The S-word that changed my life (and the 'S-Town' podcast) for the better.

First thing: The "S" in "S-Town" stands for shit, but that's not the S-word that came to mind in my listen of the new podcast.

The seven-chapter story — which has been downloaded more than 10 million times so far — follows "This American Life" reporter Brian Reed as he learns about the goings-on of Woodstock, Alabama, the shit-town in question, through one of its longtime residents: antique clock restorer, climate change fanatic, and dog rescuer John B. McLemore. From a potential murder and cover-up to forgery and buried treasure, this is not true crime as you know it.

"S-Town" host Brian Reed. Photo by Andrea Morales. All photos used with permission.


It's a deep-dive look into the world of McLemore. But more significantly, it's a beautifully produced case for sonder.

Sonder, a word invented by John Koenig for "The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows," is the idea that every single person you meet or see has a life as rich and complex as your own.

Sonder is essentially empathy+. While you are the star of your own life story, the people you interact with, even for a brief moment, are also the stars of their life stories. Unless they do something heroic, exceptional, or criminal, we don't always get to witness or hear everyone's experiences. But we know they're there.

"S-Town" lets you in on the secret. You're granted a front-row seat to McLemore's life, his complex story. It's sonder in action.

Reed with McLemore. Photo by Andrea Morales.

Listening to it feels intimate and self-indulgent, even borderline voyeuristic. Reed's reporting reveals a protagonist who is quirky and mysterious, who is highly intelligent and a self-identified semi-homosexual, who is well-known in his community, even if he's seen as an odd bird.

We get to know this man, for better or worse. It's a portrait of his lived experience few would ever see without this podcast. But as fascinating and compelling as McLemore is, he's just as remarkably ordinary as the rest of us. Sonder.

The beauty of "S-Town" was not McLemore himself, but that McLemore could have been anyone.

The unforgettable McLemore — and the riveting characters of "S-Town" — can be found in any town, with any family. Whether you believe it or not, we all have podcast-worthy lives.

Reed in the recording studio. Photo by Sandy Honig.

When we practice and recognize sonder, these previously unimaginable stories seem to reveal themselves.  

These characters walk among us. These stories already exist. You can explore new communities and dive deep into unique lived experiences just by listening — to podcasts, but mostly to each other.

You can practice and recognize sonder in your own life. Ask "How are you?" and mean it. Meet your neighbors. Introduce yourself to the people you see every day but never stop to talk to. Take your headphones off and listen to the sounds of your city, the people and places that make your neighborhood home. Recognize each of us has a part to play, large or small, in everyone's story. Who will you be for someone else? Who will tell your story? What will they have to say?

Because Reed might not be thinking about a second season of "S-Town," but you don't have to wait to discover the next great story.

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Frito-Lay

Did you know one in five families are unable to provide everyday essentials and food for their children? This summer was also the hungriest on record with one in four children not knowing where their next meal will come from – an increase from one in seven children prior to the pandemic. The effects of COVID-19 continue to be felt around the country and many people struggle to secure basic needs. Unemployment is at an all-time high and an alarming number of families face food insecurity, not only from the increased financial burdens but also because many students and families rely on schools for school meal programs and other daily essentials.

This school year is unlike any other. Frito-Lay knew the critical need to ensure children have enough food and resources to succeed. The company quickly pivoted to expand its partnership with Feed the Children, a leading nonprofit focused on alleviating childhood hunger, to create the "Building the Future Together" program to provide shelf-stable food to supplement more than a quarter-million meals and distribute 500,000 pantry staples, school supplies, snacks, books, hand sanitizer, and personal care items to schools in underserved communities.

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My husband and I had just finished watching "The Office" for the third time through and were looking for a new show to watch before bed. I'd seen a couple of friends highly recommend "Schitt's Creek," so we decided to give it a try.

My initial reaction to the first episode was meh. The characters were annoying and the premise was weird (pretentious and previously-filthy-rich family lives in a scuzzy motel in the middle of nowhere??). I felt nothing for the main characters, and I hate shows with horrible main characters that I can't root for. Even predicting that they were going to eventually be transformed by their small town experiences, I didn't see liking them. It didn't grab either of us as worth continuing, so we stopped.

But then I kept hearing people whose taste I trust implicitly talk about how great it was. I know different people have different tastes, but I realized I had to be missing something if these friends of mine raved on and on about it. So we gave it another shot.

It took a bit—I don't know how many episodes exactly, but a bit—to start liking it. Then a bit longer to start really liking it, and then at some point, it became a full-fledged, gushy, where-have-you-been-all-my-life love affair.

So when the show took home nine Emmy awards over the weekend—breaking the record for the most wins in a season for a comedy—I wasn't surprised. Here's why:

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$200 billion of COVID-19 recovery funding is being used to bail out fossil fuel companies. These mayors are combatting this and instead investing in green jobs and a just recovery.

Learn more on how cities are taking action: c40.org/divest-invest


The legality of abortion is one of the most polarized debates in America—but it doesn’t have to be.

People have big feelings about abortion, which is understandable. On one hand, you have people who feel that abortion is a fundamental women’s rights issue, that our bodily autonomy is not something you can legislate, and that those who oppose abortion rights are trying to control women through oppressive legislation. On the other, you have folks who believe that a fetus is a human individual first and foremost, that no one has the right to terminate a human life, and that those who support abortion rights are heartless murderers.

Then there are those of us in the messy middle. Those who believe that life begins at conception, that abortion isn’t something we’d choose—and we’d hope others wouldn’t choose—under most circumstances, yet who choose to vote to keep abortion legal.

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Biases, stereotypes, prejudices—these byproducts of the human brain's natural tendency to generalize and categorize have been a root cause of most of humanity's problems for, well, pretty much ever. None of us is immune to those tendencies, and since they can easily slip in unnoticed, we all have to be aware of where, when, and how they impact our own beliefs and actions.

It also helps when someone upends a stereotype by saying or doing something unexpected.

Fair or not, certain parts of the U.S. are associated with certain cultural assumptions, perhaps none more pinholed than the rural south. When we hear Appalachia, a certain stereotype probably pops up in our minds—probably white, probably not well educated, probably racist. Even if there is some basis to a stereotype, we must always remember that human beings can never be painted with such broad strokes.

Enter Tyler Childers, a rising country music star whose old-school country fiddling has endeared him to a broad audience, but his new album may have a different kind of reach. "Long Violent History" was released Friday, along with a video message to his white rural fans explaining the culminating track by the same name. Watch it here:

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