Wealth and Other Traps

What would you do with $10,000?

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.
Should I spend the money on renting an RV to take my family on a socially distant adventure after a year of lockdown on top of each other in our living room? Send me all your ideas for putting this #MysteryExperiment windfall to good use. For real. Reach out. Photo credit: Amit Gaur

Hi, misfit friends. I have big/strange news to share. I’ve been sitting on this for a month and now it feels even bigger and stranger to come out with it, so I wanted to start here with my ROCK PAPER RADIO fam before venturing out into the wilderness of Twitter.

Okay let’s go. TED gave me $10,000. The catch? I have to spend it within three months (before May 26) and tweet about it, purchase by purchase. Oh, and a team of university researchers will be following every dollar and tweet along the way. There’s 300 of us from countries around the world who have been selected for this #MysteryExperiment.

I’ve been talking about race, gender, sexual orientation, and other top dinner party taboos for the past two decades in big, public ways, but money’s a different story. My Chinese half is feeling more than a bit uncomfortable with this assignment and these funds I didn’t earn. But then there’s all the other parts of me - grateful, stunned, humbled, overwhelmed, absolutely overwhelmed.

I want to know what you’d do with this mixed blessing. What would you buy? Who would you support? How would you take this unplanned-for windfall and make it change your life or the world? Reach out and let me know. For real. You can reply to this newsletter if it arrived in your inbox, you can tweet at me, text me, write me a message in the Seattle sky with a plane. Choose whatever communication platform is your favorite, but really, let me know.

And now that that’s out there, let’s get back to our regular programming. Perhaps you already anticipated this - the theme of this week’s issue is money.


When Scott Carrier’s Budweiser-chugging, shit-talking neighbor Bob was hit by a car, he was psyched: thousands, possibly millions of dollars were about to come his way and change his life. Even before the jackpot landed in his account, Bob started putting that change into action. He put two Harley Davidsons on the top of his to-buy list, and then he went back to school, found a girl.

This 10-minute story about Bob’s journey, Pot of Gold, is some excellent vintage This American Life. No interviews. No environmental sounds. Just Carrier storytelling like he’s drinking whiskey with you in a cabin.

I can’t tell if Carrier is rooting for Bob or not, but by the twist at the end I was just grateful that this particular imperfect hero happened to transform while living next to a writer.


For two years, a group of Californians earning at or below the city's median household income of $46,033 received $500 per month, no strings attached. (FYI - that’s $12,000 over two years, so sort of like an expanded version of TED’s Mystery Experiment.) The project was privately funded, no tax dollars were used.

In this update on the experiment by Adam Beam for the Associated Press, 125 people got $500 per month free for 2 years. Here's what happened., we get a glimpse into how a universal basic income might provide a bit of much needed breathing room for America’s working class.

Spoiler alert: employment rates for recipients shot up, while rates of anxiety plummeted. Less than 1% of the funds were spent on tobacco or alcohol.

Spread the word.



On a recent walk through Seattle’s International District, I was stopped in my tracks by a red mural showing fists full of chopsticks raised triumphantly, defiantly: chopsticks in a bundle are unbreakable.

After doing a little internet creeping, I found that the mural was created as a collaboration between Vietnamese artist Tan Nguyen, and Black artist Moses Sun, which led me to this short film showing the mural coming to life.

To the weariness of my tirelessly supportive wife, a new project idea was sparked: #AZNxBLM.

I want to use funds from this TED Mystery Experiment to support more collaboration between Asian and Black creatives and thinkers. As anti-Asian hate crimes surge, we need solidarity now more than ever. Let’s get to work. Are you an Asian or Black artist or writer? Reach out.


That’s a wrap on issue 31. Thanks for listening, reading, holding on, misfit fam. And thanks in advance for sharing your disruptive/indulgent/everyday ideas for putting this pile of cash to work. I’ll be dreaming/freaking out in the meantime.

See you next Thursday.


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 LET’S GO #AZNxBLM. Or something like that.