There is something comforting, in these turbulent times, about listening to stories set in the cocoon of family and friendship. When events on the political stage seem particularly dispiriting, it’s worth remembering that it’s these relationships that sustain us day to day.
Not that they don’t bring their own turmoil, as Love Me, a new podcast from Montreal, illustrates. It’s about human connections in all their joyful, miserable and ridiculous forms. If the title sounds a bit mushy, the programme is anything but. It has an excellent pedigree: it is presented by Lu Olkowski, a stalwart of WNYC’s Radiolab, and its producers, Mira Burton-Wintonick and Cristal Duhaime, are best known for their work on Wiretap, the Canadian show that mixed fact with fiction and had the distinction of being the first comedy podcast successfully to coax my face into a smile.
Love Me isn’t about belly laughs but it certainly leaves a warm glow. So far we’ve had episodes about a widow dealing with her grief by going on the world’s worst date and a love affair between strangers from different continents conducted via Google Translate (reader, she married him).
The latest, a show in three segments, looks first at the rivalry between three sisters and a harsh lesson dispensed by their parents, and then, in dramatised form, the challenges of taking a family photo. But it’s the third act that proves most powerful as a man discovers that his father isn’t really his father, and that it isn’t the end of the world. After years of feeling different, he says, “Things finally made sense.”
Love Me’s vignettes are universal in their themes but precision-tooled in terms of detail. The editing is sharp and the tone atmospheric and intimate. All human life is here.
Invisibilia, an NPR podcast that is similarly characterised by its sensitivity and humanity, is back for a new season. Presented by Alix Spiegel, Lulu Miller and Hanna Rosin, it’s about the invisible parts of our existence that shape the way we live. In tackling the big questions, their investigations draw on history, science, philosophy and psychology but never lose their connection to everyday life.
Their newest episode looks at frames of reference, and focuses on Kim, a woman in her fifties with Asperger’s whose understanding of the world is altered after participating in a medical trial. Having had magnetic pulses passed through her skull, she was, for around 30 minutes, able to comprehend the subtleties of human interaction. At that moment life was, she observes, “so much more alive, so much more real. It’s deeper, more meaningful. It’s like black-and-white to colour.”
For a few months afterwards Kim suffered from depression, grieving for a life that she couldn’t have, but she doesn’t regret a thing. For a brief moment she saw how the world worked and it was, she says, amazing.