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India Walton: I Knew It Was Gonna Be Tough, But I Didn't Expect it to Get Nasty
India Walton grew up in Buffalo, New York, a starkly segregated city, where 85 percent of the city's Black residents live on the East Side. She started a family there at 14 and then a career as a nurse in her 20s. In her 30s, she left a violent marriage, became a neighborhood organizer, and decided to run for mayor.
In June 2021, India shocked the political establishment and won the Democratic primary, beating the four-term incumbent mayor. She was shocked, too, and the jubilant video of her calling her mom that night went viral. But, the mayor did not concede, and he won the general election after he launched a write-in campaign.
Five months after India lost that election, a gunman shot up a grocery store on Buffalo's East Side and killed 10 people in a racially motivated attack.
In this episode, we talk about when government helped India and let her down, and how growing up poor and Black in Buffalo fueled her drive to change systems – in healthcare, education and housing politics.
Want to hear more of DSM's past episodes with political leaders and public officials? Listen to Anna chat with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, current Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, and way back, in one of the show’s very first episodes, former Wyoming Senator Al Simpson.
|Sep 28, 2022|
Inside John Waters' Home (But Not Inside His Colon)
John Waters is the writer and director of such cult classics like Pink Flamingos, Serial Mom, and his biggest mainstream success, Hairspray. He’s been making movies since the 1960s and this year he released his debut novel, Liarmouth: A Feel Bad Romance.
The novel is an incredibly dirty romp filled with the kind of taboo storytelling that John Waters revels in. In his work, he shines a light on the worst of us but rarely to ridicule, more as a reminder of how gloriously sinful we can be, as we discussed when I spoke with him in his Manhattan home. His interest in the carnal, though, has its limits. “When I got a colonoscopy, they said, do you wanna watch? No!” he told us. “Why do I wanna go on a fantastic voyage up my a–hole?”
We also talked about money management, aging, and his secret to maintaining his many long friendships. “I do stay in touch and if anything bad happens to you, I call. If you get a bad review, I call. If you go to jail, I definitely am your first visit,” he laughed. “I never don't come visit you if you're in jail.”
|Sep 21, 2022|
How Clothes Help Us Find Our People and Ourselves
For many of us, the last few years of the pandemic has given us time to reflect on different aspects of our identities and how we show up in the world. That's meant more room to explore what silhouettes, colors, and textures feel good, what haircuts work or don't, and what you love—and what you hate—about getting dressed up in the first place.
And for a couple of listeners, ruminating on their personal style has also meant thinking about community, and how clothes fit us into social spaces. A listener named Stephen told me he can remember what he wore in most social interactions. "The clothing in all of these memories is like the set of extras that don't have any lines." For another listener, Bill, fashion allows him to recognize himself as a trans man, and who he wants to attract… or avoid. "I think about what I wear a lot," he told me. "It takes up space in my brain that doesn't always feel good." This week, your personal style transformations: the good, the bad, and everything in between.
|Sep 14, 2022|
Lucinda Williams Says Whatever the Hell She Wants
*This episode originally ran in 2016.
When Lucinda Williams was in elementary school, all the other kids brought rock collections and other standard fare to show-and-tell. But she brought a folder. "I put this notebook together of seven poems and a short story by Cindy Williams," she remembers. Decades later, she's still documenting her impressions of the world, now in raw, often mournful songs that explore death, heartbreak, abandonment, and love. Many of her them are based in the American south, where Lucinda grew up—including those on the album The Ghosts of Highway 20. "I know these roads like the back of my hand," she sings on the title track.
Lucinda was close to her father, poet Miller Willams, throughout her life. He encouraged her interest in words and writing, even taking her to visit Flannery O'Connor when she was a little girl. So it was especially hard for her to see him go through Alzheimer's disease. He died a year before our conversation, less than six months after the summer day when he told Lucinda he couldn't write poetry anymore. "I just sat there and just cried," she remembers. "That was when I lost him."
In her sixties, Lucinda says she's more successful than ever, selling out shows on the road and happily in love with her manager Tom Overby, whom she married on stage during an encore in 2009. But, she told me, getting older can still feel like a drag. "I don't like the aging process. I don't like getting older because of all the loss. It just gets harder and harder."
See the video on Lucinda's Facebook page of her performance of "Compassion" at her father's home before he died. Miller Williams reads his poem, and Lucinda follows by singing her musical interpretation.
|Sep 07, 2022|
Big Freedia Bounces Back
Even before becoming Big Freedia, Freddie Ross was known around New Orleans. Her "signature call"—an operatic bellow that she lets out when I ask to hear it—was legendary in the city. "They'd be like, 'Oh that's Freddie in the club'.... The signature call comes very loud. And proud."
Freedia came out to her mom as gay when she was 13, and soon came out to her classmates as well. She tells me she "had to do what every other gay kid had to do: fight for their life, and let people know that you are not no joke." She eventually started performing as part of New Orleans' queer bounce music scene, and became a local celebrity.
Then, in 2005, Freedia got shot. "What the motive was, I don’t know to this day still," she says. After finally mustering the courage to start performing again, Freedia also moved into a new place, to get a fresh start. Hurricane Katrina hit about a week later. She and her family were together at her duplex during the storm, where the water rose to the second floor. They cut a hole in the roof to signal for help. Days after being evacuated, Freedia made her way to Houston, where she lived for two years.
In Houston, Freedia met her boyfriend, Devon. After years of dating men who weren't openly gay, Freedia says Devon's openness about their relationship has made a difference. "When your love grows for somebody and y’all get closer you wanna...feel more appreciated, and you wanna feel loved," she says.
Freedia eventually returned to New Orleans, where her career continues to expand. “A lot was happening after Katrina. I mean money was slinging everywhere,” Freedia tells me. “You know everybody had FEMA checks, girl!” I talk with Freedia about what's happened in her life in the years since she returned to her hometown: publishing a memoir, starring in a reality TV series, and losing her beloved mother to cancer.
* This interview is from 2015 and part of a series about New Orleans on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Big Freedia performs her song "Excuse" before she and over 300 dancers set the Guinness World Record for most people twerking simultaneously:
Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce Season 4 Trailer:
|Aug 31, 2022|
Finding Meaning After My Husband's Public Death
When talking about the death of his husband, Terry Kaelber doesn't use the word suicide, "I tend to say he took his own life out of deep distress about the environment through self-immolation." Terry says it's out of respect for David that he chooses his words carefully — "It was a rational decision on his part."
In 2018, David Buckel doused himself in gasoline and lit himself on fire in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. Minutes before, he sent a note to prominent media outlets. He wrote, “Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result—my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.” David was 60, an environmentalist, and a former LGBTQ rights lawyer.
In this episode I talk to Terry about how he thinks about David's death now, and how grief still connects them. "I would never want the grief to go away," he says, "It's always a reminder of how important we were to each other." We also talk about moving on and finding new adventure and joy — "If somebody had said to me within the first year of David's death, that this would happen, I would've said you're crazy."
For more Terry, listen to him on Vox’s Today, Explained, along with Tim DeChristopher who was imprisoned for his climate activism. And if you are experiencing climate grief, we encourage you to go back and listen to our episode with researcher Britt Wray about our emotional reactions to the reality of climate change where we also link to resources.
|Aug 24, 2022|
Knock Knock, Who's There? Bob the Drag Queen
If you lived in Columbus, Georgia in the 90s, you might have spent time in a queer club called Sensations. But Bob the Drag Queen knew Sensations by day, not night – she was in elementary school when her mom owned the place. As a kid, Bob would try to help clean or bust a move on the dance floor.
A couple years into college, Bob left the South for New York City. She performed in drag for the first time, turned her big ideas into iconic side hustles, and auditioned for, and eventually won, season 8 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. But, that schedule didn’t leave her a lot of room for romance. Bob and I talked about making time for her first boyfriend in her 30s, trying to move her family into a bigger home, and supporting and collaborating with queer and trans people in small U.S. towns as a co-host of the HBO reality show We’re Here.
|Aug 17, 2022|
What's Going On With Student Loans?
Here we are again: Just weeks before the federal pause on student loans is set to expire, with indications that the pause will be extended, and hints at debt forgiveness, but no concrete course of action as of recording this episode in early August.
With so much uncertainty, we decided to invite our favorite expert on the topic, Betsy Mayotte, president of The Institute of Student Loan Advisors, to take some of your questions. Maybe not surprisingly, we got a lot of them. Some of you dreaded budgeting back in loan payments after the pause ends (for that Betsy suggests trying a loan simulator), and many of you had questions about Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), and whether the changes the Biden administration made to the program are here to stay. Betsy says, "I have researched the Higher Education Act back to the seventies, and Congress has never, ever retroactively removed a benefit from existing student loans. There is practically as close to zero of a risk of PSLF going away."
If you have a question that was not answered in this episode, you can contact Betsy by going to her website where you can also find all sorts of helpful resources, like a guide to forgiveness, and where to start when thinking about a repayment plan.
|Aug 10, 2022|
"This Isn't Just About Abortion": What the End of Roe Means to You
In the weeks leading up to and after the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, which ended almost 50 years of the constitutional right to abortion in the United States, we asked you to tell us how you’re feeling, and how you’re thinking and talking about family planning and access to reproductive care. Some of you told us about your anger, your fears, and we also heard stories about difficult conversations with loved ones, or a sense of clarity about the options in front of you.
And as the post-Roe landscape continues to shift state by state, we wanted to hear from someone in Mississippi, the state at the center of this landmark Supreme Court case. "There's no getting around that the impact is on everyone," said Laurie Bertram Roberts, co-founder and executive director of the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund. I spoke with Laurie about the ways this moment was expected, how their work has changed post-Roe, and why they feel both rage—and a sense of hope—about what's to come.
|Aug 03, 2022|
Bottled Up: Your Stories About Alcohol
It can sometimes feel like alcohol—whether you're drinking it or not—is an intrinsic element of navigating adulthood. After all, over 70 percent of American adults drink. We take drinking so much for granted that we often fail to really engage with the role it's playing in our lives. "It’s been a piece of everything since we’ve turned 21, or 18," a listener named Cari told us. "We've always had a drink or been drinking when we’ve been at parties. And it’s so funny that I’m 34, and that is a worry: that if I weren’t drinking, maybe the party would move to someone else’s house."
We asked you to share your experiences with alcohol—why you drink or don't, the strategies you use to manage your consumption, and what alcohol brings you besides a buzz. And we learned that our feelings about alcohol are much more complicated than we tend to acknowledge.
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol or seeking more information about alcohol consumption, check out these resources.
|Jul 27, 2022|
The Highs and Lows of Being a Starbucks Union Organizer
When we called Jacob Lawson, a 23-year-old Starbucks worker from Utah, he was on his way to another Starbucks store in Idaho to help them start a union. "It’s not too far from Utah. It's 150 miles, but I’ve driven further to help a store unionize," he told us.
By now, you've probably heard that the Starbucks union is having a moment. Since the first store successfully voted to form a union in 2021, more than 175 stores in 30 states have followed suit. The reasons for the union's success are varied — support from the established union, Workers United, and small store sizes make getting a majority vote simpler — but the Starbucks unionizing drive is also extremely collaborative, made up of mostly young people who talk to each other from stores across the country and share tips. For this episode, we invited a few of these workers to tell us what their experience has been like. I met Jacob Lawson, 20-year-old Laila Dalton from Phoenix, Arizona, and 33-year-old Benjamin South from Ithaca, New York over Zoom. When we talked on a Friday in early June, they were all experiencing different turns in the unionizing story, some victories, some defeats, and some very real consequences of going up against a multi-billion dollar company.
|Jul 20, 2022|
“No Call Goes Unanswered”: A Lifeline in Wyoming
On July 16, 2022, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline becomes a 3-digit number: 988. This switch means that many local call centers across the country are preparing for a higher volume of calls. And for someone in crisis, it means a lot to hear someone on the line who knows the community they're calling from.
In Wyoming, that sort of knowledge can be helpful, and also a deterrent to accessing mental health services. "We’re very rural. Everybody knows your business," Karen Sylvester told me. She's the director of training and fundraising for the Wyoming Lifeline, one of two new call centers in the state that began operating in 2020. "And so when it comes to somebody struggling, the last place that they want to have their car parked is outside the mental health office. So that everybody in town can whisper or try to decide what they think is going on with so-and-so."
Wyoming had the highest suicide rate per capita in the US in 2020, and while that impacts people across all demographics, white men 25 and older account for most of the deaths by suicide in the state. I talk to suicide prevention advocates, as well as a suicide attempt survivor, about the changes ahead in the state.
|Jul 13, 2022|
The Very Hot Marriage of Niecy Nash and Jessica Betts
When actress Niecy Nash and R&B singer-songwriter Jessica Betts first met in 2015, they struck up a deep friendship. So when they began to fall in love a few years later, they were both caught off-guard. Niecy was newly divorced and had never been in a relationship with a woman before, and Jessica didn't think she could find love again. But they took the plunge, and when they announced their relationship and marriage publicly in the summer of 2020, they didn't expect the outpouring of love and support.
Almost two years into their marriage, they're still learning about each other's habits and quirks, and are just as in love and hot for each other as ever. They joined me from their Los Angeles home to tell me about their love story, how they learned to live together during the pandemic, their faith, and the surprising ways their age difference shows up in their marriage.
Want to hear more Niecy? Listen to our 2017 episode, "Life in Our 20s: Advice from Niecy Nash, Alia Shawkat & Terri Coleman," or my 2015 interview with her for NPR's Fresh Air.
|Jun 29, 2022|
Cut Loose: Your Stories of Breaking Up
When Nan Bauer-Maglin was 60 years old, her husband left her for his 25-year-old student. "I thought about suicide. You know, there’s a great feeling of rejection especially if you’re older," she told me. "You just feel ugly and invisible and sad and quite gray."
Nan wrote a book inspired by their breakup and called it Cut Loose. "First I was gonna call it 'Dumped.' But that’s so negative," she told me. "Cut Loose is also about freedom."
Nan is one of hundreds of listeners who shared their breakup stories with us, after we asked for them last year. And she's not the only one who mentioned a potent mix of rejection, liberation, and confusion at the end of a relationship.
A listener named Drew remembers when his boyfriend went on a trip, left his dog at Drew's house, and never came back. Thomas*, who got married right out of college, is 25 and unsure of what his life will look like after his impending divorce. Mia sent in a voice memo about leaving her boyfriend behind, and struggling with the decision years later. Identical twins Matthew and Peter Slutsky realized they needed to break up after years of living parallel lives: attending the same college, working the same jobs, living with their families in the same neighborhood. Creating some distance was part of growing up, but that doesn't mean it wasn't hurtful.
In your breakup stories, you also described how hard it can be to know when it's over. Steve* knows he's not happy right now, but isn't sure if the problem is him or his long-term boyfriend. "I love him and I don’t want to hurt him," he told me. "This just seems like kind of a way to wipe the slate clean and start over."
Sometimes, though, breaking up can also feel like a long overdue exhale. Beth, a listener in Philadelphia, recalls the day when she was riding her bike on her commute and choked out the words, "I don't want to be married!" She was divorced within a year, and looking back now, wishes she hadn't waited so long to be honest about her feelings.
Whether you're in the middle of a breakup or you've been through one in the past, check out breakupsurvival.guide, a website our listener Emily Theis built from your best suggestions about what to read, watch, listen to and do after a split.
*Name changed for privacy reasons
We're re-airing this episode from 2017. Listen to the end for some relationship and life updates.
|Jun 22, 2022|
'I'm Done Kissing Your Butt': From Manager to Labor Activist
One of the first things Mary Gundel told us about her childhood was that the Florida foster care system left her with a persistent sense that she was invisible. "Nobody cared, nobody wanted me," she said. Pregnant at 16, then again at 18, and with a third child diagnosed with autism a little while after that, Mary and her husband worked many low wage jobs on opposite schedules so someone could always be home with the kids. But despite feeling unseen, Mary told me story after story about how she changed the lives of her coworkers and loved ones, from taking in a friend's kid, to staying late at the register when a coworker called out, no questions asked.
These sorts of stories might have stayed confined to Mary's small Tampa network had she not become an overnight TikTok celebrity. Her viral moment? A 6-part series documenting her day-to-day frustrations managing a Dollar General, one of America's largest convenience stores, where she worked for three and half years. We talked about what led her to speak out about working conditions on social media, getting fired, and igniting a national workers’ movement. Invisible no more, Mary concedes, “They’re listening to me now!”
|Jun 15, 2022|
How Harvey Fierstein's Bad Sex Led to Good Art
When Tony Award-winning actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein was growing up in New York City in the 60s, he was surrounded by the beginnings of the gay rights movement, and protest art and avant-garde theater was the norm. "I didn't know that being gay was sad until I got out into the world and they told me that," he said in our interview. "All the gay people I know are really kind of happy."
And writing from that lens has informed his work ever since. In his new memoir, I Was Better Last Night, Harvey shares the six year journey to get his breakthrough play, Torch Song Trilogy, on Broadway, and shares other behind the scenes stories from hit Broadway plays like Hairspray, Fiddler on the Roof, and La Cage aux Folles. He also told me about his relationship with his younger brother turned business manager, why he's happily single and sober, and how he thinks he'll be remembered.
|Jun 08, 2022|
What Our Teachers Are Carrying
At the beginning of the calendar year, when Omicron was surging across much of the country, we asked those of you that are educators to tell us what led to your profession in the midst of another difficult pandemic school year, and how you were coping with it all. You told us about burnout, navigating confusing and changing rules about safety and politics in the classroom, feeling undervalued as workers, and why some of you were leaving education altogether.
As the end of the school year approached, I followed up with four teachers in school districts across the country, from a middle school librarian in rural Wyoming, to a teacher navigating their first year of in-person teaching in New York. They told me about how the year has gone, the effects on their personal life, and what they're most excited about for this summer.
|May 25, 2022|
Maria Hinojosa on Partying, Partnership, and Her New Pulitzer
Journalist Maria Hinojosa and the staffs of Futuro Media and PRX recently won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Audio Reporting for the podcast "Suave." For Maria, winning this accolade took years of hard work.
Maria is best known as the host of the public radio program Latino USA, a role she's occupied for over 25 years. But before then, she had to navigate newsrooms at CBS, NPR, CNN, and PBS at a time where she was often the first and the only Latina journalist there. As she wrote in her memoir, Once I Was You, that meant having to walk with confidence and believing in her work when, she says, her mostly white colleagues didn't.
But, as Maria told me when we spoke back in 2020, the confidence she built while working in media didn't totally translate to other parts of her life. "You know, my marriage almost broke up because of my ego," she said. And as her career became more successful, she told me about the times she says she didn't prioritize her husband and her kids, about the crisis point that led her to reevaluate her role in her relationship and as a mother, and about how, these days, she is practicing listening and self-love. Plus, I catch up with Maria and she tells me about the significance of the award for her.
|May 18, 2022|
How Much Climate Anxiety Helps?
If you're like me, you might have a hard time getting to the end of articles that predict climate catastrophe. You might put a lot of faith in technology to save us, and you certainly don't want to think about an unsafe climate future for any young children in your life. If you're more like my guest for this episode, Britt Wray, you may have had periods of time where you can't stop thinking about climate catastrophe, times when your climate anxiety became so unbearable you couldn't function.
Britt’s new book is all about our emotional reactions to climate change. She says, "these abilities to sit with the emotions and allow them to be there is actually really crucial to climate action at all." We met for a hike through the Santa Cruz mountains and we talked about how she emerged from debilitating climate dread, and how she grappled with the question of whether or not to have a child. "In the end the decision to not have a child felt like a commitment to fear. And then on the flip side, deciding to have a child felt like a commitment to joy."
Do you want to lessen your climate anxiety while also helping the planet? Britt says, "It's a crucial step to find community with others who can stand in the fire with you, who get it, who will mirror and validate the concerns and will never say you're overreacting." Here are some resources she suggests:
The Good Grief Network, modeled off of a 12-step program, hosts in-person meetings around climate anxiety and climate action. Conceivable Future hosts parties for people to talk about family planning in a warming world, and The All We Can Save Project offers a how-to guide on starting your own community talking group. Subscribe to Britt Wray's news letter Gen Dread, which is all about staying sane in the climate crisis.
Britt Wray is a Human and Planetary Health Fellow at Stanford University and author of the new book Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Crisis
|May 11, 2022|
"There’s Never a Perfect Time to Say, 'I’m Blind'"
Back in 2021, we asked you to tell us about the hard conversations you were struggling to have in honor of the release of my book, Let's Talk About Hard Things. One of the people I talked to was a listener named Fey. Fey is 27 and lives in Maryland, and she has a degenerative eye condition. Eventually, she will probably lose her eyesight completely. She'd written us an email about her "tricky sense of disability identity."
As Fey's sight worsens, she struggles to know how and when to open up to people in her life about it—friends, dates, coworkers. Over the course of several conversations in the last year, I talked with Fey about how and when to disclose her disability, gaining independence, and relying on others. Plus, she gets a pep talk from a fellow visually impaired Nigerian American, EDM singer Lachi.
Come sing along with me at a special sing-a-long karaoke party in honor of the paperback release of Let's Talk About Hard Things. We'll drink, talk and SING about hard things in NYC on May 6, at 7pm at The Greene Space. You can email us any time to share your stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|May 04, 2022|
Anna Sale Introduces Dead End: A New Jersey Political Murder Mystery
Anna talks with her WNYC colleague Nancy Solomon about her new podcast, Dead End: A New Jersey Political Murder Mystery.
New Jersey politics is not for the faint of heart. But the brutal killing of John and Joyce Sheridan, a prominent couple with personal ties to three governors, shocks even the most cynical operatives. The mystery surrounding the crime sends their son on a quest for truth. Dead End is a story of crime and corruption at the highest levels of society in the Garden State.
EVENT: Come sing along with me at a special sing-a-long karaoke party in honor of the paperback release of my book, Let's Talk About Hard Things. We'll drink, talk and SING about hard things.
|Apr 29, 2022|
For all the things we share with our brothers and sisters -- parents, genes, a childhood -- most of us have also wondered at one point or another how we could possibly be related to our siblings. As we grow up, it can be hard to update those relationships that were forged so long ago. You were children together; it can be hard to act like adults together.
More than 200 of you reached out to tell me your sibling stories. I heard from Alix, whose twin sister, Katie, has cerebral palsy. “Every time I reach another milestone in my adult life,” she said, “it feels like something that [Katie] can’t ever get to.” Mike told me about sobering up at 50—and losing the thing that brought him and his drinking buddy brother together. Paul* reflected on why he feels angry at his big sister, whom he used to look up to. Consuello debated whether or not to let her younger brother come and live with her, after she found out he was homeless. And Megan* opened up about the brother she decided didn’t exist anymore, 30 years ago.
We also heard from people without siblings -- like Sabrina, who cared for her mom when she got sick last year. And, I called up my four sisters, all at once, in four separate time zones.
This episode first aired in 2015. Listen to updates from most of the siblings here.
EVENT: Come sing along with me at a special sing-a-long karaoke party in honor of the paperback release of my book, Let's Talk About Hard Things. We'll drink, talk and SING about hard things. In San Francisco: on May 3rd, at 6:30pm at Manny's. In NYC: On May 6, at 7pm at The Greene Space.
|Apr 27, 2022|
Hard: Softening Expectations
Carson Tueller became paralyzed from the chest down after an accident in 2013. "I absolutely know that there is a sense of loss and grieving that comes when you lose physical function," he told Death, Sex, & Money, our colleagues at WNYC. "If you could previously have an erection and have penetrative sex with your partner in a really fulfilling way and you can't anymore, the grief and the loss from that is totally legitimate." However, Carson adds, "that doesn't have to mean that something's wrong with you. It just means it’s time to learn how to have sex differently."
In this final part of DSM's series Hard, we hear from Viagra users past and present whose ideas about sex have shifted—from being a goal-oriented pursuit to one that is much more about pleasure and acceptance.
This is the third episode of a three-part series. Listen to the first episode—about the impact of ED and Viagra on relationships—here, and the second episode—about the surprising origin story of the drug—here.
|Apr 13, 2022|
Hard: Little Pill, Big Pharma
When Dr. Irwin Goldstein started his career in urology in the 1970s, he remembers asking his mentor—an early pioneer in penile implant surgeries—"How the hell does an erection occur in the first place?" His answer: 'We have absolutely no idea,'" Dr. Goldstein recalls. "So I said, okay, well, this is what I'm doing."
In this second episode of our three-part series, Hard, we dive into the medical and scientific advancements that led up to Viagra's FDA approval in 1998. From an unforgettable conference presentation...to an overnight drug study where an unexpected side effect kept popping up...we hear about the strange twists and turns that eventually led to a little blue pill, from some of the people who were there along the way. Plus, we explore the intentionality around the early marketing of Viagra—when former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole encouraged men to summon the bravery to talk to their doctors—and we hear how that message has shifted over the years.
This is the second episode of a three-part series. Listen to the first episode, about the impact of ED and Viagra on relationships, here. And look out for our episode next week, where we meet people for whom Viagra sparked deeper exploration about the meaning of good sex.
|Apr 06, 2022|
Hard: Erectile Disappointment
Bob first started experiencing erectile dysfunction in his 50s. "The erections wouldn't last," he told me, "and that became kind of a frustration." Bob and his wife, Joanne, tried asking their doctors for help—but it was the mid-1990s, and medical interventions were limited. "I think back then [ED] was kind of looked upon as, you're getting older and this is going to happen and there's nothing you can do about it type thing," Bob told me. "That’s life, guy!"
A lot has changed since then. In 1998, Viagra was approved by the FDA, suddenly opening up new sexual possibilities for people like Bob and Joanne. The drug also sparked a very public conversation about erectile dysfunction—one that, despite beginning earnestly, quickly veered toward late-night punchlines. "There's just so many memes and so much pop culture reference in a joking manner," a woman we're calling Louise told me, whose husband has prostate cancer-related ED. "[Viagra is] for the couple, it's for the marriage, the relationship, the partnership. It isn't just about a guy getting a boner."
And while millions of Viagra prescriptions have been written during its almost 25 years of existence, for some, Viagra has not been the quick fix they hoped it would be. A listener named Brandon takes medication for depression and anxiety, and found that for him, erections when taking Viagra are "very much a roll of the dice." Yet in a world where ED drugs are readily available—he feels a lot of pressure to perform. "This oversexualized culture doesn't say anything about having sex and not being able to get an erection as being okay," he told me. "It's very much big hard dicks flying everywhere."
This is the first episode of a three-part series. Look out for our episode next week where we go back in time to tell the story of how medicine, science, money and marketing collided to create a Viagra explosion.
|Mar 30, 2022|
Why Lynn Nottage Cashed Out Her 401(k)
At the start of this year, two-time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lynn Nottage achieved a feat. Three of her works—Clyde's, the musical MJ, and an opera adaptation of her play Intimate Apparel—were playing on New York City stages simultaneously. But three decades ago, during the height of the AIDS and crack epidemics, Lynn almost stopped writing plays for good. "I was watching many of my classmates and my professors get sick and die or succumb to drug addiction," she told me about her time at drama school. "And it was really hard to stay focused on writing and figure out, well, why am I writing? And what is it that I want to write about when there's so much trauma?"
Lynn grew up in Brooklyn, where she now lives in her childhood home. She spoke with me from her living room about how bombing a test in college led her to theater, how quitting her day job and cashing in her 401(k) helped her return to it, and how she shares "marriage miles" with her filmmaker husband.
|Mar 16, 2022|
Affairs, Throuples, and Big Monogamy: Your Relationship Questions Answered
We recently asked you to tell us about the decisions weighing on you about your romantic lives. The strangeness of the past two years has impacted all of our relationships—in both negative and positive ways—yet in this time of not-normalcy, it can feel especially hard to make decisions that bring big change into our lives.
So, we gathered a panel to help you sort through it all: Foreverland author and "Ask Polly" columnist Heather Havrilesky, Gawker editor and co-host of the podcast Straightiolab George Civeris, and Tuck Woodstock, host of the podcast Gender Reveal.
Listen as Heather, George, and Tuck give advice to listeners contemplating long-distance relationships, coming to terms with betrayal, navigating the fallout of a throuple, and more.
|Mar 09, 2022|
Many of the marriages in producer Ian Coss’ family have ended in divorce. His parents’ marriage, his grandparents’s marriage, as well as some of his aunts and uncles’ marriages. Ian is married, but he’s spent a lot of time thinking about the legacy of divorce in his family, about the failures and successes of those marriages, and what came after they ended. So he sat down with his relatives and talked to them about those relationships and ending them, which he turned into the critically-acclaimed podcast Forever is a Long Time.
As someone who’s been divorced myself, I wanted to know more about Ian’s family, and what he’s learned from his relatives about commitment, self-determination, and how he applies that to his own marriage.
|Feb 23, 2022|
Where is Lisa Fischer's Backup?
Lisa Fischer has sung backing vocals for Dolly Parton, Bobby McFerrin, Luther Vandross and Beyoncé. She's also toured with the Rolling Stones since 1989, going from one swanky hotel to another, "eating caviar for breakfast" and playing sold out stadiums. “I feel like a normal girl,” she says, “visiting for a very long time in the not-normal world.”
It wasn’t the world she came from. Lisa grew up in Brooklyn. Her mom was pregnant with her at 15, and had two more children by the time she was 19. Money was tight, and when Lisa was 14, her father left. Her mom started drinking heavily, and died three years later after complications from seizures.
By her mid-twenties, she was touring as a backup singer, and in 1991 she won a Grammy for her first solo album, So Intense. But soon after, she lost her record deal, and returned to singing backup. The 2013 documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom highlighted some of the glory, and struggle, that came with her years on the road. "When I think about the money that I have gone through I have to laugh to myself," she told me during our conversation. "I don’t like to look at how much I have because it’s never enough."
This conversation took place in 2015. Listen to the end to hear an update from Lisa, about getting back on stage during the pandemic and the financial realities of being a musician during COVID.
Below, watch Lisa Fischer on stage with the Rolling Stones, and singing with Luther Vandross.
|Feb 16, 2022|
This Elvis Impersonator Does It For Love… And Money
Brendan Paul never meant to become an Elvis impersonator. He wanted to play in rock bands like Kiss and was an art major in college at UCLA. But one day in his early 20s, he got a haircut—one that left his dark hair a little shaggy on top, with sideburns. "And then the next day at UCLA a girl came up and said, my roommate in my dorm is a huge Elvis fan. If I give you a hundred dollars, can you come sing happy birthday?" he recalled. "I said, absolutely."
Today, Brendan co-owns the Graceland Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, which claims to be the site of the world's first Elvis-themed wedding. Dressed in sparkly jumpsuits, Brendan marries sometimes as many as 75 people a day—in back to back 15 minute appointments. But while his portrayal of Elvis generally leans into the kitsch, his view on The King's life goes deeper. "That loneliness, that despair, that unsatisfied inside," he told me about Elvis near the end of his life. "A lot people go, 'I bet you wish you were Elvis,' and I always go, 'Not really.'"
This episode is a collaboration with Condé Nast Traveler and their new love and travel series. Read more about Brendan and find other essays about love and travel here.
|Feb 09, 2022|
André De Shields On Living With His Shadow
Self-proclaimed “professional charmer” André De Shields has performed on stage for more than 50 years. Today, at 76 years old, he brings his Tony Award-winning portrayal of Hermes to the Broadway musical Hadestown eight times a week. “I’m the slowest moving entity on the stage, which mesmerizes people,” he told me. “They want to know, ‘Why is this person moving so monstrously slowly? He must know something.’”
André shared some of his immense knowledge with me: stories about his coming of age sexual awakening with a woman twice his age, words of wisdom he learned from Sammy Davis Jr., and the lessons about learning to live with your shadow. Since his diagnosis with HIV and the loss of his life partner, André has had many conversations with death, but he has determined that the only way to live is to “enter the darkness. And if you persist, if you will be determined, if you will be hardy, if you will have sufficient stamina, you will enter the light.”
|Jan 26, 2022|
Downsizing After Divorce
When her kids were young, Jaimie Seaton and her family lived overseas in Asia while her husband worked as a high-ranking executive at a bank. "We lived in a huge house with a pool and staff and a driver," Jaimie told me. "We always traveled business class. We always stayed in 5-star hotels. We always had a lot of parties."
"From where I sit now and how I have to economize, I just kind of shake my head at the amount of money I wasted."
Jaimie's financial picture looks quite different today. A year after moving back to the U.S., her marriage suddenly ended. At that point, Jaimie hadn't been working much. "I never made much money during my marriage," Jaimie said. "I never needed to." She quickly got a temporary job, but says her spending habits didn't immediately change. "I think of it like a large ship," she said. "It takes a while to turn."
Now, Jaimie brings in some money as a freelance writer, and receives monthly alimony and child support payments. But much of that will end when her children leave the house. "I’m really afraid of being old and being poverty stricken," Jaimie told me. And, she says that she and her kids feel uncomfortable now in social situations where they used to feel that they belonged. "I feel uncomfortable partly because of the money, but mostly because they’re all still married and their families are intact," Jaimie said. "It’s hard to be around it."
This episode was part of our 2018 collaborative series with BuzzFeed called Opportunity Costs: Money and Class in America. To hear more episodes in this series, go to deathsexmoney.org/class.
Jaimie wrote a piece for BuzzFeed about her class transition after her divorce. Read it here.
|Jan 19, 2022|
A New Year's Pep Talk From Robin Arzón
For people who love Peloton, the company's head instructor Robin Arzón is an inspiration. I know quite a few people who swear by Robin's tough love teaching style and confidence-boosting mantras.
But there was a time when Robin wasn't always confident, or even into athletics. "When I identify with feelings of anxiety, it is the younger version of myself," she told me. "Being picked for kickball or something like that is like my worst nightmare." But in the aftermath of trauma, she started running, and it changed her life.
Robin and I also discussed how she envisioned the home and marriage she has now, the ways becoming a mother changed her relationship to her body, and the limits she places on her time.
|Jan 12, 2022|
Why I Steal
Alice* lives in a small town, where the work dries up in the winter. She and her husband have jobs at a seasonal restaurant, where she says they each make about $500 a week. When it gets cold, they go on unemployment to support themselves and their young daughter. Alice supplements that income by shoplifting. "I do have rules that I follow," she explained. "I don't ever lift from small mom-and-pop kinds of stores. When you lift from somewhere like Walmart they already have it built into their insurance...I would say it feels more like maybe a paper cut, as opposed to stabbing someone."
We first learned about Alice through Tumblr, where there's an active community of people who say they shoplift. They post pictures of their "hauls," as well as tips for other lifters. For Alice, finding that community was huge. "It felt like I had people that I could talk to about it," she told me. "Because it is such a huge part of my life, and to have people that I could talk about it with like it was normal, that felt great. It just sort of opened up a whole new world of possibilities."
Alice told us she keeps her shoplifting a secret from her husband. And while she used to steal while her daughter was with her, stuffing groceries and makeup into her diaper bag, she says she stopped once her daughter was old enough to understand what was happening. "I don't want her doing something that's obviously dangerous," Alice told us. "I don't ever see her like being a tag team. I don't really want that for her."
Since first talking with Alice in 2017, a lot has happened in Alice's life. We called her back to find out how she and her family fared during the pandemic—and to find out if she's still stealing today.
Thanks to Tasbeeh Herwees for her help with this story. You can find Tasbeeh's article for GOOD Magazine about the shoplifting community on Tumblr here. And to listen to our 2017 episode featuring your responses to Alice's story, click here.
|Dec 29, 2021|
A Season to Savor
For the last couple years, we’ve produced special year-end episodes where the entire Death, Sex & Money team shares moments we’re proud of, and looks back at the year we've been through. But after another difficult year, I'm sharing a concept that's helped me get through it: savoring.
I talk with some of the people and artists who've shared ideas or made work that I've savored this year: including my therapist; Kendra Adachi, host of The Lazy Genius podcast; and Saturday Night Live's Ego Nwodim. Plus, I share more of the TV shows and movies I savored this year.
Looking for The Favorites File from Kendra Adachi? Find it here!
If you're able to give right now, and would like to support our work in 2022 and beyond, visit deathsexmoney.org/donate to make a year-end contribution. Thank you!
|Dec 22, 2021|
The Weight Of Love
Recently, we asked for your stories about how weight and body size has affected your romantic relationships. We heard from single people who are dating, couples who have been together for a long time, and from people who described their bodies as fat, thin, overweight, plus size, and everything in between.
In this episode, I talk with listeners about how navigating weight and body size inside a relationship has sometimes made their partnerships stronger...and sometimes broken them apart.
|Dec 15, 2021|
Why Alan Cumming Doesn't Do Drama
Alan Cumming has a favorite Australian mantra: "Shouldn't be a drama." And he told me that he first came across it after a tumultuous period in his life. It was the mid-'90s, and he was struggling with an eating disorder, coming to terms with the abuse he endured from his father as a child, and his first marriage had recently ended.
But as he was navigating those changes, he was also on the cusp of fame. Alan was learning what he liked about living alone in London, and exploring what he called his "debauched phase," which eventually led him to his now-husband. He wrote about this chapter of his life in his new memoir, Baggage: Tales From A Fully Packed Life. "What I'm trying to do is normalize being a hot mess," he told me.
Now 56, Alan and I talked about why non-monogamy works for him and his marriage, what he likes about getting older, and how he stays motivated during his at-home workouts.
If you or a loved one needs support around an eating disorder, you can call or text the National Eating Disorders Association's helpline at (800) 931-2237.
|Dec 01, 2021|
Becoming A Parent Of Six, At 25
On weekdays between 10 and 3, Yesi Ortiz is the warm, flirty host for the popular Los Angeles hip-hop station Power 106. But off the air, she’s a dedicated single parent of six adopted kids.
Her kids' biological mom is Yesi’s older sister, who had her first child as a teenager. "She had baby after baby after baby," Yesi told me. "She didn't really know how to go out and find a job." When Yesi was in her early 20s and her nieces and nephews landed in foster care, Yesi stepped up, taking parenting classes and eventually petitioning for custody. And when she was 25 years old, the kids came to live with her.
By that point, Yesi was already establishing her broadcasting career, and balancing her roles as a parent and a media personality wasn’t easy. "Every day was a game of chess," she says. "I wouldn’t miss a parent teacher conference or back-to-school night, but I would miss dinner." One thing she didn’t want, though, was a man around the house. Her first date after getting the kids was on her front porch. "I didn't want the kids to hear a man's voice in the house," Yesi told me. "I didn't want them to feel like, 'Oh, my aunt is leaving us now too.'"
Now that several of the kids are grown and out of the house, she’s had a little more time for herself, and for her new boyfriend. She spoke with me about how her faith was challenged by her family's struggles, how her new relationship has brought religion—not sex—back into her life, and why being a single parent is the hardest job in the world.
This episode is originally from 2015.
|Nov 24, 2021|
“What I Live With”: The Aftermath of Fatal Accidents
Accidental injuries are the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Nearly 200,000 people die every year from overdoses, fires, unintentional gun discharges, falls, and car crashes. The headlines are familiar, but what we don't often hear about are the stories from people who cause those accidents—and survive. One of those people is John Vargas. "Nobody talks about that person on the other side," he told me when we spoke. "Do they think we woke up in the morning and wanted this to happen?"
In 2017, John was driving for work when he hit a pedestrian in his hometown of Chicago. He wasn't charged with a crime; it was just a terrible accident. And in the aftermath, he couldn't find anyone to talk to who knew what he was going through—until he found a Facebook support group for people who have accidentally killed other people. "It was like the parting of the Red Sea," he says. "It was just like, holy cow. I'm not alone." I also spoke with Theresa Ruf, who moderates the group, about why she decided to form it in the years after she hit and killed a motorcyclist. Unlike John, Theresa's case did enter the legal system, where it languished for eight years—and in that time, adrift and wracked with guilt, Theresa wanted to do something to help other people who were in the kind of pain she was. "If I'm being honest, [part of the reason] why I started the group was like, maybe this is something I could do to feel a little better about myself by helping other people," she told me. "It helps me, too."
If you or someone you love are struggling after being involved in a fatal accident, here are some resources that might help:
Accidental Impacts, a website founded by social psychologist Maryann Gray
Theresa's private Facebook group, Accidental Casualty Survivors
EMDRIA, a directory of licensed EMDR therapists
The Sorrow and the Shame of the Accidental Killer, by Alice Gregory (The New Yorker, September 2017)
|Nov 10, 2021|
I Love My Dad, But I Don't Love Guns
Back in the spring, we asked you to tell us about the hardest conversations you've ever had, and the ones you haven't had yet. A listener we're calling Jack wrote in about a conversation he wanted to have with his dad—about guns.
Jack grew up in a family that loved to hunt and shoot. His dad has a large collection of firearms—and loves to talk about them with his son. But as Jack has gotten older—he's now 30—he and his dad have drifted apart in many ways. "The last bit of common language that we have left is we can talk about guns," he says. "We retreat to that a lot." But Jack's views on gun culture have shifted too, and he no longer wants to own guns or even really be around them. "What I want to say to him is, 'Dad, I love you and I respect you and this just isn't something that I want to be part of,'" Jack told me. "I know he'll hear that as rejection because that's what it is, it's a rejection."
I talk with Jack about why it's important to him to have this conversation with his dad, and about the ways it might impact their relationship—and other family members too.
|Nov 03, 2021|
Order Up, Tapped Out: Life After Restaurant Burnout
In the last few months, millions of restaurant and hospitality workers have left their jobs. Right now, there are more job openings in this field than ever before. For many of these workers, the pandemic was a breaking point, adding health concerns to workplaces known for long hours, low wages, and intense, hostile working conditions. But what comes after making a decision like this?
I spoke with five people who have worked in food service and made big career changes in the last year and a half, from a former McDonald's worker in Chicago to a food truck owner in Portland who's becoming a teacher. They all told me about what they are leaving behind, and what they are trying to build next.
|Oct 27, 2021|
Succession's J. Smith-Cameron On Old Haunts and New Normals
A few weeks ago, I was back in New York City for the first time since 2019. It was great—I saw coworkers in person, and I had lunch at one of my old spots, the Waverly Diner, with actor J. Smith-Cameron. She's best known for playing no-nonsense general counsel Gerri on Succession, but J. has had a long career as a stage actress in New York, on- and off-Broadway. She's also a neighborhood mainstay in the West Village, and over omelets and egg creams, she and I talked about the many phases of her life she’s spent there, getting ready to send her only daughter off to college abroad this fall, and how acting has taught her to slow down and observe the world going by, one thing at a time—a skill she says was invaluable during the pandemic.
|Oct 20, 2021|
Dead People Don't Have Any Secrets
Three years into Amanda* and Sam*'s marriage, the couple found out that they were unexpectedly pregnant...with twins. Amanda says she took on the lion's share of the work at home while also juggling a full-time job that was paying most of their bills. "I was angry with him for not knowing how to help me," Amanda says about Sam. When Sam was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma while the kids were still toddlers, she says that neither one of them gave it the full attention it deserved.
"It certainly didn't change the things it should've changed," Amanda said. "Starting with a will would have been nice."
Sam didn't exhibit many physical symptoms at first, but mentally, he started to turn inward after his diagnosis. "He went to this place of living his life in secret," Amanda said. "And not sharing anything about how it was feeling or what he was doing with me." Then, the cancer spread to his spinal column and brain. He was admitted to the hospital and quickly lost consciousness. That's when Amanda discovered, among other secrets, that her husband had been having an affair. She planned to confront Sam when he woke up, but he never did.
Amanda was left with a lot of anger—and, as it turned out, money problems—to process. But she had to keep most of it to herself. "My husband was really very well-liked," she explained. "You've got to be this plate for everybody else's feelings about your dead husband."
|Oct 06, 2021|
Your Infertility Stories Have Many Different Endings
Sometimes the path to parenthood isn’t a straight line. What happens when you hit speed bumps on the road to having kids?
Earlier this year, I asked you about what happened when you realized becoming a parent would be more difficult than you expected. We heard from those of you who’ve gone through fertility treatments like IUI and IVF. We heard from people in queer relationships, people who chose to become a single parent, and people who ended up adopting. And we also heard from those of you who decided that the money, physical toll, and the heartbreak wasn’t worth it. "The gynecologist said to me, 'If you want this, let me know and we’ll hit it hard,'" a listener named Eva told us, after going through a miscarriage. "And I just thought, 'Do you want to hit it hard? Do you want to - do you want this enough?'"
Today, your stories about infertility, and managing your expectations through it all.
|Sep 29, 2021|
"You Should Be Carrying This. Not Me."
When a listener named Chloe was in college, she says she was sexually assaulted at a party by a former classmate. She filed a police report, but her classmate was never charged with a crime. He left town. And then, ten years went by.
In that time, Chloe says her relationships with friends and family were damaged—she says her mom blamed her for the assault, and her friends seemed to not believe her, or care very much. Chloe eventually connected with other sexual assault survivors, and began her career as an artist. And she started speaking out about what had happened to her, including on social media—which led to an opportunity for Chloe to speak directly to the man who she says raped her.
"I tried all these other avenues to get closure for myself, including reporting this to the police," Chloe says. "And this felt like kind of crafting closure for myself."
Find a list of resources for sexual assault survivors here.
|Sep 22, 2021|
When A Banker Became A Nun
Sister Josephine Garrett grew up Baptist and worked her way up the corporate ladder—eventually becoming a vice president at Bank of America, where she managed a few hundred employees. But after converting to Catholicism in her mid-20s, the idea of becoming a nun popped into her head, and she couldn't leave it behind.
This episode first aired in 2018. Watch Anna's update with Sister Josephine from earlier this year on Instagram.
|Sep 08, 2021|
Decision Fatigue Is Real. We Called For Backup.
We recently asked you to tell us about the decisions you're struggling to make right now. There have been so many choices to make and risks to weigh lately, and after almost 18 months into this pandemic, many of us are feeling decision fatigue. So we decided to put your decisions to a panel of friends and experts: author and Emory University professor Tayari Jones, writer and ¡Hola Papi! columnist John Paul Brammer, and Tara Ilsley, a public health worker at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. They shared their advice for listeners weighing big moves, going back to school, caretaking, and more.
|Sep 01, 2021|
Financial Therapy: A Baby, And A Plan
In Cora and Garrett's final session with financial therapist Amanda Clayman, they talk about soon becoming parents, and their recent experience consulting a financial advisor while navigating Garrett’s gambling addiction—which is still a sensitive subject for him. "I guess I would have preferred that we didn't have to mention it," Garrett says. "But it's kind of like the elephant in the room a little bit with coming up with a system."
And while the financial advisor helped them feel more confident about paying off their debt, Cora and Garrett say they still are having trouble seeing eye to eye about their finances. Garrett says he's found it difficult to be excited about paying off some of their credit cards, while Cora says she wants to celebrate victories as they come. "This is the thing that is different between straight financial advice and financial therapy," Amanda says. "There may need to be a period of digging into the mess, if you will, of what stands between where you are today and where it is that you'd like to go. It's not as simple as, here's the perfect sort of way to organize this. Now, just go do it."
To hear more of Amanda, check out the NPR podcast Life Kit. In their most recent episode, Amanda goes over some helpful principles of financial intimacy for couples—things she thinks about when counseling couples towards healthy financial behaviors, and tips you can use in your own relationship. It’s available wherever you listen, and at npr.org/lifekit.
|Aug 18, 2021|
Financial Therapy: Struggling To Trust Again
Financial therapist Amanda Clayman gave a couple we're calling Cora and Garrett an assignment at the end of their first session—talk together about your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to money. But talking together about finances has always been a source of conflict in Cora and Garrett's relationship, and this time was no exception.
Before Garrett became addicted to gambling, Cora and Garrett mostly kept their money separate and avoided talking together about it. But now that Cora has taken over their family's finances, including Garrett's paychecks, it's forced a lot of conversation about their money styles—which, it turns out, are very different. "I've always seen you as more frivolous," Cora tells Garrett. "Everything that was left over that wasn't going into savings...it's fair game," Garrett says. "That's kind of the way I approached it."
Cora and Garrett also talk together about the barriers currently between them—Garrett's resentment about now not having much control over his earnings, and Cora's distrust stemming from Garrett's deception about money. And they talk with Amanda about how to overcome the emotional distance between them.
If you or a loved one is in crisis, please reach out to the Crisis Text Line (Text TALK to 741741) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK to talk to someone who can help. If you're struggling with a gambling problem, call the National Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-522-4700, or get peer support at gamtalk.org. And for more resources about dealing with debt, click here.
|Aug 11, 2021|
Financial Therapy: A Secret Gambling Addiction
We first heard from a listener we're calling Cora late last year. "My husband and I recently hit a pretty intense rough patch regarding our financial life, mental health, and the trust in our relationship in general," she wrote in an email to us. "It has brought about a lot of important growth for both of us, but at great expense...literally and figuratively."
Cora and her husband, who we're calling Garrett, went through a lot in 2020. Garrett, who is a construction worker, was laid off multiple times. He started secretly online gambling. And when his debt became overwhelming, he tried to kill himself.
Now, Cora and Garrett are trying to put the pieces of their relationship and their finances back in order. And while they've had access to mental health treatment and addiction recovery groups—they haven't found much help when it comes to talking together about money, and all of the emotions and history wrapped up in it.
Listen in to Cora and Garrett's sessions with financial therapist Amanda Clayman, as she helps them communicate better around money, understand their own financial tendencies, desires and fears, and forge a path forward.
If you or a loved one is in crisis, please reach out to the Crisis Text Line (Text TALK to 741741) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK to talk to someone who can help. If you're struggling with a gambling problem, call the National Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-522-4700, or get peer support at gamtalk.org. And for more resources about dealing with debt, click here.
|Aug 04, 2021|
When Grief Doesn't Move In Stages
Radiolab producer Rachael Cusick's mother died when Rachael was six years old. Her grandmother, Marilyn Ryland, stepped in as a parental figure for Rachael, and while they didn't talk directly about grief together, Marilyn says, "it was always in the room."
I talked with Rachael and Marilyn together, in this special collaboration with Radiolab. For the past year, Rachael has been reporting a piece for Radiolab about psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her "five stages of grief"—a model of neat progression through loss that Rachael quickly grew frustrated with when she was younger. In "The Queen of Dying," Rachael's new Radiolab episode, we learn about how those stages actually came about, and about the woman who created them.
As Rachael was working on that piece, she also learned that her grandmother, Marilyn, had been diagnosed with cancer. I talk to Rachael and Marilyn together about losing Rachael's mom, and about the stages of grief—and dying.
Listen to Rachael's companion Radiolab episode about the story and legacy of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross here. And read a Modern Love essay that Rachael wrote for The New York Times about her relationship with her grandmother, and loss, here.
|Jul 23, 2021|
Doree Shafrir On The Out Of Control IVF Train
For a long time, writer and podcaster Doree Shafrir didn’t know if she wanted kids. “It wasn’t a future that I fantasized about or necessarily saw myself doing,” she told me. But when Doree entered her mid-30s, she started to feel left behind as everyone around her was reaching major life milestones that she wasn't: getting married, having children, buying a home. It seemed impossible to catch up, feelings she explores in her new memoir, Thanks for Waiting: The Joy (& Weirdness) of Being a Late Bloomer.
Doree did get married at 38, and realized she wanted kids. She and her husband, Matt, tried to get pregnant on their own for six months, but after seeing a specialist learned that IVF (in vitro fertilization) would be their best option to become parents. But the process presented new challenges at every turn—surgeries, failed embryo transfers, "miracle baby stories," and growing financial debt. Doree and I talk about how she dealt with these hurdles, why the couple chose to share their journey publicly on their podcast “Matt and Doree’s Eggcellent Adventure,” and whether or not they'll pursue having a second child.
|Jul 14, 2021|
When Indie Rockers Become Full-Time Caregivers
In 2010, Johnny Solomon's band, Communist Daughter, was on the rise. But behind the scenes, Johnny was struggling—he was drinking heavily, and abusing meth to the tune of $600 a week. "People see it from the outside, but it's impossible to explain from the inside of what it does to your soul," he told me about his addiction. "I did really terrible things to the people I loved." When Johnny realized it was time to get help, he called one of the people he loved most—his mom, Nancy. She paid for him to go to rehab, which helped him get clean and gave him a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
After Johnny got sober and went on medication, his band regrouped and continued touring and putting out albums. But then, a few years later, it was Nancy who needed help, as her health declined due to a degenerative nerve disease. So Johnny and his wife—and bandmate—Molly packed up their life in Minnesota and moved in with Nancy and her husband in San Diego.
It's a very different life from the one they were imagining at this point in their marriage, when they were hoping to start a family. And caring for Nancy has meant that their music careers have been put mostly on hold. But Johnny says there are aspects of the change that feel healthy, especially given the difficulties he experienced trying to stay sober in a touring musician's lifestyle. "I love routine," he told me. "I love it, because when things get out of control then I start to really lose control." I went to their shared home to talk with Johnny, Molly and Nancy about what their life together looks like now—and what's been hard about building it.
This episode first aired in 2018.
Check out our podcast playlist roundup of recent audio recommendations from our newsletter here. And if you're not already subscribed to our newsletter, sign up! Every Wednesday we send out podcast listening recommendations, fascinating letters from our inbox and updates from the show. Sign up at deathsexmoney.org.
|Jul 07, 2021|
A Teen Musician Is Ready For His Solo. His Mom Is Not.
This week, I speak with Miguel Llapa, who is 18 and just graduating from high school. Miguel is a percussionist, and a soon-to-be college student, with congenital scoliosis — an abnormality of the spine which affects his lung capacity. “As I got older, I started to feel more dependent when I wanted to be more independent,” Miguel said. “Because I was always in and out of the hospital, I always had someone with me. I always had someone accompany me, which I love. But after some time, you know, I started to grow, to feel like I wanted to test things out on my own.”
Miguel, alongside his mom, talks about his excitement about heading off to college and living independently for the first time—and his mom shares what's making her feel nervous about it.
|Jun 23, 2021|
"The Lying Stops Now": Your Hardest Conversations
Hard conversations often spark a change. Whether they shift something in a relationship, or a situation, or inside you, there is often a definitive "before" and "after" a hard conversation.
When we asked you to tell us about the hardest conversations you've ever had, you told us about talking with kids about a death. Telling family that you've fallen in love with a man in prison. Breaking up with a longtime friend. Sometimes the conversations resulted in resolution, and relief. Other times, they left you feeling like there was a lot more to be said.
You also told us about hard conversations you haven't yet had—but know that you need to. And we're looking for even more stories like this, for an upcoming series we're working on. If you've got a hard conversation that you've been waiting to have, and need a push to do it, send a voice memo to email@example.com.
|Jun 16, 2021|
Michelle Zauner's Joy Is Rooted In Vengeance
When Michelle Zauner of the indie band Japanese Breakfast returned home to Eugene, Oregon, to take care of her mother in 2014, she wasn’t prepared for what life would be like as a caregiver. Her mother, whom she often clashed with growing up, had been diagnosed with late-stage gastrointestinal cancer, and Michelle struggled to fulfill what she believed her obligations were as an only child. “I did not have any idea of what I was getting into or what death looked like and what illness looked like,” Michelle told me, and writes about in a new book called Crying in H Mart. “I felt like needed to write about these things, in some sense, to like, warn people,” she told me.
Since Michelle’s mom died, her band has released three albums—two that were focused on grief and loss, and the latest, which is called Jubilee. I talk with Michelle about the things that are making her happy today—and about why she recently tweeted that all of her joy “is rooted in vengeance.”
|Jun 09, 2021|
Mahershala Ali and Rafael Casal: Envy Is A Hell Of A Drug
Today, Mahershala Ali is an Oscar-winning actor who lands leading roles in TV shows like True Detective and Hollywood blockbusters like Green Book and the upcoming Blade Marvel series. But he got his start as a poet-turned-rapper in the Bay Area, where he grew up.
Rafael Casal is another Bay Area poet and musician who made his big screen debut in the film (and upcoming TV series) Blindspotting, which he co-wrote and co-starred in with his creative partner, Daveed Diggs. "We put a movie out and everyone back home thinks I'm on," Rafael says. "And I'm like, that was an indie movie. I lost money."
In this guest hosted episode from 2019, Mahershala interviews Rafael about his childhood as a "knucklehead," his life-changing discovery of slam poetry when he was a teenager, and how he and Daveed handle uncomfortable discussions about money and creative credit.
This episode was part of Death, Sex & Money's 2019 Maternity Leave Lineup. Mahershala Ali first joined us on Death, Sex & Money in 2016, along with his wife, Amatus. Hear their conversation about faith, love and success, taped live in Brooklyn.
|Jun 02, 2021|
Alison Bechdel On Menopause, Mortality and Punching Pennies
Alison Bechdel went through menopause 10 years ago, when she was 50. I know this because she writes about it in her latest graphic memoir, called The Secret To Superhuman Strength. "I just felt crazy," Alison told me about that time in her life. "It was kind of like having really bad PMS for extended periods. I just know I felt nuts."
Alison's observations about her outer physical life and inner emotional life are at the center of her new book—which follows two works that are largely about her parents: her 2012 graphic novel Are You My Mother? and her acclaimed 2006 graphic novel-turned-musical Fun Home. Alison's parents and their influences on her are present in her new book, but it follows Alison's own life progression—and exercise obsessions—decade by decade. "I so much wanted to be a big strong guy," Alison told me about herself as a young girl. "I think what the real lure for me was this idea of being self-sufficient, that I wouldn't need anyone else's care or protection. I wanted to be that powerful."
|May 26, 2021|
A Former Pro Climber On Enduring Chronic Illness
Until 2018, Mason Earle was a professional rock climber. Mason started climbing as a kid, and developed a specialty in a style known as "crack climbing," where you climb by wedging your hands, fists, or your whole body into cracks in rocks. Mason spent most of his 20s seeking adventure and climbing around the world. But just before turning 30, he started feeling flu-like symptoms on a climbing trip in Yosemite with some friends. Mason never fully recovered. "It was the first moment in my life where I really felt there was no safety net underneath me," he told me. He was later diagnosed with ME/CFS, commonly called chronic fatigue syndrome.
In a series of three conversations, Mason and I talked about his former career, how he's adjusting to life and marriage with a disability, and why he doesn't miss rock climbing.
|May 19, 2021|
Strictly, Entirely On The Fence About Having A Kid
A few months back, Avery Trufelman, host of The Cut podcast from New York Magazine, reached out with a request to talk. About becoming a parent.
"I am strictly entirely on the fence about whether or not I want to have a kid," Avery told me when we talked. "And I guess I wonder, you know, you were almost in the exact same position that I'm in, working as a podcaster, being in media. And I'm curious how you went from my position to your position. Why did you make the plunge?"
There's a lot to consider when trying to decide whether to become a parent. There's your biological clock. The environment. Your financial situation. Your romantic life. Your health. But today, in this episode, we're focusing on the decisions and tradeoffs we make around ambition, desires, and identity when we decide to become parents.
I talk with Avery about how being a mom of two has changed my work life, and what I've let go of. We hear from artist Julie Mehretu about how being a mom has impacted her art, and comedian Margaret Cho about being at peace with not having kids. And we hear from one mom who decided to radically change the way motherhood looked in her life—and the price she paid for it.
|May 12, 2021|
Where Noel and Anna's Hot Girl Summer Went Wrong
Last week, I talked with my friend and colleague Noel King, who is a co-host at NPR's Morning Edition, about my new book. It's called Let's Talk About Hard Things, and in front of a live (Zoom) audience, we talked together about why I've built my career on having tough conversations—and all the life stuff that led up to making that leap.
Noel and I first met more than a decade ago, back to when I was still married to my first husband. "You and I were supposed to go to Washington D.C. on a reporting trip together," Noel remembered during our conversation. "And I remember maybe a day before we were supposed to go...you walked over to my desk and you said very quietly, 'I cannot come to Washington, D.C. I need to stay in town this weekend and work on my marriage.'"
I talk together with Noel about the hard conversations that led to the eventual end of that relationship (and the eventful summer that followed), and the ones that helped build the foundation of my second marriage. And, I talk with Noel about why I believe it's important to engage in personal, vulnerable conversations both with people inside our orbits—and people vastly different than ourselves.
Hear more from Noel King on Death, Sex & Money, in the episode she reported about reparations to Chicago police torture victims, and in our 2017 conversation together about workplace harassment, including at WNYC.
|May 05, 2021|
The 7 Hardest Conversations I've Ever Had On This Show
As the host of Death, Sex & Money, my job is to ask my guests to talk about the things "we think about a lot and need to talk about more." And sometimes, talking about hard things that you don’t have much practice talking about...can be unsettling and uncomfortable. It can also feel like the deepest exhale you didn’t know you were waiting for. I've experienced this as both an interviewer and as a participant in the conversations on this show.
We've been talking a lot about hard conversations recently, as my new book, "Let's Talk About Hard Things" is about to be released into the world. So today we thought we'd look back at seven moments in our show’s seven year (!) history that I remember as the squirmiest, most stomach-ache inducing, unsettling, powerful, hard—and, ultimately, some of the most meaningful—conversations that have ever happened on Death, Sex & Money.
Hear more of the interviews we excerpted in today's episode:
A Son and His Mom Laugh Through Darkness (featuring Bex Montz and Katie Ryan)
A Son, A Mother And Two Gun Crimes (featuring Dwayne Betts and Gloria Hill)
|Apr 28, 2021|
When I Almost Died
A few years ago, I asked you to share your near-death experiences. You told us about car accidents...plane crashes...illness...suicide. And, you told us what happened after, when you didn't die. Ellen's near-death experience ended her marriage. Kelsey's forced her into sobriety. And Paul's left him feeling impatient: "Every moment has to matter, but then it doesn’t."
We also heard from some of you about near-death experiences that weren't your own, but that deeply affected you just the same. Rachel* had only been in a relationship with her boyfriend for six months when he was diagnosed with lymphoma and hospitalized. She was terrified that he was going to die. But she was also terrified to admit that she wasn't happy in the relationship. "He didn’t miss me, the way I missed our closeness, because he was so preoccupied with the disease taking over him," she told me. "That really, really hurt me."
And many of you told us that coming close to death changed the way that you think about dying. "It’s not as horrific as I thought it would be," said Elizabeth Caplice, who described her life as "one big near-death adventure." A listener sent us a link to her blog, Sky Between Branches, where she wrote about her life with stage 4 colorectal cancer. When I talked with her, she'd just been given an estimate of three months to live. "It obviously is a really terrible and rancid thing to happen to anyone," she told me. "But in a lot of ways it’s simultaneously been worse and not as bad as I thought it would be. It is a natural process. It’s a very human thing to have happen to you, is to die."
This episode was originally released in 2016. To read updates about some of the people featured in it, sign up for our newsletter here.
|Apr 21, 2021|
I Was In Debt. Then My Sister Offered Me $16,000.
A few years ago, a 27-year-old listener we're calling Tessa was about $19,000 in credit card debt. An unexpected windfall helped them pay most of it off in one fell swoop. But even then, they weren't sure it would stick. "I'm worried that I am going to mess this up and end up exactly where I was before," Tessa told me they were thinking then. "And that is what happened. It ballooned back up to 16 [thousand] in less than a year."
Tessa's been keeping all of this a secret from their family and friends. But a few weeks ago, they decided to reach out to their older sister for help. "She's a really great point in her career," Tessa told me. "She's really financially savvy." But before Tessa could even ask their sister to borrow money—she offered to pay it all off for them. But instead of it feeling like a relief, Tessa told me, "I just felt like I really failed."
I talk with Tessa and their sister, who we're calling Rose, about how they eventually made the decision for Tessa to file for bankruptcy—and the ways that talking about money more openly together has led to some unexpected questions and answers about Tessa's spending habits.
If you're struggling with consumer debt, check out these resources.
|Apr 14, 2021|
When Claudia Rankine Brought Up Race In Couples Counseling
Before the pandemic, poet and professor Claudia Rankine traveled often for work. Her acclaimed 2014 book Citizen: An American Lyric brought her unflinching perspective on race relations to the mainstream. And in her latest book, Just Us, Claudia examined her own personal interactions with white friends, family, colleagues…and even the strangers she'd meet on those work trips.
While Claudia's made a name for herself with her reflections on these types of conversations, she told me they're not always easy to have, including with her own husband. "I might say, 'You're only doing that because you're a white guy.' And he'll say, 'Well, you do the same thing.' And I say, "I may do the same thing, but I don't have the same reception,'" she said. Claudia also told me about growing up in predominantly white spaces in the Bronx during the 1970s, and how a cancer diagnosis in her 50s allowed her to reassess what she wants out of life.
|Apr 07, 2021|
A Friend In The Execution Room
This week, we’re sharing an episode of a new podcast called The Experiment with you. It’s a show about America, and what happens when the big ideas and forces that have shaped our country collide with everyday lives.
The Experiment is produced by our colleagues at WNYC Studios and The Atlantic, and as they were putting together this episode, we here at Death, Sex & Money heard about it. And we thought it would be something that you all would want to hear, too. It’s about a man who stepped up to participate in an American process that he doesn’t agree with. And it’s a really powerful story about duty, faith and humanity.
Subscribe to The Experiment wherever you get your podcasts.
|Mar 24, 2021|
Finding Blessings and Throwing Vases
Donna Perry, who lives in Brooklyn, recovered from COVID-19 a year ago. That’s when producer Yasmeen Khan first interviewed Donna for a news story. At that point, Donna had lost several people to COVID. And as the virus spread through New York City during the past year, she lost many more. Donna estimates that she’s been to at least 15 funerals on Zoom—all deaths related to the coronavirus—mostly for her fellow members of Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Brooklyn. And she's also grieving the loss of one of her best friends, Selisha. They had been close since childhood and talked on the phone every morning.
Still, Donna is adamant about what she calls the “blessings of COVID.” She’s had a chance, she says, to hunker down with her family, to refresh her marriage, and to think with clarity on what’s most important to her. Donna caught up with Yasmeen over Zoom a couple of weeks ago. "I'm really starting to believe that now more than anything, that every day that I have is a gift and I have a responsibility to live my life in purpose," she said.
Donna learned the importance of picking up the phone and calling her loved ones this year. So we're inviting people to do this together on Friday, March 26. We've declared this day “Pick Up the Phone and Call Day.” If there's someone you've been meaning to call in the past year, get on it. Text "call day" to 70101 and we’ll send you text reminders and tips leading up to our newly declared holiday.
|Mar 17, 2021|
Masks On, Tops Off: Inside A Texas Strip Club
Whenever Josh, a 32-year-old commercial truck driver, passes through El Paso, he usually pulls off the highway and heads to the Red Parrot—a topless bar where he goes to have some human contact after hours by himself on the road. "I'm a social butterfly," he told me. But after the club was shut down for long stretches last year, he tells me, the vibe there has changed. "The main thing that I've noticed is that it's a little tamer," he says. "What was a party is now a library."
Live adult entertainment has been hard hit during the pandemic. Like most non-essential businesses, strip clubs have dealt with closures, social distancing restrictions in place and smaller crowds. But on top of that, federal rules have deemed them ineligible to receive federal aid, like PPP loans. "Nobody is even caring about whether you've gotten assistance," Red Parrot owner Darius Belcher told me, as he described utility and rent bills piling up. "Any day...could be our last day."
I also talked with Jessica Barrera, a stripper at the Red Parrot, who worries about what she'd do if the club shut down. "Other clubs...they don't care about your well-being," she told me. "At least at the Red Parrot, if I fall, they pick me up. I couldn't imagine going and dancing anywhere else."
|Mar 10, 2021|
Ugh, Dating Right Now
Recently, I asked those of you who are single and looking for a relationship to tell us how dating has been going for you during COVID. You told us about messed up momentum, lots of new rules, wrenches thrown into your plans, and a lot of frustration and longing. "I feel a sense of cautious desperation," one listener told us, while another added, "There's no spontaneous kissing. There's none of that sparks flying situation." While some of you have found some unexpected upsides to dating during a pandemic, most of you are pretty burned out. So today, we're airing your grievances about dating right now—and following it up with a pep talk.
Logan Ury is the director of relationship science for the app Hinge, and author of the new book How To Not Die Alone. "Love is this natural thing, but dating is not," she told me. "Dating is a skill. And so like anything else dating is something that you can actually learn about, get better at and improve." Even, she says, during a pandemic.
|Mar 03, 2021|
I Was Your Father, Until I Wasn't
Tony* wasn't sure what to say when the woman he'd slept with told him she was pregnant. First, he says, there was a long pause. They weren't a couple, and he didn't want to say the wrong thing. "I told her that it was her choice and if she chose to keep it, then I would be a good dad," he remembers. "I was freaking out."
At the time, Tony was in his mid-20s, working as a bartender and photographer in a college town out west. Tony started paying child support for his daughter near the end of the pregnancy, went to prenatal appointments, and took parenting classes along with the baby's mother. On the day his daughter was born, Tony cut the umbilical cord.
And Tony was an active father. As soon as his daughter could take a bottle, he says he started sharing custody of her, sometimes watching her three or four days a week. "We were really just good buddies," he says. "It felt good to have purpose, and it felt amazing to love something so much, in a completely new way."
Money became a source of tension, though, between Tony and the baby's mother. So did the fact that as his daughter got older, she started looking less like him or her mother. Tony decided to get a paternity test when his daughter was about a year old. "I couldn't play it dumb forever," Tony says—but he also feared the results. "That's not something that you want to know, especially when you love something so much."
Tony quickly learned the truth: he had a zero percent probability of being the biological father. He called the mother to tell her, and soon after that, he met Victor*, the man who is his daughter's biological father. Over beers, they talked about Tony's shock, Victor's suspicions from the sidelines, and their plan for the little girl they both considered a daughter. More than two years later, they joined me to talk about the logistics and emotions of the transition that followed, which included packing up a pickup truck with nursery furniture to move it from Tony's place to Victor's.
This episode first aired in 2017.
*Last names have been withheld for privacy reasons.
|Feb 24, 2021|
Your One Night Stand Stories
We just got through Valentine’s Day, our annual celebration of romance. Usually of the long-term sort...or if not long, at least, the sort where you’ve committed to be someone’s sweetheart.
This week, we want to celebrate another important kind of romance: the very short term. The one night stand. Those moments in your life when someone appeared in a flash, you connected, and then, you went your separate ways.
The possibility of a one night stand feels so remote for so many people right now, because chance meetings aren’t really happening much. But the memories are potent, as you told us when we asked you to tell us your stories about one night stands.
|Feb 17, 2021|
Getting Real About Getting Older, Live
Concerns about ageism. Dreams of moving in with roommates, Golden Girls-style. Desires to slow down, while still working 12-hour days. Worries about missing out on precious time with grandkids during the pandemic.
When we opened up the phones to talk with listeners over 60 about life today, we heard from people across the country about big changes and small ones; loneliness and the joys that solitude and independence can bring; and why there are as many ways to experience aging as there are people doing it. Here are some highlights from our national call-in special, co-hosted by Colorado Public Radio's Jo Ann Allen.
This episode is part of our ongoing series of conversations about aging. Find the rest of the series at deathsexmoney.org/aging.
|Feb 10, 2021|
What The Border Taught Norma Elia Cantú About Being Free
When Dr. Norma Elia Cantú was growing up in Laredo, Texas, on the U.S./Mexico border, she was the oldest of what would eventually be eleven siblings—so she stepped into the role of coparent early. "When one of my younger siblings got in trouble at school, they called me," she says. "They [didn't] call the parents because my father was working, and my mother, who didn't speak English, was not able to go."
Norma lived at home and continued to help support her family when she went to college, but left after two years, when she became the primary breadwinner of the family. She finished her degree in night school while working at the local utility company, but even now, she says, she "wonders what would have happened had [she] not been so dutiful a daughter."
She eventually completed her degree and went on to get her PhD. Now she's 74, a writer, a professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, and the president of the American Folklore Society. I talked with her about how she's supported both her family and her own ambition at the same time throughout her life, as well as about how she processed the deaths of her parents, and her younger brother Tino, who was killed in the Vietnam War when he was only 19.
Head over to our Instagram page to see some photos of Norma's family that she shared with us. And Norma graciously agreed to read some of her poetry for us, all from her 2019 collection Meditación Fronteriza: Poems of Love, Life and Labor:
My Mother's Hands
Song of the Borderland (English)
Canto A La Tierra Fronteriza (Español)
|Feb 03, 2021|
Beverly Glenn-Copeland's Gifts From The Universe
Shortly after college, musician Beverly Glenn-Copeland walked away from a classical singing career to create experimental music. "The great thing about youth is that it isn't afraid of anything," Glenn told me, "and the difficulty about youth is that it has no idea what it should be afraid of."
2020 was supposed to be musician Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s breakthrough year, after decades of quietly putting out albums while also working for children's television programs. A collector resurfaced his music five years ago, and at 76, Glenn was releasing a new album, embarking on an international tour, and moving into a new home with his wife, Elizabeth. But then the pandemic hit, his tour was cancelled and he lost his housing.
In our conversation, I talk with Glenn about what happened next — and about how his new fans stepped up to support him, a Black trans elder. And we talk about his complex relationship with his parents growing up, finding new audiences later in life, and how he relates to his younger bandmates.
|Jan 27, 2021|
Marlo Thomas Is Her Mother's Revenge
As a young woman, actor and activist Marlo Thomas thought marriage was not a good idea. After watching her mother abandon her own successful singing career to support her father's career in acting, "I thought [marriage] really was a place for one and a half persons," she told me. One person, a man or woman, could live their lives fully, "and the other person would be the half person that would support the other person in their dream." Marlo's views on marriage were well known, too. "Marriage is like a vacuum cleaner," she famously said. "You stick it to your ear and it sucks out all your energy and ambition."
So it came as a surprise to some that, at age 42, Marlo married TV host Phil Donahue after dating for several years. "I had to understand that I could define my own marriage," she told me. "I didn't have to have somebody else's model." And her own model worked: she and Phil have now been married for 40 years. I talked with Marlo about how her beliefs about marriage shifted, and about how her own marriage has continued to evolve as she and Phil have entered their 80s.
|Jan 20, 2021|
Just Ask Us: Your Stories About Life After 60
A few months ago, we asked our listeners over 60 to tell us about their experiences of getting older, especially during the past year. And it turns out, you had a lot to say about it.
The United States is a country that’s rapidly aging. According to Census Bureau estimates, the number of people over 65 in the U.S. will nearly double over the next 40 years. Americans are also working later, living alone more frequently, and facing greater financial hardship. And of course, there’s the pandemic. 80% of COVID-related deaths in the United States have been among people over 65.
But despite all of these commonly-cited statistics, we don't hear much about what it's actually like to be over 60. We don't talk enough about getting older in our society, and when we do, we don’t often do it well.
So in this episode, we hope to break down some of that silence around aging. We hear from listeners about unexpected health challenges and financial instability; feelings of isolation, invisibility and freedom; the responsibilities that come with being caregivers to parents, children and grandchildren; and shifting relationships with friends and loved ones.
We're having these conversations with the help of veteran public radio broadcaster Jo Ann Allen—who also hosts her own podcast, Been There Done That, all about the Baby Boom generation. As Jo Ann told us when we had her on Death, Sex & Money back in the fall, even as she's navigated uncertainty about financial stability and her fears of COVID-19, she wouldn't trade this period of life for anything. "I am 67 years old, and I am really into older people!" she says. "I love, without a doubt, up and down, over and under, in and out, being an older person and getting older."
To read a transcript of this episode, click here.
If you're not yet 60, but know someone who is and might not know about our show, please forward it on to them! Click the link below to send them a special email with a link to this episode.
Did you know only 22% of people over 55 listen to podcasts regularly? Let's change that!
We've rounded up some of our favorite recent reading and listening about people over 60 here, including reflections on living through the pandemic, a handy guide on how to care for older people in your life right now, and a deep dive on ageism.
All month long, we've also been featuring conversations with guests over 60. Listen to actor and activist Marlo Thomas reflecting on her 40-year marriage, musician Beverly Glenn-Copeland talking about the realities of touring and making a living from his music in his 70s, and 74-year-old writer Norma Elia Cantú on growing up in Laredo, Texas, and the three family deaths that changed her.
We wrapped up this series about life after 60 with a live national radio call-in hosted by Jo Ann and Anna on February 3. Listen to highlights of that show here.
And if you still want to hear more, here are a few of our favorite episodes with guests over 60 from the Death, Sex & Money archives:
|Jan 06, 2021|
Death, Sex & 2020
In 2020, we put out more than 60 episodes of Death, Sex & Money—far more than we've ever put out in a year before. We decided early on in the pandemic that we wanted to be there for our listeners during this especially difficult and isolating time.
This year, we heard from essential workers, from Black listeners processing police violence and injustice, and from many people losing loved ones and missing important milestones, all while isolated from each other. We also shared the books and the podcasts we love, came up with a tool kit for how to pass the time, and tried to find moments of joy.
Today, the Death, Sex & Money team reflects on highlights from this year’s episodes, and we check in with a few of the listeners we got to know this year.
Want to revisit some of our favorite episodes this year? Here's our essential workers episode, our Financial Therapy conversation with Frenchie, the live conversations with Back Issue hosts Tracy Clayton and Josh Gwynn and author Akwaeke Emezi, our episode on conversations in immigrant families, part one of our Skin Hunger collaboration, our update with Sharron, and our Game Changer episode featuring Shelby Harris.
And if you want to support our work in the new year and beyond, go to deathsexmoney.org/donate and make a year-end contribution. Thank you!
|Dec 28, 2020|
All That 2020 Has Taken From Us
When we asked you about what 2020 has taken from you, you told us about jobs, travel opportunities, relationships, milestones. Physical objects and feelings. Irreplaceable moments and loved ones.
Today, we're taking some time to sit with those losses, mark them, and reflect on all that has been taken from us this year.
|Dec 16, 2020|
Stuck Apart, And Falling In Love
Marcy has had Joe* on her mind since she went to the prom with him during her senior year of high school. “He kept coming up in my, in my brain, like, well, I wonder whatever happened to him,” Marcy told me. “It seems like he's always just kind of been with me.”
Earlier this year, Marcy—who’s now 69 and divorced—decided to track down Joe. And months after sending him an email, Joe responded. Since August, they’ve been talking on the phone every day. Marcy says they’re in love. And Joe lives only 15 minutes away. But Marcy and Joe... still haven’t seen each other. Not even over Zoom.
This week on the show, we’re partnering with our friends at NPR’s It’s Been A Minute with Sam Sanders to talk about two very different sides of being stuck during the pandemic: together and apart. Find their episode, about being stuck together, wherever you get your podcasts.
|Dec 08, 2020|
Living Alone and Liking It. Sometimes.
Living alone has its perks. You can eat what you want, wear what you want, and listen to show tunes as loud as you want. You can let your dishes pile up for days—or you can be a total neat freak. There’s no one to stop you. But there’s also no one to help foot the bill.
Back in 2014, I asked you to send in your stories about living solo. More than a quarter of American households are home to just one person. And from what you told us back then, it’s clear that the way we feel about living alone can be complicated. Today, as many of us grapple with the isolating effects of the pandemic, we’re revisiting your stories about living alone.
|Dec 02, 2020|
Miguel Gutierrez's Strongly Worded Emails About Art and Money
This past March, choreographer Miguel Gutierrez posted a call on his Instagram. It asked performing arts institutions to honor their commitments to artists like him, who were no longer able to perform publicly because of the pandemic. "The first thing I noticed was all the cancellation emails and their complete, uh, lack of acknowledgement of a financial component," Miguel told me. "Like, you have the money in your budget, right? So pay me."
While Miguel wanted to make sure he was compensated for his work, he also told me that he's been reexamining his relationship to performing. "There's a whole other part of me that’s like, do I ever want to tour again, actually?" he told me. "I actually crave certain kinds of normalcy that are just part of other people's lives." We talked about the years it took for him to learn how to manage his finances as someone living gig-to-gig, how getting sober helped him get out of years of debt, and how he was able to make ends meet this year.
|Nov 25, 2020|
I Killed Someone. Now I Study Police Violence.
Tom Baker is getting his PhD in criminology, and as part of his research he's spent hours watching and studying police shootings. "The goal is to identify...things that police are doing that could be changed in some fundamental way, or maybe just tweaked in a slight way, so that you reduce the number of officer-involved shootings and police related deaths," he told me.
This research is personal for Tom. In 2009, while he was working as a police officer in Phoenix, he shot and killed a man while on an off-duty security shift. The killing was determined to be legally justified, but Tom has struggled with it more and more. "You live in a culture where taking a life is the worst thing you can do," Tom told me. "I was trying to do what I thought was the right thing....But then when I didn't feel guilty about it and I didn't feel bad about it, I think the initial thing was feeling, feeling wrong for feeling that way. So feeling guilty for not feeling guilty."
Tom left the police force in 2014. But he remains connected to that community, while also forging new relationships within the academic world. "I feel like I'm sort of like straddling the fault line in our country right now," he said. "I don't know if I'm going to just fall into the chasm."
Police killings are not tracked federally, but are tracked by several organizations, including Mapping Police Violence, Fatal Encounters and The Washington Post. A recent study using data from Fatal Encounters examined the risk of being killed by police use of force by age, race-ethnicity and sex, and found that black men are 2.5 times more likely than white men to be killed by police. And while police killings nationally have remained somewhat steady since 2013, the number of deaths in cities have dipped, while the number of deaths in suburban and rural areas has risen. In 98% of cases since 2013, police faced no charges after killing someone.
To read Tom Baker's article in The Guardian, click here.
|Nov 18, 2020|
51 Years Loving A Man Named Sissy
Last year, we met Sissy and Vickie Goodwin, a Wyoming couple who had been married for 50 years. Around the time they started their lives together, Vickie learned of a secret Sissy had been harboring since childhood: a preference for feminine clothing and cross-dressing in private. Vickie was accepting of it, until Sissy started wearing skirts, dresses and frills in public—something she says took her years to understand. "Sissy and I were kind of out here in the Wyoming wilderness figuring this out together," Vickie told me. "And I'm really glad we did."
A few months after we met the couple, Sissy started having problems with memory and fatigue. This winter, he was diagnosed with stage four brain cancer, and quickly entered hospice. He died on March 7—the same day the Wyoming State legislature recognized Sissy with a resolution, honoring his lifetime of achievements, including "bringing gender independence to the Equality State."
"I read it to him," Vickie told me. "I think it did touch his heart."
|Nov 11, 2020|
What’s Going On In Your Immigrant Family's Group Chat?
This past summer, as protests were erupting across the U.S. in response to George Floyd's death, racism and police brutality, producer Afi Yellow-Duke and I started talking about the conversations she was having with her family. Her parents both immigrated to the U.S. from other countries—Nigeria and Haiti—and Afi said that the discussions her family was having, about belonging and race and identity, felt complicated. And really interesting.
Afi was curious about what's been going on in other immigrant families' conversations this year. So we asked those of you in immigrant families to tell us. In this episode, hosted by Afi, we hear about how some of you are talking with with your immigrant parents, siblings and extended family about the Black Lives Matter movement, systemic racism in the U.S., the upcoming election, and more.
|Oct 28, 2020|
Alice Wong On Ruckuses, Rage And Medicaid
Growing up near Indianapolis in the '80s and '90s, Alice Wong wanted to leave. "I knew life was going to be so much better once I got into college," she said. Alice grew up in an immigrant household, and while she had a local Chinese-American community, she rarely saw people who looked like her in the mostly-white community of people with disabilities she was also a part of. In some ways, her new essay collection, Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-first Century, bridges that gap. The book is a series of essays by people with a wide range of backgrounds and disabilities.
Alice and I talked about how she learned to advocate for herself as a young adult, leaving Indiana behind, the complications of managing finances while on Medicaid, and how she's planning for her and her parents' futures.
|Oct 21, 2020|
Audio We Love Fest: California Love
Interviewing people is hard. Interviewing a parent...is harder. But that's exactly what writer Walter Thompson-Hernández does in the final episode of his new podcast California Love from LAist Studios, in which he talks to his mom, Ellie Hernández, about her decision to immigrate to the U.S. from Mexico as a young woman. It's a beautiful episode of a show that's part audio memoir, part love letter to Los Angeles.
Subscribe to California Love from LAist Studios wherever you get your podcasts. Then tune in tomorrow, October 16th, at 7 pm ET as we end the festival week with a live Zoom show with Tracy Clayton and Josh Gwynn, hosts of one of our favorite new podcasts, Back Issue. Josh and Tracy are going to tell me about some of the things they're turning to for joy in a year when that's hard to come by—it's going to be a really good time. More info here.
|Oct 15, 2020|
Audio We Love Fest: Constellation Prize
When producer Bianca Giaever found herself feeling especially lonely, she decided to look for a stranger who was feeling lonely, too. In the basement of a Brooklyn church, she met Sophia, a former professor-turned-crossing guard. As they developed a relationship, Bianca recorded conversations with Sophia at her home and in her crosswalk, about everything from faith to divorce to gratitude for what we've been given.
She chronicles their friendship in a beautiful episode of her podcast Constellation Prize, called Crossing Guard, and we're sharing it with you today as part of our first-ever Audio We Love Festival.
Subscribe to Constellation Prize from The Believer Magazine wherever you get your podcasts. They've also offered a special 20% discount to our listeners. Just enter the code "DSM" at checkout. Then tune in on Friday, October 16th, as we end the festival week with a live Zoom show with Tracy Clayton and Josh Gwynn, hosts of one of our favorite new podcasts, Back Issue. Josh and Tracy are going to tell me about some of the things they're turning to for joy in a year when that's hard to come by—it's going to be a really good time. More info here.
|Oct 14, 2020|
Audio We Love Fest: Goodbye To All This
Every week in the Death, Sex & Money newsletter, we share some of our recent favorite listens with you in our "Audio We Love" section. There are so many great podcasts to listen to...but so little time to discover them. So this week, we're taking our recommendations a step further, and sharing episodes of some of our favorite new shows with you, right here in the feed.
First up is Goodbye To All This, a brand new show from the BBC World Service, written and hosted by Australian producer Sophie Townsend. It's a beautiful series about losing her husband to lung cancer, quickly and unexpectedly, and how she and her two young daughters grieved him. The show launched this week, and all twelve episodes are going to be released weekly wherever you get your podcasts.
Subscribe to Goodbye To All This from the BBC World Service wherever you get your podcasts. Then tune in on Friday, October 16th, as we end our festival week with a live Zoom show with Tracy Clayton and Josh Gwynn, hosts of one of our favorite new podcasts, Back Issue. Josh and Tracy are going to tell me about some of the things they're turning to for joy in a year when that's hard to come by—it's going to be a really good time. More info here.
|Oct 13, 2020|
Getting Real About Getting Older
The United States is a country that’s rapidly aging. According to Census Bureau estimates, the number of people over 65 in the U.S. will nearly double over the next 40 years. They’re also working later, living alone more frequently, and facing financial hardship. And of course, there’s now the pandemic. 80% of COVID-related deaths in the United States have been among people over 65. I see these statistics a lot, but I don’t hear much about what it’s like to be over 60. I don’t think that as a culture, we talk enough about getting older, and when we do, we don’t often do it well. It's time to have better conversations about aging—and we're going to do it with the help of veteran public radio anchor Jo Ann Allen.
Jo Ann is the host of the podcast Been There Done That, a show about and for the Baby Boom generation. As she tells me, even as she's learned to navigate uncertainty about financial stability and her fears of COVID-19, she wouldn't trade this period of life for anything. "I am 67 years old, and I am really into older people!" she says. "I love, without a doubt, up and down, over and under, in and out, being an older person and getting older." Over the next few weeks, Jo Ann is going to be stepping into the host chair and recording some interviews with older listeners in our audience about what it's like to be aging, and what questions are coming up for you—especially in this moment. I can't wait for you to meet her.
Are you over 60? We want to hear from you! What's your life look like right now? How are you feeling your age differently this year compared to last year? You can send an email to us, at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can call us and leave a message, at (917) 740-6549. Or you can record a voice memo on your phone, and email it as an attachment to email@example.com. And if you're not over 60, you can still help us by spreading the word, and sending this episode to someone in your life who is.
|Oct 07, 2020|
Game Changer: A BMX Olympic Hopeful Looks To 2021
As soon as it was announced in 2016 that BMX freestyle would become an Olympic event, Chelsea Wolfe knew she was going for a spot on the team. "Growing up as a woman in BMX, you don't really get that opportunity to see a future for yourself and doing it professionally," Chelsea told me when we talked this summer. "As soon as they said the Olympics are involved, it just changed the game for all of us."
Since then, Chelsea has been working hard to make the Olympic team—enduring big training injuries and a lot of paperwork along the way. As a trans woman, Chelsea had to have her testosterone levels checked and documented regularly before she could even start to compete in qualifying events. "I spent from 2016 to 2018 just purely training and then doing the behind the scenes work of getting all of my paperwork in order," she told me. "And then right as soon as things start to look great, just, boom! Coronavirus happens and everything is shut down."
Want to see Chelsea in action? Watch her competing at the BMX Freestyle Park World Cup in Japan last year.
This episode is part of our series Game Changer, about how the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives and livelihoods of athletes. Make sure to check out the previous two episodes, about a high-risk NFL player's decision to participate in this year's season, and a Minor League Baseball player who's dealing with the fallout of a cancelled season and contract.
|Sep 30, 2020|
Game Changer: Whether To Play, And Protest, In The NFL
Shelby Harris uses inhalers daily to treat his asthma, and worries about what getting COVID would do to his lungs. But when he was given the choice to opt out of the 2020-21 NFL season, the Broncos defensive lineman—now on his seventh season in the NFL—knew he wouldn't take that path. "That could be the end of your career," Shelby told me. "It's just going to be young players that come in and perform, and that's how you get your spot taken."
Shelby is now getting tested for COVID almost daily, and wears a tracker while at NFL facilities to monitor whether he's exposed to anyone who tests positive. But his season looks different in other ways than he thought it would too—including the amount of money he's making, and the way he's protesting racism and police violence during games. Shelby is currently wearing Elijah McClain's name on his helmet, and as the National Anthem played during the Broncos home opener this year, Shelby took a knee for the first time since 2017. "I'm doing this because I need to be able to look my kids in the eye when I get older and told them I fought for them," Shelby said. "I want to figure out something that's actually going to make a change."
This episode is part of our series Game Changer, about how the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives and livelihoods of athletes. Look out for the next episode in the series on Wednesday.
|Sep 25, 2020|
Game Changer: A Minor League Pitcher's Lost Season
Mitch Horacek started the baseball pre-season in Florida, at minor league spring training for the Minnesota Twins. He'd just been signed by the team months before, after seven long years of playing on a low-paying contract for the Rockies. And he felt like it was going to be a big season. "I was probably slated for AAA baseball this year, which is the closest level to the big leagues," Mitch told me when we talked in August. "I do believe that if the season happened this year and I was pitching well right about now, and there was a spot open, it could have been my number that was called."
But the minor league season didn't happen—it was cancelled this spring. Mitch wasn't invited to make his major league debut with the Twins, as he'd hoped. And rather than making the salary Mitch had negotiated with Twins—one that paid him much more than he'd been making for the past seven years—he ended up getting paid a weekly stipend that amounted to $400 a week before taxes. "It is something," he said. "But it's a long shot from what I was expecting."
This episode is part of our series Game Changer, about how the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives and livelihoods of athletes. Look out for the next episode in the series on Friday.
|Sep 23, 2020|
How Maria Hinojosa Learned To Fluff Her Feathers
Maria Hinojosa is best known as the host of the public radio program Latino USA, a role she's occupied for over 25 years. But getting to that point in her career required navigating newsrooms at CBS, NPR, CNN, and PBS at a time where she was often the first and the only Latina journalist there. As she writes in her new memoir, Once I Was You, that meant having to walk with confidence and believing in her work when, she says, her mostly white colleagues didn't.
But, as Maria told me, the confidence she built while working in media didn't totally translate to other parts of her life. "You know, my marriage almost broke up because of my ego," she said. And as her career became more successful, she told me about the times she says she didn't prioritize her husband and her kids, about the crisis point that led her to reevaluate her role in her relationship and as a mother, and about how, these days, she is practicing listening and self-love.
|Sep 16, 2020|
A Broadway Actor Turned Stay-At-Home Dad
Last week, we released an episode about the many challenges of childcare in America right now. We talked with a childcare provider in Pittsburgh, Lesely Crawford, whose centers are currently open. And, we heard from a parent, Cara Moody, who’s depending on Lesely's daycare centers so she can go back to work.
But we’ve also heard from a lot of you who haven’t had access to childcare in recent months. And who have had to make big changes in the way you’re taking care of your kids. One of the people who wrote in to us is named Bill Army. He's a Broadway actor who lives in Queens, New York, and has two daughters. We're sharing his voice memo with you today, about the adjustments his family has made, and about the ways he's kept his kids connected with the world outside of their apartment.
|Sep 11, 2020|
Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor On Racism, Insecurity and Negotiation
"Through and through I'm a lawyer and a judge," says U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. "But my life experiences do permit me to see things that others may not."
Before the Justice became a lawyer and a judge, she was a young woman growing up in the Nuyorican community in the South Bronx—just a few years behind Death, Sex & Money guest host Sonia Manzano, who also grew up there. The two didn't meet until a few years ago, but their childhoods had some similarities: Money was tight, their parents' relationships were troubled, and both of their fathers struggled with alcoholism. But unlike Sonia Manzano's father, who lived well into his 80s, the Justice's father died when she was nine years old. "I’ve often wondered if the outcome of my life would have been the same if my father had remained alive," the Justice says. "I think the absence of that constant battle made a big difference in my self-perceptions."
Sonia asks the Justice about facing and overcoming insecurities throughout her life—including on her first day as a Supreme Court Justice. "Anyone presented with a new challenge has to always have that moment of insecurity, of not knowing whether they can do it," the Justice says. "I live with that. I've lived with it my entire life....The first day that I was on the bench was for the now quite famed case, Citizens United. And my knees were knocking even then. But what got me over that moment...was to become totally engaged in what was happening before me, and the knocking finally stopped without my realizing it."
This episode is part of our 2016 Great Guest Takeover series, when several past guests took a turn in the host chair during Anna's maternity leave. Check out Sonia Manzano's 2015 interview with Anna on Death, Sex & Money here.
|Sep 09, 2020|
Drop Off: A 24-Hour Daycare's Struggle To Stay Open
Lesely Crawford runs two daycare centers in Pittsburgh—both of which are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. "It's like a hodgepodge of craziness," she told me, as she described their sleeping arrangements and what each age group of kids likes to do while they're there. "But it's so awesome when we have the whole space filled with everybody."
These days, though, Lesely's daycares are operating at less than half of the capacity that they normally do. Many families haven't returned, since the centers reopened to children of non-essential workers. There are additional costs, for things like thermometers and cleaning supplies. And in order to accommodate new families, Lesely needs to hire a few new employees—something that has proved difficult during the pandemic. "I don't know what we're gonna do," Lesely told me, when I asked about their financial situation. "I'm really giving it like six to eight months."
But for the essential and frontline workers who are sending their children to them, Lesely's daycares are providing a critical service. Cara Moody has sent her five-year-old son Colton there for the past two years, and depends on their evening and weekend hours while she works her shifts at a local restaurant. Especially now that her work hours are limited by the pandemic, she can't afford in-home care. "Even just having a babysitter come for a couple of hours is expensive and unreliable," she said. When I asked her what she would do if Lesely's daycare closed, she responded, "I have no idea."
|Sep 02, 2020|
Books We Love: Inside The Bubble With Akwaeke Emezi
The third conversation in our "Books We Love" live Zoom series is with writer and artist Akwaeke Emezi. In the last two years, they've published three books: their critically-acclaimed debut, Freshwater; a young adult novel, Pet; and their newest novel, The Death of Vivek Oji. Their latest book tells the story of Vivek, a young gender-nonconforming person growing up in Nigeria, and how his loved ones grieve him and what they learn about him after his death.
Akwaeke joined me on Zoom from their home in New Orleans to talk about their own childhood in Nigeria, why they now identify as "based in liminal spaces," gardening as a form of self-care, and how the act of dissociation has become a powerful tool for them.
You can watch the video of this live conversation here, thanks to our friends at The Greene Space. For the first two conversations in this series, you can watch or listen to Michael Arceneaux here, and watch or listen to Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman here. And be sure to check out Akwaeke's home on Instagram.
To find out about the next conversation in our series, and to get more recommendations from the Death, Sex & Money team, subscribe to our newsletter.
|Aug 26, 2020|
"They Rely On Me": An Update From A USPS Mail Carrier
The United States Postal Service has been in the news a lot in the past week, as national anxiety rises about the upcoming presidential election, mail-in ballots, and the Postmaster General's recent cost-cutting changes to the mail system.
Our listener Beth is a mail carrier in rural Maine who first wrote to us back in March about being an essential worker, and her fears of contracting and spreading COVID-19 on her route. "I don't know if this virus is on the mail," she said then. "The packages, the mailboxes. I touch everything."
When we checked in with Beth more recently, she told us some of those fears have lessened for her. But now, she's facing new pandemic-related challenges at work, including childcare issues, and delivering a lot more packages. "I definitely run from my truck to a house to drop off a package and I run back to my truck and it's go, go, go, go, go all day long," she said, adding that because she gets paid a set rate for her rural route, "I get paid for 43 hours [per week] no matter what."
Listen to our episode about essential workers, including Beth, from earlier this spring.
|Aug 19, 2020|
This Senator Saved My Love Life
You have to give it to some elected representatives—they really will respond to the letters you send. Or at least, Alan Simpson did when my boyfriend (now husband) Arthur sent a plea for help. We were in love, but I was a reporter in New York and he studied wildlife in Wyoming. I didn’t think it could work. He did. And he thought that if a U.S. Senator intervened, our relationship could turn around.
That’s how I wound up in the kitchen of Alan and Ann Simpson, getting advice on maturity, commitment, and of course, sex.
This episode originally aired in 2014.
Correction: During the Clarence Thomas hearings, Anita Hill testified that Thomas described porn movie scenes to her. They did not watch pornography together as former Sen. Alan Simpson said in our interview.
|Aug 12, 2020|
What Keeps Wendell Pierce Up At Night
Before the pandemic hit, actor Wendell Pierce was jetsetting around the world, filming scenes for the Amazon series Jack Ryan and starring in a London production of Death of a Salesman. But in March, as the realities of the pandemic set in, he decided to head back to his hometown of New Orleans, where his 95-year-old father still lives in Wendell's childhood home. "I'm going to look on the bright side and say, this is an opportunity to spend this time with my dad," Wendell told me. "I was raised to believe that family is the greatest connection to your past and most likely to be there for you in the future."
Wendell worked hard to get his parents back into the home where they raised him and his brothers after it was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. "My goal was to get them home before they died," he said. "They were in their seventies, eighties, and I said, I'm going to get you home." Wendell achieved that goal, and his mother was able to spend the last few years of her life living there before her death in 2012.
Wendell told me he's been thinking about his mom a lot, as he's been pondering whether or not to have children. "We had conversations about this. She would always say, 'Oh, by the time you have kids, you're going to be too old!'" he told me. "I love my mother so much and I respect her opinion so much. And I trust her opinion so much that it's her voice that echoes in my head saying, 'Oh, you do not know that joy you're missing out on of having a child.'"
Are you a new listener? Welcome! Check out our starter kit, which includes some of our favorite episodes of the show. It includes profiles of people like Bill Withers and Ellen Burstyn, stories about how race and class come up in our relationships, and some of our past series — like In New Orleans, which profiled five people who lived in the city during and after Hurricane Katrina.
|Aug 05, 2020|
Rent Is Due Tomorrow
Today is July 31st—which means that for many of us, rent is due tomorrow. But we know from watching recent data that a lot of people won't be able to pay by that deadline. According to a recent survey, nearly a third of Americans were late on their housing payments in July—or missed them altogether. And other research suggests that as many as 23 million renting families are at risk of losing their housing by October. That's 20% of all renters in the U.S.
So if you’re worrying about how and if you're going to be able to stay in your place, we want to hear from you. If you’re managing to make rent, but it’s tight, what tradeoffs are you making to be able to pay? And if you think you might need to leave your place because of money, where do you think you might go? Tell us what’s going on for you by the end of the weekend. Record a voice memo and send it to us by Sunday night, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Jul 31, 2020|
Books We Love: A Big Conversation About "Big Friendship"
The second conversation from our "Books We Love" live Zoom series is with authors and longtime friends Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman. They're the co-hosts of the podcast Call Your Girlfriend, and authors of the book Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close. The book tells the story of the first decade of their friendship, and also shares expert advice from other close friends and researchers on how to prioritize and maintain friendships as adults.
A couple of weeks ago, on the day their book was released, Aminatou and Ann joined me on Zoom from New York and Los Angeles to talk about the ups and downs of their (mostly) long-distance friendship. Plus, they gave our listeners and viewers advice on their biggest friendship dilemmas and questions.
You can watch the video of this live conversation here, thanks to our friends at The Greene Space. For the first conversation in this series with Michael Arceneaux, you can watch it here or listen to it here.
And to find out about the next conversation in our series, and to get more recommendations from the Death, Sex & Money team, subscribe to our newsletter.
|Jul 29, 2020|
How Bobby Berk Became A Boss
When Bobby Berk left his deeply religious home in rural Missouri at 15 years old, it meant dropping out of high school and figuring out how to pay for everything on his own. "I lived in my car, I lived in people's basements on their sofas, you know, couch surfing," he told me. "At one point I was working three jobs." But he says it wasn't until much later in life, when he'd become successful in business, that he started telling the truth about his early adulthood. "I used to lie and say I went to college," he said. "I would lie about it for employment applications and to people, because I was horribly ashamed."
Bobby now is one of the stars on Netflix's Queer Eye reboot, and over the past two decades he built his own interior design brand. But he says it's only recently became possible for him and his husband, Dewey, to buy their first home, and despite how much is in his bank account, he still thinks of himself as "poor." "I don't want to think of myself as wealthy," he told me. "I don't want my world to revolve around money."
|Jul 22, 2020|
A Widow’s Guide To Grieving
Five years ago, Leslie Gray Streeter's husband, Scott, had a heart attack and died. And in the immediate aftermath of losing her husband, who was just 44 years old, she says she found herself being hyper-aware of how she was performing her grief. "I remember hearing myself saying the words, 'So he's gone then,'" Leslie told me, about the moment doctors let her know that Scott had died. "And I also remember thinking...'I wonder if I sound - is that what you should say? Is that a normal thing to say?"
Leslie chronicles all of this in her new book, "Black Widow: A Sad-Funny Journey Through Grief for People Who Normally Avoid Books with Words Like Journey in the Title." And, she told me, part of that journey has been dealing with her anger at "everything and everybody," including her husband. "My therapist told me that it was okay to be mad at him for dying whether or not it's rational," she told me. "Even though I know that he never in a million years would he have chosen not to be with us, and it's really not fair that he's not...he's not. So [laughs]. And...I'm pissed."
Looking for more Death, Sex & Money conversations about grief and loss? Check out our playlist.
|Jul 15, 2020|
Books We Love: Michael Arceneaux’s “I Don’t Want To Die Poor”
I always love talking with writer Michael Arceneaux. Last year, he joined me on the show to discuss his bestselling collection of essays, "I Can't Date Jesus," as well as growing up gay in a Catholic family in Houston and striking out on his own to become a writer when many, many systems were stacked against him.
A few weeks ago, he joined me again—this time, on Zoom from his apartment in Harlem—to talk about his new book, called "I Don't Want To Die Poor." He told me what it feels like to be slowly paying down his student loan debt, and how he's creating joy for himself in the midst of "three pandemics." (Hint: it involves luxury seltzer.)
You can watch the video of this live conversation here, thanks to our friends at The Greene Space. Click here to check out my 2018 conversation with Michael about his first book, "I Can't Date Jesus."
And tune in this Tuesday, July 14th, at 4 PM Eastern for the second in this series of live book interviews! I'll be talking with authors, podcasters, and best friends Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow (Call Your Girlfriend) about their new book, "Big Friendship," and how they've stayed close as they've gotten older and moved away from each other.
|Jul 10, 2020|
What Money Can't Solve
On November 2, 1983, Darrell Cannon was woken up by the Chicago police banging on his door. He knew the drill. As a longtime gang member, run-ins with the cops were common. He'd already served more than a decade behind bars for a murder conviction.
But that day, something unexpected happened: Darrell says the cops tortured him while they were questioning him. During the torture, Darrell confessed to a crime that landed him back behind bars for 24 years.
This didn't just happen to Darrell. Between the 1970s and the 1990s, more than 100 people—most of them black men—say they were tortured too, and the city of Chicago has officially acknowledged that this happened. In 2015, the city council approved a $5.5 million reparations package to 57 of the people who suffered at the hands of the police.
NPR's Noel King interviewed Darrell soon after he picked up his reparations check, back in 2016. We collaborated with her and the team at NPR's Planet Money on this episode, after she shared Darrell's story as part of a larger Planet Money episode called "Paying for the Crime." Planet Money just re-aired that episode last week, along with an update from Darrell.
To view the documents from the Invisible Institute's Police Torture Archive referenced in this episode, click here.
|Jul 08, 2020|
Skin Hunger: Part 2
A listener we're calling Elle ended her relationship a few minutes after 2020 began. And she describes it as a pretty devastating breakup: "Basically I was on quarantine for two months already before all this happened," Elle told me. "I was not going anywhere. Not seeing anyone. Being around people...felt too painful."
Elle says overall, she's glad she wasn't in that relationship when the pandemic began. But it did mean that she's had to figure out other ways to get touch—including "germ bonding" with another couple. For a listener we're calling Dennis, who separated from his wife of 37 years last fall, it hasn't been so simple. He'd started getting into contra dancing pre-pandemic—something that was really helping him get through his divorce. But the weekly dances shut down in March. "I think it's going to be the last thing to come back. And also the, the crowd is, a lot of us are older," he said. "So it's going to be a long time. And it's really sad."
Plus, we hear from a listener whose relationship ended during quarantine, after a long-distance conversation about grooming.
Thanks to the team at Love + Radio for their work on this collaboration.
|Jul 01, 2020|
Skin Hunger: Part 1
A few months ago, Nick van der Kolk, the host of the podcast Love + Radio, tweeted: "If I were @annasale, I'd be asking my listeners how they're coping with a lack of physical touch in their lives."
So we did! And our inbox was flooded with responses—mostly, as we expected, from people living by themselves, or, at least, without any other adult humans. "Every point of contact with another human is a little electric charge...little human exchange from person to person that really does fuel you," a listener named Billy, who lives alone, told us. "And then when it's all taken away so suddenly you realize that, oh my gosh, that is, that was necessary. That was needed. That let me know that I wasn't alone on this earth."
In this first of two episodes, we hear from several listeners who've been deprived of touch during difficult moments during the past few months: new parenthood; racial trauma; the loss of a partner. "I have a feeling, the first person who I do hug, they're going to have a mess on their hands," a listener named Angie told us, whose partner recently died. "I can mostly talk without crying now...but I'm wondering if I'm going to go through that all again, once I actually am able to physically touch people, am I going to relive that whole experience?"
Thanks to the team at Love + Radio for their work on this collaboration.
|Jun 29, 2020|
When Six Feet Isn't An Option
As parts of the country start to reopen and some people consider venturing out of their homes more often, there are millions of people who haven't been able to socially distance throughout this time—specifically, the 2.3 million people who are currently incarcerated in the United States.
Lawrence Bartley was first on the show back in 2014, when he was still incarcerated at Sing Sing. Now he works at The Marshall Project, and as part of his job editing their publication News Inside, he frequently gets letters from incarcerated people and their loved ones. "The letters are desperate," he told me of what he's hearing right now. One of the people who reached out to him was a woman we're calling Dana—and I talked with her, too. Her husband "John" is currently at Sing Sing, and while they talk almost every day, not being able to see him has taken a toll on her. "The anxiety level that I've reached has me physically ill," she told me, "because I don't know if he's really okay."
We first spoke to Lawrence Bartley back in 2014, which you can listen to here. Our other follow-up episodes with him and his wife Ronnine are available here and here, and be sure to read his recent essay for The Marshall Project , called "How 27 Years In Prison Prepared Me For Coronavirus," here.
You can find our WNYC colleagues' work here: "Dispatches from People Stranded in Place," "Inside the Prison Pandemic," and "Keeping Released Prisoners Safe and Sane." And don't forget to check out the latest season of Ear Hustle.
|Jun 24, 2020|
An Essential Worker, Going Back In
Back in April, we shared stories from our listeners who are essential workers. They described what they were seeing on the job, how they were feeling, and what they were doing to cope with not being able to shelter at home.
One of the essential workers in that episode was Sharron. She's a certified nursing assistant at a hospital in northern Virginia, and she suffers from chronic asthma. And she told us she was worried about what would happen to her and her 13-year-old daughter if she contracted COVID-19 at work. "If I were to get the virus, there is not a good outlook for me," she said at the time. "So just getting things in order is the only thing that's keeping me sane."
Many of you have reached out to see how Sharron is doing, and we've been thinking about her too. So I called her up last week to find out what’s happened since she sent in that voice memo. What unfolded was a conversation about deciding to take some time off, caring for her teenage daughter, coping with personal grief and loss, dreaming about the next steps in her career, and preparing to go back into the hospital again.
|Jun 17, 2020|
I Love You, But There's This Money Thing...
We like to think of our romantic lives as pure and unbothered by the cold business of spreadsheets and tax documents. But here's the thing: serious relationships are both romantic and financial partnerships. That can come as a shock to a lot of people. In 2014, I asked for your stories about love and money—and here's what you told us.
|Jun 10, 2020|
"This Has Been A Long Time Coming."
"I'm struggling. I’m not doing well."
"I cry, it hurts my heart, sort of physically it hurts."
"I want to scream."
"Friends ask if I'm okay. And I tell them I'm not, because I'm not. How can we be okay when we live in a state of terror?"
We asked you what you needed to say in this moment of reckoning with police brutality, structural racism, and grief. Here's what you told us.
We want to keep talking with you. Send us a voice memo about what's on your mind right now, to email@example.com.
|Jun 05, 2020|
Financial Therapy: How Much Should I Help My Family?
Right now, Frenchie is feeling secure in her job as an administrator at a Texas college. But that's not the case for her dad and her three sisters. They're all experiencing various levels of financial fallout from COVID—and as she thinks back on past family crises and the ways she stepped in to help, Frenchie wonders if she'll find herself gravitating towards a familiar support role in this moment, and how sustainable that would be. "Because I also ask if something happens to me, is anybody going to be able to support me?" she tells Amanda. "And right now, I feel like the answer is no."
This episode is part of a special Financial Therapy series here on Death, Sex & Money, hosted by Amanda Clayman. If you have a money anxiety weighing you down, send an email or a voice memo to firstname.lastname@example.org. Find the entire series at deathsexmoney.org/financialtherapy.
We'd also love to know what you thought of this series. Give us your feedback at deathsexmoney.org/ftsurvey.
And stay in touch with us! Sign up for our newsletter and we'll keep you up to date about what's happening behind the scenes at Death, Sex & Money. Plus, we'll send you audio recommendations, letters from our inbox and a note from Anna. Join the Death, Sex & Money community and subscribe today.
|Jun 03, 2020|
What Do You Need To Say Right Now?
What do you need to say right now?
As we take in the anguish that's surfacing today—about the fact that COVID19 is disproportionately impacting communities of color, about the violence of police brutality against Black people, and about all the different ways that white people are not stepping up to say those things are wrong—we want to hear from you.
Record a voice memo with your thoughts and send it to us, at email@example.com.
And tune in to WNYC (or your local public radio station) tonight, June 1, at 8 pm ET, to listen to and participate in a two-hour live radio special in partnership with Minnesota Public Radio. It’s called America: Are We Ready: A National Call-In about Racism, Violence, and our Future Together.
|Jun 01, 2020|
Financial Therapy: Why Did I Take That Risk?
Two years ago, Mathew* quit an executive job and struck out on his own to start an independent consulting firm. After months of bringing in "90% less than what [he] used to," business was finally starting to pick up earlier this year—and then the pandemic hit. With clients pulling contracts and invoices being paid late, Mathew is back to square one, wondering if the risks he took were worth it as his family deals with the consequences of his decision—and whether the need for emotional control that served him so well in his business career is still the right strategy for this crisis.
This episode is part of a special Financial Therapy series here on Death, Sex & Money, hosted by Amanda Clayman. If you have a money anxiety weighing you down, send an email or a voice memo to firstname.lastname@example.org. Find the entire series at deathsexmoney.org/financialtherapy.
And stay in touch with us! Sign up for our newsletter and we'll keep you up to date about what's happening behind the scenes at Death, Sex & Money. Plus, we'll send you audio recommendations, letters from our inbox and a note from Anna. Join the Death, Sex & Money community and subscribe today.
|May 27, 2020|
Financial Therapy: What Is Our Savings For?
Before the pandemic, Dale ran an event space in Knoxville, Tennessee. After cancelling every booking this month—which was set to be their busiest ever—she finds herself wondering how to share the burden of her financial anxiety with her husband—and how to square the fact that after years of hustling to make her business a reality, she's really enjoying having some time alone.
This episode is part of a special Financial Therapy series here on Death, Sex & Money, hosted by Amanda Clayman. If you have a money anxiety weighing you down, send an email or a voice memo to email@example.com. Find the entire series at deathsexmoney.org/financialtherapy.
And stay in touch with us! Sign up for our newsletter and we'll keep you up to date about what's happening behind the scenes at Death, Sex & Money. Plus, we'll send you audio recommendations, letters from our inbox and a note from Anna. Join the Death, Sex & Money community and subscribe today.
|May 20, 2020|
Financial Therapy: Meet Amanda Clayman
Many of you are in financial transition right now. You've lost jobs, income, stable housing. And you're worried about what's to come.
And this time of uncertainty isn't just bringing up thoughts about financial survival. It's also making us question our values, our identities...and whether the way we’ve done things in the past is still going to work.
All of that can be difficult to process, especially as we're in isolation. So we're calling on an expert for help: financial therapist Amanda Clayman. For the next three weeks, Amanda's going to be talking with some of you about those issues that are surfacing around money in your lives—and helping you process them and figure out a path forward.
"It's not a luxury to think about and to pay attention to the meaning of losing 80 to 90% of your income because for some of us, that's enough to send us into such a, an emotional tailspin that we aren't able to do...practical things," Amanda told me. "We, we are just stuck in feeling like, 'I'm a failure. This is never going to get any better.'"
Listen to Financial Therapy with Amanda Clayman, starting on May 20 in the Death, Sex & Money podcast feed.
|May 18, 2020|
Madeleine Albright On Ambition and Obsoleteness
Madeleine Albright was in her early 20s when she wrote in an essay, "I am obsolete." She'd just become a mother to twins, and since graduating college had moved several times for her husband's jobs in journalism—a career field that she too had wanted to enter. "All of a sudden these things that I thought I was going to be able to do, I couldn't do," she told me. "Everything...was different than I had thought."
It was her eventual divorce two decades later that Secretary Albright says put her on the path to becoming U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton. Since leaving that position in 2001 in her mid-60s, she's stayed plenty busy—launching consulting and investment firms, and continuing to teach at Georgetown. But when I talked with her recently, she'd been self-isolating at home for weeks. "Because I'm in my eighties, and because of what's going on with the virus, all of a sudden I'm beginning to feel obsolete again," she told me. "I have been fighting gravity. That’s what I’ve been doing."
|May 13, 2020|
What Is A "Good Death" During A Pandemic?
We recently got an email from a listener named Lindsay. She's a nurse who normally works in pediatric oncology, but right now is working in an adult ICU with COVID-19 patients. And even though, as she wrote to us, she's "been surrounded by death" in her regular job, she says the way her current patients are dying from COVID-19 is far from what she would call a "good death."
"You can't be in the room with them as they pass. You can't expose yourself that often," she wrote. "There is no time to know the people who slipped through your fingers—whose hair you washed, whose body you bathed, who you talk to during your shift to soothe yourself and them." She added, "It's simultaneously the most intimate and most anonymous relationship I've ever had."
Lindsay ended her email to us with a question: "How do I as a nurse, or how do we as a healthcare community, give patients a good death during a pandemic?"
Let us know if you have thoughts or answers for Lindsay. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
|May 08, 2020|
Samantha Irby Is Prepared To Gracefully Bow Out
Writer Samantha Irby currently lives what she calls "a pioneer woman kind of life." Most of that is due to her wife, Kirsten, who is into things like canning tomatoes and pickling vegetables. "I'm not going to eat that shit," Sam told me, "but it is very cool to, to see someone who knows how to do all of that stuff."
Sam's 40 now, and along with her wife, lives with her two stepsons in Michigan. In addition to writing bestselling books like her latest, Wow, No Thank You, she also writes for TV shows like Shrill and Work in Progress. But for a long time before reaching this level of success, Sam worked a variety of hourly jobs in the Chicago area while getting her writing career off the ground. And Sam told me that she'd be fine going back to those jobs if writing stops paying the bills. "The minute this feels like it's over, I'm going to be bagging groceries or like working at the gas station or working in another animal hospital," she said. "I refuse to do that desperate thing where you can tell somebody’s career is kind of over but they're like scraping and scrabbling to try to stay relevant and try to keep selling things."
I recently called Sam to talk about some of those hourly jobs she held, and how they helped her cope with her grief after her parents' deaths. And, we talk about why she doesn't regret dropping out of college, and about how similar her routine in isolation is to her usual one.
|May 06, 2020|
Student Loans And The Pandemic: Your Questions, Answered
Even in pre-pandemic times, student loans were confusing. And since our lives flipped upside down a month ago, a lot has changed in the world of student loans, especially for the types of loans that are covered by the CARES Act. But how do you know what loans are covered? And what kind of relief is being offered? And what about for everyone else, whose loans aren't covered by the CARES Act?
In this special collaboration with NPR's Life Kit, we wade into the student loan weeds with student loan expert Betsy Mayotte, who founded The Institute of Student Loan Advisors, or TISLA. She's been closely tracking student loan developments over the past month, and answers listener questions about everything ranging from forbearance and interest rates to private loans and scammers.
Check out more of NPR's Life Kit here. And for more stories about student loan debt, check out our special series and website all about student loan debt. While you're there, add your student loan story to our interactive map, and take a quiz to find out where you fit into the student loan landscape.
|Apr 27, 2020|
They Were Managing Their OCD. Then Came The Pandemic.
When COVID-19 first hit, listener Diane Davis thought she'd be able to handle it—despite the fact that she's been managing a diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder for over two decades. "I know what it is to be really afraid of contamination and I thought I was going to be okay," she told me when I called her recently. "And then it sort of came out of nowhere and just knocked me sideways again."
In my recent phone conversation with Diane, she walks me through her keeping pandemic anxieties in perspective and how she avoids passing them on to her young children. Then, author John Green remembers John Prine and discusses finding new ways to cope with his OCD when the old ones fail—including walks in the woods (see above), and daily baths.
I first spoke with John Green on the show in 2018. Listen to that conversation here, and be sure to check out this excellent video he made a few weeks ago to help us all take a virtual walk in the woods while we're self-isolating.
|Apr 22, 2020|
An Immunocompromised Love Story
We've been thinking about Alana Duran, whom we first met two years ago in an interview about getting a kidney from her brand-new girlfriend at the time, Lori Interlicchio. In addition to being a transplant recipient, Alana has lupus, which means her immune system is compromised. "I take medication that suppresses my immune system and people with lupus are already at a higher risk of getting viral and bacterial infections," she told me when I called her up recently. "So knowing that, if I were to get coronavirus, I don't think I would make it."
Alana told me about deciding to quit her new job as a pastry cook so she can stay home and self-isolate, and about the other ways she's trying to stay healthy right now. And we're also sharing our original conversation with Alana and Lori with you too. It’s an extraordinary love story about sacrifice and taking care of each other in times of illness.
|Apr 15, 2020|
A Weekend Homework Assignment From Tayari Jones
When I checked in with writer Tayari Jones recently, we talked about how the past few weeks of isolation have been a time of self-discovery for her. "I feel that I'm living more for myself," she told me. "I think that is the positive thing that I'm learning about who I am."
One of the central things Tayari has learned is mastering different forms of connection, from how to teach her college students over Zoom to sending money to friends in need. The simplest way she's connecting? Greeting cards! "People love to receive cards and I have so many of them and I just imagined that if people are at home alone feeling isolated, wouldn't it be nice to get a card even if it's the wrong holiday?"
In that spirit, this weekend we're asking you to send a greeting card to someone in your life. Send us pictures, record a voice memos and emails about what happened and send it to email@example.com.
|Apr 10, 2020|
Goodbye, John Prine
"I get these thoughts, and I like to make them into songs. They might sound odd at the time, but then people connect to them throughout their life," John Prine told me when we talked together in 2018. "And it turns out I’m doing something that may resemble something solid."
There was no one like him. We will miss him. He leaves a legacy of incredible songs, and of loving well.
"You got gold inside of you," he wrote in one of my favorite love songs of his. "Well, I got gold inside me too."
|Apr 07, 2020|
"Nobody Comes Here To Hide": Remembering Bill Withers
When I spoke with songwriting legend Bill Withers for the very first episode of Death, Sex & Money, we talked about what it is to be a man. He told me it might not be manly to say "I'm scared," but that being a man isn't about ignoring fear. "To me, courage is not not being afraid," he told me. "It's what you do in spite of being afraid."
Bill Withers died this week, at the age of 81.
At the end of our conversation, I asked him about what he was proud of, looking back at his life. He told me, "I could have done better but I did alright. That's the way I look at it." And he added, "The best advice anybody ever gave me was very simple: go make something out of yourself. So we do the best we can with that. But the whole goal of this is to try to make yourself interesting because nobody comes here to hide."
|Apr 03, 2020|
"We Are The Glue": Stories From Essential Workers
A few weeks back, we created a Pandemic Tool Kit for those of us who are staying home during the COVID-19 crisis. But we also wanted to hear from those of you who can't stay home right now because your jobs have been deemed essential—about what's on your mind right now, and what's helping you cope.
So we asked essential workers to record voice memos and send them in. We heard from so many of you—from postal workers to flight attendants to nurses to grocery store employees. Some of you told us that this scenario is what you've always trained for. But others of you told us that you never imagined yourself on the frontlines of a health crisis. As listener Randi put it, "I don’t think I thought about myself as an essential worker until this moment, and now I realize how much we’re part of the glue of the community."
We also are thinking about those of you who are suddenly out of work. Or, who may have a paycheck now but you’re not sure how long it will last. If you are in financial flux right now, tell us what’s going on at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Apr 01, 2020|
A Surgical Nurse On Being Essential
A few days ago we asked to hear from those of you who are essential workers—those of you who can’t stay home right now. We wanted to know what you are thinking about, and what’s helping you. And since then, so many of you have written in—thank you. We're working now on an episode that represents the range of workers we heard from that’ll come out later this week.
But today, we wanted to share just one of those voice memos that came in, from a listener named Jennifer. She's a nurse in Ohio, and the mom of six kids. And we loved taking this walk with her in the woods.
|Mar 30, 2020|
If You Can't Isolate, What Do You Need?
Over the last week, we've loved watching many of you use our Pandemic Tool Kit and learning how you're coping with social distancing. But not all of us have the ability to stay home right now. A listener named Mary, who is a nurse in upstate New York, emailed us this week and told us that she's looking for whole different kind of tool kit. Like many other essential workers (healthcare workers, grocers, delivery workers, janitors, warehouse workers, trash collectors and more), Mary is at the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, and wants to know how people like her are coping right now.
So this weekend, we're asking essential workers: What’s on your mind right now? and What’s helping you? And for those of you that have loved ones who are essential workers, we're asking you to do something nice for them, and tell us about how great they are. Record a voice memo and send it to email@example.com by Monday morning.
|Mar 27, 2020|
Confessions of a Nashville Power Couple
In 2014, I talked with musicians Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires when they were a year into marriage, and two years into Jason's sobriety. But their new life didn't come without its challenges. Jason was learning how to be a feminist husband, and Amanda was figuring out where her own career fit in amid his success and their plans to raise a family.
Hear our conversation about love, liquor, trust, and staying connected when everything in your life is changing.
Jason and Amanda have joined us on Death, Sex & Money a few times since this conversation:
Live from the Internet: Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires & You: The couple took listener calls along with Anna about relationships, faith and music.
Jason Isbell & Will Welch: Somebody Needs Me: Jason guest hosts Death, Sex & Money, and talks with his best friend and GQ Editor in Chief Will Welch about sobriety and mental health.
What Rockstars And Sober People Already Know About Quarantine: Jason talks with Anna from his home in Nashville during the COVID-19 pandemic, about how coming on and off of tours has helped prepare him for sobriety in quarantine, and about the music he and Amanda are listening to right now.
|Mar 26, 2020|
What Rockstars And Sober People Already Know About Quarantine
As social distancing becomes the new normal for all of us, it's affecting us in different ways. For a listener we're calling Chloe—who stopped drinking a year and a half ago—it's impacting the way she maintains her sobriety. "For me personally, it's really balancing my extreme fear of isolation...with my concern about spreading a virus that can turn fatal," she told us about weighing the decision to attend in-person AA meetings versus staying home. "Which one do I prioritize? And it's really hard."
Last week, I called her from my makeshift studio in my closet and talked with her about where she's finding support today—and about the lessons she's applying to life in quarantine that she learned during her early days in recovery. Plus, I call up musician Jason Isbell, to talk about what he's learned about his sobriety while transitioning on and off the road, and to hear about the music he and his family are listening to at home right now.
Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires first appeared on Death, Sex & Money in a 2014 episode, Confessions of a Nashville Power Couple. Since then, the couple hosted a live call with listeners in 2017 and Jason guest-hosted one of our 2019 Maternity Leave Lineup episodes.
We've also made you a Spotify playlist with all the songs Jason and Amanda are listening to during their self-quarantine. Enjoy!
|Mar 25, 2020|
We Made A Pandemic Tool Kit
In the past, we've created collaborative spreadsheets with your suggestions for getting through traumatic life events like breakups and pregnancy loss. So when one of our listeners suggested we make another one for the current pandemic we find ourselves living through—we got to work. This week, you've been helping us fill up our Pandemic Tool Kit with suggested things to read, listen to, watch, think about, and more. You've added suggestions about everything from watching meditation videos and making nachos to hosting singalongs and donating to service workers. So this weekend, we want to challenge you to check it out, add ideas to it—and give something in the tool kit a try.
Tell us how it goes. Send in your field reports from your activities—pictures, voices memos, emails—to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday morning. We’ll share some of them in our newsletter, which we're sending out a few times a week now. You can subscribe at deathsexmoney.org/newsletter.
|Mar 20, 2020|
Ben Sinclair Is A Fan Of Endings
For fans of the HBO series High Maintenance, Ben Sinclair is practically synonymous with “The Guy,” the laid-back New York City weed dealer he plays on the show. And while a lot of the show is inspired by Ben and his co-creator and ex-wife Katja Blichfeld's personal life experiences, these days, Ben's trying to separate himself from some of his character's most well-known attributes. "I'm starting to grow out of smoking weed," he told me. "I feel joy at the anticipation of getting stoned, but once I'm stoned, I'm like, ugh, why did I do this?"
Ben talked with me about his childhood in an Arizona suburb, struggling in New York in his 20s, what he learned from his divorce, and what he's turning to now that he's smoking less.
If you're new to High Maintenance, here are five of my favorite episodes. I only picked from the last four seasons of HBO for ease in finding, but the whole web series is amazing, which you can find here.
"Dongle" (Season 3, Episode 7): A Puerto Rican man who just arrived in New York starts work on a road crew and starts a flirtation with his bodega guy.
"Googie" (Season 2, Episode 6): The Guy is recovering at home after a bike injury, and after smoking a lot of pot and streaming a lot of television, he goes out for a walk.
"M.A.S.H." (Season 3, Episode 1): A wake brings together a collection of people in upstate New York, who join together in an inspired music jam.
"Adelante" (Season 4, Episode 6): An encounter with ex in an Uber pool, and a dental hygienist goes on a date with a patient and then returns to her home in the Bronx.
"Scromple" (Season 2, Episode 5): The Guy and his ex-wife run into each other in a hospital.
|Mar 18, 2020|
Alone Together: A COVID-19 Call-In
Over the last few weeks and days, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically reshaped many of our lives. For some of us, we're working from home, our kids aren't in school, and we're worried about our own health, or the health of our elderly and immunocompromised friends and loved ones. Right now, it's not clear if or when things will feel normal again.
We wanted to know how you all are coping right now, so I took your calls along with Kai Wright, host of WNYC Studios' The United States of Anxiety. We heard from those of you who have had to cancel major plans; who are navigating dating in the midst of a pandemic; who are balancing working from home with childcare; and who are living abroad far from family and friends. We even got some home cooking tips from Samin Nosrat, writer, chef and host of the Netflix series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.
We’ve also pulled together some resources and articles that we've found helpful and soothing. And as we all move through this together, we're going to be in touch more often. If you're not already subscribed to our newsletter, sign up now. We'll be reaching out a few times as week, and hope that you'll write to us too. Our inbox is at email@example.com.
|Mar 13, 2020|
Why You're Not Having Sex
A 34-year-old listener we’ll call “Marie” emailed us back in 2015. She’d never dated anyone seriously. She'd never been kissed, and she'd never had sex. She wasn't opposed to any of those things. They just hadn't happened for her yet. And she worried that if she told a potential partner about her sexual inexperience, he'd walk away.
Many of us aren’t having sex, for all kinds of reasons. When we asked you why you're not having sex, you told us about abstaining for religious reasons, or because of lingering fears based on what you learned (or didn’t learn) about sex growing up. We heard about not having sex because it hurts too much, or because you could hurt someone else by doing it. Some of you aren't having sex because you can't find the right partner or keep running into narrow societal standards about what’s “attractive.”
We heard from people in relationships, too, like a couple who can't agree on how much sex is enough—so they're not really having any. And a man who says everyone thinks his life is full of three-ways and orgies because he lives with his wife and their girlfriend. But in reality, he says they're not having sex at all.
When we asked for your stories about why you’re not having sex, you also told us that not having sex can be really difficult to talk about. But by talking about it, what becomes clear is that our idea of what's "normal" might in fact be a myth.
|Mar 11, 2020|
Sugar Babies Cost Me $8,000 And My Marriage
A few months ago, a listener we're calling Ethan sent us an email. The subject line was: "Sugar babies cost me $8,000 and my marriage."
Ethan told us that he hired sex workers from the website Seeking Arrangement for over a year, while also going to couples counseling with his wife as their marriage struggled. "My justification for it initially was, you know, I'm going to have a good time so that I can have more energy to try and fix my marriage," he told me. "'Cause I think, you know, when I first went on to Seeking Arrangement, I was exhausted. But I wasn't ready to give up on the marriage yet."
Ethan says he started going on Seeking Arrangement after hearing more about it on our show, from our episode "When 'Daddy Dates' Pay The Bills." And while we aren't proud that this story of the end of a marriage includes our show as a key plot point, we wanted to hear more about why Ethan decided to cheat—and to understand what hard conversations he was trying to avoid.
|Mar 04, 2020|
Maria Bamford Didn't Wait For It To Be Perfect
When comedian Maria Bamford moved to LA in her early 20s, she struggled to cover her food and rent as she was breaking into the comedy world. "Although I had a college degree, I just did not know how to get and keep a full time job, much less a part time job," she told me. When an unexpected medical bill landed her in debt, she almost moved home to Minnesota—but found the support she needed from a money-oriented 12-step program. She eventually held down a job working as a secretary at an animation studio, which led to her getting voiceover work—and, importantly, health insurance through the Screen Actors Guild.
Since then, Maria has developed a signature brand of comedy that leans into her mental health struggles, the quirky characters in her family and the anxieties of everyday life. I talk with her about the unconventional way she learned to manage money, her memories of psychiatric hospitalization, and how she's working on having better arguments with her husband.
Maria's new comedy special is called Weakness Is The Brand. Listen to this This American Life episode to hear more about the Gottmans, the husband and wife psychologists Maria has turned to for marriage advice.
If you or someone you love is at risk of suicide, please go to https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ to find resources and someone to talk to.
|Feb 26, 2020|
Cancer Changed Ken Jeong's Comedy
Ken Jeong described his role as Mr. Chow in the 2009 blockbuster The Hangover as "the most obscene love letter to a spouse one could ever have.” He peppered his dialogue with bits of Vietnamese as an inside joke with his wife Tran.
Ken met his wife while they were both practicing medicine at the same hospital in Los Angeles. Ken had always done comedy on the side, even performing midnight stand-up while he was working long hours during his residency. But after he and Tran married, he quit medicine to pursue acting full-time. Then, a year later, Tran was diagnosed with stage III triple negative breast cancer, one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer. At the time, they had young twins, and Ken had just gotten an offer to play an Asian mobster in a Las Vegas buddy movie — the role that would be his big break.
Tran encouraged him to take the part. "You're kind of burning out right now," she told him. So he channeled his anger about her illness into his character's comedic rage.
Back in 2015, he talked to me about raising a family in the shadow of cancer, and how his careers in comedy and medicine converged in unexpected ways.
|Feb 19, 2020|
No Slumping With Twyla Tharp
Twyla Tharp's mother first put her in dance classes when she was a child living in Southern California. "I've always been highly programmed," Twyla told me. But when she got to New York and realized her ballet skills weren't "top drawer," she decided to dig into modern dance and began studying with legendary dancers like Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. "I said to myself, 'Well, okay, Merce does great what he does, and Martha does great what she does, but I don't want to do what they do,'" she said. "And I think ultimately that's how I became my own dancing person."
Here is an excerpt of Twyla's first work, Tank Dive (1965):
And here is a bit of The Golden Section (1983):
Looking for our Valentine's Day project? Go here!
|Feb 12, 2020|
Carmen Maria Machado Is Using The Word 'Abusive'
When author Carmen Maria Machado was in her mid-20s, she had her first relationship with a woman. She was in graduate school at the time, and in the beginning, her ex made her feel special. "I just wanted somebody to like, look at me and be like, 'I want you,' you know? And that's exactly what she did," she told me. While Carmen says the relationship quickly became abusive, she was only able to start describing it that way once their relationship ended.
Carmen went on to chronicle this relationship and how she deals with its aftermath in her new, critically-acclaimed memoir In the Dream House. She sat down with me to talk about coming to terms with the relationship, and complicating common narratives around abuse.
You can find the fact sheet Carmen mentioned in the episode here. It was put together by Hyejin Shim and Graywolf Press specifically for queer survivors of abuse, but it offers insights and resources that are useful for everyone.
|Feb 05, 2020|
Who Are Your 'Quick And Deep' Friends?
Last week, we partnered with the NPR podcast Code Switch to bring you two episodes all about race and friendship. If you haven’t heard those episodes yet, definitely go back, and take a listen to those first.
As part of that project, we also put out a survey about how race has factored into your friendships. More than 1,000 of you have taken it so far, and we’ve gotten some really interesting responses. And we’ve also heard from some of you that taking the survey felt...ill-fitting; that answering questions about the number of friends you have outside of your race feels like an experience designed for white people.
We wanted to talk through some of this with Dr. Deborah Plummer. She's a psychologist and professor, who’s studied cross-racial friendships and helped us create our race and friendship survey. Her latest book is called “Some of My Friends Are…: The Daunting Challenges and Untapped Benefits of Cross-Racial Friendships.”
|Jan 29, 2020|
Ask Code Switch: What About Your Friends?
We're thinking about race and friendship on the show this week. Yesterday, we brought you stories about the moments when race became a flashpoint in your friendships. And today, we're excited to share a partner episode from NPR's Code Switch podcast—it includes expert perspectives on why our friend groups tend to be made up of people who look like us, and advice for their listeners about the uncomfortable racial dynamics they’ve encountered in their own friendships.
If you missed our episode featuring your stories about the moments race became a flashpoint in a friendship—and what happened next—head over to deathsexmoney.org/friendship. While you're there, take our survey to think more closely about how race plays into your own friendships, and learn how your responses compare to national averages.
|Jan 23, 2020|
Between Friends: Your Stories About Race and Friendship
A text message gone wrong. A bachelorette party exclusion. A racist comment during the 2016 debates.
When we asked you all about moments when race became a flashpoint in your friendships, we heard about awkward, funny, and deeply painful moments. "The fact that she could drop me so easily really stung," one listener, Ashley, told us about a childhood friendship that suddenly ended because her friend's parents didn't want her "hanging out with black kids." Another listener, who we're calling Kathleen, wrote in about the regret she felt about not confronting an ex-friend who posted a racist comment on Facebook. "I don't know if I could have changed her mind," she told us. "But at least [I could have] let her know that what I thought was so wrong about what she was saying, instead of just quietly clicking 'unfriend.'"
Today, we're sharing your stories about how race, identity, and racism have impacted your friendships. And listen to the episode from our partners at the NPR podcast Code Switch, featuring expert advice on navigating those flashpoint moments around race—and explaining why it's so hard to make, and maintain, cross-racial friendships.
Take our survey about race and friendship here. Afterward, see how other people answered the survey questions, and get our list of recommended reading on race and friendship.
Click here to read a transcript of the episode.
|Jan 22, 2020|
Inside Planned Parenthood
The first thing that greets you when you step off the elevator at the Planned Parenthood in Brooklyn is a metal detector. "I didn’t necessarily expect it," a first-time patient told me. "But as soon as I saw it I was like, 'Oh yeah, that’s right, that makes sense.'"
Many Planned Parenthood clinics across the country rely on security measures like these. The services provided by these clinics—specifically, abortions—have long been at the center of a raging political debate in the U.S. But it's not very often that we hear from the people who rely on these clinics for health care.
Over a number of days in late 2015 and early 2016, we collected interviews at the Planned Parenthood clinic in downtown Brooklyn. Patients volunteered to talk with us while they were waiting for their appointments. They were there for STI tests, pap smears, birth control prescriptions—no one seeking an abortion talked with me on the days we were there. But for many of the people I met, abortion was an important part of their history with Planned Parenthood.
"Here it was just very reassuring," a patient named Sarah, who was at the clinic for her annual exam, told me about her abortion three years ago at Planned Parenthood. "No one wants to do it, but life, you know, happens."
We also talked with some of the abortion protesters who stand outside the clinic every Saturday, rain or shine. And I interviewed several staff members and volunteers at Planned Parenthood—like Rhea, who greets patients as they walk in the door downstairs. "If you’re wondering if this is the right choice and you’re there and you’ve made the appointment and you’ve been thinking and you’re like, crossing the line...somebody being a jerk to you could totally just melt you down," she told me. "Or, somebody with a smile and somebody who holds your hand, could just make you feel calm and make you feel good. At a time where maybe you don’t feel good."
We originally released this episode in 2016. Since then, there’s been a big change in how Planned Parenthood pays for that care. The Trump administration banned clinics from receiving Title X federal funding--money that covers things like STI treatment, cancer screenings and contraception for low-income patients, if those clinics also provide abortion counseling (with a few narrow exceptions). In response, Planned Parenthood stopped taking those funds altogether.
|Jan 08, 2020|
Saeed Jones's New Year's Determinations
When I talked to writer Saeed Jones, he told me about his late mother, Carol Sweet-Jones, and how she always made New Year's "determinations"—not "resolutions." He recently wrote about the differences between the two in an essay called We Are A Determined Household, and about what he learned from years of watching his mom "summon her determination like clockwork." This week, Saeed reads that essay for us.
And we want to hear your New Years determinations, too! Record a voice memo telling us what you want from 2020, and send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll share them back with the entire Death, Sex & Money community soon, so we can all get a little inspiration from each other.
Want more Saeed? Subscribe to his newsletter, The Intelligence of Honey, where this essay was originally published. And be sure to check out his memoir, "How We Fight For Our Lives," which was one of our favorite books of 2019.
|Jan 01, 2020|
Death, Sex & Money's 2019 Year End Spectacular
We put 46 episodes of Death, Sex & Money in your podcast feeds in 2019. We talked together about everything from STIs and drinking to stillbirth and big workplace transitions. Today, the team gathers together to share our favorite on- and off-the-air moments from the year that was, from the tape that stuck with us...to getting stuck in tapings.
We're able to do the work we do because of your support! If you want to help our show grow in 2020, please consider supporting Death, Sex & Money with a donation. The first 250 people to give at any amount during the month of December will receive a limited-edition Maternity Leave Lineup poster, signed by Anna. Thank you!
|Dec 25, 2019|
Liz Phair's Rebellious Streak Works For Her
In 1994, musician Liz Phair was 27, fresh off the runaway success of her albums Exile In Guyville and Whipsmart, and on on the cover of Rolling Stone under the headline "A Rock And Roll Star Is Born." And she was miserable.
In her new book, Horror Stories, she writes about the uncertainty and the restlessness of that time in her life. And in our conversation, she tells me that her decision to then get married and "retreat into domesticity" at that point seems, in hindsight, like an overcorrection. "I was trying to pull back into a self that I recognized," she says. "And I just pulled back too far." Today, she tells me about cheating in that marriage as a way of finding herself again, and how years later, finding herself on the other side of a betrayal helped her feel like the karmic score had been settled.
Thanks to Random House for making a chapter of Liz's memoir Horror Stories available for us to share with you. Click here to read it.
We've also built a Spotify playlist of our favorite Liz Phair songs. You can find it here.
"Customer Experience" excerpted from Horror Stories by Liz Phair Copyright © 2019 by Liz Phair. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|Dec 18, 2019|
The Children Of Heart Mountain
The Heart Mountain Pilgrimage is an annual reunion for Japanese Americans who were imprisoned at Heart Mountain, a WWII incarceration camp in Wyoming, and their families. "I haven’t been back here since we used to live here," a woman named Esther Abe told me, as we got off a bus together outside the museum that now stands on the grounds. "Something happened that I didn't expect. I saw that Heart Mountain, and I kind of choked up."
The people at this gathering who once lived here are now in their 80s and 90s, but they were young children during their time at Heart Mountain. "It sounds idiotic, but as a kid, there was no fear," another former incarceree Shig Yabu told me. "We didn't think about all the barbed wires. We wanted excitement."
I heard about a range of emotional experiences when I talked with the descendants of former incarcerees—including anger. "I have been angry and I probably still am," said Shirley Ann Higuchi, whose parents were both imprisoned at Heart Mountain. Shirley told me how she learned new details about her mother's experience at Heart Mountain after she died in 2005. "I think the Japanese culture is very complicated. I think there's sort of something there where you need permission to speak, or need permission to talk out on things," she told me. "I think in reality [my mother] was angrier than I was, but she just suppressed it and managed it differently."
|Dec 11, 2019|
People cheat. But they don't often talk about the aftermath, and how they and their partners decide what comes next.
When I asked you to send in your stories about infidelity, I heard from so many of you. Listener Sasha* told us about how she suspected that her partner of five years was having an affair -- and later, after they broke up, discovered that he had been been posting online ads for casual sex throughout their relationship. Andy in Connecticut remembered being a 12-year-old trying to convince his father not to cheat on a girlfriend. Joe* in Texas talked about having a relationship with a married woman as a single man, and the feeling of being a sideshow to the main event. Listener Chrystal* began her email to us about the cheating in her relationship: "Spoiler alert: we made it."
Numbers about cheating vary from study to study, but indicate that 20 to 40 percent of straight married men and 20 to 25 percent of straight married women venture outside their marriages. When Dan Savage joined us on the show in 2014, he put that number even higher, at 50 percent of women and men in long-term relationships.
In this episode, you'll hear from men and women who've cheated and been cheated on. Nobody's proud of it. But we learned that when a secret affair is revealed, it’s a moment for us to finally and fully be honest about what was missing from a relationship, and what’s worth saving.
*Name changed for privacy reasons
|Dec 04, 2019|
Anne Lamott: Death Sucks, And It's Holy
I recently joined writer Anne Lamott on stage in San Francisco at the Reimagine End of Life festival. Anne's written a lot over her 40-year career about death and grief, as well as about addiction, recovery, and parenthood. We talked about what it means to be sensitive, how to sit with someone in hospice, and whether Anne was thinking about death when she recently decided to marry for the first time at age 65.
|Nov 27, 2019|