Perks of Being an Outsider Stuck Indoors

we're all spies in haunted houses now

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, something to read, and something to listen to. Themes include but are not limited to: orcas, tenacious teachers, Chinese grandmothers. Thanks for subscribing and spreading the word.
This is Radley the rescue doodle. She’s worried because we’re outside and she’s inside and this is the farthest away she’s been from her family since March. For more pics of creatures with anxiety, find me on Instagram @leongstagram. Packwood, Washington, 2020.


If you live in a city, chances are you have at least one window in your home that faces directly into the window of your neighbor’s home. Lucky for you, this intimate setup provides the perfect opportunity you never asked for to acquire an awkward new friend in lockdown.

That’s exactly what the storyteller in The Living Room did, although “friend” might be a little generous. The obsessive relationship that unfolds over the course of this 22-minute journey is a little one-sided to say the least.

This story rightfully won the Director’s Choice Award at the Third Coast International Audio Festival in 2015 and—fair warning—it will make you cry.

Although it's five years old, this story could be 2020’s soundtrack. It’s enraging. It’s sad. It reminds you that you’re a human person inside a human body that’s alive and vulnerable and nosy to its core.

At first you are disgusted by the storyteller. You are sure you would never do what she’s doing. You are grateful you definitely don’t live next door to such a psychopath, especially during a pandemic.

But then, like so many imperfect heroes in stories that break you in half, she grows on you. And so do the people she’s spying on. And then the next thing you know you find yourself running into your neighbors while weeping on your walk around the block with your headphones on and it’s the exactly the perfect scene for this Uncertain Time.


CJ Hauser’s My Niece Is Probably the Reincarnation of Shirley Jackson is filled with so many things I love: wise children, ghosts, wrap around porches where scandalous literary encounters with Dylan Thomas were had.

Also, existential explorations of the perks and problems of Social Distancing. From Hauser on Jackson’s story about two sisters—one in love with a doomed man, the other in love with the idea of quarantining forever:

“The way I read it, the Blackwoods’ house shows us that a castle can be a structure that isolates and imprisons you, but can also be a kind of protection from having to face people who don’t understand the nature of your trauma—the way in which your house came to be haunted.”

Hauser is a master storyteller. I devoured her novel Family of Origin over the course of two transfixed days after reading her viral essay The Crane Wife. Protip: this Saturday, Aug 29, is Seattle Independent Bookstore Day. Even if you don’t live in Seattle, this weekend would be a great time to order Family of Origin from your favorite little bookshop. It’s a novel about ducks, and weirdos, and wrecking everything you love to see if you’ll still be loved in return anyway. It’s unsettling in the most moving way and it’s like nothing else I’ve ever read.



Attention my fellow audio-visual learners: There’s a magical place on the internet where artists from all over the world are mapping the planet with sounds and photos. The project is called Cities & Memory.

Many of the captions from the photographers are hidden gems. Like this human moment of seeking from photographer Giulia Biasibetti in Italy: The bustling and chaotic daily fish market in the city of Catania, Sicily, with vendors and customers alike calling out.

It’s like exploring the world from your couch if the world was populated only by poets.


Fifty! On ROCK PAPER RADIO’s one month anniversary last week—on National Radio Day no less—our 50th subscriber signed up!

Is 50 a lot on the World Wide Web?? Compared to Carol Baskin’s 21,000+ Instagram followers, perhaps not.

But here’s what this milestone means to me: it means there are 50 misfits out there still holding on to some sense of optimism during this unreal time we’re all swimming in right now. It means however “unique” you’ve always felt, there are maybe 49 other people out there who get you. Or, 49 people who at least signed up for the same random newsletter that you did. And that’s not nothing.

I see and appreciate all 50 of you with all of my misfit guts. Thanks for joining this RPR crew, especially in these early days. If you have other unlikely optimists in your circle, invite them to subscribe and join us too.

We’re building a movement of misfits and unlikely optimists one Thursday email at a time, and all the curious weirdos are warmly and enthusiastically welcomed.

Thank you again, fam. That’s a wrap for issue no. 5. See you all next Thursday.


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