The Water We're Swimming In

maybe it's nice here after all

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: rebel violinists, immortal jellyfish, revolution. Thanks for subscribing and spreading the word.


Last week 90-year-old Margaret "Maggie" Keenan put on her Christmas penguin sweater and had the UK’s first does of the Covid vaccine injected into her arm while we all (including Rachel Maddow) cried and cheered. Since then, some American healthcare workers have also received the vaccine, and so the countdown has begun for the rest of us waiting for our own inoculation while we convince our sisters who sell essential oils that when it’s available, they should get it too.

The Covid vaccine development was impressively swift—it took just 11 months—but there was one person who knew all along that we could do it. Back in March during the early days of the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted that a vaccine would be ready in “a year to a year-and-a-half,” shocking skeptical experts, and contradicting his boss in the White House.

Dr. Fauci has a history of being a pragmatic but ambitious optimist. In 2005, NPR’s This I Believe featured Dr. Fauci’s 4-minute audio essay, A Goal Of Service To Humankind. In his now-familiar New York cadence, we hear the hope and humility in his life-saving work:

“I believe in striving for excellence. I sweat the big and the small stuff! I do not apologize for this. One of the by-products of being a perfectionist and constantly trying to improve myself are sobering feelings of low-grade anxiety and a nagging sense of inadequacy. But this is not anxiety without a purpose. No, this anxiety keeps me humble. It creates a healthy tension that serves as the catalyst that drives me to fulfill my limited potential.

This has made me a better physician and scientist. Without this tension, I wouldn’t be as focused.”

Listening to this was a moving and reassuring reminder that although the world has been especially chaotic this year, there are good people out there who are, and who always have been, working to keep us safe and make it great here.


I love this essay by Lulu Miller for The Paris Review: The Eleventh Word.

It’s about the terror of bedtimes and pandemics and uprisings, happening all at once. It’s also about the pressure and joy of finding the right words for things we don’t understand. After 2020 spent the whole year reminding us that there’s still so much we don’t understand, this feels exactly right.

And fish. It’s about fish too.

And on top of all of this, Miller’s essay offers readers such a charming glimpse into her life with her wife without being an essay about life as a woman with a wife. We need more of that. Gayness in the background. Surprising stories and beautiful writing in the foreground. Enjoy and spread the word.


NO PRESSURE — but some artists are making some excellent art out of their pandemic anxiety and there’s an online museum where you can see all that creativity and social distancing at work.

From Adi Renaldi for Vice: This Online Museum Curates Quarantine Art From Around the World.

If you’re making cool things with your existential dread, we’d love to see it. Tag @RockPaperRadio on Instagram so we can like and share. As for me, I made a “rustic” wreath with the plants outside our house and then it fell off the door so now it’s flat on one side. I don’t think that counts.



That’s it for issue 21. Thanks for listening, reading, and holding on, misfit fam. I see all your social media shout outs for our little newsletter. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The sun now sets in the middle of the day, so don’t forget to blast yourself with your S.A.D. lamp and take some bites out of your gingerbread house when you need to. It’s almost the new year. We’ve got this.

See you in a couple of Thursdays, friends. ROCK PAPER RADIO will be taking next Thursday off to take a breath for the holidays.


PS. If you missed it last week, there’s still time to find the perfect gift for all of your curious friends. Here’s ROCK PAPER RADIO’s 2020 Gift Guide For Misfits.

You can find ROCK PAPER RADIO on Instagram and Twitter @RockPaperRadio. You can help spread the word about our community of misfits and unlikely optimists by sharing this issue on the social medias with a comment that says SUBSCRIBE TO THIS NEWSLETTER AND NEVER FEEL WEIRD AGAIN. Or something like that.