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Death, Sex & Money
33 minutes | Jun 23, 2021
A Teen Musician Is Ready For His Solo. His Mom Is Not.
This week, I speak with Miguel Llapa, who is 18 and just graduating from high school. Miguel is a percussionist, and a soon-to-be college student, with congenital scoliosis — an abnormality of the spine which affects his lung capacity. “As I got older, I started to feel more dependent when I wanted to be more independent,” Miguel said. “Because I was always in and out of the hospital, I always had someone with me. I always had someone accompany me, which I love. But after some time, you know, I started to grow, to feel like I wanted to test things out on my own.” Miguel, alongside his mom, talks about his excitement about heading off to college and living independently for the first time—and his mom shares what's making her feel nervous about it.
27 minutes | Jun 16, 2021
"The Lying Stops Now": Your Hardest Conversations
Hard conversations often spark a change. Whether they shift something in a relationship, or a situation, or inside you, there is often a definitive "before" and "after" a hard conversation. When we asked you to tell us about the hardest conversations you've ever had, you told us about talking with kids about a death. Telling family that you've fallen in love with a man in prison. Breaking up with a longtime friend. Sometimes the conversations resulted in resolution, and relief. Other times, they left you feeling like there was a lot more to be said. You also told us about hard conversations you haven't yet had—but know that you need to. And we're looking for even more stories like this, for an upcoming series we're working on. If you've got a hard conversation that you've been waiting to have, and need a push to do it, send a voice memo to email@example.com.
35 minutes | Jun 9, 2021
Michelle Zauner's Joy Is Rooted In Vengeance
When Michelle Zauner of the indie band Japanese Breakfast returned home to Eugene, Oregon, to take care of her mother in 2014, she wasn’t prepared for what life would be like as a caregiver. Her mother, whom she often clashed with growing up, had been diagnosed with late-stage gastrointestinal cancer, and Michelle struggled to fulfill what she believed her obligations were as an only child. “I did not have any idea of what I was getting into or what death looked like and what illness looked like,” Michelle told me, and writes about in a new book called Crying in H Mart. “I felt like needed to write about these things, in some sense, to like, warn people,” she told me. Since Michelle’s mom died, her band has released three albums—two that were focused on grief and loss, and the latest, which is called Jubilee. I talk with Michelle about the things that are making her happy today—and about why she recently tweeted that all of her joy “is rooted in vengeance.” Listen to Japanese Breakfast's latest album, Jubilee, here, and check out her Crying in H Mart Spotify playlist here.
33 minutes | Jun 2, 2021
Mahershala Ali and Rafael Casal: Envy Is A Hell Of A Drug
Today, Mahershala Ali is an Oscar-winning actor who lands leading roles in TV shows like True Detective and Hollywood blockbusters like Green Book and the upcoming Blade Marvel series. But he got his start as a poet-turned-rapper in the Bay Area, where he grew up. Rafael Casal is another Bay Area poet and musician who made his big screen debut in the film (and upcoming TV series) Blindspotting, which he co-wrote and co-starred in with his creative partner, Daveed Diggs. "We put a movie out and everyone back home thinks I'm on," Rafael says. "And I'm like, that was an indie movie. I lost money." In this guest hosted episode from 2019, Mahershala interviews Rafael about his childhood as a "knucklehead," his life-changing discovery of slam poetry when he was a teenager, and how he and Daveed handle uncomfortable discussions about money and creative credit. This episode was part of Death, Sex & Money's 2019 Maternity Leave Lineup. Mahershala Ali first joined us on Death, Sex & Money in 2016, along with his wife, Amatus. Hear their conversation about faith, love and success, taped live in Brooklyn.
34 minutes | May 26, 2021
Alison Bechdel On Menopause, Mortality and Punching Pennies
Alison Bechdel went through menopause 10 years ago, when she was 50. I know this because she writes about it in her latest graphic memoir, called The Secret To Superhuman Strength. "I just felt crazy," Alison told me about that time in her life. "It was kind of like having really bad PMS for extended periods. I just know I felt nuts." Alison's observations about her outer physical life and inner emotional life are at the center of her new book—which follows two works that are largely about her parents: her 2012 graphic novel Are You My Mother? and her acclaimed 2006 graphic novel-turned-musical Fun Home. Alison's parents and their influences on her are present in her new book, but it follows Alison's own life progression—and exercise obsessions—decade by decade. "I so much wanted to be a big strong guy," Alison told me about herself as a young girl. "I think what the real lure for me was this idea of being self-sufficient, that I wouldn't need anyone else's care or protection. I wanted to be that powerful."
53 minutes | May 19, 2021
A Former Pro Climber On Enduring Chronic Illness
Until 2018, Mason Earle was a professional rock climber. Mason started climbing as a kid, and developed a specialty in a style known as "crack climbing," where you climb by wedging your hands, fists, or your whole body into cracks in rocks. Mason spent most of his 20s seeking adventure and climbing around the world. But just before turning 30, he started feeling flu-like symptoms on a climbing trip in Yosemite with some friends. Mason never fully recovered. "It was the first moment in my life where I really felt there was no safety net underneath me," he told me. He was later diagnosed with ME/CFS, commonly called chronic fatigue syndrome. In a series of three conversations, Mason and I talked about his former career, how he's adjusting to life and marriage with a disability, and why he doesn't miss rock climbing.
40 minutes | May 12, 2021
Strictly, Entirely On The Fence About Having A Kid
A few months back, Avery Trufelman, host of The Cut podcast from New York Magazine, reached out with a request to talk. About becoming a parent. "I am strictly entirely on the fence about whether or not I want to have a kid," Avery told me when we talked. "And I guess I wonder, you know, you were almost in the exact same position that I'm in, working as a podcaster, being in media. And I'm curious how you went from my position to your position. Why did you make the plunge?" There's a lot to consider when trying to decide whether to become a parent. There's your biological clock. The environment. Your financial situation. Your romantic life. Your health. But today, in this episode, we're focusing on the decisions and tradeoffs we make around ambition, desires, and identity when we decide to become parents. I talk with Avery about how being a mom of two has changed my work life, and what I've let go of. We hear from artist Julie Mehretu about how being a mom has impacted her art, and comedian Margaret Cho about being at peace with not having kids. And we hear from one mom who decided to radically change the way motherhood looked in her life—and the price she paid for it.
57 minutes | May 5, 2021
Where Noel and Anna's Hot Girl Summer Went Wrong
Last week, I talked with my friend and colleague Noel King, who is a co-host at NPR's Morning Edition, about my new book. It's called Let's Talk About Hard Things, and in front of a live (Zoom) audience, we talked together about why I've built my career on having tough conversations—and all the life stuff that led up to making that leap. Noel and I first met more than a decade ago, back to when I was still married to my first husband. "You and I were supposed to go to Washington D.C. on a reporting trip together," Noel remembered during our conversation. "And I remember maybe a day before we were supposed to go...you walked over to my desk and you said very quietly, 'I cannot come to Washington, D.C. I need to stay in town this weekend and work on my marriage.'" I talk together with Noel about the hard conversations that led to the eventual end of that relationship (and the eventful summer that followed), and the ones that helped build the foundation of my second marriage. And, I talk with Noel about why I believe it's important to engage in personal, vulnerable conversations both with people inside our orbits—and people vastly different than ourselves. — Hear more from Noel King on Death, Sex & Money, in the episode she reported about reparations to Chicago police torture victims, and in our 2017 conversation together about workplace harassment, including at WNYC.
35 minutes | Apr 28, 2021
The 7 Hardest Conversations I've Ever Had On This Show
As the host of Death, Sex & Money, my job is to ask my guests to talk about the things "we think about a lot and need to talk about more." And sometimes, talking about hard things that you don’t have much practice talking about...can be unsettling and uncomfortable. It can also feel like the deepest exhale you didn’t know you were waiting for. I've experienced this as both an interviewer and as a participant in the conversations on this show. We've been talking a lot about hard conversations recently, as my new book, "Let's Talk About Hard Things" is about to be released into the world. So today we thought we'd look back at seven moments in our show’s seven year (!) history that I remember as the squirmiest, most stomach-ache inducing, unsettling, powerful, hard—and, ultimately, some of the most meaningful—conversations that have ever happened on Death, Sex & Money. Hear more of the interviews we excerpted in today's episode: My Awkward Money Talk With Sallie Krawcheck Why She Steals: Your Reactions The Sex Worker Next Door Chaz Ebert On Life Without Roger A Son and His Mom Laugh Through Darkness (featuring Bex Montz and Katie Ryan) A Son, A Mother And Two Gun Crimes (featuring Dwayne Betts and Gloria Hill) Dan Savage Says Cheating Happens. And That's OK.
34 minutes | Apr 21, 2021
When I Almost Died
A few years ago, I asked you to share your near-death experiences. You told us about car accidents...plane crashes...illness...suicide. And, you told us what happened after, when you didn't die. Ellen's near-death experience ended her marriage. Kelsey's forced her into sobriety. And Paul's left him feeling impatient: "Every moment has to matter, but then it doesn’t." We also heard from some of you about near-death experiences that weren't your own, but that deeply affected you just the same. Rachel* had only been in a relationship with her boyfriend for six months when he was diagnosed with lymphoma and hospitalized. She was terrified that he was going to die. But she was also terrified to admit that she wasn't happy in the relationship. "He didn’t miss me, the way I missed our closeness, because he was so preoccupied with the disease taking over him," she told me. "That really, really hurt me." And many of you told us that coming close to death changed the way that you think about dying. "It’s not as horrific as I thought it would be," said Elizabeth Caplice, who described her life as "one big near-death adventure." A listener sent us a link to her blog, Sky Between Branches, where she wrote about her life with stage 4 colorectal cancer. When I talked with her, she'd just been given an estimate of three months to live. "It obviously is a really terrible and rancid thing to happen to anyone," she told me. "But in a lot of ways it’s simultaneously been worse and not as bad as I thought it would be. It is a natural process. It’s a very human thing to have happen to you, is to die." This episode was originally released in 2016. To read updates about some of the people featured in it, sign up for our newsletter here.
39 minutes | Apr 14, 2021
I Was In Debt. Then My Sister Offered Me $16,000.
A few years ago, a 27-year-old listener we're calling Tessa was about $19,000 in credit card debt. An unexpected windfall helped them pay most of it off in one fell swoop. But even then, they weren't sure it would stick. "I'm worried that I am going to mess this up and end up exactly where I was before," Tessa told me they were thinking then. "And that is what happened. It ballooned back up to 16 [thousand] in less than a year." Tessa's been keeping all of this a secret from their family and friends. But a few weeks ago, they decided to reach out to their older sister for help. "She's a really great point in her career," Tessa told me. "She's really financially savvy." But before Tessa could even ask their sister to borrow money—she offered to pay it all off for them. But instead of it feeling like a relief, Tessa told me, "I just felt like I really failed." I talk with Tessa and their sister, who we're calling Rose, about how they eventually made the decision for Tessa to file for bankruptcy—and the ways that talking about money more openly together has led to some unexpected questions and answers about Tessa's spending habits. If you're struggling with consumer debt, check out these resources.
38 minutes | Apr 7, 2021
When Claudia Rankine Brought Up Race In Couples Counseling
Before the pandemic, poet and professor Claudia Rankine traveled often for work. Her acclaimed 2014 book Citizen: An American Lyric brought her unflinching perspective on race relations to the mainstream. And in her latest book, Just Us, Claudia examined her own personal interactions with white friends, family, colleagues…and even the strangers she'd meet on those work trips. While Claudia's made a name for herself with her reflections on these types of conversations, she told me they're not always easy to have, including with her own husband. "I might say, 'You're only doing that because you're a white guy.' And he'll say, 'Well, you do the same thing.' And I say, "I may do the same thing, but I don't have the same reception,'" she said. Claudia also told me about growing up in predominantly white spaces in the Bronx during the 1970s, and how a cancer diagnosis in her 50s allowed her to reassess what she wants out of life.
32 minutes | Mar 24, 2021
A Friend In The Execution Room
This week, we’re sharing an episode of a new podcast called The Experiment with you. It’s a show about America, and what happens when the big ideas and forces that have shaped our country collide with everyday lives. The Experiment is produced by our colleagues at WNYC Studios and The Atlantic, and as they were putting together this episode, we here at Death, Sex & Money heard about it. And we thought it would be something that you all would want to hear, too. It’s about a man who stepped up to participate in an American process that he doesn’t agree with. And it’s a really powerful story about duty, faith and humanity. Subscribe to The Experiment wherever you get your podcasts.
23 minutes | Mar 17, 2021
Finding Blessings and Throwing Vases
Donna Perry, who lives in Brooklyn, recovered from COVID-19 a year ago. That’s when producer Yasmeen Khan first interviewed Donna for a news story. At that point, Donna had lost several people to COVID. And as the virus spread through New York City during the past year, she lost many more. Donna estimates that she’s been to at least 15 funerals on Zoom—all deaths related to the coronavirus—mostly for her fellow members of Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Brooklyn. And she's also grieving the loss of one of her best friends, Selisha. They had been close since childhood and talked on the phone every morning. Still, Donna is adamant about what she calls the “blessings of COVID.” She’s had a chance, she says, to hunker down with her family, to refresh her marriage, and to think with clarity on what’s most important to her. Donna caught up with Yasmeen over Zoom a couple of weeks ago. "I'm really starting to believe that now more than anything, that every day that I have is a gift and I have a responsibility to live my life in purpose," she said. Donna learned the importance of picking up the phone and calling her loved ones this year. So we're inviting people to do this together on Friday, March 26. We've declared this day “Pick Up the Phone and Call Day.” If there's someone you've been meaning to call in the past year, get on it. Text "call day" to 70101 and we’ll send you text reminders and tips leading up to our newly declared holiday.
39 minutes | Mar 10, 2021
Masks On, Tops Off: Inside A Texas Strip Club
Whenever Josh, a 32-year-old commercial truck driver, passes through El Paso, he usually pulls off the highway and heads to the Red Parrot—a topless bar where he goes to have some human contact after hours by himself on the road. "I'm a social butterfly," he told me. But after the club was shut down for long stretches last year, he tells me, the vibe there has changed. "The main thing that I've noticed is that it's a little tamer," he says. "What was a party is now a library." Live adult entertainment has been hard hit during the pandemic. Like most non-essential businesses, strip clubs have dealt with closures, social distancing restrictions in place and smaller crowds. But on top of that, federal rules have deemed them ineligible to receive federal aid, like PPP loans. "Nobody is even caring about whether you've gotten assistance," Red Parrot owner Darius Belcher told me, as he described utility and rent bills piling up. "Any day...could be our last day." I also talked with Jessica Barrera, a stripper at the Red Parrot, who worries about what she'd do if the club shut down. "Other clubs...they don't care about your well-being," she told me. "At least at the Red Parrot, if I fall, they pick me up. I couldn't imagine going and dancing anywhere else."
30 minutes | Mar 3, 2021
Ugh, Dating Right Now
Recently, I asked those of you who are single and looking for a relationship to tell us how dating has been going for you during COVID. You told us about messed up momentum, lots of new rules, wrenches thrown into your plans, and a lot of frustration and longing. "I feel a sense of cautious desperation," one listener told us, while another added, "There's no spontaneous kissing. There's none of that sparks flying situation." While some of you have found some unexpected upsides to dating during a pandemic, most of you are pretty burned out. So today, we're airing your grievances about dating right now—and following it up with a pep talk. Logan Ury is the director of relationship science for the app Hinge, and author of the new book How To Not Die Alone. "Love is this natural thing, but dating is not," she told me. "Dating is a skill. And so like anything else dating is something that you can actually learn about, get better at and improve." Even, she says, during a pandemic.
30 minutes | Feb 24, 2021
I Was Your Father, Until I Wasn't
Tony* wasn't sure what to say when the woman he'd slept with told him she was pregnant. First, he says, there was a long pause. They weren't a couple, and he didn't want to say the wrong thing. "I told her that it was her choice and if she chose to keep it, then I would be a good dad," he remembers. "I was freaking out." At the time, Tony was in his mid-20s, working as a bartender and photographer in a college town out west. Tony started paying child support for his daughter near the end of the pregnancy, went to prenatal appointments, and took parenting classes along with the baby's mother. On the day his daughter was born, Tony cut the umbilical cord. And Tony was an active father. As soon as his daughter could take a bottle, he says he started sharing custody of her, sometimes watching her three or four days a week. "We were really just good buddies," he says. "It felt good to have purpose, and it felt amazing to love something so much, in a completely new way." Money became a source of tension, though, between Tony and the baby's mother. So did the fact that as his daughter got older, she started looking less like him or her mother. Tony decided to get a paternity test when his daughter was about a year old. "I couldn't play it dumb forever," Tony says—but he also feared the results. "That's not something that you want to know, especially when you love something so much." Tony quickly learned the truth: he had a zero percent probability of being the biological father. He called the mother to tell her, and soon after that, he met Victor*, the man who is his daughter's biological father. Over beers, they talked about Tony's shock, Victor's suspicions from the sidelines, and their plan for the little girl they both considered a daughter. More than two years later, they joined me to talk about the logistics and emotions of the transition that followed, which included packing up a pickup truck with nursery furniture to move it from Tony's place to Victor's. This episode first aired in 2017. *Last names have been withheld for privacy reasons.
18 minutes | Feb 17, 2021
Your One Night Stand Stories
We just got through Valentine’s Day, our annual celebration of romance. Usually of the long-term sort...or if not long, at least, the sort where you’ve committed to be someone’s sweetheart. This week, we want to celebrate another important kind of romance: the very short term. The one night stand. Those moments in your life when someone appeared in a flash, you connected, and then, you went your separate ways. The possibility of a one night stand feels so remote for so many people right now, because chance meetings aren’t really happening much. But the memories are potent, as you told us when we asked you to tell us your stories about one night stands.
60 minutes | Feb 10, 2021
Getting Real About Getting Older, Live
Concerns about ageism. Dreams of moving in with roommates, Golden Girls-style. Desires to slow down, while still working 12-hour days. Worries about missing out on precious time with grandkids during the pandemic. When we opened up the phones to talk with listeners over 60 about life today, we heard from people across the country about big changes and small ones; loneliness and the joys that solitude and independence can bring; and why there are as many ways to experience aging as there are people doing it. Here are some highlights from our national call-in special, co-hosted by Colorado Public Radio's Jo Ann Allen. This episode is part of our ongoing series of conversations about aging. Find the rest of the series at deathsexmoney.org/aging.
34 minutes | Feb 3, 2021
What The Border Taught Norma Elia Cantú About Being Free
When Dr. Norma Elia Cantú was growing up in Laredo, Texas, on the U.S./Mexico border, she was the oldest of what would eventually be eleven siblings—so she stepped into the role of coparent early. "When one of my younger siblings got in trouble at school, they called me," she says. "They [didn't] call the parents because my father was working, and my mother, who didn't speak English, was not able to go." Norma lived at home and continued to help support her family when she went to college, but left after two years, when she became the primary breadwinner of the family. She finished her degree in night school while working at the local utility company, but even now, she says, she "wonders what would have happened had [she] not been so dutiful a daughter." She eventually completed her degree and went on to get her PhD. Now she's 74, a writer, a professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, and the president of the American Folklore Society. I talked with her about how she's supported both her family and her own ambition at the same time throughout her life, as well as about how she processed the deaths of her parents, and her younger brother Tino, who was killed in the Vietnam War when he was only 19. Head over to our Instagram page to see some photos of Norma's family that she shared with us. And Norma graciously agreed to read some of her poetry for us, all from her 2019 collection Meditación Fronteriza: Poems of Love, Life and Labor: My Mother's Hands Song of the Borderland (English) Canto A La Tierra Fronteriza (Español)
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