The Big Issue : Edition 512
THEBIGISSUE20MAY–2JUN2016 23 A SNIFF, SIGHT OR SOUND CAN TAKE YOU BACK IN A FLASH – WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT. Memory in the Making brain stores forever. It’s as though a particular kind of focused listening sharpens the image you’re looking at, however banal it might be. The other day, I was reflecting on the best podcasts I’ve ever heard, and it occurred to me that for each and every podcast, I could remember exactly where I was when I was listening to them. I remember driving from Canberra to the Blue Mountains while David Sedaris sang as Billie Holiday for This American Life’s music lessons episode. Delighted by his hilarious and touching impression, tense with trying not to laugh over the music. A field with an abandoned building in it flashed past the car window. Walking to work listening to The Moth podcast in the early days (an episode called ‘Small Town Prisoner’) I heard Wanda Bullard – a supremely gifted storyteller – talking about her father, an ex-cop, turning a prisoner loose. The city was bustling around me as people pushed past, but I couldn’t hear a thing as I pressed the pedestrian button at the lights. I listened to the very first Planet Money podcast while vacuuming the house. I had to stop the vacuuming at one point – not in order to hear better, but in order to be still. In order to listen better. By the end of the podcast I was elated. I understood new things! I was at the top of the stairs and it was my old vacuum, not the red one I have now. These are well-known podcasts and this is just a small selection of little moments. But it does (very scientifically) prove my point: podcasting is good for your brain. You can take podcast with you anywhere, in public or in private, and you can learn or enjoy things inside your own head. This shapes the way you see the world around you. Literally. It’s also an easy shortcut to replacing any Awful Duck memories you might have. And don’t we all have those? PODCASTS ARE GOOD for your brain. Let me explain. Walking down the street with a mate one time, we rounded a corner and he froze. Rigid. Like a kid playing a drama game – arms mid-stride, one leg outstretched, aborting the next step into a future moment the prospect of which, apparently, horrified him. “Oh,” he said. “Oh no. We must turn around. This... This is not a good place.” The rest of us turned to him. What was he talking about? It was a lovely place. The park! All those trees! People with frisbees! Green grass! Ducks on a pond! What kind of a monster doesn’t like ducks? “Blghmph,” he muttered, floppy now, winded. “Those awful ducks,” he grunted with abject horror. Those Awful Ducks, we decided later, would be a great title for his memoir. You see, to my friend, this was The Breakup Park. The neutral ground to which he and his ex-beloved had retreated to undergo the torturous process of asserting finality over their disintegrating relationship. He remembered picking at the splinters on the park bench. He remembered where he sat, the public toilets in the background and how he felt as he listened intently to a few key phrases he would rather not have revisited on a sunny day a few months later with his mates. And he remembered Those Awful Ducks. Smell gets a lot of credit when it comes to memory. A smell can take you back in an instant to your childhood kitchen or the school bus or hair gel at the Grade 6 disco. But place – that sense of where you are positioned in relation to the world around you – is a trigger that truly transports you. That’s why people remember where they were when the Twin Towers were hit. It’s why people dream so vividly of places they lived in while their identity was being formed. (It’s always a dead giveaway that it might be a dream when your current boss is quizzing you in your Year 8 science classroom that opens out into your childhood backyard while your old dog, Bones, whispers the answers.) Combine listening and looking, though, and things become even more intense. “I think we should break up” combined with a snapshot of fingers picking splintered wood makes for a kind of psychic photograph that your » Lorin Clarke (@lorinimus) is a Melbourne-based writer and co-host of the Stupidly Small Podcast. Find out more at stupidlybig.com or subscribe through your favourite podcast app.