but this place is just right.
The podcast Everything is Alive has become my personal antidote to the internet. Quirky, ostensibly unscripted conversations with inanimate objects ( they are voiced by people, but suspend your disbelief, okay?). The soothing, expansive conversations with interview subjects including a can of cola, a lamppost, and a tooth are the tonal antithesis of a comments section. Every episode has left me with something new: a nugget of trivia, a fresh perspective, an appreciation for the prosaic.
The episode with “Chioke,” a grain of sand, yields meditations on boredom, the passage of time, and collectivism.
“Sorry, I’m having trouble with the pronouns,” Chioke says. “We’re doing this interview, and I’m a grain of sand, but that’s not really the way that I would think of myself. I think normally I would just say, ‘We are sand’. You see that there’s the kind of mass noun thing happening. And it’s weird to talk to you because you don’t have a mass noun thing...So you say of yourself that you’re a person, right?” The interviewer concurs. “So, like, why aren’t you a grain of person?” asks Chioke.
“Why do I not consider myself as, like, a fraction of all of humanity?” the interviewer asks.
“Yeah...that makes more sense. It just seems to me that if you, like, recognize the degree to which you owed your existence to other people, you might also be nicer to other people.”
The podcast is an exercise in creative empathy, of willingly suspending one’s cynicism and appreciating existence in its mundanity and complexity. It calls to mind a New Yorker Shouts & Murmurs piece that is narrated by a condom. But in addition to the escapism, there’s something deeply existential about the show.
It’s not all profound – there are gems like the fact that white sand isn’t really sand it all, but parrotfish poop (as an Australian, there’s something wonderfully ironic about the knowledge that our pristine white beaches, about which we’re internationally smug, are actually, literally, shit.) The Halloween episode, in which a jack-o-lantern describes what it feels like to be disembowelled, begins with a tongue-in-cheek trigger warning. In the Ukraine, the jack-o-lantern explains, pumpkins were formerly given as a symbol of romantic rejection – jilted lovers were given them to take home in a literal walk of shame.
These are the imagined testimonies of objects that bear witness to our daily rituals and intimate lives. The objects see us at our most genuine and vulnerable selves, whether we are singing in the shower (a bar of soap), crying in our sleep (a pillow), or making perfunctory small-talk (an elevator), as opposed to behaving for the benefit of other people, whether that’s stoking hatred or performing outrage.
Lately, as I scroll through social media in a semi-vegetative state, I’ve caught myself becoming unreasonably irked by a common signal-boosting phrase. It always appears in the same format: some horrific news article, which people caption with the helpful addendum, “Let that sink in,” as if we’re all impervious to information.
Since 1970, we’ve wiped out 60 percent of all animals on earth. Let that sink in. Two million children in Yemen are suffering from malnutrition because of a Saudi-led economic war. Let that sink in. China has announced it islifting a 25-year ban on the use and trade of rhino and tiger parts, even though species of both animals are endangered. Let that sink in. We have until 2030 to limit the rise of global temperatures to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius), if we want to mitigate the risk of exposure of hundreds of millions of people to poverty, extreme drought and flooding. Let it all sink in.
When I’m feeling sanguine, I remind myself that statistically, life is better now than at any point in history – globally, life expectancy is higher and extreme poverty is lower than ever before— and that negativity bias predisposes us to retain bad events more readily than positive ones. Social media engenders an ironic disconnection and depression in users, and while it keeps us perpetually distracted, it does nothing to alleviate, as Chioke the grain of sand puts it, “a fundamental anxiety that many humans have about their lives.” Despite the scale of political and environmental tumult, and the increasing infantilization of the concept of self-care, Everything is Alive reminds me there is still value in pausing to reflect, listen, or—as Chioke said—“sit and just be.”