January 2009

I wanted to make note of two things I heard on the radio this afternoon. The first was an obituary of John Updike, on All Things Considered, that included Updike’s observation that “the big problem for a fiction writer is… how do you deal with ordinary life, that is not extraordinary, that does not involve heroism, that does not involve crisis.” The show then replayed Updike’s 2005 This I Believe essay, in which he argues that the difference between fiction and factual reporting “is one of precision. Oddly enough, the story or poem brings us closer to the actual texture and intricacy of experience.”

Then, on The Treatment (a show about movies out of KCRW in California), this line from an interview with Edward Zwick, director of the film Defiance: “You find your way to the epic through the specific.”

Both ideas worth thinking about as we go about our business of describing the world.



When we first drew up a list of jobs we hoped to include in our WORKING series, “acrobat” was right at the top. Okay, that’s because the list was alphabetical, but even so, we’ve always itched to know more about folks who travel the world doing amazing things before a largely unappreciative public. Why do acrobats, jugglers, and high-wire artists live on the fringes of society when movie actors, pop singers, and orchestra conductors get five-star treatment? Why do we value Kelly Clarkson or Lindsay Lohan more than a person who can do a double backflip onto another person’s shoulders?

It’s hard to imagine a better man to tackle this question than Sean Cole. Sean brings a distinctive mix of wryness and wonder to his radio stories about how the world works. So we sent him to the UK to spend time with Svitlana Svystun, a Ukrainian dancer who performs an Argentinian gaucho act with her Russian husband for the British-owned Great Moscow State Circus. Sean was fascinated by Svitlana’s dual identity – part death-defying superhero, part homemaking mom  (home being a little travel trailer). In some ways, circus life was as weird as Sean expected – the cramped quarters, the strange hours, the eccentric people with murky pasts. But what struck him in the end was the normalcy of it all.

If you didn’t hear it when it aired, I hope you’ll go have a listen. And please let us know what you think!


P.S. We’ve been too busy to make a lot of noise about the Worker Browser in the last few weeks, but we’d love it if you’d visit and, if you like it, send the link to your friends.

Happy New Year, everyone! I wanted to thank you all for listening to our radio programs and for visiting our burgeoning Internet empire (Homelands.org, this blog, the Worker Browser, the WORKING section of Marketplace.org, Worlds of Difference, Sandy Tolan‘s site, and The World Without Us).

I also wanted to give you a heads up about what we’re looking to do next, provided we can find a way to fund it.

We’re putting together a proposal for a multimedia project about food and hunger around the world, tentatively called The Hunger Chronicles. The idea would be to look at how, despite huge strides in technology and a worldwide effort to halve hunger by 2015, humanity still can’t manage to feed itself. One in seven people — more than 900 million around the world — is now undernourished (an astonishing 35 million are in the USA). We’re looking at a series of human-centered radio features, an hour-long radio special, a series of short videos, and lots of web stuff. Two major universities would like to work with us and we’ve pulled together a terrific team of radio and video producers.

If you have thoughts about who might be inclined to contribute to such a venture, or if you have questions or comments, please let us know. Contact info is all here. Thanks again, and best wishes for a peaceful, joyful, nourishing, (sustainably) prosperous 2009!


P.S. Next up on WORKING is a profile by the inimitable Sean Cole of a Ukrainian woman who performs an Argentine cowboy act in a Russian traveling circus in the UK. Currently scheduled for Thursday, January 15.