Storytelling is the Best Revenge
let's hear it for the readers and writers who forgive but never forget
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.
SOMETHING TO LISTEN TO
I’m a firm believer that telling the truth is almost always the right choice, unless your young son asks how old people have to be to get married, in which case you should absolutely follow my lead and tell him that it’s illegal for anyone to get married before they’re 30.
In Nick Yarris’ case, following a cop’s lie with one of his own led to a life-crushing wrongful conviction and 21 years served on death row. Yarris has since been exonerated by DNA evidence. This is his story in 25 minutes, produced by Liz Mak for Snap Judgement: One Wrong Lie.
Yarris’ extraordinary story would be staggering on the page, but this is one that sings as an audio feature. Yarris’ voice and the intentional way he choses his words and speaks them is chillingly powerful.
In the second half of the story, we hear how language and reading got him though those two decades in lockdown with dignity. By the end, I wasn’t just cheering for Yarris, I was cheering for all of us escapist readers who had to teach ourselves how to communicate with the hope that one day the right person might listen to what we have to say.
SOMETHING TO READ
I had the good fortune of working with actor and writer Simon Tran over the last few weeks to edit his rallying cry for misfits for our latest installment of KUOW’s Seattle Story Project: 'It's Simon, not Tran.' Bullied by a high school teacher, this Vietnamese writer found his voice.
Simon was one of the only Asian or gay students at his high school. This essay is both a triumphant it gets better story, and also a gutting look at the harm of educators who choose humiliation over empathy.
I haven’t been a teacher for four years, and I haven’t been a high school student for one million years, but this story brought me back to some of the most visceral moments I remember from school in such an immediate way. If I were still teaching, I’d fold this essay into a Socratic seminar for sure.
Teachers - if you use Simon’s story with your students, let me know. And if you’re looking for a guest speaker for your class, I’d be thrilled to share a behind-the-scenes look at how Seattle Story Project essays come to life. Reach out.
SOMETHING TO HOLD ON TO
A popular library in Turkey is curated by garbage collectors. Behold:
“It all started when sanitation worker Durson Ipek found a bag of cast-off books when he was working and then it snowballed from there. Ipek and other garbage men started gathering the books they found on the streets that were destined for landfills and as their collection started to grow, so did word of mouth. Soon, local residents started donating books directly.”
The library now has partnerships with prisons and schools, as well as a lounge where readers can have tea and play chess. Learn more and watch a 2 minute video that features these sanitation workers-turned-librarian heroes at Goodnet: Turkish Garbage Collectors Open a Library from Books Rescued from the Trash.
DO WHAT YOU MUST
That’s it for issue 35, friends. Thanks for listening, reading, holding on.
The news continues to be brutal, so re-pot all 19 of your houseplants and throw the majority of your closet into a Goodwill donation bin. Or, you know, do whatever it is you need to do to rip yourself away from doomscrolling hell.
Reach out if you need a reminder that optimism is usually unlikely, and misfits have always been the most resilient. Hang in there, everyone. Spring’s here and change is coming.
See you next Thursday.