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692: The Show of Delights

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Prologue: Prologue

Ira Glass

In these dark, and confusing, and combative times, where in just one month-- and it's a month that doesn't feel that atypical-- we have impeachment hearings, and Australia on fire, and a near war with Iran, and a deadly virus spreading around the world. We thought here at our show, we would try the most radical counter-programming possible. So today, we bring you our show about delight. And our story starts with my co-worker Bim Adewunmi, growing up in East London, in Nigeria, worrying about America from afar.

Bim Adewunmi

I just remember the feeling of swimming in a lot of American culture. I watched a lot of sitcoms. I'd been watching Roseanne, I Dream of Jeannie, Family Matters.

Ira Glass

It was a hodgepodge of Americana. A deep dive on Marilyn Monroe, but also the books of Maya Angelou, and also the Cosby spin-off show, A Different World.

Bim Adewunmi

And I remember thinking, there are so many different types of black people, doing their own version of black people things, and that was really interesting to me.

Ira Glass

Bim knew there were problematic things about America, of course. Who didn't know that?

Bim Adewunmi

But at the time, I was like, yay! American pop culture. This is great. And I had such a fixed idea of America. There were a million high school movies and TV shows. I was like, oh, yeah. If I was to land in an American school today, I would know exactly what to do. I know the crowd I would fit in with. It was going to be proms. It was going to be malls. I know where the cafeteria is. I understand that gym is a place of hell. I understood everything around the idea of American school. I had a whole vision of myself and where I would fit in the hierarchy.

Ira Glass

Seriously?

Bim Adewunmi

Absolutely. I'd be the semi-jock, because I used to run track at school. So I was like, semi-jock, but sensitive, theater child, but also everybody's friend.

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Bim Adewunmi

And I would be approachable by people who weren't as cool as me. I had a whole strategy planned out.

[LAUGHTER]

Ira Glass

I love that you totally pictured your American high school.

Bim Adewunmi

I was going to be the everyman who was also very cool, incredibly bright, very beautiful, very popular, but wasn't conceited. It seemed a shame to waste all this knowledge that I had about how American society functions by me being in England. It was like, well, what good is all this knowledge here? If you have the knowledge, then you want to be tested. I wanted to be tested. And the only real test is to actually live in America. To live that life.

Ira Glass

And so, when she was 19, after high school and before college-- they don't call it high school and they don't call it college where she's from-- she decided, I'm going to do it. I'm going to take the test. Live the dream. Go live in America. In fact, not just any old part of America, but a quintessentially American corner of America. And that's summer camp.

Summer camp's an institution they didn't really have in either of the countries where she'd spent her childhood-- Nigeria and England. She was hired by a company that brings in teenagers from overseas to work as counselors, and she was assigned to a camp in a very un-British location-- just outside Santa Cruz, California.

Bim Adewunmi

We were amongst redwoods, some of the most ancient most majestic things ever on the Earth. They've seen [BLEEP] dinosaurs. So we were between the redwoods and the ocean. And I was like, man! You just don't get vistas like this in East London. It felt so American to be in nature like this. And we were sleeping in cabins, and I was like, yeah, this is a camp, all right.

Ira Glass

In fact, over and over she found herself seeing and doing things that she'd only encountered in American pop culture. For instance, she ate at an old-fashioned diner, with round stools at a long table, and a waitress in a striped blouse who called her honey. Or there was the day that a guy in a grocery store aisle, a total stranger, hit on her, which she'd only seen on television, which apparently is not a thing British men do very much. And each time these things happened, it was exhilarating and surprising.

Bim Adewunmi

So one of the other counselors at camp, Laurel, invited us all to her parents place on Lake Tahoe. So we drove down in her car, which was a white El Camino truck, and she told us his name was Chester. And I thought, that's perfect. Chester. Chester the El Camino truck. Yes. At that point, I didn't know how to drive. I still don't know how to drive because I lived in London, and there's a fantastic tube, and buses, and whatever, and I walked everywhere--

Ira Glass

Whatever. I don't want to hear your British chauvinism of our American way of life.

Bim Adewunmi

It was great. Oh, my god.

Ira Glass

Mm-hmm.

Bim Adewunmi

Anyway, we drove down to Tahoe. And on the way we had the windows down, we were playing loud music, we're wearing jeans cutoffs, and I remember thinking yet again, this moment of stark clarity, I was like, oh my god! This is America! I'm in a truck! We're on the road! The wind is in our hair! This is perfect! We're a bunch of girls laughing about whatever, and it's great. Like it was a performance, but I knew all the words.

Ira Glass

So you guys are playing the radio. Are you singing along with the radio?

Bim Adewunmi

Yes, classic road trip-style.

Ira Glass

And do you remember what songs?

Bim Adewunmi

Oh, I do remember one song. Super girly. That was the year that Norah Jones' album Come Away With Me came out.

Ira Glass

Mm-hmm.

Bim Adewunmi

I don't care what anyone says. That album is a banger. I love it still. Norah Jones' is just perfect. And I remember the lead song, "I Don't Know Why" was on the radio every single day. And I remember us singing it, the final bit where she sings (SINGING) my heart's in something, something, whatever. And then she says this great line-- (SINGING) and you'll be on my mind.

And I remember we would sing that, and we'd put our hands to our chests, and we would extend our arms and be like, (SINGING) you'll be-- and we would all sing it.

[MUSIC - "YOU'LL BE ON MY MIND" BY NORAH JONES]

Bim Adewunmi

And it was just this very romantic, very windswept-- it felt to me, again, like the perfect soundtrack to my American summer.

Ira Glass

America is real.

Bim Adewunmi

America is real! I was like, oh, my god! American things are happening to me.

Ira Glass

OK, so like I said at the beginning, our show today is about delight. And it was during that summer, Bim says, because it was so full of moments of delight, she started to really take notice of that feeling and think of it as a thing, a thing that you liked. It wasn't just enjoyable, she thought. That feeling seemed important somehow.

Bim Adewunmi

And I thought, OK, this feeling is something worth repeating. And the idea that you can go and look for delight and you might find it, was, I think, fully planted that summer.

Ira Glass

In you?

Bim Adewunmi

In me, yeah. Like if I actively sought out delight, I might be able to find it and replicate it forever. So I thought, OK, we'll just keep doing that. That was a way of organizing my life.

Ira Glass

By the way, a very un-British way to organize her life, Bim says, to embrace delight wholeheartedly and un-self-consciously.

Bim Adewunmi

Fundamentally, I'm fighting against every urge in me, which is like, don't. Don't do that. Because I'm still British. I can't help that. So I'm always just thinking to myself, just going like, oh, is that too much? I feel very much like somebody's disapproving nanny. Stop that. That's too much emotion. You know, there's a reason why our national sound is a tut. [TUTS] Stop it.

[LAUGHTER]

It's an admonishment. It's like, stop it, you know? There used to be a talk show, and the theme song was a little child singing in this very sing-songy voice-- (SINGING) it'll never work. It'll never work. And that is how I feel about most things.

Ira Glass

That would never be a show here.

[LAUGHTER]

Bim Adewunmi

But this kid just sang in a sole voice, and then a chorus of voices join and say, (SINGING) it will never work!

[LAUGHTER]

Every time I see it, I'm like, a-ha! That is the spirit of Britain.

So there's this poet that I discovered a couple of years ago. He's called Ross Gay, and he's written a book where he basically keeps track of the things that delight him. And that's things, that's people, that's moments, whatever.

And the word he used was "negligence." He said it's a negligence if people don't take the time to honor the things that they take delight in, but more importantly, that they share the things that they take delight in. And if you don't do that, there's a loss there. You have to do it to achieve humanity. You have to share delight.

Ira Glass

And that's what we're going to be doing today, right?

Bim Adewunmi

Yes, that's exactly what we're going to be doing today. We're going to think about what delights us, why it delights us, why it's important to cultivate delight.

Ira Glass

And with that, let me just hand over the show to you. You'll host the show from here. OK, you want to do the part where you say "from WBEZ Chicago?"

Bim Adewunmi

I really do.

Ira Glass

OK, hit it.

Bim Adewunmi

Do I say, W-B-E-zed?

Ira Glass

Sure.

Bim Adewunmi

OK. From W-B-E-zed Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Bim Adewunmi. Stay with us.

Act One: The Job Of Delight

Bim Adewunmi

Act One-- The Job of Delight.

It's one thing to be attuned to delight, but it's quite another to scrape off a sample, stick it on a slide, and place it under a microscope. Enter Ross Gay, the poet I was talking about a moment ago. Ross is an English professor at Indiana University, and a couple of years ago, he embarked on a specific mission-- to think about delight. He made it a practice, in fact. For one calendar year, Ross would ask himself, what delights me? And then he would write it down.

He set rules. He would do it every day, he would draft them quickly, and every single delight would be written by hand. He called them essayettes. Some of these essayettes eventually became a book-- The Book of Delights. Here's Ross reading an excerpt of Delight number 80 from the book, "Tomato Onboard," in his living room in Bloomington.

Ross Gay

What you don't know until you carry a tomato seedling through the airport and onto a plane, is that carrying a tomato seedling through the airport and onto a plane will make people smile at you, almost like you're carrying a baby. I did not know this until today, carrying my little tomato, about three or four inches high in its four-inch plastic starter pot, which my friend Michael gave to me, smirking about how I was going to get it home.

Something about this at first felt naughty-- not comparing a tomato to a baby, but carrying the tomato under the plane. And so, I slid the thing into my bag while going through security, which made them pull the bag for inspection. When the security guy saw it was a tomato, he smiled and said, "I don't know how to check that. Have a good day."

But I quickly realized one of its stems, which I almost wrote as arms, was broken from the jostling, and it only had four of them. So I decided I'd better just carry it out in the open. And the shower of love began. Before boarding the final leg of my flight, one of the workers said, "Nice tomato!" which I don't think was a come on.

And the flight attendant asked about the tomato at least five times-- not an exaggeration-- every time calling it "my tomato." "Where's my tomato? How's my tomato? You didn't lose my tomato, did you?" She even directed me to an open seat in the exit row. "Why don't you guys go sit there and stretch out?" I gathered my things and set the little guy in the window seat so she could look out.

When I got my water, I poured some into the little guy's soil. When we got bumpy, I put my hand on the little guy's container, careful not to snap another arm off. And when we landed, and the pilot put the brakes on hard, my arm reflexively went across the seat, holding the little guy in place, the way my dad's arm would when he had to break in that car without belts to speak of, and one of my very favorite gestures in the encyclopedia of human gestures.

Bim Adewunmi

The Book of Delights is a series of daily snapshots into one man's habits and pleasures. If you ever wanted an essay about the specific sensation of applying coconut oil to a shower damp body, that would be delight number 101. Airports, and the people Ross encounters in them, come up a fair bit. His garden, where we spent a very delightful afternoon talking about bumblebees and potatoes, is the location of many a delight.

Some of the delights in the book were things that surprised him, while others were looking back in time, memories of people no longer here. A lot of them featured familiar faces in familiar places. Ross was getting to reassess his environment, and consider it through a new lens-- a delightful lens.

Ross Gay

I was learning as I was going. And frankly, I was learning how much some of these things delighted me. The question is always, why does that delight me? What does it do to a person to study delight? Or, as it emerges, to study joy every single day for a year? What do you discover?

Bim Adewunmi

One of the things he discovered is the mechanics of how to find delight every day as a discipline. Because delight doesn't just arrive, you need to actively go looking for it.

Ross Gay

Being in a state of trying to train your curiosity, and trying to train this sense of not knowing. Delight and curiosity are really tied up. You have to be OK with not knowing things. You have to be actually invested and happy about not knowing things.

Bim Adewunmi

The Book of Delights is a peculiar thing, an undertaking of serious academic rigor that also makes you feel good. Those things aren't meant to go together. The book offers up many thoughts on what delight is or what it could be, but it never defines it explicitly. The takeaway is that delight, while important, is hard to pin down. Reading the book and talking to Ross about this made me feel like I was floating on a chemically-enhanced-- but perfectly legal in 11 states-- cloud.

I began to think of him as a sort of personal delight guru, and so my questions for him began to take on the strong whiff of a patchouli joss stick.

Did you end up with a grand unifying theory on what delight is?

Ross Gay

[LAUGHS] No. No, but I did end up with what feels like a kind of beginning theory of what joy is. [LAUGHS] I just had an image. Delight is like the butterflies flying around and landing on the thing that is joy.

Bim Adewunmi

Right. See? Patchouli. To Ross, an important part of delight is that it's an invitation. By loving something, we allow other people an opportunity to love it too-- sharing, tapping someone on the shoulder to say, hey, look!

Bim Adewunmi

So, often I feel like I've had the experience of walking through the world and not seeing anything. And then someone's like, did you see how that-- You don't see it until you see it. And then when you see it, you're like, whoa!

We just had a bunch of people over here the other night, and this couple had this little kid. And so, he starts yelling, rainbow! Rainbow! [LAUGHS] And what did we do? We are all in here talking, being adults. Boom! We ran outside and started looking at the rainbow. Thank you. Thank you. It's like, come gasp with me. Come gasp with me. This is unbelievable.

Act Two: The Squeals On The Bus

Bim Adewunmi

Which brings us to Act Two-- The Squeals on the Bus. It's not surprising that it's a child that runs in to tell everyone to come look at a rainbow. There's a feeling that delight is the preserve of children, and any adult who finds delight easily might be a simpleton or a Pollyanna.

Perhaps, you've noticed, this whole hour is an argument against that. But for Act 2, let's spend a little time with a five-year-old-- my colleague, Robyn Semien's son, Cole. He recently had an experience around a mundane thing most adults loathe-- commuting. He was going to ride the school bus for the very first time. Robyn has the story.

Robyn Semien

Cole has been looking forward to this exact moment for years, more than kindergarten, or his first day at school. Taking the bus to Cole, is epic. So one morning this past September, with his new sneakers and Batman backpack on, Cole and I walked down our driveway.

Cole

I just can't wait! I'm a bus rider now!

Robyn Semien

What happened to old Cole?

Cole

Yeah, old Cole is dead now.

Robyn Semien

Oh, wow!

Cole

Yeah, when we get old, really old, we start to die.

Robyn Semien

Well, these are very deep thoughts for the bus.

Riding the bus, to Cole, was not about riding the bus. It meant he was gaining on his big sister Josie. She's 10, getting a hair closer to that mysterious, frustratingly out-of-reach thing that she has-- autonomy.

Cole

No, let's wait for the bus here.

Robyn Semien

We're going to walk down to the bus stop together. Come on.

Cole

Why?

Robyn Semien

Because that where the bus comes to get her, down on the corner. Did you know that?

Cole

No.

Robyn Semien

For a kid obsessed with this trip, he's surprisingly vague on some of the details. See the tree?

Cole

What tree?

Robyn Semien

That tree right down there on the corner.

Cole

Yeah.

Robyn Semien

That's our tree.

Cole

That's our tree?

Robyn Semien

Mm-hmm.

Cole

Then we have to wait there?

Robyn Semien

Mm-hmm.

Cole

Is that how Josie does it every day?

Robyn Semien

That's how she does it every single day. That's how she's been doing it for three years.

Cole

What?

Robyn Semien

I know! And now it's your turn.

Cole

Yeah, and now it's not her turn.

Robyn Semien

We get to the corner and wait. Hey, good morning. Our neighbor Ian pulls up, sees us, and gets out of his car.

Cole

Guess what?

Ian

What's that?

Cole

I'm waiting for my bus.

Ian

Oh! Your first day?

Robyn Semien

Yeah, first time on the bus.

Ian

All right!

[LAUGHTER]

Cole

Thank you!

Robyn Semien

Cole beams. And pretty soon--

Cole

I think I hear a bus.

Robyn Semien

You do?

Cole

Oh, it was just that car.

Robyn Semien

Cole wills the bus to come sooner, like everyone at every bus stop ever has done.

Cole

I think I heard my bus. It sounded different. I think I heard it.

Robyn Semien

I don't think so yet, bud.

We practiced greeting the bus driver.

Cole

I'm going to say, hi, busdriver. I'm a little bit shy to say, how are you doing?

Robyn Semien

We do this a couple more times till Cole tells me to stop because it's boring.

Cole

A little bit boring.

Robyn Semien

And then more waiting. Cole's mood dips. He has doubts.

Cole

But what if there is not a spot for me in the bus?

Robyn Semien

Oh, there'll be a spot for you. They know you're coming. We told them you're coming. OK?

Cole

OK. What's taking up that bus? It's taking too long for me. We've been here for over an hour.

Robyn Semien

It's been 10 minutes.

Cole

And it's taking too long. It's taking crappy long!

Robyn Semien

Crappy long?

Cole

Yes.

Robyn Semien

That's not something that you say?

Cole

[LAUGHS] Crappy!

Robyn Semien

No, no. We don't say that.

Cole

Fine.

Robyn Semien

I'm a little worried that maybe Cole has overimagined the bus ride, and it won't live up. That years of anticipation will only disappoint him in the end. And then rounding the corner--

Cole

[GASPS]

Robyn Semien

Oh, man!

Cole

That's my bus! It's really happening!

Robyn Semien

[LAUGHS] Stand to the side. OK, let's go. Let's go.

Cole tears past me and up the bus steps like it's nothing. He's daring, I think to myself.

Love you, bye!

Cole

Bye, mom!

Robyn Semien

Love you! Good morning.

Cole stood for a second longer, facing the rows of seats and kids, taking it all in, completely lit up.

Cole

I can't believe it! I'm on the bus! Yes! Yes! It's my first time.

Robyn Semien

He's fine. Better than fine.

Cole

Now this is what I'm talking about.

Bim Adewunmi

That was New Cole, with his producer, Robyn Semien.

Act Three: Mrs. Meek Shall Inherit The Earth

Bim Adewunmi

Act Three-- Mrs. Meek shall inherit the Earth. I think delight might actually be more profound when you've experienced more, including real loss and tragedy. Ross Gay's book of delights is edged in despair. In it, Ross writes about his dearly departed friends, his uncle Earl, his father. He calls them his deceased beloveds. But that's the way of delight.

Ross Gay

When I think of joy, grown up joy is made up of our sorrow, just like it's made up of what is pleasing to us. Often, it felt like I wasn't going to be able to talk about delight without talking about these other things. Delight often implies its absence.

Bim Adewunmi

Noriko Meek knows all about that. After 72 years on Earth, she's made some changes lately. Her daughter, Miki, talked to her about it.

Miki Meek

My mom is 72 years old, and in this new phase of her life, where she's all about doing whatever she wants. I'm glad for her, but sometimes it's kind of annoying. Recently, I was her chauffeur on a road trip through Texas and New Mexico. She woke me up at 5:30 in the morning so we could drive an hour to watch the sunrise from some sand dunes in the middle of nowhere.

She insisted on hanging out in a cold crappy parking lot to take pictures of a rainbow. Then when I asked if I could interview her, she told me, "maybe." But first, she needed to take a bath. Her second one for the day.

Noriko Meek

Oh!

Miki Meek

When she finally got out, she sat next to me on the queen bed we were sharing-- one, two, three-- and then pulled out some floss.

Noriko Meek

I should clean my teeth.

Miki Meek

You're going to clean your teeth while we're talking?

Noriko Meek

Yeah.

[LAUGHTER]

Miki Meek

So gross.

Noriko Meek

No worry! I can do whatever.

Miki Meek

Except that I'm sleeping right next to you.

[LAUGHTER]

Noriko Meek

I felt that.

Miki Meek

The first time I notice she'd changed was over the summer, standing outside of my brother's house. We'd been talking about where to go grocery shopping, when she suddenly switched subjects. She asked me, with this smiling but also totally serious face, if I could tell that she was glowing.

I wasn't totally sure what she was talking about, so I told her, um, yeah, I guess you look nice. And then I just as quickly changed the subject back to the cheap produce section at Trader Joe's.

So why did you ask me that then?

Noriko Meek

Well, because to me it was so obvious you've probably seen it. Because inside, I mean, I think I was glowing inside, just radiating joy. Just delight, you know?

Miki Meek

I don't think I've ever used the word "delight" in a conversation with you ever.

Noriko Meek

I don't think I start using this word-- yeah, just recently, I think. Because I tell my friends, my life is just delightful, you know?

Miki Meek

You say that?

Noriko Meek

Yeah, I do.

Miki Meek

I've never heard you say that.

Noriko Meek

To my friends.

Miki Meek

This is not the mom I grew up with. She was practical, frugal, and not a big fan of hugs, kisses, or elaborating on her feelings. My mom was married to my dad for 43 years. They met in college in their early 20s, and then went on to have six kids. My mom stayed at home with us full-time, and she was kind of a hard-ass. OK, so what does the word "delight" mean to you? How would you even define that?

Noriko Meek

Delight is just like light your heart out, like ignite something, you know? At the moment, you just feel lightness.

Miki Meek

So if you were to list what delights you, what's on that list?

Noriko Meek

OK, go first thing in the morning I wake up, and I go to the bathroom, and my Toto toilet is warm.

Miki Meek

We have a Japanese toilet with a warm toilet seat.

Noriko Meek

Yeah, and I just sit on it. It's just so warm. And I just feel I am so happy. I really feel it. I am so happy! And it happens every morning.

Miki Meek

[LAUGHS] Yeah, it's a consistent delight.

Noriko Meek

Mm-hmm. Consistent Delight.

Miki Meek

Other things on her list of delights? Eating discounted donuts for breakfast-- she keeps her freezer stocked with them-- going to a ballet class for seniors, and reading biographies in bed for two hours every night. She also started traveling for fun for the very first time in her life. Right now, she's on a big nature streak. She's hiked through Joshua Tree, the Badlands, Death Valley, the Pyrenees, and on, and on, and on. She exhausts me.

So have you ever felt this way before?

Noriko Meek

No.

Miki Meek

Never?

Noriko Meek

Never.

Miki Meek

Not even when we were kids or when you had us?

Noriko Meek

No.

Miki Meek

[LAUGHS] You said no!

Noriko Meek

Yeah, I don't think I felt delighted.

Miki Meek

[LAUGHS] What did you feel?

Noriko Meek

I was glad you guys are born and safe, but I don't think-- raising kids, taking care of your dad-- yeah, I don't think I ever used the word "delight." Because I mean, I placed myself always like my needs, or whatever, last. Money, or whatever, time. But then after kids all gone, and your dad's gone, finally I have my life, and I can do what I want, whenever, whatever. Just no stress. No responsibility.

That's why I say light, I feel so light. And I think delight-- delightful is just the exact adjective for my life at this point.

My life is really amazing. And then I see movies. Three movies a week sometimes, at 8:30 in the morning, and that's just wonderful.

Miki Meek

How many other people in the movie theater?

Noriko Meek

Nobody. Just me. Just great.

Miki Meek

After my dad died four years ago from cancer, my mom completely fell apart in a way I'd never seen her before. She suddenly became needy, she openly cried. Before then, all her energy had gone into keeping my dad alive. She'd spent a decade caring for him, constantly driving him to the ER in the middle of the night, and checking his oxygen levels while he slept.

We never really talked about what it was like for her watching him deteriorate so much that sometimes he felt like a stranger. But then, when he was suddenly gone, all the feelings she'd pushed down came out in this big devastating wave. For a while, she could barely function.

Noriko Meek

Four years. It took four years. I really took a very small step forward after your dad died, just to make sure I'm alive. So each morning I get up and I have this terrible pain in my chest. But then I just say, OK, I think I can make myself live to the end of this day. And that's all I thought about.

Miki Meek

Do you feel surprised sometimes that you feel this good?

Noriko Meek

I mean, when dad died and I was just so sad, I didn't think this would ever happen.

Miki Meek

Hmm.

Noriko Meek

I really thought my life was over.

Miki Meek

My mom grieved intensely like this for about six months, and then I asked her to come live with me in my tiny apartment for a while. She said yes, and I didn't expect her to. I thought she'd worry too much about being a burden. But this time, she agreed with me that staying with me might actually make her feel better. I wouldn't let her sleep on the couch, so we got into this whole nighttime routine where we'd put on our pajamas and read in my bed, like some old married couple.

My brother came to visit us once. At 10:00 PM, my mom tapped me on the knee and said, time to hit the hay, Mik. We sat up together, and he was like, what is happening? My mom's choice to stay with me marked the beginning of her opening herself up and putting herself first. Right now, her travel calendar for 2020 is already all booked up-- Alabama, Alaska, Italy, Japan, Chicago, and Spain.

Noriko Meek

Maybe because my life is getting shorter, that pushes me to be more courageous.

Miki Meek

Yeah.

Noriko Meek

So every day I wake up with some expectation, anticipation. Yeah, on my calendar, there's nothing I don't want to do.

Miki Meek

If dad had stayed alive and been healthy, do you think you could still feel the way that you do now?

Noriko Meek

Probably not. Isn't that terrible? Because with him, my life, I'll have more responsibilities. He will be number one in my life. And then, my needs will come after his. Yeah, so it's just almost sometimes sounds like, oh, I'm glad he's gone. I'm not saying that. But because he's gone, this is the life I have, and I just want it to be delightful, you know? I think it's OK.

Miki Meek

It is OK.

Noriko Meek

Yeah. These questions kind of dumb.

Miki Meek

That's my mom telling me she thinks my questions are kind of dumb. [LAUGHS] Why is it dumb?

Noriko Meek

Delightful? Just too annoying.

Miki Meek

People will think you're really annoying?

Noriko Meek

Yeah, I think so. That's why I don't know why you want to do this, because the people like, oh, my gosh! I'm so sick of listening to her. So self-absorbed, you know?

Miki Meek

And so, what would you say to that?

Noriko Meek

I'm sorry. I do feel that way genuinely. And sometimes I feel like I earned it.

Bim Adewunmi

Miki Meek, a constant delight. Also a producer on our show. Coming up, would you call yourself a dealer of delight?

Tracy Clayton

Hmm? You the Feds? I'mma deal with now? I know it was a setup!

[LAUGHTER]

I knew it! Yes. I'm full of delight, I'm slanging delight. You know what I'm saying? I'm on the internet corners. What you need? What you need? I got it!

Bim Adewunmi

That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio, when our program continues.

It's This American Life. I'm Bim Adewunmi taking over the show from Ira for the day. Yes, we are coming over here stealing your jobs. Today's show-- The Show of Delights. Stories about how we go about making, and feeling, and actively seeking out delight, which is all around us, by the way. The poet Ross Gay, ambassador for delight, writes about a time he was in New York, and saw a man feeding a pigeon perched on his shoulder. He looks closer, and sees--

Ross Gay

-- the bird dipping its head into the hand the man must have been holding very near to his own face, so that the feeding was not only kind of romantic, but alluded to that original feeding the bird experienced-- a mother dropping masticated vittles into the tiny chippers gaped mouth, which is, after all, the first romance.

Act Four: The Elephant In The Bedroom

Bim Adewunmi

It sounds like something out of a children's picture book, doesn't it? Feeding, caring, being companions to our animals. And with that, we've arrived at Act Four-- The Elephant in the Bedroom. Disa Skaff has a job that's out of a children's book. She's a night zookeeper at the Denver Zoo. So while most people are asleep, she's doling out snacks, checking the animals are warm and cozy, turning out their lights, and saying goodnight. Dana Chivvis recently spent a night with Disa at the zoo.

Dana Chivvis

Being at the zoo at night is like being backstage hours after a play has ended. The public is long gone. The vendors have packed up their Dippin' Dots and zoo swag. The paths that wind around the animal exhibits are empty and dark, and a little creepy. I follow Disa's flashlight as we walk around. Disa, your job is very dark.

Disa Skaff

Yeah, but you can see where you're walking.

Dana Chivvis

Usually, it's just her, the security guards, another night zookeeper, and 3,000 wild animals. Disa has the best job in the whole world.

Disa Skaff

It's the best job in the whole world.

Dana Chivvis

See? We walk into a building through a back door-- the special zookeeper entrance. Disa turns the lights on, and I see something I've never seen before-- an elephant on the ground, on his side, (WHISPERS) sleeping. Describe it.

Disa Skaff

So Chuck is sleeping. Oh, he's waking up. He just stretched his back leg out. He's got to push up with his front feet, doing some Upward Facing Dog stretch. And now he's ready for some food.

Dana Chivvis

Each of the 450 different species at the zoo has its own nighttime routine, and Disa's put them to bed so many times by now, she knows their individual sleep preferences. Where they like to sleep, how they like to sleep, with whom they like to sleep. There's a lady lizard who uses a male lizard as a mattress, and lemurs who cuddle in branches. The gorillas are the touchiest about their sleep. Disa avoids them after 5:00. Do any animals spoon?

Disa Skaff

Oh, a lot of animals spoon. Our Red River hogs spoon.

Dana Chivvis

The Red River hogs?

Disa Skaff

Yeah, we'll see them. They sleep like a pack of sausages.

Dana Chivvis

Sorry, hogs. I'm sure she means chicken sausages. There are one-year-old Komodo dragon siblings who sleep crammed together inside a log. A quick aside, because I find it delightful-- those little Komodo guys don't have a father, because their mother impregnated herself. I'm not kidding. Female Komodo dragons can impregnate themselves. Disa knows all the animals, many on a first-name basis. She checks on Daphne the crocodile, and Coco the porcupine, Murray the moray, and fern the bongo.

Disa Skaff

Fern? Hey, fern?

[SNUFFLING]

Fern's trying to eat my microphone.

She wants a treat. We're just saying night-night.

Dana Chivvis

These animals know Disa. They have relationship. They're not alarmed to see us. In fact, a lot of them seem expectant, like they've been waiting for her to come by and tuck them in. In the kangaroo section, everyone is crouching in a group.

Disa Skaff

Goodnight, roos!

Dana Chivvis

Bakari the zebra is still standing up. Zebras can rest on their feet.

Disa Skaff

Good night, sir.

Dana Chivvis

Bugsy and Boo otter literally cannot wait one more second for their dinner.

[ANIMAL SOUNDS]

I was going to play you a bunch more cute animal sounds here, but my editor said move it along. So here's some music instead.

What's so charming about animals going to sleep? Is it that we're seeing creatures that are so different from us doing something so familiar, reminding us of a commonality that we all have to do this one thing to survive? You know what? Who cares? Here's a baby flamingo who wants us to leave him alone so he can get some shut eye.

[SQUAWKING INDIGNANTLY]

Sorry! Disa has the easygoing and gentle demeanor of someone who legitimately loves her job, a job we all said we wanted as kids, along with firefighter and astronaut. And unlike the rest of us civilians at the zoo, she gets to have direct contact with the animals, take care of them, which she loves. When I'm there, the zookeepers are hand-feeding Eleanor, a four-month-old kudu, which is a kind of antelope.

Eleanor stands on spindly legs and chugs the entire bottle in one go.

[CHUGGING]

Disa Skaff

Good girl, Eleanor.

Dana Chivvis

Eleanor's dad, Joe, comes over, looking for some treats, which Disa gives him.

Disa Skaff

This is Joe, the dad.

Dana Chivvis

And then she does something else. Did you just eat one of Joe's treats?

Disa Skaff

I did.

Dana Chivvis

How was it?

Disa Skaff

Not at tasty as I thought they'd be. I just ate a little. Like, that bit.

Dana Chivvis

I take a bite. It's kind of grassy. Disa says primate biscuits aren't bad. Then we both confess to trying dog food when we were kids. There is one animal who's having a rough go of it. We walk around to the back of the great ape house, and Disa points her flashlight at a tree. At the top, tangled up in some branches, is a sheet blowing gently in the wind.

Disa Skaff

One of the reasons we came down here is we have Jaya the orangutan.

Dana Chivvis

Oh, my gosh!

Disa Skaff

He is newer to the zoo.

Dana Chivvis

Is that--

Disa Skaff

So he is currently sleeping in a tree.

Dana Chivvis

Wait, that's-- no.

Disa Skaff

Yeah.

Dana Chivvis

That's an orang--

Disa Skaff

Yeah.

Dana Chivvis

Wait, is he wearing a blanket?

Disa Skaff

Yeah. He's wrapped in a sheet.

Dana Chivvis

Jaya should be inside, where it's warm. Orangutans are from the rainforest of Sumatra and Borneo. And I sound this baffled because I really thought I was just looking at a wayward sheet caught in a tree. But then the sheet moved. Jaya was under it, clutching it tightly around his little body.

It really looks like there's a little person up there.

Disa Skaff

Yeah.

Dana Chivvis

Jaya has only been at the zoo for a few months. He moved here from a zoo in Minnesota in August. He's still getting used to it. A few days ago something spooked him. He retreated to the yard and climbed up a tree.

Do you worry about him in the cold like this?

Disa Skaff

We do worry about him, yeah. So from the records today, it looks like the keeper took some binoculars and tried to look at his fingers and toes, to see if there are any signs of frostbite, and they're really bright red. So we'll just check on him throughout the night.

Dana Chivvis

I guess one of the complicated things about delight is that it can exist, like a kernel, at the center of misfortune. Sometimes delight is found in the ability to take care of another living thing that needs you. It's nice to be needed.

Do you have a favorite animal?

Disa Skaff

My favorite animal is Rudy the rhino.

Dana Chivvis

Why?

Disa Skaff

Because he's the best.

Dana Chivvis

Why, is he the best?

Disa Skaff

He's like a puppy.

Dana Chivvis

Yeah?

Disa Skaff

So he's really gentle and nice. Mostly, I think I love Rudy because most of the animals that I have built a relationship with because I see them all the time. It's usually because I give them food. Rudy, I do not give him food, but he will come to me when I call him. If he's outside and I need him to come inside because it's too cold, I call him, and he'll come over. Yeah, he responds to me, and I don't know, he's my best friend. [LAUGHS]

Dana Chivvis

This thing about Rudy and what a nice guy he is, what if the joy we get from interacting with animals, the idea that we can have relationships of mutual affection, is a total illusion? What if the truth is that, for these animals anyway, our relationships are mostly transactional? Does the delight then disappear? Or maybe that is the transaction? We give them food and they give us delight.

Disa Skaff

Just got a text message.

Dana Chivvis

There's one last moment I want to tell you about.

Disa Skaff

So one of our hoof stock keepers, Matt, is asking if we can check on Charlie's guillotine door to make sure it got closed. He's sure he did it, but you know how it is. He'll wake up at 2:00 AM in a panic.

Dana Chivvis

Charlie is a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig. His day-keeper, Matt, couldn't remember if he'd shut the door to his yard. We go to check on Charlie, and, yes, his door is closed. He's completely sacked out. He's made himself a big nest of hay, somehow managed to cover most of his body with it, his head included. So all we can see is his belly rising and falling with each deep, sleepy breath.

Disa Skaff

'Night Charlie! Good boy!

Dana Chivvis

I like Charlie. He's terse, but uncomplicated, you know? He knows his name. He recognizes that Disa is talking to him and he responds. They're communicating across species. For me, this one short interaction contains all the magic of her job. Disa and a pig are talking to each other.

Bim Adewunmi

Dana Chivvis, whose love for her dog delights me, co-produced today's show. And for those of you who care, Jaya the orangutan is back indoors, frostbite free.

Act Five: Delight At The End Of The Tunnel

Bim Adewunmi

Act Five-- Delight At the End of the Tunnel.

Ross Gay

I suspect that it's simply a feature of being an adult, what I will call being grown, or a grown person--

Bim Adewunmi

Again, Ross Gay.

Ross Gay

-- to have endured some variety of thorough emotional turmoil, to have made your way to the brink, and if you're lucky, to have stepped back from it, if not permanently, then for some time, or time to time.

Bim Adewunmi

This is delight number 100-- "Grown." Ross goes on to talk about the importance of seeing things as they are, in the moment where you don't feel panic, or despair, or doom.

Ross Gay

And knowing what I have felt before, and might feel again, feel a sense of relief, which is cousin to, or rather, water to delight.

Bim Adewunmi

This last story is about someone who's defined by delight, but then loses it. I first got to know her through her blog, Little Known Black History Facts, which is one of my favorite things.

It's an affectionate parody of the Black History Month rollout of African-American excellence that happens every February. But the achievements on this site, they're all made up. Things like, inventor of the church clap, or first person to put more than 25 barrettes in one child's hair at one time. You know, black people stuff.

The person behind these perfectly observed jokes is one of the funniest people I know. Her name is Tracy Clayton, although, you may know her as Brokey McPoverty on the internet, where she has legions of fans. Tracy ran Little Known Black History Facts for five years. She's the creator of so many of my favorite things, but Little Known Black History Facts is the one I think about most often, even if Tracy doesn't.

Do you remember anything from that ridiculous blog?

Tracy Clayton

No.

Bim Adewunmi

There was Derek Morris, who was the first person to rap loudly to himself while standing at a bus stop.

Tracy Clayton

Don't like him.

Bim Adewunmi

No.

[LAUGHTER]

There was Haverford Bliss, and he was the first person to renege in a game of spades.

Tracy Clayton

You know what? I don't even play spades. I just know that that is a bad thing, I think. [LAUGHS]

Bim Adewunmi

That's right. There was also George G. Money Spencer, who was the first-- [LAUGHS] he was the first person to end every sentence with, "it is what it is."

Tracy Clayton

Hmm. AKA, the patron saint of reality shows. Because they say that all the time.

Bim Adewunmi

Exactly.

Tracy Clayton

At the end of the day, it is what it is.

[LAUGHTER]

Bim Adewunmi

Another great one-- Tracy and I are friends now, but I was a fan first. A big fan. What makes her comedy so good is her incredible observation skills. She works from a position of what the southern writer Kiese Layman calls "black abundance." Her references come from her own black American experience, growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as wider culture. She marries high concept to the very silly, and Little Known Black History Facts was just one of the many things she created.

Tracy is a one-woman production line of golden internet content. That gifted brain of hers spots delights and amplifies it. In fact, it felt like Tracy's entire life was about cultivating glee. And then, seemingly at the height of her powers, she just stopped making stuff. She lost her ability to feel delight.

Tracy Clayton

I felt like I was laying on the bottom of the ocean floor and looking up, and I could see like the sun, and people on the beach somehow, but I'm just miles, and miles, and leagues, and leagues away from it.

Bim Adewunmi

Things got really bad for Tracy, and for her that was extreme, because delight wasn't just a job, it was also her identity. This is a story of what happened when things went dark for Tracy, and how she made it back to a place of delight. In 2015, Tracy and her friend, Heben Nigatu, began making a weekly podcast with BuzzFeed, called Another Round.

Heben Nigatu

Hi, everyone. I'm Heben.

Tracy Clayton

I'm Tracy. And welcome to another round with Heben and Tracy.

[POPPING SOUNDS]

[LAUGHTER]

Heben Nigatu

What was that?

Tracy Clayton

I don't know.

[LAUGHTER]

Bim Adewunmi

There was nothing else like it at the time, two black women trading witty banter, and talking about the stuff that was important to them fueled by their natural chemistry, and, of course, given the name of the show, a good amount of booze. Another Round did so much so well-- interviews with academics, comedians, and MacArthur geniuses, like Lin Manuel Miranda and Nikole Hannah-Jones. They even interviewed then presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

But that was only part of it. Their show was funny, intellectual, thoughtful, and also deeply brilliantly silly. I loved their quizzes. One of Heben's masterpieces was a multiple choice quiz on fake names, or as she put it--

Heben Nigatu

Is This A White Man's Name Or Just Some Syllables I Mashed Together, British Edition.

Tracy Clayton

British people already have super weird names.

Heben Nigatu

They're just doing the most already anyway. [LAUGHS]

Bim Adewunmi

In this quiz, Tracy had to guess which of the names Heben was reading belonged to an actual real person.

Heben Nigatu

All right. Frimfram Fiddlesworth.

[LAUGHTER]

Primpram Willoughby.

Tracy Clayton

I quit.

Heben Nigatu

Tristram Hunt. Rimram Pendleton.

Tracy Clayton

I'm going to say it's one of the last two. I vote for Tristram.

Heben Nigatu

You're correct! Oh, my god! Tracy, I'm so proud of you!

Bim Adewunmi

Another Round was a hit. They were doing live shows, selling out venues across the country and abroad. They won awards. They sold merchandise. Heben and Tracy were being recognized by fans in the street. As it grew, the show was getting more demanding to make. It needed more money, more staff, more time, and they weren't getting any of that.

Then Heben left BuzzFeed. She took a job at The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and came back to record new episodes when she could. But things weren't the same. Tracy understood, but it was still hard on both of them.

Tracy Clayton

We didn't have a good way to manage that transition. And I think that since I was the only one in the building who was accessible all the time, a lot of the work fell on me and my shoulders. I'm happy to do the work, but I got tired and didn't know it, you know? I would wake up, like, oh, my god. Again. You know? I can't do this, but I'm doing it anyway.

Bim Adewunmi

I was working at BuzzFeed during this time, and ended up co-hosting three episodes, sitting in for either Tracy or Heben. There's one episode in particular that really sticks in my mind.

Tracy Clayton

So everyone, Heben sends all of her love from the very, very, very top and bottom of her heart. She is going to be back soon. She's still busy making magic and stuff with Mr. Colbert. But in the meantime and in between time, we've got a Bim in the studio!

[VOCALIZING]

(SINGING) Bim in the studio!

Bim Adewunmi

My shoulders are working!

Tracy Clayton

Hit them with the shoulders!

[SCATTING]

Bim Adewunmi

It was a ridiculous time.

Tracy Clayton

That seems like so much fun.

Bim Adewunmi

It was the funnest episode. And I think afterwards, I was talking to you, and it was like, OK, well, we finished that up. We're done recording. And I was like, so what are you up to for the rest of the day? And you said, back to bed for a depression nap. The minute the mic went off, you were like, all right. I'm out.

Tracy Clayton

Yeah, yeah. Back to my real life. That's very true.

Bim Adewunmi

You remember that at all?

Tracy Clayton

No, not that. I mean, I remember that episode and that stuff, but I don't remember the depression nap stuff. And I think that's because I was depressed, and your memory it's not there. Also, when everyday feels like another day, and another day, I couldn't even tell you what year that happened. But it sounds about right. I feel like that's the theme for a pretty long period of my life.

Bim Adewunmi

Listening back to the episodes of the show that aired during this dark period, it's hard to discern that anything was amiss. And that's because Tracy proved to be adept at employing that age-old showbiz trick-- she faked it.

Tracy Clayton

Having to fake the funk, as it were, was driven mostly by, I can't let other people down. And it was also like muscle memory, I guess. I'm really, really, really good at smalltalk.

Bim Adewunmi

When you are faking delight, do you feel delight? Does it bleed into it?

Tracy Clayton

Yeah. I would get lost and caught up in the conversation. So I did have chances to get carried away. The effects were not long-term, but it did give me a nice little break, little pockets of OK-ness here and there. But I tell you what, as soon as the interviews and stuff were over, stepping out of the studio, it was just like I had gone 12 rounds with Tyson.

Bim Adewunmi

The show eventually went on hiatus. Tracy went on disability. At first it was a relief to just stay home. Leaving the house would have meant dealing with New York-- the noise, the people, the subway. But then Tracy realized she was staying in because she was afraid to leave her apartment.

Tracy Clayton

This one time I was supposed to go somewhere. I was all dressed. Somehow, by the grace of God, and whoever else was watching, I was dressed. I looked decent. I didn't look depressed, quote, unquote. And I got to the door of my apartment, and I thought about the trek on the subway. And I was like, I can't. And I didn't go out. I put myself through all of that, getting dressed. It had taken hours for this to happen.

And I'm fighting with myself. Be kind to yourself. It's OK if your eyebrows don't match. It's OK if it's taking you four hours to get ready. Just do it. And then, by the time I got to the door, I expended so much energy getting myself together, I cannot also expend energy trying to make my brain focus on which stop do I get off of?

Bim Adewunmi

She did less and less, and the fact that she was doing less made her feel even worse. She turned her quick, talented mind inwards, turned herself into a target, and was relentless at attacking herself. She couldn't turn it off. Tracy stopped cleaning her apartment, barely changed clothes.

Tracy Clayton

I just remembered being in my room on my bed. The entire place is a mess. And I was just laying and I was thinking about how nobody knows that right now, this is where I am. And I remember getting my phone to text my friend Teddy, who live in Louisville. And I was just like, I'm having a tough time and I just need somebody to know it.

And he was very gracious. He was like, I'm glad that you reached out. And I know it now, but-- I don't know. There was something about just wanting somebody to know that you're sad. That I was like, wow, I'm really sad.

Bim Adewunmi

After almost a year of feeling truly terrible, Tracy had something that felt like a breakthrough. It started with a ritual she'd been doing every night for months.

Tracy Clayton

Oh, there was this moment when I realized that Otis Redding's "Sitting On The Dock of the Bay" is about depression. And I was like, oh, my gosh! This entire time? Are you kidding me? I thought it was some old man song about fishing, because I only knew the chorus. But the words, oh, my gosh. "Sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away." Yeah. Just wasting time. Just like nothing else to do, nowhere else to go.

Bim Adewunmi

So Tracy had a playlist of sad songs, including "Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay," and every night around 9:00 PM, she'd stand at the window of her apartment, smoking, and drinking, and looking down at the street, feeling like a caricature of a sad girl.

Tracy Clayton

And this one night, after however many months of this ritual, I just started to dance. First, it was a little sway to whatever song was playing. It may have been the Otis Redding song, because, I mean, it's got a little-- (SINGING AND SNAPPING ALONG IN TIME) Sitting on the dock of the bay, wasting time. You know? You can two step a little bit to it. And after that I was like, maybe I want to listen to other things to dance to.

And so, I switched to a different playlist. Couldn't tell you what it was. And I think I danced for an hour-- danced, and smoked, and just drank. And it felt good, and I was smiling, and I was confused. But I was like, don't pick it apart. And also, I could feel how ridiculous I probably looked. Because, I mean, it's not like I was two-stepping the whole time, right?

It was just some weird interpretive, can this muscle still move? Can I still do a backbend? I cannot. I learned that. [LAUGHS] But it felt-- I don't know, it almost felt like my body was trying to reach my brain somehow. Because it wasn't my brain that told my body to start dancing, I'm pretty sure. I think my body was like, you know what? You know who I haven't talked to in a long time? The brain. Let me check in with the brain and see how things are going. Oh, terribly? Well, let's dance a little bit.

Bim Adewunmi

During these months, she also looked at professionals, and she chose a couple who looked like her, understood her.

Tracy Clayton

They are all-- and when I say "all" I mean both my therapist and my psychiatrist-- don't know how it happened, but they are both black women.

Bim Adewunmi

Yay.

Tracy Clayton

They will both do-- not interviews-- sessions online. So I didn't have to move-- leave my house when I couldn't. I didn't have to put on pants when I couldn't. One day I got emotional because I woke up late and I forgot about my appointment. So I'm on the little Skype or whatever, I had my bonnet on. And I was like, I'm so sorry that I still have this bonnet on. I know it's not professional. And my therapist said, it's OK. I wear one too. And I was like, every black girl should know what this is, you know? And since then I just show up in my bonnet, like, what's up?

Bim Adewunmi

Eventually, sometime last year, Tracy found herself asking variations of the same question. She thinks Heben might have mentioned it. It was this-- is there anything good that your depression has given you? It sounded perverse, but she couldn't stop thinking about it, couldn't stop mulling the question. And she found that thinking about the answers made her feel good. When she mentioned it to her therapist, she told Tracy that finding something good in a bad situation could be a good sign of healing.

Tracy Clayton

And I was like, sounds fake, but what do you mean? She was like, she said the thing really helps you connect with your emotions. But I don't know what that means. I don't know what it means to connect with an emotion. I feel it. I recognize it. I don't want it. I don't like it. I'm ignoring it. I guess that's what she means.

[LAUGHTER]

Bim Adewunmi

I think you're answering the question.

Tracy Clayton

All right. I can check that off my to-do list.

Bim Adewunmi

So with the question in mind, Tracy started rising in a brand new journal, not unlike Ross Gay's book of delights. She calls it a gratitude journal, which sounds earnest. And yes, she's aware, not very cool. It's a simple practice. A couple of times a week, she writes down what she's grateful for. When she started, she didn't have much faith.

Tracy Clayton

A few months ago, I'd have been like, this is just the most ridiculous-- you know? It's not going to work. People were like, get up and walk around the block, and you won't be depressed. Yes, I will. And eventually this gratitude journal is going to turn into a chore, another thing that I can't keep up. That has not happened at all. It really helps to remember good things that happen to you.

Bim Adewunmi

It's been shockingly effective. In his delight essayette, "Bird Feeding," the poet Ross Gay witnesses a man feeding a pigeon in the park. Less than 30 seconds later, he watches another bird-- a tufted tit mouse this time-- swoop down into the hand of a different, wholly unconnected person. A lovely moment twice over. But he wouldn't have noticed that second bird, he said, if the first bird hadn't prepared him to see it.

Tracy's fans thought of her as their first bird, not only a delightful person by herself, but also a doorway to more delight. Now, she's figuring out how to be her own first bird, to develop a system to do for herself what had previously come naturally. Tracy's back at work. She's making new podcasts, interviewing people, being hilarious. She's not faking it.

When her mom calls with her four-year-old great nephew Jayden, she's able to pick up the phone, even if it's hard at first sometimes.

Tracy Clayton

She'd call, I'd answer the phone. I'm like, yeah, not doing great. I want to get off the phone. She was like, OK. And then she calls Jayden in, and I'm just like, oh. Because he's got so much energy! When I don't have the energy, he still has the energy. So sometimes I'm just like, get this kid away from me! And I loved him, love him to death, but I just couldn't do it in times of high stress.

And the first thing he says when sees me is, oh, hey, Tracy. [LAUGHS] Like I just interrupted him from doing something. His important four-year-old duties. Hey, Jayden. How are you doing? Blah, blah, blah, blah. And then my mom will go, ask her the question. And then I'm just like, ugh, I don't feel like it. But then he said, OK, I have a question. And then I'm like, what's your question, Jayden? Why are you so cute? [LAUGHS]

And I instantly just perk up and smile. I know what the question is going to be. I know I still don't have an answer. And I know, even as he's saying it, I'm just like, it's not going to work. But as soon as he says it, I'm just like, I don't know, man! Why you so cute? I don't know! Being able to deal with family and a hugely energetic child is definitely a sign of mama's coming back. Sophia home now.

Bim Adewunmi

Was that a Color Purple reference?

Tracy Clayton

It was.

[LAUGHTER]

Bim Adewunmi

This is the blackest This American Life has ever been.

[LAUGHTER] Sophia home now. What?

Tracy Clayton is the host of the podcast Strong Black Legends.

Our program today was produced by me and Dana Chivvis. Our staff includes Elna Baker, Emanuele Berry, Zoe Chace, Sean Cole, Nora Gale, Damien Gray, Michelle Harris, Miki Meek, Lina Misitzis, Stowe Nelson, Catherine Raymondo, Ben Falen, Nadia Reiman, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp, Christopher Swetala, Matt Tierney, and Nancy Updike. Our managing editor is Diane Wu. Our executive editor is David Kestenbaum.

Special thanks today to Heben Nigatu, Michael Mackenzie, Emily Miles, Ethan Fried, Amy Marsalla, and Joanna Kagan. Our website is thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks to my boss, Ira Glass, who guided me as I hosted the show this week. He really got stuck in.

Though it did get a little annoying when he brought his soup into the studio.

I'm Bim Adewunmi. Ira Glass will be back next week with more stories of This American Life.