Our T-shirts, Ourselves

two unlikely heroes and a case against decluttering

ROCK PAPER RADIO is a dispatch for misfits & unlikely optimists by your favorite hapa haole, beet-pickling, public radio nerd. It’s a weekly email newsletter that shares three curiosities every Thursday - something to hold on to (that’s the ‘rock’), something to read (that’s the ‘paper‘), and something to listen to (you guessed it, that’s the ‘radio’). Themes include but are not limited to: rebel violinists, immortal jellyfish, revolution. Thanks for subscribing and spreading the word.
“The choices we make about what we find and keep point to our interior worlds,” says Atlantic reporter Charlene K. Lau on why our t-shirt collections might be saying more about us than we realize. Photo credit: Corey Watson


Because I’m still figuring out how all of this works, my best friend whenever I’m producing an audio feature is overthinking. When I signed up for KCRW’s 24 hour Radio Race, I knew my BFF would have to sit this one out. This was terrifying, but also EXCITING.

In the end, we survived. Despite a pause for a little debate with my brilliant Creative Director wife about the differences between producing advertising and producing audio, Team ROCK PAPER RADIO submitted our final edit just after midnight. The best part though, is that the 3-minute and 58-second piece we landed on, The Pickup Artists, revolves around my hilarious 72-year-old mother-in-law Linda and her equally big-hearted and animated 69-year-old sister Sandi. It was a family project.

The story is about Linda and Sandi’s misadventures in unlikely heroism after they encountered a stumbling stranger on the side of the road. Linda casually mentioned what happened while we were at a park last September. I remember responding, WAIT WHAT?!? Little did I know then, my mother-in-law’s story would fuel our radio racing a few months later. The theme of this year’s contest was “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” You can read about how Keri and I powered through our 24 hours in the Race here: How to save a man and survive KCRW's Radio Race.


Somewhere below public radio tote bags, but definitely above branded coasters at a conference center bar, sits the humble novelty t-shirt. Although my style tends towards normcore mime, I too have a few such tees in my collection (after all, it is in fact an honor just to be Asian).

Apparently award-winning author Haruki Murakami also has a pile of graphic tees he feels slightly guilty for having unintentionally stockpiled. Lucky for us, he’s been writing a book about it, Murakami T: The T-shirts I Love, and Charlene K. Lau at The Atlantic has the scoop.

“Murakami’s understated love letters to his tees also convey how we give life to our things and vice versa. The relationships we have with our stuff can elicit visceral responses; we can be as loving to a ratty old sweater as to a pet. And at times, the feelings of comfort and security almost suggest that our stuff can love us back.” 

The Personality Test in Your Closet is as much an ode to Murakami’s eccentricities and genius, as it is a love letter to all of us holding on to clues from our own closets with the hopes of figuring out who we’re supposed to be.


“Little Amal” is actually not so little. She’s an 11-foot tall puppet in the shape of a Syrian refugee girl. The Handspring Puppet Company and Good Chance Theatre have been taking Little Amal on a tour from the Syrian border, through dozens of cities in Europe, to the puppet’s final destination in the United Kingdom. The project is called The Walk, and Amal’s path is an intentional one. In Syria, a decade-long civil war has killed or wounded almost 12,000 children as of last spring.

According to Alan Taylor with The Atlantic:

“Amir Nizar Zuabi, the project’s artistic director, says, ‘The purpose of The Walk is to highlight the potential of the refugee, not just their dire circumstances. Little Amal is 3.5 meters tall because we want the world to grow big enough to greet her.’”

Get a glimpse into Amal’s odyssey and all of the people she’s educated and charmed along the way in this stunning photo essay: The Journey of Little Amal.


That’s a wrap on issue 60, friends. Thanks for listening, reading, holding on.

Next Thursday is Thanksgiving in the U.S., so look for RPR in your inbox again the following week, on December 2.

In the meantime, all of the gratitude and a big awkward virtual hug to all of you for being part of this misfit crew. If you’re feeling the love and holiday spirit too, please consider forwarding this issue to your inquisitive friends, or sharing it on social media and letting your peeps know that all of the curious awkward people are always warmly welcomed here. You can find shareable links to everything ROCK PAPER RADIO has published here.

Take care next week, and I’ll see you in your inbox the Thursday after next.


You can find ROCK PAPER RADIO on Instagram and Twitter @RockPaperRadio. You can find Kristin on Instagram @leongstagram and on Twitter @kristinleong
If this issue showed up in your inbox (subscribers, I see you) and you’d like to share it or any of our archives (so many high fives to you, amplifiers), you can find everything ROCK PAPER RADIO has ever published with all of the shareable links here