Emma Clifton delves deep into the podcast abyss for the perfect accompaniment for your every emotion.
Now that I have to cook three meals a day (too many) and government-mandated walks are the only way to leave the house, I suddenly have a lot of time to listen to things. Here are my recommendations for your new favourite podcasts – and what mood to match them with.
Comfort food, aka please take me away from here and now
In 2011, my family went through a double blow of bad events. On Valentine’s Day, my mum’s friend was killed by her estranged husband. One week later, my dad, an earthquake engineer, was down in Christchurch presenting a seismic engineering seminar when the big earthquake hit. He was fine, and we were lucky. But he was down there for a week before he was able to come home and the nightly news, and growing death toll, was not easy for anyone. Mum and I reached news fatigue and started watching, exclusively, Nigella Lawson cooking videos. They were both soothing and distracting, but it also helped watching Nigella herself. No stranger to tragedy, Nigella lost her mother, sister and first husband to cancer in a short period of time. There’s a resilience to her that adds some backbone to the chicken-soup-for-the-soul feeling of her cooking.
The podcast: Table Manners with Jessie Ware (Guest star: Nigella Lawson)
UK singer Jessie Ware and her mum Lennie have a well-known person over for dinner, and cook for them, in every episode. This one is filled with everything you want from Nigella; long discussions about food, waxing lyrical about travel (Greece, in particular), as well as Nigella getting honest about her love of living alone. Also, the format of this podcast makes you feel like you’re at a dinner party, which is a beautiful thing to be reminded of at a time when that isn’t possible.
I want to know what love is (And I want Stanley Tucci to show me)
One time when I was heartbroken, I put together a Pinterest board of famous relationships that I wanted to aspire to. That board was, exclusively, Michelle and Barack Obama and Stanley Tucci and Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia. Nora Ephron, the Patron Saint of Content That Makes Smart Women Feel Seen, cast Stanley in the role of Julia Child’s husband because she knew a) he would be fine with having a faux wife who was taller than him (this is a rare achievement for men) and b) he would be perfect at playing a role where all he had to do was look lovingly at his wife in various French cities.
The podcast: Love Stories with Stanley Tucci
Hosted by British journo Dolly Alderton, this is a series of getting people to talk about their passions – both romantic, and other, and it’s basically an hour of falling in love with Stanley as he talks about the women and food he’s loved in his life. I like to listen to this while drinking a glass of wine and cooking something slow and Italian, lovingly prepared for my husband Stanley Tucci lockdown bubble. The first time I listened to this, I got butterflies in my stomach like he was a real-life crush (you’d think I would embarrassed by this, but there’s no embarrassment in lockdown).
Help! I’m scared and sad: Leaning into the suck with Brene Brown
My mental health at the moment is… not great. Shocking, I know. Turns out living through an unprecedented global pandemic is a bit testing?! Some days are good days, some days are sad days. Sometimes there is a sense of utter hopelessness, sometimes there is full-on rage (my lucky, lucky bubble). Sometimes I cry during online yoga. I don’t think I am alone, in any of this. But for what is a global experience, it can still feel very lonely.
The podcast: Unlocking Us with Brene Brown
Dr Brene Brown has a gentle Texan voice that is like being slowly melted into a pool of hot butter, but she is also as wise as she is warm. She quite literally wrote the book on vulnerability and here she interviews David Kessler, a grief expert. This podcast covers the broad, difficult landscape of grief and about midway through the episode, Brene says from every conversation she’s had in this Covid-19 world, we all sound like we’re in grief. David says, immediately, that we are. “This is a collective loss of the world we all lived in, before the pandemic. And we like every other loss, didn’t know what we had, until it was gone. And so here we are, and we’re all trying to find ways to virtually hold each other’s hands. We’re all in this together.” I immediately started crying, but then I felt less insane than I had in about a month, and every time I start to feel unreasonable or overwhelmed, I repeat this sentence to myself: “This is a collective loss of the world we all lived in.” It’s okay to feel sad.
Extraordinary resilience (with swearing) What doesn’t kill you really can make you stronger
I have no interest in bumper-sticker resilience, I want the real, in the trenches talk from people who have been in the pits of despair and dug themselves out, tooth and nail. There’s a story from The West Wing that sums this up perfectly, if you’ll allow me a small digression:
“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out.
“A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
“Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on
“Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.'”
The podcast: Longform podcast with Ariel Levy
Ariel Levy has been in the trenches. A journalist for the New Yorker, she was pregnant with her first child when she accepted one last travel story to fly to Mongolia. While there, complications arose with her pregnancy and she ended up going into premature labour before blacking out. When she woke up, her baby was on the floor next to her and he was dying. They got about 20 minutes together before the ambulance arrived, but it was too late. When she returned home, her marriage fell apart shortly after. She ended up writing a piece about it, which won a Pulitzer prize: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/11/18/thanksgiving-in-mongolia. It’s been about a decade since it all happened, giving Ariel the emotional hindsight to talk about her experiences during that traumatic event, and in the years since. This podcast is moving, smart, honest and unexpectedly, given the topic, at times laugh out loud funny. A testament to what the human heart can survive.