I like podcasts. I try to make them part of my daily routine. There’s a couple of reasons for doing this, and the most important one is that they enable me to lose focus on difficulties of tasks and get on with the job with a less-than-superfine attention to detail.
This would seem like a bad thing but it’s keyed in with my health. Over the past two years I’ve lost over 30kg. That’s a fair chunk of chunk. And though I’m still probably about 20kg heavier than I can really ever remember being – that’d be first year university at about 70kg while I was using herbal diet pills because of a misguided belief I resembled a barrage balloon – I suppose I’m at a pretty good weight at present. Or, rather, I feel healthier, happier, and my clothes keep getting larger, necessitating *new* clothes. Which at least bucks the trend that’s predominated for a couple of decades.
The reason podcasts are important is that they’re something that can’t be measured in the same way as albums are. I was a member of a gym for a long time, and eventually left because I was unsatisfied with their financial practices. But largely I left because I didn’t find it did anything. I’d do a lot of cardio and some weights, and I’d use music to get me through it. When I was playing taiko it was a lot of different recordings of standards – Chichibu Yataibayashi, largely – so I could try to get a better handle on the piece as well as get through the exercise.
And it didn’t work. I would still be looking at the clock, wondering how long it would take.
I left the gym and began walking. I used music to pass the time that way, also. One and a half times through Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure would be enough walking to fill a lunchtime, so surely that would be fine? I mean, I love the album, so it should help, right?
I switched to podcasts because I was sick of beginning to dislike music I really enjoyed. Podcasts have kept me focussed because they’re lectures, talks, opinions. My brain can’t say to me that oh, here’s the middle eight and then there’s a solo then there’s another chorus and then we’re finished but you’ve only walked for three minutes. I am actively engaged in hearing what’s being said – well, if the podcast is any good – and it takes me out of my surrounds a little. When I’m walking I become a passenger in my head, listening to what’s being talked about, and I don’t notice the length of time it’s been taking, or that my shoes may pinch just so, or any of the other things the brain will throw up in order to stop you doing something you know you really should but aren’t quite on board with.
(For reference – I still find walking a drag sometimes, but I am now at the point where it’s just something I do. Every day. If I miss it, I actually feel bad – the joys of habituation, I suspect.)
There were two podcasts I relied upon at first, largely because they had a pretty extensive episode list between them, and because they were on subjects I was interested in, namely the History of Philosophy and the History of Rome. Both were things I felt I knew not a whole lot about, even though I’d studied them both at university, albeit briefly.
The History of Philosophy was my first choice because I soon took to the slightly dorky humour inside it – giraffes, non-existent sisters and Buster Keaton all worked their way into examples which illuminated particular methods of thought. It was opposite to how I’d spent my brief time as a Philosophy student at USyd, listening to what could only be described as painfully slow lectures from John Grumley, who undoubtedly knew his stuff (and also probably wasn’t thrilled to be lecturing first year students who probably had no clue whether they wanted to be philosophers or not, particularly the ones who viewed Jeff Buckley as the deepest poet of our age) but couldn’t make it interesting. It was like drawing teeth, and though the subject matter is the same, I found the podcast a better way to absorb the information.
Ditto Rome. I’m at the point now where I’m combing other podcasts in order to discover what happened in other areas, such as Byzantium. I’m looking into revolutions, Prague, esoterica and occult teaching, as well as a sizeable helping of radio stories, creepy tales, defenders of the unjustly maligned cultural artefact and of course, confessions. I have playlists, choices, fine-grained control.
It’s a lot of effort to defocus. But it seems to be working.