Nevertheless We Recommend: It’s Been A Minute with Sam Sanders

Everything is about Trump these days. There’s no such thing as an apolitical conversation. I sit down to write fiction and another blog post comes out. Everything comes with undertones and subtweets and then subtext becomes text and even though it can be easier to give into the madness, it’s probably really unhealthy. Or so people tell me.

So it’s with true pleasure that I recommend Sam Sanders’ podcast It’s Been a Minute, a breath of fresh air in an ever revolving door of the painful, the absurd, and the violent. The podcast comes out twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. The Tuesday episodes are “deep dives” as Sanders calls them. Primarily these have been in depth interviews with an individual, and have featured people like Lakeith Stanfield from ‘Get Out’ and ‘Atlanta,’ and writer Anne Helen Petersen. Recently, however, these deep dives have stepped outside the box. In a recent episode, Sanders took a trip to the offices of The Onion, where he sat in on an editorial meeting, interviewed some of the staff, and gave listeners a peek behind the scenes at the U.S.’s premier satirical publication.

Sanders is an excellent interviewer, at once able to ask probing questions that push a deep and interesting conversation, while also, for lack of a better term, geeking out. You can tell that he’s fascinated by the people he’s talking to, that he picks these people not just because they have something to promote, or because they said yes, or because they are famous, but because they have a narrative or a perspective that he finds valuable. The interviews are filled with digressions and elaborate backstories and so while they don’t always feel cohesive, they are always unique. You’re not going to hear these same stories the next time you see this person on late night or read their Vanity Fair profile.

It’s the Friday episodes that are going to save your soul, though. Each Friday, Sanders does the show with two guests, most frequently friends and colleagues from NPR. They start by each describing the week of news and culture in three words, getting into the major news stories, the trends, the overall feel of the week. Other more news oriented segments include the game “Who Said That?” (pretty self explanatory) and a segment where they discuss a specific news story. These segments alone are great — a kind of cathartic examination of the news that goes beyond what Trump did this week.

In fact, the whole ethos behind the show seems to want to remind you that there was a world before Trump, and there will be (god help us) a world after him. This shows up even more so in my two favorite segments of the show. The first is where they call someone who specifically does not live in DC and talk to them about what’s going in their lives. Sometimes this is political — recent callers include a former social worker and a Marine reservist — but often times it reminds you that there are local issues, local concerns, people fighting important fights and living full lives that are not apolitical, but are not centered on Trump either. And Sam always manages to ask what the caller is going to be doing for fun over the weekend. Yes, we can still have fun.

The best segment, however, has nothing to do with the panel or with Sam himself, except that it was presumably his idea. Every week he requests that people send in a voice recording of themselves describing the best thing that happened to them that week, and then he plays a bunch of them. I no longer can just say I cry every week. I’m not a crier, though the tears come more easily in my ripe old age of 28. But now I cry in anticipation of this segment. In a world where we are constantly discovering new, uglier, more horrifying possibilities in ourselves and our fellows, it is a unequivocal joy to listen to people describe their kids’ birthdays, their new significant others, their LSAT scores, their baby’s first words, their proposals and new jobs and adventures. Good stuff still happens — cosmic victories and vindictive defeats are not the only place to find it.

In this day and age, it’s impossible to be apolitical — neutrality has always been a political position, but it becomes ever more obvious and unconscionable now. But It’s Been a Minute reminds us that politics have not always been Trump and while he is an important part of our national narrative, he’s not the only part. The podcast does not set out to be political, but it doesn’t avoid it either. It reminds us, for example, that while what Trump says about Charlottesville is important, so is the narrative of white people’s responsibility to combat white supremacy. It reminds us that there is a world beyond our borders, that the established narrative isn’t the only one or the right one. It lets you experience people and stories and ideas that you don’t necessarily have access to in the neverending and addictive toxicity of twitter.

It’s like getting out of a car after you’ve been in there for hours, and the recycled air has taken on a sour taste of its own, and taking that first breath of fresh air.

Deep breaths. You’ve gotta get back in the car, but don’t worry. We’re gonna make it.

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We all woke up on November 9th realizing that the fight was going to be harder, longer, and more painful than we’d ever imagined. But over and over again, people have stood up, gotten knocked down and stood up once again. Nevertheless, they persisted. And we will too.

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