6.02.16: History of Drowning, Tracking Her Tears, & 10-Minute Writer's Workshop

Jun 2, 2016

It feels like summer. Time to head to the coast, the lake, or local pool. The urge to jump into water may feel instinctive on a hot day, but swimming is a learned behavior for humans. Today, an historian says that by learning to swim a little, humans have learned to drown a lot.

Plus, Pulitzer-prize winning novelist Richard Russo joins me for the 10-Minute Writer's Workshop. He talks about shedding pretentiousness, learning humility, and why the hapless citizens in the decaying mill town of his youth keep coming up in novels like Nobody's Fool and Empire Falls.

Listen to the full show. 

A History of Drowning

Memorial Day is behind us, which means summer to us up here in New England - time to head to the coast or the lake or find a local pool or swimming hole to cool off. The urge to jump into water may feel instinctive on a hot day, but it's a learned behavior among humans.

Despite the ease of Olympic swimmers Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin, humans are not, in fact, born to swim – though we inhabit a planet that's nearly three quarters covered by water. With all that natural water, more than 5 million residential pools and more than 1400 water parks in the US alone, we begin to understand more clearly why drowning is the fifth leading cause of death in this country. 

James McWilliams is an historian and author of "The Things We Eat" column at Pacific Standard. His piece "A Brief History of Drowning" is in Pacific Standard's Water issue.

Tracking Her Tears

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what's the value of a good info-graphic? Bills and budgets, food or exercise habits - whatever the metric, today's spreadsheet junkies are obsessed with collecting and visualizing data about their lives and habits - but, what happens when measuring emotion?  Robin Weis is a user experience designer who quantifies her own life data as a sort of hobby. She tracked her crying for more than a year - and then sorted her patterns and analysis into an infographic-laden essay that was featured on Vox.

When the Parachute Failed

It's a skydiver's worst nightmare: you're 12,000 feet above the earth, in a free fall, the world spins below .... And the chute doesn't open. What do you do? What do you think? What do you feel?

This next story comes to us from producers Michael May and Lisa Tobin as part of WBUR's "Kind World" series.

You can listen to this story again at PRX.org

10-Minute Writer's Workshop

Richard Russo won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel, Empire Falls. That and Nobody's Fool were both adapted into films starring Paul Newman. Russo returns to the fictional working class town of North Bath, New York for his most recent novel, Everybody's Fool. Virginia sat down with him on the darkened stage of an eerily empty theatre before an extended interview at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord.   

Listen to this episode again: 10-Minute Writer's Workshop: Richard Russo