Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Back to NPR … and loving it!

I just got back from my NPR taping. It went well, I think. I'm feeling good. So please disregard the column a few screens down. The one in which I'm critical of an NPR story. No hard feelings, right? We're friends again.

My commentary--my first in four years--was slated to run on New Year's Day, though now it looks like it'll be the following Monday. Or it was, depending on when you're reading this.

One of my New Year's wishes is to do more NPR Commentaries. Another is to get better at blogging--what IS this blog about anyway? (If the still popular Seinfeld was a show about nothing, can a blog about nothing be successful too?) And Twittering and Facebooking, etc. If anybody reading this has any advice, please do share.

Arriving at NPR West is an experience of mixed reactions. It's in a nondescript building. A warehouse. In a fairly industrial area. A far cry from the Sony Studios a few blocks to the north!

I'm nervous. I'm five minutes late. But nowhere near as nervous as I was on my previous visit, four years ago.

Yet inside the place is very hip but quiet. Casual, clean. I'm energized and my nervousness evaporates.

I keep thinking it would make a great lounge/café. It's got exposed pipes and things in the high ceiling, and TV screens abound. An echoey space, yet quiet as a library. Lots of glass-walled, soundproof mini studios.

I was escorted to one of the smallest studios. Passing and passing up the offered donuts and snack machine. My older daughter, Paula, and my assistant Beethoven are with me. They sat out in the lounge area. Don't think they took any donuts or Fritos either.

My studio really only had room for one. I pulled up to the desk, which was easier than I remembered, now that I no longer drive my wheelchair with a hand control. The last time I was here, the hand control bumped the desk and I had to position myself way back.

Before removing himself to the lounge area, Beethoven removed the device I now use to drive my chair, which is a mini-joystick installed on a plastic collar. He helped position my script on the page holder. The studio person pulled a hotdog-size microphone close to my mouth. In front of me were two computer screens and a lot of switches and dials. Which I willfully ignored. Beethoven gave me a swallow of water and then left the room.

Through the big headphones I was introduced to my producer Joanna, in Washington. After some introductory bla bla bla, I set in to read my bit.

It went smoothly. I even remembered to substitute "in the past year” for "this past year," as my editor Maeve had requested, and to take out the word "little" when describing my daughters.

"You were clear and had energy," said Joanna. "I'm going to ask you to read the whole thing one more time, just in case." I did, and that was it. No additional retakes (unlike in my last visit).

We were out of there in less than a half-hour.

A good end to an un-bad year. Or a good beginning for the new one, I suppose, depending on when it's actually broadcast.

Afterward, dropped off Paula at the Starbucks on the Third Street Promenade to meet her friend Gina. They were going for birthday makeovers (Paula turned 14 yesterday) and a movie. It's raining outside. I hope Paula remembered her umbrella.

Here's hoping 2010 brings everyone umbrellas if it's raining--as well as peace and joy, good fortune and good health, whatever the weather.

(One curmudgeonly note: I trust we can stop saying "two-thousand and..." and get back to the simpler way of saying years. You know, as we last did in good ol' nineteen-ninety-nine. In this case, saying "twenty-ten" instead of "two-thousand-and-ten." Y'think?)


  1. I just heard your commentary on NPR. I'm glad you've reconciled with NPR. I lost most of my television stations thanks to the digital conversion that didn't work as advertised, and have been listening to NPR more and more as my viewing grows less and less (I can't afford cable or satellite being a member of Club Unemployed). I'm not complaining about being forced off television (unusual for me) because I find myself using NPR as a starting place to learning. It may not be as good as it used to be, but it is better than staring at much of what is available on what's left of my television choices. While I have zero interest in Facebook or Twitter, the appeal of which evade me completely, I do enjoy getting tiny insights into how other people work, function, and enjoy their lives despite or because of whatever challenges they are faced with. For completely selfish reasons, I hope NPR continues to run your commentaries, and that you continue to be critical but forgiving of NPR.

  2. Ben- I just listened to your npr commentary, and THANK YOU. I just really liked it, and I'm aghast at morons who say things like, "If I were you, I'd kill myself." (I get similar comments, but for a different reason.) I liked that you put everything into perspective. I'm pretty cynical about years changing -- I believe that just because the calendar changes doesn't mean some magic fix is going to happen. But I like how you pointed out that sometimes, something simple ("simple" in a good way) like having a great family is more than enough.

    Cheers...and here's to a great 2010. Looking forward to your memoir!

  3. Hi Ben,
    So, your commentary caught me on a day when I had a few minutes. I commented on the NPR site and then thought I'd try looking up your blog. I was really moved by your commentary on NPR and, although I don't usually feel this urge when I hear something on NPR that I find interesting, I felt like thanking you. Thanks for saying some simple things with grace and clarity. This is not so easy to do. I do a little writing myself (I'm a psychology professor), and I know how hard it can be. I hope your "twenty ten" is not at all bad and that you continue to feel lucky. I'm feeling more lucky after listening to your piece.

  4. Ben,
    As another quadriplegic with a progressive neurological disease (multiple sclerosis), your commentary said a lot of what I would say, only you said it better. Nice job!

  5. Ben,
    Heard your commentary on NPR today and honestly, I feel I have lived an extremely shallow life. At 43 I am ashamed at myself for not trying harder in all aspects of my life. Thanks for the inspiration.

  6. Great commentary, Ben. Keep up the good writing!

  7. I heard your piece this morning, and wanted to share with you the comment I left on NPR's page for it: 'Thank you, Ben, for helping us put things in perspective and for chiding those who make such thoughtless comments to people like you. You are one of the lucky ones - each of us that draws breath is. I wish you a happy and healthy new year.'