Ira Glass, Disembodied Mentor Extraordinaire

Me and one of the sis-in-law's before we went in to hear Ira Glass speak.

Me and one of the sis-in-law’s before we went in to hear Ira Glass speak.

Seeing Ira Glass talk live this last weekend nearly turned me into the screaming, weeping sort of person that usually frequents heart-throbby boy band concerts and has usernames like SoAndSo’sGirlfriend or MrsSoAndSo.

I can’t help it that the man is one of my idols. So much of what I want to do with storytelling I first recognized while listening to broadcasts of This American Life way back in film school when my professors used the show as an example of great interviewing. Some of my earliest lessons on how to tell a story compassionately, honestly and entertainingly were taught to me in Ira Glass’ distinctive voice.

And he’s like this gift that keeps giving, keeps teaching me.

When he walked onto the dark stage on Saturday night and, still invisible to all of us in the audience, started talking about the intimacy of hearing someone’s story in their own voice without seeing what they look like, I felt chills go up and down my spine. It was such a surreal thing to be staring into the blackness on stage and to hear his voice stretching out to us, disembodied.

It was something I hadn’t really considered before about the difference between radio and and other reporting or storytelling mediums, but I think he’s right. There is a special sort of intimacy in just listening to someone’s voice.

It struck me that writing can do something similar. Isn’t that what we as writers hope to accomplish? Make the reader connect with the characters? Draw the reader into the story in such a way that they feel like they have relationships with the characters? Someone can read the words we’ve written, and if we’ve done a good job they hear the character’s unique voice almost as if they were really talking to them.

I think this is one of the reasons I like to read so much–why I’ve been leaning more toward the written word lately rather than film. That special intimacy that comes with reading a story instead of seeing it, like a whisper so close it’s actually inside your mind. (Too creepy?)

Don’t get me wrong–film and TV have their own unique ways of getting to us as well. It’s just that the written word is what’s been calling to me. It’s calling to me right now. It’s time to go write.

Why I (kind of) Love Zombie Movies

Warm BodiesWhen people say, “I love zombie movies,” used to be that I imagined they meant they enjoyed the blood spraying everywhere and guts and brains getting more screen time than most of the actual actors. Anyone who knows about my high school obsession with Edgar Allan Poe might think I would enjoy a little gore now and then, but that’s really not the case. I’d see parts of zombie movies when my husband watched them, but was more than satisfied with those brief glimpses.

Then I watched Shaun of the Dead, and I liked it. Of course, I suspect I’d like about anything that Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright wrote together (especially if it also features Nick Frost). Because of my husband’s love of zombies, I ended up seeing some of The Walking Dead and getting totally drawn into it (I know this is a TV series and not a movie, but really I’m talking about zombie stories generally, right?). Then just a few days ago I watched Warm Bodies and fell IN LOVE with it, and I thought to myself, “Wait. Do I love zombie movies?”

I guess I kind of do. Of course, my eyes close automatically most the time when the zombies are actually doing their thing so maybe that has something to with why I can enjoy it. (Because really? Ew, gross.) I like zombie movies–or at least some zombie movies–because of the human element.

It’s about humans at our rawest, about surviving the monstrosity of people who have lost their humanity and the struggle not to lose our own. It’s about the best and worst of being human and about trying to triumph over our basest instincts.

Really what I love about zombie movies is the characters. I’m fascinated by how they go about facing what seems like an unstoppable force and what changes in them when everyone around them has turned into literal monsters. (Of course, one of the things I loved about Warm Bodies–and, in some ways, The Walking Dead and Shaun of the Dead–is that it kind of turns the monster idea on its head.)

I do think sometimes zombie movies can seem like they’re reveling in the horrific as much as or more than they’re examining the human situation, but I also think that zombie movies might touch on aspects of our fears and strengths that other genres can’t quite reveal. As soon as you’ve got actual monsters or non-zombified humans as the “enemy,” you’ve stepped into something different.

Maybe it’s because zombies bridge the line in our psyches between the imagined and the possible. They are a metaphor for our deepest fears in a way that aliens or monsters can’t be because zombies look like us, they are us. And at the same time, they’re enough removed from reality that it allows us to face our fears bravely and examine them.

I suppose that is why I (kind of) like zombie movies. Of course, I’m not going to watch them all the time, but I am going to go watch Warm Bodies again. Probably this weekend even. And I’m guessing I’m still going to love it.