was skeptical when a close friend told me that she felt like her life was better after hearing it. In the week since, I’ve listened to it three times.
There are so many parts of this episode that I want to write and talk with people about:
- The cave paintings at Lascaux
- The ubiquity of contextualizing experiences in a five star world
- The seemingly desirable outcome of having strangers like you
- The joy in sports and religion that comes from groups of unlike people orienting themselves in the same direction
- The moth-like human tendency to “go where the light is on”
Even writing these summary bullets erases a lot of the nuance that makes the episode so special, but there are two other points I can’t shake out of my head.
On growing out of the teenage cliche of defining yourself by the things you hate, John says:
I got fed up with sarcasm. I got fed up with this urge to create distance between myself and emotion … And I don’t want to be distant from emotional experience.
… I like emotion. I like to feel things. I like to feel them intensely. And I like to be able to ask big questions without creating a lot of distance between myself and the questions.
Earlier, when describing his essays on Hawaiian pizza and viral meningitis, he says:
I wrote the viral meningitis essay before I wrote the Hawaiian pizza essay. And at the end of the viral meningitis essay, I was thinking about how there are all these phenomena in human life that are really resistant to language. I think physical pain is the one that’s perhaps most dramatically resistant to language.
But, for me, there’s also something about taste that’s resistant to language and one of the reasons we fight, I think, about Hawaiian pizza is because we almost cannot describe to each other how it tastes to us.
For some reason, examining the relationship between emotional experience and language resistance feels really worthwhile to me. Does the act of attempting to assign language to emotion bring you closer to it? If you fail to describe it, will you feel satisfied that the experience taking up space in your brain has earned its mental footprint? Does its elusion make it more valuable? Or are you dejected, pushed farther from it? Is it preferable to assign language to a feeling, even if the assignment is false or incomplete?
I have no answers today. But I like being around the questions. I think I’ll try it more often.