At one of the lowest points in my life, I decided to launch ARRVLS; the audio documentary series which focuses on how migration, transformation, and change effect our lives. I’d recently left the city I loved for a city I didn’t. I was almost 30, jobless, newly married. I had few friends and no family in New York. I had no idea what tomorrow would bring. Sitting across the bar from Josh Levie at The Richardson in Williamsburg Brooklyn, I never could’ve imagined what the coming year would bring.
Josh and I were discussing the tough spot I’d found myself in when the first seed of ARRVLS began to wrestle its way towards the front of my thoughts: I should document this. Somehow just the act of sharing stories of hard times feels therapeutic to me in this moment. In fact, I should talk to a lot of people. If this is helping me, then it has to be helpful to others as well. I asked Josh if he’d be willing to meet me at my apartment. I’d record his story of a difficult period in his life, and take it from there. By the end of that interview I was determined to conduct more interviews, to make something of this idea. So I set to work collecting stories, and on Janaury 1st, 2015 I released the first episode of ARRVLS.
This year has changed me, both as a creative and as a human being. I have come to believe with unwavering certainty that change is the most vital component of our humanity. It’s transcends individual politics, beliefs, gender, and race.
It’s been a year. The people I’ve interviewed have been my greatest teachers. I wanted to share with you the lessons these incredible men, women, and children have taught me.
1. Freedom ≠ $
Ethan Hughes believes with all his heart that he can live his dreams without money. In an act of defiance, he gave away a hundred-thousand dollar inheritance. He dressed up as a superhero and biked across the U.S., stopping to help people along the way. His beliefs have caused him hardship, loss, and at times great sorrow. But one day, he met someone who shared his views. They fell in love. Together they built a life, a home, a family. They live entirely off the grid and trade most of their goods for necessities. While their lifestyle may seem extreme to some, it is their greatest happiness. And if Ethan hadn’t held fast to his beliefs many years ago, there’s no way their relationship could’ve ever happened.
People would ask me ‘what do you wanna be, firemen? Lawyer?’ I’d say, ‘superhero’. And they would say ‘that doesn’t exist’” — Ethan Hughes
So yes, the man who dressed in a superhero costume and called himself “The Blazing Echidna”, the one who gave away a 100-thousand-dollar inheritance might be a little out there, but he is happier than virtually everyone I’ve met in my life.
2. Your worst job could be your greatest lesson
A dream job for one person, can be a nightmare for someone else. There’s no doubt that the first job Joshua Levie got when he was fresh out of college would have been challenging for anyone. Working at a day placement facility for adults with violent tendencies, Josh had to care for people who could hardly care for themselves. He learned a tough and enduring kind of compassion from that experience. The day I quit the worst job I’d ever had was the day I met Josh, and it was because of him that I learned to forgive myself for what at the time I had felt had been a terrible mistake.
I Do believe that every individual has a social responsibility to the people around them. — Joshua Levie
3. Don’t rely on hitting the corner pocket
On Christmas day, Robin Holleran’s 4-seater Cessna crashed shortly after takeoff outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Robin was lucky to have survived. That event made her reevaluate her life, to take chances she wouldn’t have taken before the accident.
She described her understanding of life now as being like a game of pool: you call a pocket and take the shot, but you never know for sure where the ball is gonna go. Wherever it goes, you’ve got to be able to accept it. It’s the best place for you to be. And surviving can help you see the world anew. When she first came to in the hospital and saw her kids it was as though she were seeing them for the first time.
“I remember thinking ‘they’re here, and they’re my kids!’” — Robin Holleran
4. You will find yourself in ways you least expect
Julie Sparenberg became someone she would never have imagined she’d become. She never thought she’d be a mother. When she met and fell in love with Aaron and his two girls, everything fell into place. Julie taught me to remain open minded, despite your own bias, because you can’t always know what will make you the most happy.
The friends of Two Women could never have anticipated where they would meet, and how they would come to deeply value the vocation they share. And despite any preconceptions there might be about the kind of work that they do, their story is a reminder that who we are is so much more than job, station, and status.
I didn’t have the foresight or the skills or that overarching knowledge you need to have to be a good parent. So I thought, best not try. — Julie Sparenberg
5. Hard times will transform your life. Embrace them.
I often receive comments from listeners about the weightiness of our stories. It’s true. Our stories can lean towards the tragic, the difficult, the uncomfortable. But what is also true is that the people behind those stories have gained profound and beautiful insight from those experiences. To me their wisdom seems necessary. And since no one person is immune from bad things, we can learn a great deal from the tragic events that precede our own.
No one deserves the abuse Hilde endured at Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy. But the person she’s become, the brilliance and charm that she emerged with following that experience is something that should garner our respect and attention.
Ney Melo found in our country’s darkest time, a guiding light and passion for Tango.
Sara Curtis’s memory of loss stays with me to this day — she taught me how loss has a life of its own that must be nurtured. She showed us how to find your memories in your everyday life.
“I didn’t just lose a child. I had a child. She was a specific shape. With specific DNA and organs, with a name and weight and length. With specific eye color and hair color. I grew her and I lost her, and now I look for her everywhere.” — Sara Brooke Curtis
6. Listen to the people with the freshest eyes and biggest hearts. Just listen.
Marlo Mack’s daughter was born biologically male, and so that’s how Marlo raised her. She struggled with her child’s insistence on identifying as female. But over time she began to listen. To acknowledge and help her grow into who she was all along. And that growth is something to be celebrated. In me as we spoke I felt a stirring. A sense that I needed to embrace all the things that I tell myself I’m not, but which I know in truth that I am.
7. Impermanence is our most blessed curse
We don’t like to talk about it. It’s difficult, and uncomfortable to discuss openly, but our time on earth is very limited. Our lives are fragile and impermanent and acknowledging this fact of our existence can make us better, kinder, more appreciative people. Eva Mae found meaning while grappling with her husband’s suicide. In the depths of her despair she found faith and a new life’s purpose. Sitting on the front porch with her in the lowcountry of South Carolina I understood her buoyant positivity. She herself had been reborn and never took that for granted.
Garrett Tiedemann explored in Alpha-1 the genetic condition he and his mother share. A condition that may turn out to impact him in very big ways in the future, or perhaps not at all. But he’s never shied from addressing it. He confronts his future head on. He taught me that we must bring immediacy into our lives. It’s not just a thought, it’s a necessity. We can not know what the future holds.
Niva Dorell bravely chose love in the final hours of her husband’s life. They were married just days before he was released from hospice care into their home. In the days and weeks after our interview, I had a strange feeling. To have been present for this most personal and profound story of Niva and her husband Kaz’s life, I felt both grateful and unworthy. Her strength was almost superhuman. She’d loved in spite of the outcome, and the strength that comes with such an act is hard to put into words.
“For me, if the end is gonna be me in a chair unable to move, I wanna make sure I did every damn thing I could to make something of this world.” — Garrett Tiedemann
8. Pay attention to the journey
We’ve all had a great adventure or two in our lives. Interviewing the many contributors to ARRVLS over the course of this year has reminded me that our journeys are happening all the time. We may look back later and see them for what they are, but it’s important to remember that you’re likely on one right now. We’re constantly moving from one state to another, and back and forth across county lines. So be present for all of it.
What started for Rob as another family road trip became a moment of transformation. A moment he could never have anticipated before it happened.The simplest moment of peace can later be seen for the sea change that it is. We just need to have our eyes open for the second that it arrives.
Guido’s “fun” journey to the U.S. from Chile wound up more closely resembling a prison sentence. Yet he takes us into the interior of two cultures and lives in conflict. It reminded me of how little I truly know about the people around me, and how important it is to ask questions of others, to continue learned and listening to the people in my community, and especially the ones that I love.
Rickey travelled all over the west coast, endured heartache and poverty to try and make a relationship work that just wouldn’t. In the end, he learned through his efforts what kind of person he truly was.
9. You will always wind up where you need to be
Felix Neals never gave up the search for a name. Despite prejudice and false diagnoses, he new in his heart that he was different. And he stayed close to that knowledge. Eventually, the world caught up with him. Larry was forced by the society of his birth to hide who he really was from his family and friends. It wasn’t until he arrived in the U.S. that he was able to live freely and safely.
As we move into a new year and a new season of ARRVLS shows, I hope that you’ll return to these stories, and share with me how similar stories have impacted your life. If this year of telling stories has taught me anything, it’s that the well runs deep. That if we live our lives with presence and compassion, even the biggest obstacles have the potential to fuel our greatest success.
10. Every Single Life Matters
As humans, we are myth-makers. We exult the stories of a few in service to the multitude. Despite living in a culture that deifies celebrity, it is these stories that have taught me how extraordinary each human on this planet can be: we all have experience of our world changing around us. We all have our own migration story. We’ve all been transform and re-invented by the unexpected.
Lately I’ve been introducing ARRVLS to others as “stories about how we become better people”. No doubt there’s more than a hint of projection in this statement. In truth, I think ARRVLS is a program about extraordinary humans. A program that has made me a better person.
*Season Three of ARRVLS will start on February 4th*
Since we’re taking stock, I’d like to thank the many people who have made this show possible: Nora Linde, Gabrielle Lewis, Robin Gianatassio-Malle, Ben Kruse, and Emma Jacobs. To the members of The Heard who have supported me and the show through their time, wisdom, and friendship: Jakob Lewis of Neighbors, Vanessa Lowe of Nocturne, Rob McGinley Myers of Anxious Machine, Tally Abecassis of First Day Back, and Marlo Mack of How To Be A Girl. To the many people, programs, and publications who have helped to shine a light on my show and others: The Timbre, The iTunes Podcast team, Dana Elizabeth Gerber-Margie, NPR, The Podcast Broadcast, Product Hunt, Sara Weber, AV Club, Pocketcasts, Ashleyanne Krigbaum and KALW, XRay.FM, PRX, The Atlantic, Dan Lizette of The Podcast Digest, PodPodPod, Audioboom, KCRW,The Brooklyn Paper, Ryan Steiner, Pete’s Candy Store, Litquake Literary Festival, The Lost Church, and the many many others I’m sure to have missed. Thank you.