TED Talk: Charter for Compassion, by Karen Armstrong

From the TED site:

People want to be religious, says scholar Karen Armstrong; we should help make religion a force for harmony. She asks the TED community to help build a Charter for Compassion — to restore the Golden Rule as the central global religious doctrine.

If you haven’t yet run into a conversation about TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talks, consider this your much abbreviated crash course. The concept of TED developed in 1984, as American architect and graphic designer Richard Saul Wurman conceived of an annual conference to explore the convergence of technological, entertainment and design fields (sense a theme here?). The conference has expanded over the years to a twice-annual, weeklong event featuring presenters with emphasis not only in these fields but also in culture, scientific, and academic topics. Videos of these talks are now available online for free at the TED Conference website, which is fortunate – the price tag for a 2017 pass to the Vancouver event is $17,000 per person.

I adore listening to TED Talks while I work, but the smorgasbord of topic choices makes it tough to pick a starting point. For this reason, I typically use NPR’s TED Radio Hour as my jumping-off point. They curate multiple talks into one themed show, with tantalizing bits of the original talk plus interviews with the presenter to give context and history behind the original presentation. It was through TED Radio Hour that I discovered the TED Talk below, given by religious historian Karen Armstrong in February 2008 on the nature of human compassion. It’s an interesting listen on its own, but I do recommend the TED Radio Hour presentation “Just a Little Nicer” as well for other features in the same vein.


6 Best Podcasts for Writer’s Block

If you’re like me, writer’s block is like the chip aisle at the grocery store. You had no plans to be here, you know you’d be better off not being here, and yet somehow, here you are. Of course, if you’re like me, you may well be standing here perusing those cans of Pringles (“Whose definition of ‘loaded baked potato’ does this flavor adhere to?”) and Funyuns (“Pretty sure these are made out of fiberglass shards. And deliciousness.”) BECAUSE of your writer’s block. Believe me, I get it. I’ve regret-eaten a bag of high-salt feelings because I couldn’t get words on the page more than once. If you made a pie chart of my writing habits, the ‘eating my feelings’ wedge is roughly the same size as the ‘tumblr’ and ‘discouraged napping’ wedges combined.

But you have writer’s block. Instead of Pringles, you’d rather chew into your daily wordcount. Below is a list of crunchy, mentally nutritious podcasts to snack on when the blinking of your cursor seems openly mocking. These podcasts are mostly short, 100% free and can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, Podbay, and most podcatching apps as well as on their native websites.

1. The Journeyman Writer Podcast

Official Website

Put on by Alastair Stephens (with frequent guest appearances by Lani Diane Rich) of Storywonk, The Journeyman Writer is a podcast under 10 minutes about all things writing. Alastair’s topics run the gamut and are frequently guided by questions received from other writers, about characterization, plot development, developing good writing habits, inspiration, and more. This podcast hits the very top of the list because it makes me WANT to write whenever I listen, even if I’ve been in a long slump – maybe it has something to do with Alastair’s encouraging “Go write!” that wraps up each installment. The Journeyman Writer has a healthy backlog of episodes available for the new listener, and new podcasts come out a couple times a week.

2. The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor

Official Website

The Writer’s Almanac is a short, daily podcast narrated by Prairie Home Companion favorite Garrison Keillor (who just retired this year). This podcast features a daily poem and tidbits about authors and poets born on that day. Maybe it’s the magic of Keillor’s mellow voice, or the truly stellar and diverse poetry selections, but this one wakes up my writer’s brain. It helps me calm and focus, especially if I’ve been struggling fruitlessly against a vicious internal editor. Like The Journeyman Writer, The Writer’s Almanac has a truly vast library of episodes to choose from. Search for a poet you like or just start at a random month.

3. The Moth

Official Website

From its website: “Since its launch in 1997, The Moth has presented thousands of stories told live and without notes. Moth shows are renowned for the great range of human experience they showcase. Each show starts with a theme, and the storytellers explore it, often in unexpected ways.” The Moth is a podcast with a typically longer format, but you can listen to individual stories on the website, and compilation episodes frequently feature breaks between performers so you can cut down how long you’re away from your work. The Moth is about the human voice in a big way. The storytellers of The Moth are frequently the person who directly experienced or witnessed the story unfold – and you have no video of them, no visual cues. So in a way, listening to The Moth is a good way to learn how voice can distinguish a character. Listen to someone’s story and think about how you responded to them based on their word choices, their voice quality, and the way they narrated their own experience.

4. The News from Lake Wobegon (from A Prairie Home Companion)

Official Prairie Home Companion Website (with links to retrieve just this segment)

While all of PHC is fabulous, I specifically focus on Lake Wobegon because of the narrative prose and length. The News from Lake Wobegon segment is 10-15 minutes and relayed in a chummy storyteller fashion by Garrison Keillor (I know, I love him, sorry not sorry). It’s a perspective switch; as if you’re sitting down with Jim Qwilleran at a cafe counter in Pickaxe for a little beautifully editorialized insider town gossip. The voice is fluid and poetic, frequently funny and occasionally lyrical. Yes, you can be lyrical about ice fisherman and the dating life of a small town Minnesota pastor.

5. Radiolab

Official Website

From their own website: “Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.” That sounds pretty hipster, and it is, but Radiolab (in my opinion) takes itself just seriously enough while still maintaining a good flow and conversational tone. Their format is what I like best: NPR-style editing that integrates audio from external interviews into the primary broadcast; not just the interviewee’s own words but sometimes birdsong, traffic, crowd noise, etc. Radiolab paints rich sensory pictures with audio while talking about unfamiliar concepts, cultures, and events. Each episode is themed and broken into more manageable parts; the hard part is stopping and going back to your page!

6. Podcastle

Official Website

Podcastle features short fantasy fiction from a wide variety of authors. They periodically take submissions, and also curate short fiction from award-winning writers in the fantasy genre. What you get here is a big, diverse selection of narrative voices and story concepts, but beware – Podcastle fiction can run long and take a big chunk of your day, plus not all of the work may be to your taste. I like to listen to Podcastle work when I’m too wrought up to write and just need a distraction and an engagement of my writer brain. The work published here is frequently challenging and never run-of-the-mill. If your tastes run more towards Science Fiction, try Escape Pod. For horror, consider Pseudopod.


What are some of your favorite resources for combating writer’s block?