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Death, Sex & Money Podcast by Anne Sale

Death, Sex & Money Podcast

by Anne Sale

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Listen to one of the most popular and highly rated podcasts from 2015. WNYC's Death, Sex & Money Podcast focuses squarely on three major life topics that many would sometimes rather avoid. Host Anna Sale speaks with a variety of people from different backgrounds on topics like why many of us are celibate, what it's like to be a funeral director, and how one privileged couple dealt with sudden, debilitating debt. This podcast series follows in the tradition of This American Life, Radiolab, and OnBeing in its sensitive exploration of interesting real-life stories that are reflective of wider issues that anyone might face.

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Newlywed and Paralyzed

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Apr 26, 2017

"I want to understand if this isolated feeling is normal." That’s what Rachel Swidenbank wrote to me just six weeks after a cycling accident left her husband, Hiroki Takeuchi, paralyzed from the waist down.

The accident happened last summer, less than a month after Rachel and Hiroki got married. They'd also recently bought their first home. Quickly, almost everything in their lives changed. After major surgery and five weeks in the hospital, Hiroki had to learn to navigate the world in a wheelchair. He couldn’t dress himself or use the bathroom without help. Rachel shuttered her company, a tech startup, so that she could spend more time with him.

Physical intimacy is different, too. "We're still in the stage of sort of shock, when it comes to that regard," Hiroki told me. Rachel added, "It's probably the hardest thing to deal with in the relationship." They're not sure how Hiroki's accident will affect their sex life in the long term, and how it will affect their chances at becoming parents. 

Rachel says she's gotten angry at Hiroki about the accident. But there are ways it's strengthened their bond, too. "The emotional connection that we have is so much deeper than it’s ever been before," Rachel told me. And despite all the changes in their relationship, some things have managed to stay the same. Hiroki is still learning how to manage his wheelchair one-handed, but he makes it a point to bring Rachel her morning cup of coffee every day, just as he always has, even if it means spilling a little bit of coffee on the kitchen floor. "It is very bittersweet," Hiroki said, reflecting on the accident, "both survival and loss mixed into one."

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Alec Baldwin Talks Money, Family, Fame and Cocaine

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Apr 12, 2017

"I completely forgot that this is an episode of Death, Sex & Money. We're taping this for your show!"

That's how Alec Baldwin responded after I started our on-stage conversation at the Brooklyn Academy of Music by asking him about money, and how he thinks about accumulating it. It's a topic he addresses head-on in his new memoir, Nevertheless, explaining that the reason he wrote the book was because he got paid for it. While Alec told me he believes "a lot in providence, financially," he says he's often made clear career choices motivated by the paycheck. It's a tactic he says he learned early on, from older actor mentors. "Embrace the commercial," Alec says, "But then when you can, you run off and do these other things for your soul." 

That willingness to say yes has led Alec into a very public existencehosting Saturday Night Live a record-breaking 17 times, engaging in local politics and philanthropy, and maintaining an active social media presence. But being in the spotlight has also led to regular spats with the tabloid press, a cocaine habit in the 1980s, and his very visible custody battle in the 1990ssomething he also covers in his book. When asked what advice he would give to a friend going through a split now, Alec said, "Find a way that you can get into therapy and get into the collaborative divorce. The dignified divorce. You're gonna regret if you don't." 

Alec remarried in 2012 and has had three more children in a little over three years. He says he's embraced the chaos that has come with having little kids back in his life. "My role is to support her," he said of his wife, Hilaria. "I kind of accept that in order to make things easy. As my dad taught me, parenthood is a contest between two people where the dad always wins the bronze medal."

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Pleased to Meet You, Nancy

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Mon, Apr 10, 2017

I first met Kathy Tu and Tobin Low two years ago, when they had an idea for a new podcast. The two friends wanted to make a show that would feature fun, honest and edgy stories and conversations about all things gay. And today, I'm so excited to finally introduce Nancy, their podcast, to all of you!

The story we're sharing with you is from one of their very first episodes. It's about Kathy and her mom, and coming out with the help of Google Translate. 

You can find out more about Nancy at nancypodcast.org. Subscribe today!

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Why Rashema Melson Left Georgetown

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Apr 05, 2017

I met Rashema Melson in the middle of her sophomore year at Georgetown University. She'd made national headlines the year before when she graduated as valedictorian of her D.C. high school class after spending several years living in a homeless shelter. It was a feat that landed her a scholarship at Georgetown—and saddled her with a lot of pressure. "I can't fail, I mean what would I do?" Rashema said as we talked in her dorm's common room, weeks before finals. "Do I want to believe that I didn't work hard enough or there is something more that I could have done? I just—yeah, no, I can't fail." 

After our conversation, I kept tabs on Rashema through her video blog—which is how I found out that just months after we talked, she left Georgetown. She married a longtime boyfriend in the military, and transferred to a new school in Tennessee to be closer to his base—hundreds of miles away from her old life in Washington D.C. He was in the car with her when I called recently to find out how she was feeling about all of her big life changes. But our call quickly took an unexpected turn, and Rashema told me she's considering a return to Georgetown. "Why run away from what I'm destined to do just because people are showing me that they’re on my side?" she said. "When I had all these people in my corner, I didn't know how to receive that."

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A Prison Guard In Transition

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Mar 29, 2017

Mandi Hauwert was 32 and a few years into her career as a correctional officer at San Quentin State Prison when she started to wear eyeliner to work. "Just a little bit," she tells me. "Just to have some sense of feeling when I went to work that I was being secretly feminine."

At the time, Mandi hadn't come out being transgender. She'd struggled with her secret for years—becoming depressed and suicidal as a teenager, joining the Navy to feel "a little more manly," and finally gathering the courage to open up to one of her female coworkers at the prison. "She was super accepting," Mandi told me. "And then it got me thinking, like, maybe—maybe—I could come out." But after another colleague started to ask questions about the makeup she was wearing, Mandi got called in to her supervisor's office. "I immediately told them that I was transgender," she says. "And their immediate response was that they don't allow cross-dressing."

Mandi eventually got permission to come to work as a woman, and since July 2012, she's done just that. The health insurance she receives as a state employee also covered most of her gender reassignment surgery in 2015. Still, continuing to work as a guard hasn't been easy. Early on, inmates called her names. And while that's eased up over time, Mandi says her colleagues haven't gotten over her transition yet. "It's walking into a room full of officers and having everybody move their chairs over to one side, away from you," Mandi says. "I hate the negativity." 

Mandi's also gotten some pushback from the trans community, which she says views police officers and guards with a lot of suspicion. "To be fair, law enforcement has historically treated trans people very poorly," she says. But Mandi is holding firm to the idea that being a part of the system is what could eventually bring about change. "Who knows?" she laughs. "I could be the first transgender warden."

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I Was Your Father, Until I Wasn't

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Mar 15, 2017

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 saysbut 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. 

*Last names have been withheld for privacy reasons.

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Live from the Internet: Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires & You

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Mar 08, 2017

We met Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires three years ago to hear about their love story. They met when Jason was still struggling with sobriety, and got married about a year before we first sat down. Since then, they've continued to create new music, moved into a new house together, and had their first child—Mercy. After our recent episode on breakups, we couldn't think of a better duo to take your questions about heartache, relationships, creativity and loss. 

A caller named Rebecca in Alaska wants to know how the two strike a balance between their creativity and their love for each other. "Happiness is the most important thing," Amanda says. "You've got to make yourself happy first, and be the truest self you can, before you can even try and be happy in a relationship." Russ calls in from Adairsville, Georgia to ask Jason and Amanda if they share their works in progress—especially if they write about each other. "If it's true and honest—no rules," Amanda says. "If the piece of art is good enough, no one can argue with it," Jason adds.

We also hear from Lori in Ukiah, California, who lost her husband to cancer. She wants to know about Jason's relationship to his faith these days. "For me, it's about not needing too many answers," he responds, adding he still relies on his faith in God for support. Muhammad from Boston shares his struggle to stay authentic as a Middle Eastern musician playing Americana music. "Americana is America," Amanda says. "Play your folk songs. It's going to kick ass."

Let us know what you think of our live-call in format! If you enjoyed it, tell us what you'd like our next call-in to be about and who should be our guests by emailing us at deathsexmoney@wnyc.org.


Jason & Amanda's Playlist

Leonard Cohen, (ANY Leonard Cohen song, Amanda says)

Ray LaMontagne, "Lesson Learned"

Willie Nelson, "You Are Always On My Mind"

Willie Nelson, "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground"

Willie Nelson, "Remember Me"

Willie Nelson, "On the Road Again"

Jason Isbell, "Flagship"

Amanda Shires, "You Are My Home"


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Cristela Alonzo's Lower Classy Comedy

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Feb 22, 2017

Comedian Cristela Alonzo says she didn't grow up with much. Her mom raised four kids on her own in an abandoned diner with no running power or water in South Texas. Things are different for Cristela these days. "I have the kind of money where I can go into a Target and go on my own Pretty Woman shopping spree," she tells me.

Cristela became the first Latina to develop, write, produce and star in her own network TV show. The self-titled sitcom, Cristela, premiered in 2014, but only lasted one season due to disappointing ratings. Still, for Cristela, failure isn’t enough of a reason to stop. "The worst that can happen to me is I end up being as poor as I started, and I know what it's like to live life that poor," she explains.

Cristela spent a lot of time in front of the TV as a kid while her mom worked double shifts at restaurants to pay the bills. Cristela's mom moved the family into the abandoned diner when she discovered her husband was having an affair, leaving him behind in Mexico. "She was trying to survive and trying to get us to survive," she says of her mother. "She had no community. She had nothing, and you can tell how hard it was on her."

In high school, Cristela struggled between obligations to her family and her own professional aspirations. She enjoyed theater and acting, which eventually drew her towards Los Angeles. After a series of fits and starts, she ended up back in Texas when she found out her mom was gravely ill. "In my family, the parents pick the kid that will take care of them when they're older, and my mom picked me," she remembers. "It's kind of winning a really resentful lottery."

Even though her show was cancelled in 2015, Cristela's stories about family and money are still a big part of her comedy—especially in her latest comedy special, Lower Classy. "I like talking about where I came from to show people why I am the way I am now," she says. "The poverty I grew up with made me want to work really hard to not ever be that poor again."


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Cut Loose: Your Breakup Stories

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Feb 15, 2017

When Nan Bauer-Maglin was 60 years old, her husband left her for his 25-year-old student. "I thought about suicide. You know, there’s a great feeling of rejection especially if you’re older," she told me. "You just feel ugly and invisible and sad and quite gray." 

Nan wrote a book inspired by their breakup and called it Cut Loose. "First I was gonna call it 'Dumped.' But that’s so negative," she told me. "Cut Loose is also about freedom." 

Nan is one of hundreds of listeners who shared their breakup stories with us, after we asked for them last year. And she's not the only one who mentioned a potent mix of rejection, liberation, and confusion at the end of a relationship.

A listener named Drew remembers when his boyfriend went on a trip, left his dog at Drew's house, and never came back. Thomas*, who got married right out of college, is 25 and unsure of what his life will look like after his impending divorce. Mia sent in a voice memo about leaving her boyfriend behind, and struggling with the decision years later. Identical twins Matthew and Peter Slutsky realized they needed to break up after years of living parallel lives: attending the same college, working the same jobs, living with their families in the same neighborhood. Creating some distance was part of growing up, but that doesn't mean it wasn't hurtful. 

In your breakup stories, you also described how hard it can be to know when it's over. Steve* knows he's not happy right now, but isn't sure if the problem is him or his long-term boyfriend. "I love him and I don’t want to hurt him," he told me. "This just seems like kind of a way to wipe the slate clean and start over." 

Sometimes, though, breaking up can also feel like a long overdue exhale. Beth, a listener in Philadelphia, recalls the day when she was riding her bike on her commute and choked out the words, "I don't want to be married!" She was divorced within a year, and looking back now, wishes she hadn't waited so long to be honest about her feelings. 

Whether you're in the middle of a breakup or you've been through one in the past, check out our Breakup Survival Kit. It's a Google doc created by all of you that's filled with your best suggestions about what to read, watch, listen to and do after a split. 

 *Name changed for privacy reasons

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The NFL Made Me Rich. Now I Watch It... Sometimes.

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Feb 01, 2017

When Domonique Foxworth and I first talked, the former NFL player was attending Harvard Business School and looking forward to a career as a high-powered executive. "I want to get to the point where I feel comfortable saying the things I’ve achieved financially are partially because of football, but even more because of what I’ve done afterwards," Domonique told me. 

That's saying a lot. Shortly before an injury permanently sidelined his career, Domonique signed a contract with the Baltimore Ravens worth $28 million. It was the culmination of years of devotion to the sport—much of which was unpaid. As a college football player at the University of Maryland, Domonique remembers feeling pressure to prioritize the school's athletics over his own academics. "That will benefit the coach, the university, the president, the alumni, the students," he told me. "None of us had any control or leverage in order to protect ourselves."

Years later, when his own payday finally came—in a big way—Domonique says it didn't feel quite as good as he had hoped. "We get paid well because the talents that we have are so rare," he says. "But you’re still the labor." It was around that time that Domonique tore his ACL, and decided that he was ready to leave football behind. 

Since my first conversation with Domonique, a lot has changed in his life. He's graduated from business school, had a third child, and moved to Washington, D.C. And his career sights have shifted. After landing a job as a top sports executive, he realized he wasn't happy. "I kind of made the decision to try my best to quiet those egotistical urges in me that liked having the big title and liked having the big salary," he told me when we recently caught up by phone. "So I quit with no plan to do anything else." We talk about what he's doing now, and about how his years playing football continue to have an impact on the way he lives his life today. 

Read Domonique's reflections on the film Concussion, as well as some of his writing for ESPN's site The Undefeated.

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Mahershala Ali on Faith, Love and Success

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Jan 24, 2017

We met actor Mahershala Ali and his wife, the artist Amatus, last year in Brooklyn, a few months after he filmed his scenes for Barry Jenkins' film "Moonlight." Now, ten months later, Mahershala has earned his first Academy Award nomination for his role as Juan, a Miami drug dealer who takes the movie's main character, a young boy whose mother struggles with addiction, under his wing.

Just last month, Mahershala also announced some exciting personal news: He and Amatus are expecting their first child. 

Today, we're revisiting our conversation the the couple, which took place months before the buzz of awards season or news of their first baby. On stage in Brooklyn last March, we learned how Mahershala and Amatus first met when they were students at NYU, and how they reconnected years later after Amatus suffered a violent loss in her family. They also shared how their Muslim faith grounds them, and how it guides them through their careers today. 

Listen back to our entire live show with Mahershala and Amatus (as well as Rosie Perez, Hari Kondabolu, Lisa Fischer and more) from last March at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

And this... What a surprise. So much love.

A video posted by Amatus (@amatus23) on


It looks like Amatus and Mahershala had a lot of fun at their baby shower last month!

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I Had Babies To Pay For My Baby

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jan 18, 2017

Sarah Short remembers being 19 years old, staring at the bill from the hospital where she gave birth to her daughter. It added up to about $10,000. "There's the anesthesia, the hospital stay, and the doctor—and I just laughed," she tells me. "I was like, 'I can't pay this.'"

Sarah had health insurance, but it didn't cover obstetrics. And she'd waited too long into her pregnancy to apply for Medicaid. She felt guilty about bringing so much debt into her new marriage—she married her boyfriend right before her baby was born—and when the bill went to collections, the dollar amount climbed even higher. 

"I would just get so overwhelmed and I would be like we're never going to be able to get out from under this," Sarah told me. "And it felt like it was all my fault." So, she started researching ways that she could make money to pay off her bill. She tried to sell her eggs, but says she wasn't what the clinic wanted in an egg donor. "But you're a great candidate for surrogacy," she remembers being told. Soon after Sarah filled out an application at a surrogacy agency, she met the parents she'd be working with—a lesbian couple who turned to surrogacy after years of trying to adopt.

Sarah ended up having twins for the couple, although this pregnancy and childbirth were very different from what Sarah went through giving birth to her own children. "When my son was born I looked at him…and it was a huge profound moment in my life that I remember," Sarah says. "When the twins were born they didn't look like me, and they weren't mine. I wanted them to get to their parents."

Even after giving birth, Sarah's work wasn't over. For several months, she pumped breast milk for the twins, which she also got paid for. Still, she's careful when she explains how much money she made from surrogacy: around $40,000. "I'm always reticent just to tell people just a flat number because it sounds so high and it sounds like I sold these babies for this amount of money," she says. "When in actuality I had a part-time job for two years."

That part-time job helped Sarah pay off her medical bills and make a down payment on a new house. She describes her life today as "a life that I could have never pictured for myself a few years ago." But when Sarah recently tried to become a surrogate again, she realized that the process might not go as smoothly the second time. "Why is this not working? This doesn't make sense," Sarah told me. "It felt like I'd been fired, because I'd had this thought of, I have this job, I'm gonna have this income, and then I didn't." 

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Tracy Clayton Is Speaking Things Into Existence

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jan 11, 2017

Right before the new year, Another Round podcast host and writer Tracy Clayton tweeted:

What followed were 30 tweets about the things Tracy wants when it comes to family, relationships, work and finances. Some were funny ("I want some real fucking grown up furniture!") and others were serious ("I want to do the hard work of reconciling my past relationships so that I can prep myself for the partner and kids I'm scared to admit I want"). I watched her tweets coming down my feed in real time—and thought what she was doing was really brave. 

I wanted to talk with Tracy about what inspired her goal-setting outburst, and about the things she wants for her 2017. "I feel like I've been in transition for a really long time," she told me. "I don't feel like both of my feet are planted firmly on the ground." At 34, Tracy's been in New York for less than three years—and has had a hugely successful career rise during that time. But, she says, "I didn't feel like the rest of my life reflected that same sort of success or happiness." Tracy says she hopes that by announcing her goals to the world rather than keeping them to herself, she'll be held accountable. "I’m very used to letting myself down," she said. "I’m much more afraid of letting other people down." 

Tracy's already started knocking things off of her 2017 to-do list. She opened her first-ever savings account just a few days into the new year. She got drunk with her relatives for the first time over the holidays, "giving myself permission to be a grown-ass woman around my family." And, she's gearing herself up to take on some of the bigger challengeslike finding a partner. "I don’t do very well with actually tying up loose ends once those ends become loose," she told me about her past relationships. "And now I’m like, okay, Trace, if you never ever ever fix it and wade through this uncomfortable-ass box, then you know, sure, you’ll probably be fine, but what if you could be more than fine? What if you could be happy? Wouldn’t that be cool?" 

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A Son and His Mom Laugh Through Darkness

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Dec 28, 2016

In 2014, after Bex Montz dropped out college, transitioned and got sober, he tried to kill himself. Before losing consciousness, he called 911. When he woke up, the first thing he saw was his mom, Katie Ryan, sitting in the corner of his hospital room. 

Bex told me his story earlier this year in our episode about near-death experiences. He's living with his mom in San Francisco, and soon after I moved to California, I asked Bex if I could catch up with him in person—and meet his mom. 

In our follow-up conversation, I learned about the depression that Bex has struggled with since he was a kid and, as his mom told me, that his extended family didn't know Bex was a suicide survivor until the podcast episode came out this spring. Bex said he couldn't believe it. "I've been mentally ill since I was like 13 years old," he said. "Jesus Christ, I hope there's a suicide attempt in there somewhere! Or else, I'm like, what have I been doing with the last couple of years, you know?"

This prompted Bex and his mom to burst into laughter.

This is how they talk about all they've gone through as a family, with brutal honesty and cutting humorwhether they're describing Bex's father's sudden death, Bex's ongoing depression, or his gender transition in his 20s. "These gender issues are, like, the smallest problems we've faced together," his mom Katie described. "They're miniscule, for me, compared to the mental health issues."

Those issues have made parenting Bex difficult, he freely admits, both when he was a kid and now that he's an adult. "I want to try to figure out all this shit by myself," he told me. "That's my ideal." 

"I've learned I can't keep him safe," Katie added. "I thought that sleeping on a mattress outside his door and taking the door off the door jam would keep him safe. It meant nothing. It meant that I was pissing him off because he didn't have a door to his bedroom and I was sleeping on the floor outside his bedroom because I couldn't trust him. And it didn't work."

"Ugh. I'm such an asshole," Bex responded. "I haven't made things easy on anybody. And, like, that's obviously not a choice. But it also doesn't feel good, you know."

Now, Bex is focusing on staying healthy and reapplying to college. He isn't sure whether he would ever want to be a parent, but right now, he said he's leaning against it. "There's this thing that you love desperately and you always want to be around, and progressively over the course of it's life, as it gets more interesting, you have to let it go."

"Like, that sounds awful. That sounds horrible!" Bex exclaimed. "Both of you guys are fucking idiots!"

After that, we all burst into laughter.   

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My Awkward Money Talk With Sallie Krawcheck

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Dec 21, 2016

Before she was a Wall Street executive or the CEO of an investment company for women, Sallie Krawcheck was a little kid, listening to her parents fight about money. 

"You just knew, once a month, they were gonna have a big fight and somebody was gonna storm out of the house," she told me. "It was a really stressful and tense topic for us, because we didn't have any." 

That taught Sallie that she never wanted to be in that position. She says she started working in the third grade, filing papers at her dad's law office. By high school, Sallie was lending her parents money to fix the furnace when it gave out. "I wanted to make my own money. I did not want to have those fights with a spouse, or be put in a position where I would be financially vulnerable," she said. 

Sallie learned that lesson again after she began her career in finance, and she found out her first husband was having an affair. She had graduated from business school, but at the time of their divorce, she wasn't in charge of their finances. "I knew vaguely how much we had, but it was an eye-opener," she says. "When you're reeling from a break to a relationship, that's a really bad time to try and figure out how to manage your money." 

Sallie remarried, and while she and her husband raised their two kids, Sallie's career continued to advance. She became the CEO of Smith Barney, and then, a top executive at Citigroup. She was there when the financial crisis hit in 2008, and Sallie was fired amid corporate infighting about how to handle some of the bank's major losses. "We told the kids that we were okay. You know, that mom got fired, mom got re-orged out and that we were okay as a family," she says. "I think the conversations were that straightforward." 

This year, Sallie started Ellevest, a financial planning firm specifically focused on women. When I asked whether her Wall Street past ever makes it awkward to have money conversations with women who earn much less, it got a little heated. "I have made money in my life. Isn't it interesting I had to come back and tell you that I also lost a lot of money in my life, as if I'm apologizing for it. It's funny. You've made me feel quite defensive," she told me. 

"It is interesting how awkward it is to talk about it," Sallie added, "even though I talk about it in the abstract everyday." 

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Let's Talk About Porn

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Dec 07, 2016

Porn. It’s something that people use in their most intimate, private moments. It’s a way to acknowledge desire—without any of the attachments of intimacy. For some of you, that's incredibly freeing. For others, it's caused some real problems.

This spring, we heard from a listener named James* who described himself as a recovering porn addict. He was struggling to stay away from porn while his wife was out of town. His story made us wonder about your own relationship with porn, so we asked you about it. More than 100 responses later, you told us how you first learned about porn, what drew you to it, and why some of you have had to turn away from it completely.

Rose* was in her 30s when she first stumbled across a porn video on Tumblr. She tried to put it away, but kept coming back to it. "I was going through heartbreak at that time, and really craving affection and love and desire," she tells me. "Seeing that acted out…I found it intriguing." Another listener, Antonio*, says porn helps him stay faithful to his boyfriend by letting him live out his fantasies on his smartphone. And Michael* says his porn collection is a stress reliever that he carefully tends to "like a rose garden."

We also heard from listeners like Daniel*, who've had to cut porn out of their lives entirely. Daniel went cold turkey three years ago when he realized porn had become a coping mechanism for his mental illness and was hurting his relationship with his girlfriend. "It's hard because it gives me a really intense pleasurable feeling," he says. "But it’s also usually followed by a lot of shame, too."

But for Jennifer*, experimenting with porn and talking about it openly can be helpful—even though it often makes the people she's dating uncomfortable. "I think it's important to just get it out of the way," she says. "You can have a better sex life when all the cards are out on the table."

*Names changed for privacy reasons.

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Other Americans

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Nov 23, 2016

Since the election, Americans on both sides of the political divide have been feeling deeply alienated and profoundly misunderstood. So we've been asking our listeners one central question: What's the thing that you wish other Americans understood about you, that they don't? 

In this live call-in special, Anna speaks with listeners about their answers to this question. Among the Americans we hear from are Kelly, a black woman in Portland, Oregon, who feels frustrated by the "smugness" of the white liberals she's surrounded by and sometimes feels like she's not being seen in her community; David, a first-generation Jewish American who was inspired by a recent white nationalist speech to wear a kippah for the first time in his adult life; Katherine, a Republican who's tired of being labeled a racist and a bigot; and Jorge, who identifies as a progressive but wants other Americans to know that plenty of Latinos lean right politically. 

We also hear from Nora*, a Republican staffer on Capitol Hill who voted for Hillary Clinton and was shocked when Donald Trump won. "When I voted for Hillary...I did it completely against my own career interests," Nora says. "There are so many people [on Capitol Hill] like me....We are simultaneously terrified of the uncharted unknown but also really excited to...do what we envision for the country." 

This call-in special is part of The United States of Anxiety, WNYC's election series. Find out more about the series here

*Name changed for privacy reasons

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What Money Can't Solve

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Thu, Nov 17, 2016

On November 2, 1983, Darrell Cannon was woken up by the Chicago police banging on his door. He knew the drill. As a longtime gang member, run-ins with the cops were common. He'd already served more than a decade behind bars for a murder conviction.

But that day, something unexpected happened: Darrell says the cops tortured him while they were questioning him. During the torture, Darrell confessed to a crime that landed him back behind bars for 24 years. 

This didn't just happen to Darrell. Between the 1970s and the 1990s, more than 100 people—most of them black men—say they were tortured too. The city of Chicago has officially acknowledged that this happened. Earlier this year, the city approved a $5.5 million reparations package to 57 of the people who suffered at the hands of the police. 

Planet Money reporter Noel King interviewed Darrell shortly after he picked up his reparations check earlier this year. She shared his story as part of a larger Planet Money episode called "Paying for the Crime." And today, in collaboration with Planet Money, we're sharing more of Darrell's story with you. It's a story about money—and the things that money can't solve.

"I hate 'em," Darrell says. "That ain’t never gonna change."

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If You're Not ____, Then Never Mind

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Fri, Nov 04, 2016

Actor Amy Landecker got divorced in 2011. "It was the worst time of my whole life," Amy says. "People told me it was going to get better and I didn't believe them." Amy and her ex-husband share custody of their daughter, and Amy struggled with being away from her for days at a time. "I would watch Louie, there was this one episode in particular where, when his kids would leave he would eat doughnuts, get high and want to kill himself," Amy remembers. "I was just so comforted. Because I was like, 'That's how I feel.'" 

Amy's 47 now, and says the pain of her divorce has eased as time has passed. In the past few years, she's found breakout success in her role as Sarah, the oldest sister on the series Transparent. That's also how she met her boyfriend, actor Bradley Whitford. "My daughter was worried that I was gonna be alone and...she was like, let's just make a list of the qualities that we're looking for," Amy laughs. "So she takes out this piece of paper and she titles it, 'If You're Not This, Then Never Mind.'" Soon after that, Amy met Bradley—who met a lot of their requirements. "I wanted him to like cats and dogs," Amy says. "Bradley has both, which is very rare." 

For the past two decades, Amy has also been sober—a decision she made at 24, after years of hard partying and some sexual close calls. Plus, drinking was getting in the way of her career. "The final drink of my life was before an audition," Amy remembers. "I was absolutely terrible and I was like, 'I'm not going to be able to do what I want to do for a living if I continue down this path.'" 


Before being cast on Transparent, Amy worked as a voiceover actor—and voice double. Don't know what that is? Watch this video from New York magazine. Get ready to be amazed. 

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I Was More Angry At God

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Oct 26, 2016

Two years ago, Jane Chung was living in New York, working at a startup and having the time of her life. The business she co-founded, called Klooff—a sort of "Instagram for pets"—was growing by leaps and bounds. "Everything seemed to align," Jane says. "And I would call my dad every day and I will tell him all the news." Jane, who was 30 at the time, hoped that after her startup got big, she could sell it and help her dad leave behind the dollar store business he owned in California. 

And then, on October 31, 2014, Jane got a phone call from her mother. "Her voice was really weird," Jane remembers. "There was like the feeling that you just kind of know that something awful happened." Jane's father had been shot and killed in a robbery.

That phone call rerouted the course of Jane's life—leading her to pack up her things in New York, sell her business and completely start over in California. Jane moved in with her mom, and struggled to accept that the God she had trusted to take care of her family had let something so terrible happen. "Most people were angry at the murderer," Jane says. "I think I was more angry at God."

In the past two years, Jane's been adjusting to her new life on the West Coast, and figuring out where to draw boundaries between herself and her mother. And she's trying to see God in a new way—and accept that she won't always be able to predict what's coming next. "You collect things in life, you gather pieces, you don't know what you're gonna do with those pieces but somehow it maps to something in your future," Jane says. "It can become a bigger piece of work. I think that's what God does."

Jane made a video that was played in court at her father's killer's sentencing. Watch it below.


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Ellen Burstyn & Gloria Steinem

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Oct 05, 2016

Before the women's movement came around in the 1960s, Gloria Steinem thought her options for the future were limited. "I was being a freelance writer and not having any money to save, and assuming that I would be a bag lady," she tells guest host Ellen Burstyn. "I was supposed to get married and have a man to support me. But that seemed to be a kind of hard bargain."

Gloria was raised by a father who traveled across the country selling jewelry and antiques, and a writer mother who suffered from severe depression. They separated when Gloria was 10 years old, and Gloria soon became her mother's primary caregiver. The journalist and feminist icon says the circumstances she grew up in gave her the confidence to step into the world on her own—like when she traveled to India as a young woman, leaving her then-fianc? behind in the States. "I realized in later life that...I felt not so safe at home because I was a small person looking after a big one," Gloria says. "So I felt the world outside the home was safer."

Gloria broke off that early engagement—but married entrepreneur David Bale when she was 66. "By that time the women's movement had worked for 30 years to equalize the marriage laws," Gloria says. "So no longer would I lose my name and my credit rating and my legal domicile and all my civil rights, as I would have had I got married when I was supposed to. So I thought, 'Well, you know, why not? I mean I'm not going to lose.'" David died three years after they got married, after being diagnosed with brain lymphoma. Gloria says taking care of him at the end of his life forced her to live fully in the present. "He let me do over what I couldn't really do for my mother," she added. "It gave me a chance to do that over."

Gloria is 82 now. And she says she isn't yet very comfortable with the idea of death. "I'm torn because I love it here...I'm very attached," she admits. "I'm still trying to hang in there 'til I'm 100. Because just to meet my deadlines I have to do that."

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Diane Gill Morris & Officer Robert Zink

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Sep 28, 2016

Diane Gill Morris first joined us last year to talk about raising her two boys, Kenny and Theo. Both of her children are autistic, and Diane told us about the challenges that have come with their diagnoses and the overwhelming responsibility she feels to protect and nurture them, particularly as they become adults. 

Diane said she was particularly worried about her older son, Kenny, who was then 16. "I am still trying to figure out how I make sure that he is safe in the world," Diane said, "when I can’t explain to him all the intricacies involved in what it means to be young and black in America."

There have been several recent stories about police interactions with autistic people of color—and their caregivers—that have ended violently, in places like Miami, New York, and St. Paul, Minnesota. Today, as a guest host on Death, Sex & Money, Diane talks with police officer Robert Zink, who founded the St. Paul CARE (Cops Autism Response Education) Project and has two autistic boys of his own. "Officers may not read the cues of what the person is presenting," Officer Zink says. "Officers may view them as cues of, is it drug interaction? Is it a mental health issue? And read those cues wrong....And we go down one path and it gets worse and worse." He adds, "I never want to see something like that happen to my sons just because something they did was misinterpreted." 

Diane also talks with Officer Zink about her worry that officers might make incorrect assumptions about her sons because they're black. "In the media most of the people that we see with autism are white. I don't think a lot of people are aware that there's a really large population of minority children and adults with autism," Diane says. "My fear is always that an officer sees a black man and they will immediately go to the idea of this being a person on drugs versus this being a person with disability." 

Diane also talks with Maria Caldwell, whose son, Marcus Abrams, was injured during an confrontation with Metro Transit officers in St. Paul last year. Marcus is black and autistic, and was 17 at the time of the incident. Maria talks with Diane about how Officer Zink reached out to her family after Marcus landed in the hospital—and Officer Zink and Maria talk together about working to rebuild trust after it's been lost. "There's no expectation that trust is going to be gained in six weeks, six months, six years, or sixty years," Officer Zink says. "Even though you may not have it back right away, you still have to work to get that trust back." 

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Chris Gethard & Tim Dillon

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Sep 21, 2016

Comedian Tim Dillon has lived a lot of life in his 31 years. "I was a child actor," he tells guest host Chris Gethard. "I started doing coke at 12. My mother's a schizophrenic. I was a closeted homosexual. I'm politically all over the map, though I lean conservative. I was in the mortgage industry. I idolize hucksters, thieves, cons and cheats. My dream is to be a traveling salesman through America. And if comedy works, that's nice too."

Around the time that Tim says he began experimenting with drugs, he also began to notice that his mother was starting to talk about being followed. She was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia, and had a mental breakdown when Tim was twenty years old. She's been in and out of psychiatric hospitals since then. As an adult, Tim says he feels a growing responsibility to care for his mother, but he's also come to terms with the fact that no amount of money will "fix" her. "That's the amazing thing about mental illness," he says. "If I had a million dollars, and I had a home, and I could move her in and pay all her bills, she wouldn't be better."

Tim did in fact once own a home, in his early 20s. He started his career selling mortgagesincluding those of the subprime variety. "I didn't know how bad it was going to get," he says. "I took one myself." He bought a $570,000 house that, as it turned out, he couldn't afford after the subprime mortgage crisis hit and he lost his job. The bank foreclosed on his home, and Tim says his credit is still suffering today.

But the economic downturn did push him to make a dramatic career change. Tim started doing stand-up comedy about six years ago. And that same year, he decided to come out to his family. "There was no like, 'We love you,'" Tim says. "There was none of that. They're funny, acerbic people." Tim isn't dating much, though. Right now, he says he's focused on building his career as a comic, doing two to three shows a night. But, he says, he might slow down "if I fell deeply in love with somebody...I'm not saying that that even would slow me down, I'm just saying that could." 

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Sonia Manzano & Justice Sonia Sotomayor

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Sep 14, 2016

"Through and through I'm a lawyer and a judge," says U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. "But my life experiences do permit me to see things that others may not."

Before the Justice became a lawyer and a judge, she was a young woman growing up in the Nuyorican community in the South Bronx—just a few years behind Death, Sex & Money guest host Sonia Manzano, who also grew up there. The two didn't meet until a few years ago, but their childhoods had some similarities: Money was tight, their parents' relationships were troubled, and both of their fathers struggled with alcoholism. But unlike Sonia Manzano's father, who lived well into his 80s, the Justice's father died when she was nine years old. "I’ve often wondered if the outcome of my life would have been the same if my father had remained alive," the Justice says. "I think the absence of that constant battle made a big difference in my self-perceptions."

Sonia asks the Justice about facing and overcoming insecurities throughout her life—including on her first day as a Supreme Court Justice. "Anyone presented with a new challenge has to always have that moment of insecurity, of not knowing whether they can do it," the Justice says. "I live with that. I've lived with it my entire life....The first day that I was on the bench was for the now quite famed case, Citizens United. And my knees were knocking even then. But what got me over that moment...was to become totally engaged in what was happening before me, and the knocking finally stopped without my realizing it." 

Sonia and the Justice also talk about some of the opinions that the Justice has written for the Supreme Court, including those about race and prejudice. "I know that for people to hear me, I have to be able to explain it in terms that people can sit in the shoes of the other person," the Justice says. "I suspect that there are many people...who never thought about what the impact is of snickering at a person of a different race when they walked by or of asking someone, 'Where are you really from?' when that kid has been born and raised here." They also talk about the Justice's recent words about police searches and parents of color giving their children "the talk" about interacting with the police. "It is inescapable for any child in this society who is of color of any kind, or who comes from a different background where language becomes noticeable, that they will experience that difference," the Justice says. "And they will have to cope with it. We have not become colorblind yet."

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The Great Guest Takeover

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Sep 07, 2016

A few months ago, we mentioned that we were working on a couple of special episodes during Anna's maternity leave. 

What we didn’t mention was that we were working on these special episodes with some familiar voices. We invited four of our favorite former guests to switch seats...and become the interviewer.

Over the next several weeks, you'll hear from longtime Sesame Street actor Sonia Manzano, comedian Chris Gethard, and actor (and "shouldless day" enthusiast) Ellen Burstyn. You'll also hear from Diane Gill Morris, who we met when she shared what raising two sons with autism has been like for her.

Each of them talked with someone they were curious about, and wanted to get to know better. You'll hear Sonia Manzano interviewing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor—who also hails from the South Bronx. 

Chris Gethard sits down with up-and-coming comedian Tim Dillon, someone who Chris describes as "either the smartest maniac or craziest genius I know in the comedy world." 

Diane Gill Morris told us last year that she worried about her older son, Kenny, being safe in the world "when I can’t explain to him all the intricacies involved in what it means to be young and black in America." She talks with a woman named Maria Caldwell—she's the mother of an autistic teenager of color who had a violent interaction with Metro Transit police in St. Paul, Minn., last year—as well as Robert Zink, a St. Paul police officer who has two autistic sons and trains officers how to interact with autistic people. 

And, to wrap things up, Ellen Burstyn talks with the one and only Gloria Steinem. The activist and author talks with Ellen about growing old with her chosen family, the source of her confidence, and how she's learned to deal with her regrets over the years. 

Look out for all of these episodes in the coming weeks! Subscribe to Death, Sex & Money on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts to make sure you stay up to date. 

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Life Is a Mystery

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Aug 24, 2016

There are some interviews that just stay with you. My conversation with Elizabeth Caplice is one of those.

I spoke with Elizabeth back in March for our episode about near death experiences called "When I Almost Died." A listener had suggested that we reach out to Elizabeth, who lived in Australia and had chronicled her almost two years of colorectal cancer treatment on her blog, Sky Between Branches.

But hours before we talked, Elizabeth had been told by her doctors that her time was running out. They thought she had between three and 12 months left. She was still processing the news. 

"I mean, there’s intellectual acceptance," she said. "And then there’s the really solid, 'No, now I know my life is ending.’ This has sort of shifted it into a new gear."

Elizabeth wrote her last blog post in June. She let her readers know that she was ceasing her cancer treatment and moving into a hospice facility. On July 12, Elizabeth died, surrounded by loved ones. Her partner, Alex, wrote on her blog that Elizabeth's death was "not a life coming to its end...it was cut short."

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Your Death, Sex & Money Short Stories – Live!

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Aug 17, 2016

Last year, we asked listeners to share their favorite short stories about death, sex and money. After receiving more than 140 suggestions (you can find them all here), we picked five of our favoritesand partnered with the public radio show Selected Shorts to present them during a live show here in New York. Actors Becky Ann Baker (Girls), Sam Underwood (The Following), Kathleen Chalfant (Wit, The Affair) David Costabile (Breaking Bad) and Amir Arison (The Blacklist) joined us on stage to bring these stories to life. 

Today, we're sharing two of those readings with you. You'll hear actor Sam Underwood performing "Road Trips" by David Sedaris, a story about a youthful hitchhiking experience gone awry. And you'll hear Kathleen Chalfant read "Until the Girl Died," a story by the Irish writer Anne Enright about a wife who is equal parts furious and patient with her philandering husband.

Want to hear more episodes of Selected Shorts? Subscribe here

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Anna Chlumsky Catches the Worm

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Aug 10, 2016

At 10 years old, Anna Chlumsky delivered an iconic performance alongside Macaulay Culkin in the classic '90s movie My Girl. She became a child star, but the attention and job offers were fleeting. By the time she was a teenager, she'd stopped getting acting roles. "It just makes you feel like shit as an adolescent," she says. "Most rejections as an adolescent for anybody in any walk of life...make you feel like shit over and over."

Even so, Anna couldn’t escape the public memory of her famous role—even in college. At least, until she met Shaun So. "He didn’t care," she says. "By then I could tell who cared and who didn’t. You kind of feel safe with the people who don’t care." The two started dating and stayed together even after Anna graduated and moved to New York City. Then, Shaun told her that he was enlisting in the Army Reserve.

As Shaun began training for a deployment to Afghanistan, Anna started a career in publishing. But deep down, she knew that acting still appealed to her. During one particularly rough day at work, a fortune teller stationed in front of her office recognized her on her lunch break. "She says, 'You’re not done...you still want to do this,'" Anna recalled. "So that touched a nerve." She quit her job later that week.

Anna and Shaun got married in 2008, and Anna landed her role on Veep in 2012. She gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Penelope, in 2013. For awhile, her job required her to commute back and forth between California and New York, where she and her family live. "I kept calling it 'The Momma Bird Commute' because I was like, 'Alright, I gotta go catch the worm, and then I will come back,'" she told me. "But I gotta catch the worm." She'll soon be juggling her work with two kids—when we talked, Anna was pregnant with her second child, after having a miscarriage. "People don’t talk about that enough," she told me. "It’s not even that we’re hiding it. It’s just that it’s so f-ing uncomfortable to talk about, 'cause you just aren't happy about it. But you do learn that this is kind of not up to you....There’s other stuff at work."

Read Anna’s ode to Ovaltine for Gourmet Fare magazine from 2003

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Dating Was So Hard, Until It Wasn't

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jul 27, 2016

"When I want it badly enough, I can...really steel myself and just be like, 'Don't freak out, just stay still, kiss them. Just do it!'" 

This is how Katie Heaney talked about her dating life when we first spoke back in 2014. She'd just published her confessional first book, Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date—a chronicling of her lifelong singledom until age 25. And she'd recently moved to New York City from Minnesota to take a job at BuzzFeed as an editor. When we talked, the 27-year-old was also a virgin—something that made her really uncomfortable. "I really don't like it," she told me. "And I also hate that I don’t like it. Because that feels like conceding that it bothers me and that I am susceptible to the opinions of others." 

Listening back to herself two years later, Katie winced. "I hear myself talk about all the fear and the dread and 'making myself,' and I'm just like, 'Ugh, you don't have to feel that way,'" she told me. Now 29, Katie says she's adjusted to life in New York—and along with that adjustment, has also come to terms with the fact that she's gay. "I remember being on the subway and looking around at all the guys. And being like, 'I don't want to date any of you. Like, I just don't - I don't want this,'" she said. "And...the attraction like fell out of my body." Soon after, Katie started dating a woman, and says that while she was nervous on their first date, she wasn't "uncomfortable to [her] core" in a way that she had been in the past on dates with men.

Despite her newfound comfort in her sexuality, Katie says she's still learning how to be in a relationship. "I have to learn how to not catastrophize every disagreement or every feeling that comes to me that isn't a 100 percent joyous one," she told me. "I thought that I had struggled so long to find [a relationship] that once I did, it would just be perfect or easy. And, you know, I was naive about what it really means to spend that much time with someone." 

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We're Not Going To Have Karl Again

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jul 13, 2016

Karl Ives Scorah Towndrow was born last spring to parents Amber Scorah and Lee Towndrow. Neither of them were prepared for how deeply they would fall in love with their first child. "I remember having this feeling where I wanted to almost...absorb him into my body," Lee remembered. "As Karl got a little bit older," Amber told me, "There were these moments where sometimes he would catch my eye and stare at me...so long and with so much love in his eyes, that I’d almost start to blush."

Amber and Lee's time with Karl was intense, but brief. Karl died when he was almost four months old, while he was at his first day of daycare. He stopped breathing after being put down for a nap. Weeks after Karl's passing, the medical examiner's office said the cause of Karl's death was undetermined. Because it was unlicensed, the daycare was shut down the day after Karl died.

When we talked in February, Amber said she couldn't stop thinking about why her son died, and whether it was somehow her fault. "You feel like there's this direct correlation between you leaving them and them dying," she told me. "As a human being, you need an answer for death. Even if you can't understand death, you need to understand why a death occurred." And as Amber struggled through the first few days and weeks after Karl's death, Lee says he felt like he had to postpone his own grieving process. "I felt a lot of pressure to reassure everybody that it’s going to be okay," he told me. "It was really hard."

Lee says he was eventually able to grieve, almost six months after Karl died. And while Amber says that she and Lee have mourned Karl's loss differently, they did agree that they both wanted to have another child. At the time of our interview, Amber was six months pregnant—this time, with a girl. "What I have heard from women who have been through this and then went on to have other children, they all said that it never ever fills the hole that you have from losing the one that you did lose," she told me. "But a little bit of the sadness is taken away." 

Since Karl's death, Amber and Lee have become advocates for paid parental leave. You can find out more at their website, forkarl.com

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Tituss Burgess Airs His Laundry

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jun 29, 2016

Tituss Burgess says there isn't much that he won't talk about. "I'm comfortable airing my laundry," he says. "I don't think one thing's dirty or clean. It's just what I wear."

It's taken him years to get to that place. Raised by his mom in Georgia, the actor and singer says he knew that he was gay from a very young age. But it wasn't until his freshman year in college that he mustered the courage to come out to her. "She handled it very well," he said. But as his career has taken off, first on Broadway and more recently as Titus Andromedon on "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,"  Tituss has become an increasingly vocal LGBT activist—something he says his mom struggles with. "She feels uncomfortable with it," he said. "It means that there's a chance that she might have to come out and be vocal about a position."

Despite not always seeing eye to eye, Tituss says he and his mom are still very close. But he acknowledges that he's had to be strategic about their relationship. "Because of what is growing increasingly important to me, almost becoming a part of my DNA, I've had to assist us both in redefining what our relationship is," he said. "Taking greater, more strategic steps towards protecting us. For fear that the very different thinking will dismantle what's left." 

Tituss moved to New York more than a decade ago. Now, at 37, says the city feels like where he belongs. But he's not sure that the close-knit feeling of family that he felt as a kid, surrounded by his mother and grandparents, is one that he'll find again. "I feel most at home when I'm alone," he told me. "That's not sad. It's just I feel closest to source and connection when I'm by myself." 

Watch Tituss performing his song "Comfortable" here:   


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Inside Planned Parenthood

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jun 22, 2016

The first thing that greets you when you step off the elevator at the Planned Parenthood in Brooklyn is a metal detector. "I didn’t necessarily expect it," a first-time patient told me. "But as soon as I saw it I was like, 'Oh yeah, that’s right, that makes sense.'" 

Many Planned Parenthood clinics across the country rely on security measures like these. The services provided by these clinicsspecifically, abortionshave long been at the center of a raging political debate in the U.S. But it's not very often that we hear from the people who rely on these clinics for health care. 

Over a number of days this past winter and spring, we collected interviews at the Planned Parenthood clinic in downtown Brooklyn. Patients volunteered to talk with us while they were waiting for their appointments. They were there for STD tests, pap smears, birth control prescriptionsno one seeking an abortion talked with me on the days we were there. But for many of the people I met, abortion was an important part of their history with Planned Parenthood. 

"Here it was just very reassuring," a patient named Sarah, who was at the clinic for her annual exam, told me about her abortion three years ago at Planned Parenthood. "No one wants to do it, but life, you know, happens."

We also talked with some of the abortion protesters who stand outside the clinic every Saturday, rain or shine. And I interviewed several staff members and volunteers at Planned Parenthoodlike Rhea, who greets patients as they walk in the door downstairs. "If you’re wondering if this is the right choice and you’re there and you’ve made the appointment and you’ve been thinking and you’re like, crossing the line...somebody being a jerk to you could totally just melt you down," she told me. "Or, somebody with a smile and somebody who holds your hand, could just make you feel calm and make you feel good. At a time where maybe you don’t feel good." 

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Danielle Brooks Is Ready to Talk About Sex

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jun 08, 2016

Danielle Brooks started out her life in a very religious household. Her mother and father are a minister and a deacon, respectively, and she grew up singing in her church choir and participating in oratorical contests run by her congregation. And the church also shaped her early thoughts about sex. "I had this Bible study teacher, who scared the bejesus out of us about having sex," Danielle tells me. "She was like, 'Anyone that enters you, they become a part of you!' And I was like, 'I’m just not ready for this.'"

Now 26, Danielle is known for portraying women on-screen who have no problem talking openly about their sexualitylike her Orange Is the New Black character, Taystee, or her character Sofia in The Color Purple on Broadway. And these roles have made an impact on Danielle, who says she just recently started talking publicly about sexincluding losing her virginity during college. "I just remember like being there and the light’s dim or whatever, and saying to him, 'Just be gentle,'" she laughs. "And then, once we got into it, you would have thought I’d had sex for years the way I was talking!" 

Danielle's quick rise to fame has affected her relationships. "My last relationship felt so like me being used in a lot of ways," she says. "They just wanted to be a part of that fame." But, she says, her current partner is teaching her new things about love and intimacy. "I’m realizing it’s okay to allow yourself love, even when you're scared of it," she says. "And that sex can be more than just physical, or love can definitely be more than physical." 

Below: Watch video from Danielle's days singing in the church choir. 


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An Update from Susanne

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jun 01, 2016

We met Susanne* and Mike* earlier this year, when they shared how they overcame heroin addiction together.

They started dating when they were teenagers, and began doing heroin together only a few weeks into their relationship. What followed were years of overdoses, jail time and three unplanned pregnancies. But after several false starts, Mike and Susanne were able to wean themselves off of heroin with methadone. They got clean, they moved away from their home state of Texas, and Mike found well-paying work. But true stability still eluded the couple. 

After our interview, we learned that Mike had been charged with sexual abuse of a minor. When I asked about the allegations, Mike denied them. But last month, Mike entered a guilty plea. He now faces jail time. 

I called Susanne to talk about what's happened in her life since we last talked. "I feel like I wasn't abused, but I should have known that I was married to someone who had the ability to abuse somebody," Susanne tells me. "I should have left a long time ago."

*Names changed


If you or someone you know is struggling with heroin addiction, you can call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP for confidential, free information about substance abuse.

If you need support, assistance or information about sexual abuse, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.

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How Jeff Daniels Got Sober, Again

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, May 25, 2016

Jeff Daniels dropped out of college and moved to New York City to become an actor. He left his family behind in Chelsea, Michigan, where his dad ran the local lumber yard. But a few years after moving to the city, Jeff says he got a letter from a young woman from his hometown. She moved to New York, they married, and had their first child. And then, they decided together to raise him back home in Michigan.

"'I will sustain the career from the Midwest for as long as I can,'" Jeff told me. "That became the business plan for us. And it worked for quite a while." But the plan started to falter after a few years, which sometimes meant watching others succeed from the sidelines. "There was a time when I couldn't even watch the Oscars. I had to leave the room," he told me. With a family and a house "in the middle of nowhere," Jeff resorted to less than ideal jobs just to pay the bills. He says movies like Dumb and Dumber—commercially successful but critically lowbrow—took him out of the running for serious roles for a long time.

By then, Jeff and his wife were raising three kids, which led him to another big decision: getting a vasectomy. "I had watched her go through childbirth three times," he remembers, "I said, 'There is no way I am going to force you or ask you to do anything...I’m the one. I've gotta be the one who gets fixed.'" As his kids got older, Jeff started to reemerge on stage and in the spotlight. When his acting career regained traction in the 2000s, the rush of success pushed him off the edge and broke 14 years of sobriety. "Just to take some of the stress away," he says of the moment when he talked himself into a beer, "Just to relax." It didn't take long for him to banish that inner voice that gave him permission. After getting professional help, he quit drinking again after a few months.

Jeff is 61 now, and he's received some of the recognition he desired when he was younger. He won an Emmy for his leading role in The Newsroom and received a Tony nomination this year for his portrayal of a sexual abuser in Blackbird on Broadway. Still, he resists the urge to retire and look back on his career. "I always have to have something in the air," he says, "to feel alive."

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From Conversion Therapy to a Rainbow Yarmulke

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, May 11, 2016

When Chaim Levin first met Benjy Unger almost 10 years ago, Chaim immediately wanted to be friends. "He was like one of those bros from high school that was just so regular and nobody would guess that he’s gay," Chaim tells me.

Chaim and Benjy grew up in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, but they didn't meet until they signed up for a therapy program then called JONAH, or Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality. Chaim was 18, and Benjy was 20. Both were attracted to men, and they sought out the program hoping to become straight.

"It was like I struck gold," Benjy remembers. "I finally found my messiah. For that moment I was very happy and inspired." The program offered Benjy and Chaim a way to follow the path laid out for them by their religious community—including marrying women and starting their own families. Initially, it felt like a huge relief. "For people like me who were rejected for so long," Chaim says, "I just needed that connection with people."

But both soon grew frustrated and quit the program. Chaim came out first, with gusto. "When Chaim does something, boy, does he do it!" Benjy says. "Rainbows here and rainbow glitter there and rainbow yarmulke and rainbow bracelets and rainbow necklace. But he at least seemed happy."  

Watching Chaim become an activist gave Benjy courage, he remembers. "If it weren’t for people like Chaim, I might be still in the closet." 

Benjy and Chaim realized that being free of JONAH wasn't enough. They filed a lawsuit in 2012, along with two other clients. Together they claimed that the program defrauded them and their parents. They won, and JONAH was forced to shut down in 2015. "I would not have survived this lawsuit without this schmuck right here," Chaim says of Benjy, who has become a very close friend. "I tell people that the only good thing I ever got out of JONAH was this guy." 

Read more about Chaim, Benjy and their lawsuit against JONAH at Newsweek by reporter Zo? Schlanger.

Watch Newsweek's video about Benjy and Chaim's story.

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Diane Guerrero on Debt and Deportation

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Apr 27, 2016

Diane Guerrero was just 14 years old when she came home to an empty apartment. Her parents had been taken by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and would soon be deported to their native Colombia. "My family unit essentially died that day," she says. 

Now 29, Diane has recurring roles two successful television shows. She plays inmate Maritza Ramos on Orange is the New Black and smart aleck Lina on Jane the Virgin. But this success is new to Diane. Most of her teens and twenties were spent working any job she could get her hands on, dodging loan collectors, and keeping her family drama a secret. "You would never know that I was going through such sadness," she says, "I made sure that nobody would find me out."

Keeping everything bottled up only worked for so long. In her junior year of college, she started to drink heavily and cut herself. "I used that as a coping mechanism," Diane reflects, "or a way to self-sabotage myself." As her life and relationships started to fall apart around her, Diane finally found a positive outlet in acting classes. And seeing a therapist didn't hurt. 

Diane's own life is stable now, but her family is still in a precarious place. Her parents are still unable to enter the U.S., even as visitors. And they separated shortly after they were deported. Dealing with their split has been an ongoing element of Diane's emotional recovery. "It definitely affected my relationships and how I dealt with people," she acknowledges, "and what I considered to be love or forever." 

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When I Almost Died

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Apr 20, 2016

A few months ago, I asked you to share your near-death experiences. In all, we received more than 100 stories from you: through your emails, voice memos and—for the first time—our Medium page, where you can read the submissions.

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 describes her life these days as "one big near-death adventure." A listener sent us a link to her blog, Sky Between Branches, where she writes 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." 

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Dead People Don't Have Any Secrets

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Apr 06, 2016

When Amanda* met Sam* in her mid-20s, she thought he was the most interesting person she had ever met. "It was almost like he had tried to live his life a different way," she told me. "I was just enchanted by that." 

Three years into their marriage, the couple found out that they were unexpectedly pregnant...with twins. Amanda says she took on the lion's share of the work at home while also juggling a full-time job that was paying most of their bills. "I was angry with him for not knowing how to help me," Amanda remembered. When Sam was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma while the kids were still toddlers, she says that neither one of them gave it the full attention it deserved. 

"It certainly didn't change the things it should've changed," Amanda said. "Starting with a will would have been nice."

Sam didn't exhibit many physical symptoms at first, but mentally, he started to turn inward after his diagnosis. "He went to this place of living his life in secret," Amanda said. "And not sharing anything about how it was feeling or what he was doing with me." Then, the cancer spread to his spinal column and brain. He was admitted to the hospital and quickly lost consciousness. That's when Amanda discovered, among other secrets, that her husband had been having an affair. She planned to confront Sam when he woke up, but he never did.

Amanda was left with a lot of angerand, as it turned out, money problemsto process. But she had to keep most of it to herself. "My husband was really very well-liked," she explained. "You've got to be this plate for everybody else's feelings about your dead husband." With two young kids and everyone else's mourning to deal with, she says it took years to get around to her own emotions.

Eventually, Amanda remarried. But only after figuring out what she really wanted out of a marriageand her life. Her current husband, Frank*, is completely different from her first husband. She says he only has one deal breaker -- infidelity. But she's surprised to find that the rule isn't as comforting as she once expected. 

*Names changed 

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Rosie, Sixto, Hari, Uma, Mahershala, Amatus, Lisa & Dan

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Mar 23, 2016

For Rosie Perez, it's her cousin, Sixto Ramos. For Mahershala Ali, it's his wife, Amatus. And for Hari Kondabolu, it's been his mom, Uma Kondabolu

Our recent live show in Brooklyn was all about times of big change in life and the family who keeps us grounded during those periods of transition. I've been thinking about this a lot as I prepare to move across the country and become a parent for the first time. 

Rosie Perez and Sixto Ramos, Live at BAM

Rosie Perez didn't connect with her cousin, Sixto Ramos, until her 20s, when she almost got set up on a blind date with him after they acted together in Do the Right Thing. "I almost went on a date with my cousin!" Rosie laughed. "That's so sick!" Despite their awkward start, she and Sixto became close friends, bonding over their shared love of boxing. And they've stood by each other through times of loss, like when Rosie's mother passed away from AIDS in 1999. "He would call every day," Rosie said. "He would come over every day." 

Mahershala Ali and Amatus, Live at BAM

Actor Mahershala Ali and his wife, the musician Amatus, first dated when they were students together at NYU. But when they reconnected years later, after Amatus's brother was killed in a Chicago shooting, their relationship quickly became much more serious. "When you go through a tragedy that tears your crap up, you then...decide you're not gonna take anything for granted," Amatus said. "I was a thousand percent sure about what I truly wanted in my life." Now, as Mahershala's Hollywood presence continues to grow through his roles in House of Cards, The Hunger Games, and the upcoming Luke Cage series, they're figuring out together how to balance fame with their Muslim faith. 

Hari Kondabolu and Uma Kondabolu, Live at BAM

We also got to know comedian Hari Kondabolu's mother, Uma Kondabolu, who immigrated to the U.S. from India as a young woman. When Hari was born, she was still getting acclimated to her new home in Queens, and to the occasional racism that was directed her way. "I saw moments where people were trying to push my parents around, treat them poorly, and they wouldn't take it," Hari told me. Now that both Hari and his mother are older, he says he feels protective of his parents and sometimes guilty for choosing a career that doesn't bring in the big bucks. Although Uma acknowledged, "Occasional guilt is good," she added, "I tell them [Hari and his brother, Ashok] they don't need to feel that. I'm very proud of what they chose to do." And you'll hear: comedy runs in the family. Uma is one of the show's all-time funniest guests. 

During the show, sex columnist Dan Savage also gave me a call to impart some parenting advice, we got to see some of your incredible dance moves, and I told a story about Sly and the Family Stone and pregnancy anxiety. It was all backed by the incredible music of singer Lisa Fischer and her band, Grand Baton. Hear their live performance of Eric Bibb's "Don't Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down" and Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" below. 

Lisa Fischer, Live at BAM


Looking for our Anthems of Change Dance Video? Find it here.

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After My Brother Avonte Disappeared

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Mar 16, 2016

Danny Oquendo was in the spotlight long before his 14-year-old autistic brother, Avonte, disappeared from his New York City school. Growing up, Danny was a football star — “sort of a golden child,” he sheepishly told me — eventually playing for the University of Maryland. But several years after leaving his NFL dreams behind, Danny was thrust back into the public eye again — this time, as one of the people leading the search for his missing brother.

Many New Yorkers remember Avonte’s story. His face was plastered across the city in the fall of 2013 after he ran out of a side door at his special needs school. The family was used to the nonverbal teen bolting on occasion, often calling him "a runner." "But it was never...for more than 10 or 20 minutes," Danny says. "Once we heard that he was gone for a few hours, we knew something was different."

Danny, who is 12 years older than Avonte, put his job on hold and returned to New York from Florida — along with their father, who had separated from Avonte’s mother years before. With help from police, the family launched a massive citywide search and set up camp at Avonte’s school. They slept on benches and in cars so as to not risk missing Avonte if he returned.

But Avonte didn’t come back. When his remains were found on the shoreline of the East River almost three months after his disappearance, Danny decided he needed to stay close to family. He moved back to New York permanently and moved in with his girlfriend, Ileana. They had their first child in 2014, and are expecting another baby this spring. And, Danny enrolled in law school — a longtime dream. He plans on pursuing a career as an advocate for special needs families and kids like Avonte. "Every day I walk into school, I'm reminded of the reason I'm walking into the school," Danny says. "He's who motivates me."


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Falling in Love... With Heroin

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Mar 02, 2016

Susanne* met Mike* when she was 16. He was 18, and her supervisor at the call center where they worked. They flirted and started dating. "Average teenager stuff," Susanne recalls. Soon after they got together, Mike offered Susanne heroin. She says she had never even smoked pot before.

"I don’t want to be mean, but I felt pressured into doing it. So, I did," she adds. "And then I fell in love."

Heroin took over Susanne and Mike's lives for the next five years. Mike admits that their story, though increasingly common, looks bad from the outside. "I should’ve said, 'Hey, this is probably not the best way to move forward with my life,'" he reflects, "But there’s some things that’re more important, I guess. Like heroin addiction."

Through overdoses, incarcerations and three pregnancies, Susanne and Mike kept their relationship intact, even as relationships with family deteriorated. Methadone treatment finally helped them kick their habit. Today, they say it's been almost 10 years since they last used heroin. They moved to a nice neighborhood hundreds of miles away from where their lives began to spiral. Mike found a well-paying job, but felonies on both their records have limited their career options.

And true stability continues to be elusive. During our fact-checking process, we uncovered a pending criminal charge that Susanne and Mike hadn't shared with us at first. And it casts their interview in a different light. When we checked in with them again, it became apparent that the outcome of this story—and their relationship—is far from clear. 

*Names changed

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Michael Ian Black's Middle-Aged Angst

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Feb 17, 2016

Being a rebellious smart-ass helped comedian Michael Ian Black launch his career. And it occasionally got him into trouble. “Once I called the head of MTV a drunk,” he told me. “She was very offended.” It didn’t help that he was working for MTV at the time, as a co-creator and star of the ‘90s sketch show The State.

At 44 years old, Michael’s comedy still has an acerbic bite. But in his personal life, he’s embraced all the trappings of Rockwellian stability: a new house in the Connecticut suburbs, a wife of 17 years, two kids and a dog. Of course, all of those things come with some anxiety—particularly, the house. “I have a house I can’t afford,” he lamented. “The end is nigh.”

Michael's also trying to take care of his mom and younger sister, though he lives thousands of miles away from them. Michael’s mom survived uterine cancer but has spent more than ten years dealing with the effects of her treatment. And his sister, Susan, who has Down Syndrome, lives in an adult home without any family nearby. "It’s sort of in stasis right now," he said about his sister’s living situation. "I just sort of feel paralyzed. I don’t know what the right thing to do is."

Michael’s anxieties also extend to himself—specifically, to his middle-aged body. “Currently top of mind is my waistline,” he says. And he feels career pressure too. "I’m tired of being somebody who has had a nice little career but hasn’t ever found any sort of mainstream success," Michael told me. "I don’t particularly want to be famous in any in any real way, but I’d like to have just a little bit more control over the kind of things I do."

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WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Feb 10, 2016

We've been asking you to tell us about the songs that have meant a lot to you during times of big change in your life. You've sent in more than 500 suggestions so far—along with a lot of great stories.

Our listener Kevin Chung from Seattle sent us his anthem: "Miracle Mile" by the Cold War Kids. You can hear his story about why that song means a lot to him in our short podcast this week—and you can hear about the video he recorded of himself dancing along to the song too.  

That's what we want you to do next: tell us about your anthem, and then rock out to it on video

Step one: Record a voice memo about your song and why it means so much to you. Email that to deathsexmoney@wnyc.org.

Step two: Record a video of yourself celebrating your song...by dancing. Whether you're bopping your head along or having a full-on dance party, we want to see it! Use your phone or your webcam to make the video, and email it to deathsexmoney@wnyc.org. (If the file is too big, don't worry—just let us know and we'll help you out.) 

Need some inspiration? Check out my dance video

We're going to use the videos for a special project that we're working on. We'll keep you posted about when it's done. 

Thanks friends! 

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Lucinda Williams Says Whatever the Hell She Wants

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Feb 03, 2016

When Lucinda Williams was in elementary school, all the other kids brought rock collections and other standard fare to show-and-tell. But she brought a folder. "I put this notebook together of seven poems and a short story by Cindy Williams," she remembers. Decades later, she's still documenting her impressions of the world, now in raw, often mournful songs that explore death, heartbreak, abandonment, and love. Many of her them are based in the American south, where Lucinda grew upincluding those on her latest album The Ghosts of Highway 20. "I know these roads like the back of my hand," she sings on the title track.     

Lucinda's father was Miller Williams, a prolific southern poet. Her mother, Lucille, was a pianist. They split up when Lucinda was about ten. "That's all just kind of a big blur," Lucinda says about that time. Her mother had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenic tendencies, and she spent most of her life in therapy or mental hospitals. Her father took over Lucinda and her two siblings, and tried to help them understand that their mother was sick. "My dad was actually quite protective of her, and he would say, 'It's not her fault, she's not well,'" Lucinda told me. "There's a part of that that's healthy; the only problem is that I never gave myself permission to be angry at my mother." 

Lucinda was close to her father throughout her life. He encouraged her interest in words and writing, even taking her to visit Flannery O'Connor when she was a little girl. So it was especially hard for her to see him go through Alzheimer's disease. He died last year, less than six months after the summer day when he told Lucinda he couldn't write poetry anymore. "I just sat there and just cried," she remembers. "That was when I lost him." 

At 63, Lucinda says she's more successful than ever, selling out shows on the road and happily in love with her manager Tom Overby, whom she married on stage during an encore in 2009. But, she told me, getting older can still feel like a drag. "I don't like the aging process. I don't like getting older because of all the loss. It just gets harder and harder."


See the video on Lucinda's Facebook page of her performance of "Compassion" at her father's home before he died. Miller Williams reads his poem, and Lucinda follows by singing her musical interpretation.

Want to share the song that's been an anthem for you during a time of big change? Fill out this form, or email your story to deathsexmoney@wnyc.org. 

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Why Jeb Corliss Jumps Off Cliffs

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jan 27, 2016

Jeb Corliss says he's "impossible to be in a relationship with." He's a professional BASE jumper and wingsuit flier—who's learned to very carefully analyze and control his emotions, including fear. "People don't realize that feelings get you in big trouble," he told me during our conversation at his condo near the beach in Marina del Rey, CA.

For the past two decades, Jeb has made a living doing things that, to most of us, seem crazy. Like jumping out of planes or off of cliffs and flying through the air, often through narrow spaces or trying to hit targets close to the ground. He was first drawn to BASE jumping after seeing it on TV when he was a depressed and suicidal teenager. "It was this concept of, wow—very few people in the world are willing to do that. And if I do it, well then I've done something that very few people would ever be willing to do," he told me. "And if I failed, well then, I got what I wanted." 

Jeb has had a few brushes with death. In 2012, he slammed into a rock outcropping while soaring down from the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. He was sure that he was going to die, but instead broke both of his legs. Some of his friends haven't been so lucky. Earlier this year, fellow wingsuit pilot Jhonathan Florez—a friend who Jeb says "barged his way" into his life—died during a practice jump in Switzerland. "I'm kind of back to just being a total anti-social, just on my own, kind of thing," Jeb says. 

In our conversation, we talk about what motivates Jeb to keep risking his life, at 39. And we talk about why his near-death experience left him thinking...about retirement savings. 


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Brooke Shields, Recovering Daughter

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jan 13, 2016

Brooke Shields became famous as a sex symbol long before she was actually having sex. At 12, she played a child prostitute in the film Pretty Baby. Soon after, she starred in the sexy teen romance Blue Lagoon. And at 15, she became the controversial face of Calvin Klein jeans. But then, in college, Brooke publicly revealed her virginity—which she says turned her into "the most famous virgin in the world." "There was a juxtaposition of those two things," Brooke says. "I was not aware. I was not sexually aware."

Despite the sexual nature of her early roles, Brooke says she felt safe on set, protected within the industry, and very sheltered at home. Her parents divorced when she was young, and her mother managed her career. But from a young age Brooke also singlehandedly dealt with her mom's alcoholism, which only worsened as she got older. "She damaged almost every relationship she had," Brooke says. "She cut almost everybody off. And I was the only thing left." Brooke eventually fired her mom as her manager and separated her finances from her—but not until she was 29. 

Brooke married her second husband, Chris Henchy, in 2001. They wanted to start a family, but it was a struggle. After several rounds of IVF, Brooke got pregnant with their first daughter. She was thrilled, but soon after her daughter's birth, Brooke says the "toxic thoughts" started. "I saw my baby hitting the wall. Like, being flung across the room," she says." "I would close my eyes. And these horrible things, these images, would come through my mind."

I talk with Brooke about the treatment that she received for postpartum depression, and whether it made her nervous about having a second child. And we talk about how the death of her mother in 2012 has impacted her career—and how, at 50, she's finally paying attention in financial meetings. 

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Living Alone, One Year Later

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Dec 30, 2015

Today, more than a quarter of American households are home to just one person. And living alone has its perks. You can eat what you want, crank up the stereo and let your dishes pile up for days. But there's also no one to help foot the bill, and no one to turn to for reassurance when things go bump in the night. 

Last year, I asked you to send in your stories about living solo. Listener Ashley Ward decided it was time to get her own place after dealing with a less-than-ideal roommate. But living alone can also be a consequence of bigger life changes. Arlene Pickett’s husband died four years ago after a long decline. She liked the freedom that came with living by herself. But when she was diagnosed with cancer, solo life just felt hard. Walid Shantur's wife moved out about eight years ago. His daughter left for college the same day. He told me last year that he'd come to embrace living alone—he found it "intoxicating." But when I checked back in with him this year, he told me that he'd met someone new, and added, "I no longer can say that living alone is pleasing and satisfying." 

I caught up with everyone who talked with me last year about living alone. As you'll hear, some of them are still living alone and loving it. And some aren't. 

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Stop Calling Me 'The Homeless Valedictorian'

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Fri, Dec 18, 2015

A year and a half ago, Rashema Melson’s story made national news. She attracted attention after she graduated at the top of her high school class in Washington, D.C., and earned a full scholarship to Georgetown, all while living in a homeless shelter. Now halfway through her sophomore year, she says she still gets recognized as “the homeless valedictorian.” She says people stop her for pictures, and strangers even send her donations.

But Melson’s life didn’t change overnight. She visits her mom and her brother in their apartment across town where they've moved since leaving the shelter. She also does her best to help them out with money. While her new classmates are busy partying and enjoying life away from home, she says she's stayed focused on what got her here: working hard. "My job here is to just get my education and keep moving. It’s not a bad thing. It's just my motives are different," Rashema told me. "This isn't permanent. This is my home for the moment."

The pressure she feels to succeed, though, can be weighing. She had what she called "a little breakdown" earlier this semester. "I want to get out and I want to have fun, but I'm kind of stuck. I'm in a situation [where] you're not going back home to a family who financially supports you," Rashema said. "I'm the one who's pushing my family."

Rashema told me about considering dropping out this semester, the distance she feels between herself and her classmates, and why the one thing she's not afraid of is growing apart from her family.

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Autism Isn’t What I Signed Up For

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Dec 09, 2015

Diane Gill Morris was 25 when her first son, Kenny, was born. About 15 months later, she and her husband realized that he’d stopped talking. By the time Kenny was officially diagnosed with autism, Diane’s second son, Theo, was eight months old. Less than a year later, he was also showing signs of the disorder.

Diane left a comment on our Facebook page in response to an article about people who are considering having kids. "I have sacrificed a huge part of who I am—given up my career, gone broke, accepted social isolation," she wrote. "If someone had told me this is what it would be like, I never would have had kids." 

Before having her sons, Diane worked full time. She wanted to travel. But those things have been pushed aside. After Theo put his teacher's arm in a sling when he was 6 years old, Diane cut her work hours, pulled both boys out of school and taught them at home for several years. She told me she often feels isolated, particularly from other moms. "My kid’s the lunatic who I have to be, like, right next to every second," she says. "I can’t sit down and have a conversation with another mom. Because I’m always worried that he's going to beat up some other kid on the playground." 

Diane's sons are now teenagers, transitioning from being seen as autistic children to young black men. Diane’s focus is on making sure they’re safe in the world, and teaching them how to control their emotions and their bodies when she's not around. 

When Diane spoke with us from her home in North Carolina, she told us about how raising her boys has made her "devoutly atheist," about how her marriage has changed since the kids' diagnosis, and about how she can both love her sons deeply and mourn the children she never met. 

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Holland Taylor Steps Off Her Island

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Nov 25, 2015

Actress Holland Taylor has played roles like Judge Roberta Kittleson on The Practice, an ad executive in Bosom Buddies, and the emotionally distant mother Evelyn Harper on Two and a Half Men. She's built a reputation for playing patrician, self-assured women who don’t need anyone else. Which, in many ways, has also been a pretty accurate reflection of her personal life. "I was always at a certain safe remove I think," Holland says. "No matter how much I might have loved a person, I was at some sort of a safe ground, still with a foot on my own island." 

When Taylor’s mother died several years ago, she says she started to think about the relationships in her life more deeply. "I just suddenly got the sense that I was living a very shallow life," she says. "I had not had wonderful relationships. I had stayed very solo." Holland says that feeling of loneliness, combined with an "aging spurt" at 70, sent her into a major depression after her Tony-nominated one-woman Broadway show, Ann, ended its run in 2013.

But now, at 72, Holland says that without that period of breakdown, she wouldn't have been able to get where she is todayin her first-ever deeply committed relationship. "It’s the most wonderful extraordinary thing that could have ever possibly happened in my life," she says. Holland didn’t want to discuss her partner’s identity in detail, nor did she want to turn her own sexuality into a political conversation ("I haven’t come out because I am out," she says, adding, "I live out."). But she did share that she's with a younger womanand that they've started to talk about marriage. "Given my generation it would not be something that would automatically occur to me," Holland says, adding, "But as a symbol, as a pledge, as a plighting one's troth, it would be a wonderful thing to do." 

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Why You're Not Having Sex

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Nov 18, 2015

A 34-year-old listener we’ll call “Marie” emailed us not long ago. She’s never dated anyone seriously. She's never been kissed, and she's never had sex. She's not opposed to any of those things. They just haven't happened for her yet. And she’s worried that if she tells a potential partner about her sexual inexperience, he'll walk away. 

Many of us aren’t having sex, for all kinds of reasons. When we asked you why you're not having sex, you told us about abstaining for religious reasons, or because of lingering fears based on what you learned (or didn’t learn) about sex growing up. We heard about not having sex because it hurts too much, or because you could hurt someone else by doing it. Some of you aren't having sex because you can't find the right partner or keep running into narrow societal standards about what’s “attractive.”

We heard from people in relationships, too, like a couple who can't agree on how much sex is enough—so they're not really having any. And a man who says everyone thinks his life is full of three-ways and orgies because he lives with his wife and their girlfriend. But in reality, he says they're not having sex at all. 

When we asked for your stories about why you’re not having sex, you also told us that not having sex can be really difficult to talk about. But by talking about it, what becomes clear is that our idea of what's "normal" might in fact be a myth. 

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Kevin Powell Doesn't Fight Anymore

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Nov 04, 2015

Born in Jersey City to a poor, hard-working single mother from the South, Kevin Powell was a gifted young writer who earned a scholarship to Rutgers. Then things fell apart. He got expelled after a series of violent outbursts, two of which were directed at women. He’s not proud of what happened, but in some sense, he feels misunderstood. “Just because someone is in a college environment that’s supposed to be a positive space,” he told me, “doesn’t mean that they’ve healed from where they came from.”

After leaving college, Powell got an unexpected break when MTV cast him in the first season of The Real World. He says he didn’t think much of joining the show beforehand (“I didn’t know that all these years later, everyone and their mother would have a reality TV show”), but his profile exploded. He became a senior writer for Vibe, and made a lot of money—most of which he quickly spent. When he was fired from that job, he says depression kicked in. "I felt like a failure all over again," he says. "I call it my dark years." 

Powell and I spoke in front of a live audience at WNYC's Greene Space about his rocky history with sexism in the midst of his activism for racial justice, what his mother taught him after getting kicked out of school, and how all these years later, he’s replaced drinking and fighting with yoga and veganism.

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All in the Family of Norman Lear

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Oct 28, 2015

I spoke with Norman Lear, the veteran writer and producer behind such hit TV shows as All in the Family and The Jeffersons, at his luxury apartment in Manhattan. He told me he wanted to make sure his kids would never be "desperate for a dollar" -- but what "desperate" meant has fluctuated along the way. "I guess now it’s 60 billion," he deadpanned, adding, "That’s a joke." 

Lear's own childhood had a degree of desperation: When Lear was nine, his father, Herman, was sent to jail for selling fake bonds. Lear's mother scrambled to make ends meet. "My mother tried to warn him," he said. "But nobody ever told Herman anything." When his father returned from prison three years later, tensions remained high. "I used to sit at the kitchen table and I would score their arguments," he says of his parents. "I would give her points for this, him points for that, as a way of coping with it."

Now 93, Lear has been married three times, and has six kids -- ranging in age from 20 to 69. That range of ages has presented its own challenges. "My middle daughter was ... hoping, wishing, trying to be pregnant," he says. "And her dad is suddenly married to a younger woman, and in a year’s time or less, she’s pregnant. That was not an easy time."

We spoke about the lessons he’s continued to learn over the years, how he’s managed to bring his family closer together despite their differences, and what he’s anticipating for the final stage of his life.

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The Power of Yesi Ortiz

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Oct 21, 2015

On weekdays between 10 and 3, Yesi Ortiz is the warm, flirty host for the popular Los Angeles hip-hop station Power 106. But off the air, she’s a dedicated single mother of six adopted kids.

Her kids' biological mom is Yesi’s older sister, who had her first child as a teenager. "She had baby after baby after baby," Yesi told me. "She didn't really know how to go out and find a job." When Yesi was in her early 20s and her nieces and nephews landed in foster care, Yesi stepped up, taking parenting classes and eventually petitioning for custody. And when she was 25 years old, the kids came to live with her.

By that point, Yesi was already establishing her broadcasting career, and balancing her roles as a parent and a media personality wasn’t easy. "Every day was a game of chess," she says. "I wouldn’t miss a parent teacher conference or back-to-school night, but I would miss dinner." One thing she didn’t want, though, was a man around the house. Her first date after getting the kids was on her front porch. "I didn't want the kids to hear a man's voice in the house," Yesi told me. "I didn't want them to feel like, 'Oh, my aunt is leaving us now too.'"

Now that several of the kids are grown and out of the house, she’s had a little more time for herself, and for her new boyfriend. She spoke with me about how her faith was challenged by her family's struggles, how her new relationship has brought religion—not sex—back into her life, and why being a single parent is the hardest job in the world.

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An Astronaut’s Husband, Left Behind

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Oct 07, 2015

Dr. Jonathan Clark and his eight year-old son Iain watched the space shuttle Columbia launch from Kennedy Space Center on January 16, 2003. Sixteen days later, Columbia exploded upon re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. Jon's wife, Dr. Laurel Clark, was one of seven astronauts killed in the disaster. 

Jon and Laurel met because they were both doctors in the Navy, so they weren't strangers to risk. They shared a passion for scuba diving, and just months before the Columbia launch, their small plane crashed as they were flying to New Mexico. "I still have flashbacks about that," says Jon. "You crash, and you either live or you die." Jon says he thought about that a lot in the aftermath of the Columbia explosion. "In this case they died. And, you know, it’s over. And the hard part, quite honestly, is living."

Jon says he remembers everything from the day of the explosion—except for later that night, when his fellow NASA buddies got him pass-out drunk. As time went on, he had to learn how to be a single parent to his son, and how to process Laurel's death in his own way—which, for him, meant joining the NASA team that studied every detail of the Columbia disaster. 

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The Sex Worker Next Door

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Sep 23, 2015

I first heard from Emma—that's not her real name—after our cheating episode. She emailed me about all of the married men that she encounters through her job. "Am I facilitating cheating? I guess so," she wrote. "Can I sleep at night? Mostly." 

She wanted to share her story about what it's like to be a sex worker. So we set up an interview. She told me that for her, sex work is a job. It’s something she does to pay her bills and support her kids. She has a boyfriend, but his income can’t support her household. 

Emma does sensual massage; she doesn't do "full service," as she says. She has other boundaries too, “though there are times,” she says, “where I choose to let things happen to my body where I feel like I’m violating myself. And that’s hard.”

After I spoke with Emma that first time, she called me back, saying our interview made her realize how much she needed to get away from her job. She cancelled her appointments, and took some time off. She also asked us not to use her interview. But after a few months, she started seeing clients again—and told me that she wanted to talk. We had a follow-up conversation about why she continues this work, how much money it would take to stop, and why she decided to speak about her story. 

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From Chaos to Sesame Street

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Sep 09, 2015

Sonia Manzano, who spent more than 40 years playing Maria on Sesame Street, often gets asked by kids if she’s rich. It all depends on where you came from, she told me. Compared to Jennifer Lopez, she’s “poor as a church mouse.” But compared to where her parents started, she said she's well off.

Born into a Puerto Rican family in the Bronx, Manzano grew up with an alcoholic father and a mother who bore the brunt of his abuse but refused to leave him. "I was always standing between them," Sonia told me. "When I was five, six, seven, and eight, I was standing between them." As an adult, Sonia cut her father out of her life and pushed her mother to get a divorce. "I asked her about…why she allowed it to go on. And she said, 'Well you know, I just thought that when you guys grew up, you'd understand,'" Sonia remembered. "And I remember thinking, 'You might understand, but you don't gain the childhood back.'"

Sonia got a scholarship to study theater at Carnegie Mellon, and it was there that she first saw Sesame Street on television, with James Earl Jones’ booming voice reciting the alphabet. Several years later, she was cast as Maria on the children's show, as part of an effort to put more Latino actors on television. When Sonia married and got pregnant in her late thirties, Maria's character got married and pregnant as well. "We were going to show Latin people with the same hopes and dreams as anyone else," Sonia said. "You wanna get married...you wanna have a baby, you wanna look for daycare, and you want your child to have an education."

I spoke with Manzano, who recently wrote a memoir, about growing up in the South Bronx and what she’s learned about marriage and parenting—both from her parents’ experience, and her own.

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In New Orleans: How to Get Elected Coroner

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Fri, Aug 21, 2015

Dr. Jeffrey Rouse is New Orleans' coroner—a job he describes as the “interface between law and medicine.” But ten years ago, he was working in a lab studying the brains of people with PTSD, getting ready for a life in academia.

When the storm hit, Dr. Rouse and his family evacuated to Houston. A moment he caught on TV brought him back to the city. “I...remember being glued to the television and seeing a police officer that I knew on camera, crying,” he recalls. “And that was not this guy's temperament.” Armed with his background in psychiatry and a gun, Dr. Rouse hitched a ride back into the city with a reporter and set up a makeshift clinic inside a Sheraton hotel lobby to provide medical care to first responders.

Nine years later, he ran for coroner, which he calls “the most bizarre job interview a human being can ever go through.” After a year in office, Dr. Rouse talks about making controversial judgment calls in police shootings, working out of a temporary office in a converted funeral home, and writing condolence notes to every family after signing a death certificate. 

Click here to read a text version of this story on The Atlantic's site.

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In New Orleans: A Doctor Stands By Her Adopted Home

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Thu, Aug 20, 2015

Ten years ago when Katrina hit, Dr. Kiersta Kurtz-Burke didn’t evacuate. Instead she stayed inside New Orleans’ Charity Hospital, where she worked for six days, caring for 18 patients on the 5th floor. There was no power, and it seemed like no one was coming to rescue them. Before they were finally evacuated, Kierstawho was part of the last group of people to leavehelped clean up the space for when her staff returned. "We didn't want it to look messy," she remembers. "We were naive." 

Charity never opened after Hurricane Katrina, and Kiersta never got to properly thank the people who she worked with through the storm. "That's still something I would love," she tells me. Shortly after the storm, Kiersta started working at the VA hospital in New Orleans, where she still works today. 

Kiersta's home was heavily damaged during the storm, and rebuilding took years. "We just had a feeling of, 'Can we slog through this?'" she says. But she stayed, and is now raising two kids in the city with her husband. "We just got too weird for any place else other than New Orleans," she laughs. 

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In New Orleans: Big Freedia Bounces Back

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Aug 19, 2015

Even before becoming Big Freedia, Freddie Ross was known around New Orleans. Her "signature call"—an operatic bellow that she lets out when I ask to hear it—was legendary in the city. "They'd be like, 'Oh that's Freddie in the club'.... The signature call comes very loud. And proud."

Freedia came out to her mom as gay when she was 13, and soon came out to her classmates as well. She tells me she "had to do what every other gay kid had to do: fight for their life, and fight to be strong and stand up and let people know that you are not no joke in who you were." She eventually started performing as part of New Orleans' queer bounce music scene, and became a local celebrity. 

Then, in 2005, Freedia got shot. "What the motive was, I don’t know to this day still," she says. After finally mustering the courage to start performing again, Freedia also moved into a new place, to get a fresh start. Hurricane Katrina hit about a week later. She and her family were together at her duplex during the storm, where the water rose to the second floor. They cut a hole in the roof to signal for help. Days after being evacuated, Freedia made her way to Houston, where she lived for two years. 

In Houston, Freedia met her current boyfriend, Devon. After years of dating men who weren't openly gay, Freedia says Devon's openness about their relationship has made a difference. "When your love grows for somebody and y’all get closer you wanna...feel more appreciated, and you wanna feel loved," she says.

Freedia eventually returned to New Orleans, where her career continues to expand. “A lot was happening after Katrina. I mean money was slinging everywhere,” Freedia tells me. “You know everybody had FEMA checks, girl!” I talk with Freedia about what's happened in her life in the years since she returned to her hometown: publishing a memoir, starring in a reality TV series, and losing her beloved mother to cancer. 

Big Freedia performs her song "Excuse" before she and over 300 dancers set the Guinness World Record for most people twerking simultaneously:

 Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce Season 4 Trailer:

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In New Orleans: Becoming the Demo Diva

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Aug 18, 2015

Simone Bruni never imagined she would someday run a demolition company. "I grew up in a very traditional Latin home," she says. "My mom did not work. I wanted her life. I wanted to be a stay at home mom." But when Hurricane Katrina hit, Simone was 32 and single, working in the hospitality industry.

After the storm, she found herself unemployed. "No one knew what to do. I did nothing," she recalls. Jobs were scarce. "It was...a situation of blaze your own trail or leave. I wasn’t going to leave."

When waves of aid workers showed up to help with storm cleanup, she saw an opportunity. "I realized the first step to coming home was demolition," she says. Armed with her skills in marketing, Simone started Demo Diva, a demolition company geared towards women. "I had everything painted hot pink," she laughs. "I said, 'I’m in this and I’m coming out strong.'"

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In New Orleans: From Raising Hell to Raising Kids

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Mon, Aug 17, 2015

A decade after Hurricane Katrina, Terri Coleman is teaching a summer class to incoming students at Dillard University—a historically black college in New Orleans. But 10 years ago, when she was about the same age as her students, she was not the kind of kid to get a jump on freshman year with a summer class. “I did a lot of drinking. I did a lot of drugs. I did a lot of watching reruns of Family Guy all day long while super stoned,” Terri says. 

When the storm hit, Terri was staying with her parents in New Orleans’ Gentility neighborhood. She still remembers the sound. "I woke up to...these crashing sounds like someone throwing dinner plates," she recalls. And then, the water came, "Like a light brown soup covering everything." In the aftermath of the storm, the landscape of New Orleans complimented Terri’s lackadaisical lifestyle. "The storm allow[ed] my kind of weird adolescent destruction to be socially structured and socially acceptable in some way," she tells me. 

Now married with three children and a graduate degree, Terri recently returned to her old neighborhood after spending a few years in Illinois. She tells me about her mixed emotions regarding what’s been lost in the post-Katrina rebuilding of New Orleans. “Clearly I'm here for white hipster game," she laughs. "But as a class of people, I think they're really dangerous to the city."

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Life as a Wife

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Aug 12, 2015

Cindy Chupack got married for the first time when she was 25. Two years later, the man she married realized he was gay. They got a divorce. Chupack went on to have a successful career as an author and screenwriter, working on shows like Sex and the City. She won her first Emmy, and bought a house on the beach in California. Which made her second marriage, at 40, feel a little tricky.

For one, her husband, Ian, came into their relationship with a lot of debt  and was heading toward a not-so-lucrative career. "I was supportive of that...in theory," she laughs. But Chupack says that kvetching about her husband's spending habits isn't something she can do openly. "There’s no world in which women can [say], you know, my husband bought a Jeep he didn’t need...and some pot. There’s not really a great place to laugh about those things...without women kind of judging you."

As someone who’d spent much of her adulthood as a serial dater, she was also used to the autonomy of being able to dump someone she didn’t like. "I think I still had that empowerment when I went into the marriage, like, if this doesn’t work for me I am out of here," she tells me. But when Ian first brought up the possibility of leaving the relationship, it spooked her. It meant that she wasn’t totally in control. But, she says, “there’s life in my life now. It’s big and messy and out of control, but it’s what was missing.”

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Joy Williams' Public Breakup and Private Grief

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jul 29, 2015

Before singer-songwriter Joy Williams became one half of the Grammy-winning duo The Civil Wars, she was a fledgling Christian artist in Nashville without much romantic experience. “Pure as the driven snow would have been the moniker at that point,” Williams jokes. She met her husband, Nate, when he waited on her table at an Italian restaurant, and they got married soon afterward -- she was 21, and he was 23.

When Williams met John Paul White a few years later, "It was like meeting somebody that I had known for a really long time," she told me. The two formed the band The Civil Wars. Their powerful creative connection led to gold records and four Grammys in three years. But there was also tension about the direction of the band. When the two finally broke up, rumors started flying that it was more than a professional split. Williams admits that it was hard being in an artistic partnership with one person while being married to another. "Saying yes to something means saying no to something else. Saying no to something means saying yes to something else," she said. "You have to weigh those questions very deeply."

I spoke with Williams about going through a public breakup while she was also privately dealing with miscarriages, her father's terminal cancer diagnosis and a rough patch in her marriage. 

Below, Williams performs "Before I Sleep," from her latest album, VENUS, on KCRW:

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A Funeral Director's Life After Burnout

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jul 15, 2015

When I first spoke with Caleb Wilde last year, he joked that he's damned to be a funeral director for the rest of his life. But there's some truth there. He's a sixth-generation funeral director in the small town of Parkesburg, Pennsylvania. It's a community with an aging population, which means the funeral business is a stable means of supporting his family. 

When we talked in Parkesburg, he told me about his struggle with depression, and about how the exposure to so much death has shaken his religious beliefs. "Nobody ever told me that it’s going to affect you negatively and you’re going to have to learn to cope," he said. "There is very little training at all." 

I recently checked in with Caleb to find out how his views on death—and his family business—have changed since we last spoke. He told me that a lot shifted during what was the funeral parlor's busiest year yet.  

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WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jul 01, 2015

For all the things we share with our brothers and sisters -- parents, genes, a childhood -- most of us have also wondered at one point or another how we could possibly be related to our siblings. As we grow up, it can be hard to update those relationships that were forged so long ago. You were children together; it can be hard to act like adults together.

More than 200 of you reached out to tell me your sibling stories. I heard from Alix, whose twin sister, Katie, has cerebral palsy. “Every time I reach another milestone in my adult life,” she said, “it feels like something that [Katie] can’t ever get to.” Mike told me about sobering up at 50 -- and losing the thing that brought him and his drinking buddy brother together. Paul* reflected on why he feels angry at his big sister, whom he used to look up to. Consuello debated whether or not to let her younger brother come and live with her, after she found out he was homeless. And Megan* opened up about the brother she decided didn’t exist anymore, 30 years ago.

We also heard from people without siblings -- like Sabrina, who cared for her mom when she got sick last year. And, I called up my four sisters, all at once, in four separate time zones.

*Name changed

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A Dirty Cop Comes Clean

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jun 17, 2015

Retired NYPD officer Ken Eurell says the first time he stole money on the job, he was responding to a burglary call. When he got back in the squad car, he says his partner Michael Dowd pulled out a wad of cash he'd taken from the scene and handed over a $100 bill. Eurell took it, though he doesn't remember how he spent it. "I bought bad karma with it," he told me.

A new documentary, The Seven Five, tells the story of Eurell and Dowd, two corrupt cops working out of the 75th precinct in East New York, Brooklyn, during the height of the 1980s crack epidemic. For Eurell, stealing was just the start. Taking cash from homes led to taking cash from drug dealers in exchange for tips about police drug investigations. "From my perspective, it was pure greed," Eurell recalled. "Once it was drilled into my head and my brain was rewired to do my job in a search for padding my paycheck, that’s all I saw."

When Eurell retired from the force at age 28 on disability, he started dealing drugs himself, lacing pure cocaine with chemical fillers to boost his profits. The police finally arrested Eurell in 1992, and he decided to cooperate with the cops on a plan to bust Dowd, his former partner. Dowd was arrested; Eurell moved to Florida with his wife and kids. He’s been there since, where his NYPD pension and the money he’s made selling auto parts help cover the bills. 

I had plenty of questions for Eurell about his storyhow he came to do what he did, what his wife thought of all this extra cash coming in, and whether he feels any remorse now that it’s all over. 

The documentary The Seven Five is in select theaters this summer and available for streaming on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play. 

Tell us about your favorite documentary! Add your suggestion to our Google spreadsheet, and get inspired for your next movie night. 

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2 Couples, 1 Poet, a Rock Band and a Dog

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jun 03, 2015

In celebration of Death, Sex & Money's one year anniversary, we brought two married couples, one Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, a rock band, a dog and a turquoise couch onto the stage at BAM for a special live show during WNYC's RadioLoveFest.

First, I sat down with the author, Slate columnist and Barneys ambassador Simon Doonan, and his "impossibly younger" husband, the pottery mogul and designer Jonathan Adler. We talked about their first date (Adler wore rollerblades) and all that's happened since.

Then, poet Tracy K. Smith got candid about one of the first times she used language to establish an emotional relationship – during a "chaste epistolary romance" with one of her high school teachers. She burned the letters in college, but her writing career continued.

W. Kamau Bell, whom you may have heard on a recent episode talking about the fallout from his FX show coming to an end, joined us with his wife, Melissa Hudson Bell. And they brought some good news: Kamau has a new show coming out next year on CNN, called The United Shades of America. The show won't keep them from raising their daughters in the Bay Area, where they have an extended family network. We talk about that, and about teaching biracial children about race – and then, racism.

And I share a few words about the origin of this show itself. The idea for Death, Sex & Money really started about four years ago, in a crappy Williamsburg apartment, on the night I decided to get a divorce.

Thank you for listening. And please don't stop, because this is going to keep getting better.

Hear our house band for the evening, Luscious Jackson, performing their hit song "Naked Eye" live during our show.  

Luscious Jackson - Naked Eye





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Robert Earl Keen Quit Nashville and Stayed Married

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, May 20, 2015

When Robert Earl Keen moved from Texas to Nashville in 1985, things were looking up: He’d just gotten married and put out his first album, No Kinda Dancer. Nashville was the place to be for an aspiring country musician...but that ended up being part of the problem. All around him, the careers of his fellow musicians were taking off. Keen didn’t see that kind of success. "I was hitting the streets and knocking on doors and trying to get some attention and it just wasn't happening," he told me. One night, he and his wife, Kathleen, came home from a gig in Kansas to find that their house had been robbed. After 22 months, he gave up on Nashville.

But he didn’t stop playing music, and 11 albums later, he’s still making a career of it. Keen spends half the year on the road and keeps his band members on salary, giving them health insurance, retirement plans, and plenty of pizza backstage -- so there’s something to soak up the booze. 

Despite all that time away from home, Robert and Kathleen are still married, and have two daughters. Now in his late 50s, Keen spoke candidly with me about what growing older has meant, from prioritizing stability to noticing his sex drive fade.

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Brooklyn Left Me Broke, But I Came Back

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, May 06, 2015

For more than a decade, Heidi Reinberg, a 54-year-old freelance documentary producer, lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn -- just a few doors down from Mayor Bill de Blasio. Then, her landlord decided to sell. Heidi got priced out of her apartment as work dried up and credit card debt mounted. In one of the first episodes of this show, Heidi and I had a frank discussion about how she got to that point, and what would come next. Her plan then was to move to Los Angeles to live with her sister. 

A year later, Heidi is back in Brooklyn, but not without making compromises. She slept in the basement of some friends rent-free for a few months. Now, she has a 25-year-old roommate. Her work has picked up and she got a unexpected cushion from the sale of some family land, but she’s still paying off debt. 

The hardest part, she told me, was learning how to reinvent her life and career when she was still mourning her old one. A year on, she still has questions about where she'll end up, but she also has a little more peace. I went to Heidi’s new place to catch up with her about the move back, the way she’s dealt with receiving help from others, and what she sees for her future.

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W. Kamau Bell Wonders How Much Is Enough

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Apr 22, 2015

For a long time, W. Kamau Bell’s fear was that he would complete his career in comedy and remain anonymous. Then, Chris Rock took notice of his one-man show, and they teamed up to create the television series Totally Biased. Bell moved across the country to New York with his wife and baby for his new job. But the show was cancelled after a year and a half.

Bell realized staying in New York with his family would be a struggle. “We were living in an apartment that was rented by a guy who had a TV show, and suddenly when that guy didn’t have a TV show, it was like, ‘We can’t afford this apartment.’” 

Now, back in the Bay Area with his wife and two young daughters, Bell is in the midst of rebooting his comedy career, which has required time away on the road. He is weighing what kinds of career sacrifices he’s willing to make for his family, while being realistic about the money he needs to bring in. “My personal challenge of 2015 is to figure out a way to work hard enough to earn more money than I did in the previous year, but also still feel like I’m an attentive parent and husband,” he told me.  

Bell and his wife Melissa Hudson Bell will be at our upcoming live show for RadioLoveFest at BAM in Brooklyn on May 8.

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Hedwig, Older and a Little Less Angry

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Apr 15, 2015

The day I went to meet John Cameron Mitchell in his apartment, he had glitter stuck to his face and two ice packs in his freezer for the knee he injured on-stage during a performance of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. 

"I was doing Neil Patrick Harris’s superhuman choreography," said the 51-year-old actor, who took over the lead role after Harris's Tony-winning run in the Broadway revival. His leg has recovered, but Mitchell still performs in a knee brace. "I actually like the show much better with it," he told me.

Mitchell is drawn to things that are a little... broken. Hedwig, the character he created in the '90s, is an East German singer left with an "angry inch" after a botched sex change. Her one-liners are hilarious. But she's reeling from a bad breakup, and is abusive toward her current partner. 

Since creating the character, Mitchell has lost his father to Alzheimer's, and his ex-boyfriend Jack Steeb to addiction. He says those losses have informed his "new" Hedwig. But he also says playing Hedwig now, in his 50s, is a lot more fun than it was two decades ago. 

"I think things are dishonest if they're not aware of sadness," he said. "Humor without sadness underneath it feels cheap and aggressive." 

Sitting on his upholstered couch in his rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan's West Village, we talk about being an openly gay actor in the '80s, the healing that comes with watching parents age and why he says Jack Steeb was the best man he ever knew. 

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In Sickness and In Mental Health

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Apr 08, 2015

Giulia and Mark Lukach got married when they were 24. Three years later, Giulia began experiencing paralyzing anxiety and paranoid delusions. She started talking about committing suicide. Mark and her father drove Giulia to the emergency room while she kicked and screamed in the back seat. Mark told me, "I still was under this impression that a doctor was going to walk in the door and say, 'Okay, here’s exactly what’s going on, and here’s this pill, and as soon as she takes it, she’ll be totally fine within an hour, no problem'....That is not at all what happened."

Giulia stayed in a psychiatric ward for 23 days. It took her almost a year to get back on her feet after she got out of the hospital. The recovery period took a toll on their marriage. Doctors told Mark that it was his responsibility to keep Giulia safe and on her medication. Giulia started calling him "the pill Nazi.”

Finally, Giulia did feel better. She started working again. And in 2012, after consulting a team of doctors, Giulia and Mark had a son named Jonas. 

Giulia was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has been hospitalized two more times. "We've learned a lot about 'through sickness and in health,'" Giulia said. 

You can read Mark's essay for Pacific Standard about Giulia's diagnosis and treatment here.


If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental illness, there's help available.  

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-TALK. There's also a live chat option on their website

The National Alliance on Mental Illness can help you find a support group in your area. They also have online resources, like tip sheets on mental illness warning signs and a helpline that can be reached Monday through Friday from 10 am to 6 pm ET. 

The Family Center for Bipolar works with families in New York City. If you are not in the New York City area, their website also includes online video and audio lectures

You can find resources on various mental health disorders at MentalHealth.gov. The site includes a treatment locator to find resources in your area, as well as resources for friends and family who are looking for information on how to support their loved ones who have a mental illness. 


Like the music at the end of our episode? It's Kishi Bashi's "Bright Whites."

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Cancer Changed Ken Jeong's Comedy

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Mar 25, 2015

Ken Jeong describes his role in the 2009 blockbuster The Hangover as "the most obscene love letter to a spouse one could ever have.” He peppered his dialogue with bits of Vietnamese as an inside joke with his wife Tran. 

Ken met his wife while they were both practicing medicine at the same hospital in Los Angeles. Ken had always done comedy on the side. He even performed midnight improv while he was working up to 100 hours a week during his medical residency. But after he and Tran married, he quit medicine to pursue acting full-time. Then, a year later, Tran was diagnosed with aggressive stage III breast cancer. They had twins who were a year old. And Ken had just gotten an offer to play an Asian mobster in a Las Vegas buddy movie. 

Tran encouraged him to take the part. "You're kind of burning out right now," she told him. And he channeled his anger about her illness into his character's comedic rage. 

Seven years later, he talked to me about raising a family in the shadow of cancer and how his careers in comedy and medicine have converged in unexpected ways. 


This week’s episode of Death, Sex & Money is part of WNYC’s Living Cancer series, a radio companion to “Ken Burns Presents Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies.” Support for Living Cancer is provided by the Susan and Peter Solomon Family Foundation. 

Thanks to WNYC's Mary Harris and Amanda Aronczyk for their help with this episode. 

Read a full transcript of this episode here

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Where is Lisa Fischer's Backup?

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Mar 11, 2015

Lisa Fischer has sung backing vocals for Dolly Parton, Bobby McFerrin, Luther Vandross and Beyonc?. She's also toured with the Rolling Stones since 1989, going from one swanky hotel to another, "eating caviar for breakfast" and playing sold out stadiums. “I feel like a normal girl,” she says, “visiting for a very long time in the not-normal world.”

It wasn’t the world she came from. Lisa grew up in Brooklyn. Her mom was pregnant with her at 15, and had two more children by the time she was 19. Money was tight, and when Lisa was 14, her father left. Her mom started drinking heavily, and died three years later after complications from seizures. 

By her mid-twenties, she was touring as a backup singer, and in 1991 she won a Grammy for her first solo album, So Intense. But soon after, she lost her record deal, and returned to singing backup. The 2013 documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom highlighted some of the glory, and struggle, that came with her years on the road. "When I think about the money that I have gone through I have to laugh to myself," she told me during our conversation. "I don’t like to look at how much I have because it’s never enough."

Now in her 50s, she still tours regularly with the Stones and on her own. I talked with Lisa about her new approach to money in mid-life and the lingering effects of her early loss. 

Below, watch Lisa Fischer in performance at the Napa Valley Film Festival, on stage with the Rolling Stones, and singing with Luther Vandross. 


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Cheating Happens.

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Feb 25, 2015

People cheat. But they don't often talk about the aftermath, and how they and their partners decide what comes next.

When I asked you to send in your stories about infidelity, I heard from so many of you. Listener Sasha* told us about how she suspected that her partner of five years was having an affair -- and later, after they broke up, discovered that he had been been posting online ads for casual sex throughout their relationship. Andy in Connecticut remembered being a 12-year-old trying to convince his father not to cheat on a girlfriend. Joe* in Texas talked about having a relationship with a married woman as a single man, and the feeling of being a sideshow to the main event. Listener Chrystal* began her email to us about the cheating in her relationship: "Spoiler alert: we made it." 

Numbers about cheating vary from study to study, but indicate that 20 to 40 percent of straight married men and 20 to 25 percent of straight married women venture outside their marriages. When Dan Savage joined us on the show last year, he put that number even higher, at 50 percent of women and men in long-term relationships. 

If infidelity is ubiquitous, it can also be surprisingly mundane. Amid the secretive motel rendezvous and unexpected pregnancies, cheating often takes the form of...furtive texting on the couch. 

If the reality of cheating doesn’t fit the old cliches, neither do the consequences. One listener, who I'm calling Sheri*, says that when she slept with another man, she had an idea of what would happen: the cheater gets caught, crockery gets thrown, lawyers get called. But instead, she and her husband thought through what they really wanted -- and a divorce wasn’t on the list. Instead, Sheri took back her maiden name, and they decided that flings outside the marriage would be okay.

In this episode, you'll hear from men and women who've cheated and been cheated on. Nobody's proud of it. But we learned that when a secret affair is revealed, it’s a moment for us to finally and fully be honest about what was missing from a relationship, and what’s worth saving.

*Name changed for privacy reasons 


Read a full transcript here

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Real Love: A Valentine's Special

Author: WNYC Studios
Sat, Feb 14, 2015

This whole show started with a love story. I’d been married in my 20s, then divorced at 30. Months later, I started dating Arthur, a biologist studying wolves in Wyoming. The distance made things hard, and the relationship almost ended. Then I got a call from Alan Simpson—as in, the former Republican senator from Wyoming. That call, and a conversation with Sen. Simpson and his wife Ann Simpson at their home in Wyoming, are largely responsible for getting me back together with Arthur.

So it's a love story, yes. Maybe one that’s a little too strange, or a little too surreal, to fit neatly on a Hallmark card.

I’ve heard so many stories of real love since we started this show—stories about heartbreak, death, money, divorce. They all tell us how we continue to find joy in relationships, no matter how challenging they can be.

In this episode, we’ll hear from author James McBride, who hasn't jumped back into the dating pool after his divorce. He says he's happier than he's ever been, even without romance. 

Jane Fonda went through a difficult break-up with her third husband, Ted Turner. She found herself scared and alone. Now she’s back in Los Angeles, acting and taking on a new role as caregiver while her boyfriend deals with a serious illness. But she says she'll never marry again.

Dan Savage speaks about our need to communicate with our partners about sex—something that may or may not be part of your Valentine’s Day agenda. He says that while sex hasn’t been a hang-up in his marriage, issues around money and spending definitely have been. 

Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, both in-demand touring musicians, talk about the temptations they’ve faced on the road. After confronting Jason's alcoholism together, they now know how important trust is in any relationship. 

Chaz Ebert remembers her late husband Roger. After his lower jaw was removed, Roger couldn’t speak. He asked Chaz to be his voice—something that brought them incredible unspoken intimacy. 

These aren't just stories of heart-wrenching tragedy or fairy-tale romance. They're honest statements about the exciting, maddening, potentially bankrupting and totally essential experiences we share with the people we love.

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Songs In The Key Of Strife

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Feb 11, 2015

Teddy Thompson was six years old when his parents, English folk rockers Richard and Linda Thompson, split up. The breakup coincided with the release of the duo's most successful album. They were on tour together as their marriage dissolved. 

That same year, Teddy's sister Kami was born. "Kami was a symbol of divorce to me," Teddy told me during our conversation. "I just remember having a vague notion that there was a big change and Kami was a part of the big change. Something was lost and something was gained." 

The siblings didn't spend a lot of time together as kids, due to their age difference. But they both grew up to be musicians. Teddy and Kami recently reunited with their parents to record an album aptly titled Family. It includes deeply personal songs about the inner workings of the Thompson clan -- even though both Teddy and Kami say talking directly about their relationships with each other hasn't exactly been a family tradition. This became evident during our conversation: Teddy told me he started the project because he was craving more closeness with his family. For Kami, it was more straightforward. “A gig’s a gig,” she said. 


Hear the siblings perform two songs live in our studio, along with their nephew Zak Hobbs. Thank you to Irene Trudel, who engineered this session. 

The Thompsons - I Long For Lonely


The Thompsons - Family


Read a full transcript of this interview here

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Margaret Cho's Sex Education

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jan 28, 2015

The daughter of Korean immigrants, comedian Margaret Cho made a successful career in comedy by making fun of her parents, and telling jokes about the ethnic snacks they put in her lunchbox. Cho felt that her parents seemed out of touch, and she was determined not to be. From an early age, she learned about American tastes in music, culture and sex from the young gay men who hung out at Paperback Traffic, the San Francisco bookstore that her father owned. She says her dad wanted it that way: he hoped his customers would teach his daughter the things he couldn’t.

Cho says her childhood also contained several instances of sexual abuse. She experimented sexually throughout her 20s and 30s to try to regain a sense of control. Costumes, sex parties and BDSM -- Margaret did it all. She identifies as queer, but jokes that "slutty" might be the best way to put it

Now 46, she’s changing course. In public, she’s a proudly outrageous commentator on TLC’s new late-night talk show, All About Sex. But in private, she says she’s focusing on something new: learning how to be vulnerable and taking things slow. 

When I spoke with Cho recently, she told me about growing up gay in San Francisco in the '70s, negotiating consent in hookups and relationships, and learning to tell her jokes in Korean for her dad.

A full transcript of the episode is here.

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Desiree Akhavan's Breakthrough Breakup

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jan 14, 2015

At 16, Desiree Akhavan says she was voted the ugliest girl at her school. In a play that she wrote that same year, Akhavan included a sequence based on the incident, turning a sad, victimizing event into something entertaining. But when you ask Akhavan, now a successful 30-year-old director and actor, if her work is healing, she’s hesitant. To her, it's more about using the original event creatively, and turning it into a narrative she can control. 

There is real-life truth in the stories she’s telling. In her debut feature film, Appropriate Behavior, Akhavan plays a bisexual Iranian-American—like herself. The main character, Shirin, lives in Brooklyn, and has just broken up with her longtime girlfriend. Shirin's brother is a doctor. She struggles to be open about her sexual identity with her family. All of these things have been true for Desiree. 

The film garnered positive reviews at Sundance, and also won her a fan in Lena Dunham, who cast Akhavan in the fourth season of HBO’s Girls. In the series, she plays one of Hannah Horvath's fellow students at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. 

As Akhavan becomes more prominent, she says she fears that if her next film isn’t a hit, she won't have another shot at success. I spoke with her recently about finding humor in her post-breakup misery, what it meant to get that call from Dunham, and how feeling invisible as a kid motivated her to boldly tell her story. 

A full transcript of the episode is here

Watch the trailer of Appropriate Behavior, in theaters in twelve cities and on iTunes on January 16, 2015. 

Watch the final episode of Akhavan's web series, The Slope, co-created with her ex-girlfriend, Ingrid Jungermann. Their breakup inspired Akhavan's film, Appropriate Behavior. 

Season 2, Episode 8: "Miserable Best Friends Who Used To Be Together" from The Slope.

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Living Alone and Liking It. Sometimes.

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Dec 31, 2014

Living alone has its perks. You can eat what you want, wear what you want, and listen to show tunes as loud as you want. You can let your dishes pile up for days—or you can be a total neat freak. There’s no one to stop you. But there’s also no one to help foot the bill.

I asked you to send in your stories about living solo. Listener Ashley Ward decided it was time to get her own place after dealing with a less-than-ideal roommate. But living alone can also be a consequence of bigger life changes. Arlene Pickett’s husband died four years ago after a long decline. Arlene says it felt good to get back some of the control she lost while caring for him. But more recently, when she was diagnosed with cancer, living alone just felt hard. Glen Uhlig is separated from his wife and takes care of his two boys every other week. On Monday mornings after their week together he drops them off at schoolexhalesand then has the time to pick up the newspaper again. 

Today, more than a quarter of American households are home to just one person. But we don’t often talk about it, and it’s clear from your stories that living alone can be pretty complicated.

A full transcript of the episode is here

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I Killed Someone. Now I Have 3 Kids.

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Dec 17, 2014

Lawrence Bartley watched his youngest son's first steps in a visiting room at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. He is an inmate. On Christmas night, 1990, he killed a 15 year-old bystander during a shoot-out in a movie theater. Bartley was 17 at the time. 

Now, he is a father of three. He's married to his middle school sweetheart. He has a master's degree. His daughter, born just after he was arrested, is now a grown woman. And he's had a lot of time to think about his crime. He's serving a sentence of 27 years to life. He is up for parole in less than three years. He's not sure what he'll say to the parole board, or if he'll feel comfortable asking for his freedom after taking a life. That's not his only challenge. His two young sons—a 7-year-old and an 18-month-old—don't understand that he's in prison, or know why. To them, he's their hero.

I visited Bartley at Sing Sing, where we talked about the crime he committed, what he has learned, and what he's doing to counter gun violence outside prison. He is thinking hard about what kind of husband and father he needs to be. 

A full transcript of the episode is here

Lawrence Bartley appears in an upcoming documentary about gun violence called Voices from Within. It's in production now and will eventually be shown in schools.

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College Sweethearts: Transformed

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Dec 03, 2014

Liam Lowery and Marisa Carroll have a charming, if almost archetypal, New York love story. They were college students. Liam had been crushing on her for a while, and one day, he spotted her on the subway. They came to his stop. And he stayed on the train. That led to coffee, Facebook flirting, making out, and as Liam says, fantastic sex.

When they got together, Liam identified as trans, but didn't yet have that scruff on his cheeks. Soon after they began dating, he started taking testosterone, and he had surgery to remove his breasts last spring. While Marisa had considered herself a straight woman prior to dating Liam, they are, together, in a queer relationship. And as of this Thanksgiving, in a queer marriage.

I asked them both what changed in their relationship as Liam's body transformed. And I asked Marisa what it was like to commit to someone who was undergoing so much change. 

You can read a full transcript of the interview. Marisa wrote about her love story with Liam in a story called My Self-Made Man for Marie Claire. Liam wrote about getting through airport security when you're trans for The Toast. 

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James McBride Resets

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Nov 19, 2014

When you hear that someone’s a best-selling, award-winning author, what do you imagine their life is like? A big house with a BMW in the driveway? James McBride, author of the smash hit The Color of Water and The Good Lord Bird, had all that for a while. But, living like a celebrity distracted him from the sort of work he wanted to do. 

McBride doesn't live like a famous author. He doesn't identify himself as an author at all. He tells people he’s a musician—which he is. He plays the saxophone and piano at a professional level and he's written songs for Anita Baker, Grover Washington, Jr. and Gary Burton. These days, he teaches a music class for kids at a housing project in the same Brooklyn neighborhood in which he grew up. 

When McBride came to the studio to talk to me, he immediately gravitated to the Steinway piano in the room. He talked to me about his mother’s last moments, the financial and personal difficulties that came after divorce, and the ways in which he has redefined success for himself. 

You can read a full transcript of the interview. Here's a video of McBride accepting the 2013 National Book Award:

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A Funeral Director’s Dead Reckoning

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Nov 05, 2014

Caleb Wilde jokes that he's damned to be a funeral director for the rest of his life. But there's some truth there. He's a sixth-generation funeral director in the small town of Parkesburg, Pennsylvania. He's been doing this for over ten years. In a community with an aging population, this is a stable means of supporting his family. 

This wasn't Caleb's first choice. After high school, he worked abroad for a Christian humanitarian group. He's now in graduate school, studying theology. And he's an entertaining writer who keeps a blog called "Confessions of a Funeral Director." He says that in a profession in which he sees things most people should only experience once in their lifetime, connecting with an online audience makes him feel less lonely. 

There was a funeral on the day I went down to Parkesburg to visit Caleb and his family. It was immediately clear that the Wildes are pros: affable but calm, soft-spoken but self-assured. The kind of people a town relies on to provide comfort when things seem chaotic or senseless. When we talked, he told me about his struggles with depression, how the exposure to so much death has shaken his religious beliefs, and about the lessons he's learned from some controversial things he's said online.

 You can read a full transcript of the interview, and Caleb's blog, "Confessions of a Funeral Director," at calebwilde.com. He also gave a TEDx talk recently about the troubled gap between acceptance and denial when it comes to death:

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Ellen Burstyn's Lessons on Survival

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Oct 22, 2014

When Burstyn was 18, she got on a Greyhound bus going from Detroit to Dallas. She had 50 cents in her pocket and a hunch that she could find work as a model. The actress and director, known for her roles in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, The Exorcist, and Requiem For a Dream, says she’d never do that now. But back then, she didn’t doubt herself.

It wasn’t the only risk she took as a young woman. At 18, she’d already gotten pregnant and had an illegal abortion. By her mid-20s, determined not to just get by on her looks, she left Hollywood to study acting with Lee Strasberg. In her mid-40s, after leaving an abusive marriage, she starred as a newly single mom in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. The role was based in part on her own life, and it won her an Oscar. 

Now, at 81, she told me she is most proud of her relationship with her son, whom she adopted at birth. "I really think of myself as a work in progress," Burstyn told me as we sat in wicker furniture in her Manhattan bedroom. "I know I’m a successful actress, but I don’t feel I’m necessarily a successful person."


Why she doesn’t recommend abortion:

I don’t recommend abortion to anybody. I don’t think it’s a good thing to do. At the same time, if women are pregnant and don’t want to have a baby, they will get an abortion one way or another. And if it’s illegal, they will get an illegal abortion. As I did. And it’s a scarring experience. The illegal abortion just botched me, so I couldn’t ever get pregnant again. That was a part of the trauma.

What the police said when her husband assaulted her:

When I called the police, they said, we don’t mix in household problems. And I said, he’s threatened to kill me. And he said, no, we don’t respond. And I said, well what is it you do? And he said, we apprehend criminals when a crime has been committed. And I said, you mean, I should call if he actually kills me. And he said, that’s right. 

How her acting coach filled the role of a father figure:

I think an absent father—not ever having that experience of a man who just loves you because you’re you—is a big detriment. I think it’s very hard for women to overcome that. Thank God I got to Lee Strasberg, because when I got to him, he approved of me for me, and I hadn’t ever had that. You know, without wanting sex from me.

On being taken for granted as a woman:

I think that we have a natural impulse to serve. We like to serve a man dinner. We like to get up and give him a cup of coffee. But that leads us down a path where it gets taken for granted. As though we are supposed to, as opposed to, we want to. One has to learn that. It’s not an obligation. It’s a gift. That we want to give. But if it’s not received as a gift, but as a duty, one starts to get their hackles up after a while.

You can read a full transcript of the interview, and if you haven't seen her 1980s sitcom The Ellen Burstyn Show, I highly recommend it:

"When Death Comes" from New & Selected Poems, Vol. 1 by Mary Oliver - published by Beacon Press, Boston, used herewith by permission of the Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency.

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My Father's Secret Life

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Oct 08, 2014

Whitney Joiner was 13 when her father Joe told her he was HIV-positive. He said he hoped to see her graduate from high school. Five months later, he was dead. It was rural Kentucky in 1992, and Whitney and her family thought it was best to keep quiet.  

Whitney never learned how her father contracted the disease. After his funeral, her mother heard from a mutual friend that he’d secretly gone to gay clubs. As a teenager, Whitney had wondered if he were gay. She'd even asked him, but he denied it. His denial was a relief at the time. Now, she wishes she had more answers.

That’s part of what led her to co-found The Recollectors, a site to collect stories from children about their parents who died of AIDS. In this episode, Whitney talked to me about the shame and anger that kept her family from talking about her father for years, meeting other people who had a parent die of AIDS, and reconciling her memories of her father with details she’s only learning now.


Remembering the Early, Mysterious Signs

The only thing I knew was wrong with him was we would go to the hospital in Lexington and see this doctor. And he would get his blood drawn...It was kind of like, oh we’re going to the mall. And the movies. And just stopping off at the doctor. And he explained that he had a blood problem, and I said at one point, like, oh, Leukemia? And he was like yeah, something like that.

Finally Meeting Someone Else Whose Father Died of AIDS

It felt like, so shocking there was someone else out there with the same story. And we just started talking about—it was so weird that we don’t know more people, there have to be more people. Not everyone who died of AIDS is a gay man with no children!

The Conversation She Wishes She Could Have Again

I said, I asked mom once if you were gay...And he said, I’m not gay. In this kind of like scoffing way, like what, I’m not gay, obviously. And I said, Oh. Oh, okay. He was like no, I got it from a woman. You can get it from women too, you know. Oh, okay. Part of me at the time was relieved, honestly. Because I was still so young, I didn’t want to have to deal with the gay dad. At 13, in rural Kentucky….It felt like a relief, but just in that, ugh, we don’t have to have that conversation. But really, we should have that conversation. Because that’s the important one. And we both know that’s really what’s happening here.

When Her Family Was Afraid to Accept His Sexuality

My family was very angry at him for lying about his sexuality. To me it felt like our family was almost glad that he was gone. Like I would bring him up, I just felt like any time I brought him up, there was this eye-rolling on the part of my family. So I felt like I just shouldn’t talk about him. And I would feel ashamed of loving him, you know, even though he’s my father. And why would anybody have to feel ashamed of loving your father?

You can read a full transcript of the interview, and read Whitney's essay about her father on Slate.

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The NFL Made Me Rich. I Won't Watch It Now.

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Sep 24, 2014

It’s difficult, Domonique Foxworth says, to watch guys get knocked unconscious, carted off, then brought back out to play. And he knows something about injuries—a first-team All-ACC cornerback at the University of Maryland, Foxworth’s seven-year NFL career sputtered to a halt after a knee injury during practice.

Football itself is hurting right now. Concussion-related lawsuits filed by former players against the NFL are still in court. Sexual assault and domestic violence scandals continue to plague both college and professional teams, including Foxworth's former team, the Baltimore Ravens. Questions about the very state of amateurism in college sports, a multibillion-dollar industry, linger on the sports talk circuit.

As a former president of the NFL Players Association, Foxworth has an intimate understanding of these hot-button topics. But his own stories, going back to high school, offer a fuller picture of what it’s like to be a football player, and what it takes to be a man.

He spoke candidly with me about the praise he thrived on as a young player, the sexual dynamics of being a star black athlete at a predominantly white college, and how his priorities have shifted as he’s gone from the NFL to Harvard Business School.


What dating was like as a celebrated black athlete at a primarily white university:

I think it probably had a racial component, going to a predominantly white school. Like, these women who wouldn’t necessarily be interested in you as a long term relationship type person, they’re like, this big Mandingo strong black man, let’s experiment with that and see what this is all about....I kind of used it to justify some of the things that I would do. So I wasn’t the best boyfriend at the time....Like, they’re just after me because they want to be close to the football guy, or they think I’m in great shape and they think I’m this stereotypical, oversexed black male. They want to give that a try, but they don’t want to actually take me seriously.

Pro football's not a team sport; it's a business:

We get paid well because the talents that we have are so rare, but you’re still the labor....The really big difference is guys who are able to maintain the love for the game, and I don’t think I maintained that. I’ve joked with some of my friends, saying that you’re either really strong mentally or really weak mentally to be able to maintain that, because you either don’t see what’s going on around you, or have the strength to put that out of your mind. When I was a high school student, obviously, to do anything I could for my team and the guys—that’s the last time I felt like I was really on a team.

How he's perceived still matters:

The best thing about the money is having flexibility, and more than that is, for me at least, it kind of gives you that kind of prestige and relevance that I’m looking for. People knowing that you have that money. Or people knowing that you have had success in the NFL is good. And I think, part of the reason why I want to make more money is because I think that, I don’t like that people think—or I assume that people make assumptions about me—about what i’m able to afford or what I’m able to do is only based on me being an athlete.

Why he stopped watching football: 

I have a hard time watching injuries. It’s difficult for me to watch guys get knocked unconscious. The strategy and the mental part of football, I still love. It’s a lot more like chess...But the play-by-play guys don’t know what they’re talking about, which is shocking considering there’s so many ex-athletes, and maybe they just simplify it for the sake of the common fan, but I can’t listen to them....I want to see the entire field, so I can really analyze the chess match....I can’t—the angles that they have, what I enjoy about football, I can’t see.

Read a full transcript of our interview, and see Foxworth talking about the social capital of the savvy athlete at the Harvard Innovation Lab:


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Meet the First Family...of Podcasting

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Sep 17, 2014

Scott Aukerman and Kulap Vilaysack are the podcasting world’s ultimate power couple, but they couldn’t have come from more different backgrounds.

When Scott was a musical theater-loving teenager in Orange County, California, Kulap was washing dishes in the restaurant run by her Laotian immigrant parents, where she'd worked since she was a little kid. Then she went away to college—responsibly running away, she says—and met Scott at a taping of a comedy TV show he wrote for. She was just 18.

It took a year for them to start dating, but they’ve (basically) been together ever since. And Kulap’s starting to tell her story through both her podcast, "Who Charted?", and her upcoming documentary, Origin Story. It's harder to get to know Scott. If you’ve ever listened to his "Comedy Bang! Bang!" podcast—or watched the IFC show of the same name—you really just know the character he plays.

In this episode, I spoke with them about Kulap’s family secrets, Scott's family roots, and what plans they have for their future family together.


How Kulap found out that the man who raised her wasn’t her biological father:

K: I always, I just preferred my dad, I thought I looked like my dad, I got along better with my dad. And [my parents] got in another horrible fight, I defended him, she looked at me and said, Why are you defending him, he’s not your real dad.

The trailer for Kulap's documentary Origin Story:

Couples need their own interests:

S: Yeah I think when I first met Kulap, she seemed like a really interesting person with different interests, and that’s what I really liked about her. And then slowly she seemed to just kind of assimilate into my life and kind of not want to do much more than whatever I was doing. I think I read when I was younger that the best relationships are ones where the two people have really interesting separate things going on and then when they meet at the end of the day they can talk about them and be excited to see each other. I think we broke up because that wasn’t happening at the time.

Thinking about parenthood:

K: How do I think about motherhood?  I think about it, naturally, in terms of my own upbringing, and wanting to do better. I think about ... I think about Christmases, that’s what I think about. I think about firsts, and stuff.

S: I think Kulap has always been very worried about how she’ll act with our kids. And trying to make sure that she doesn’t do what her mother did with her. I think Kulap’s gonna be a great mom.

You can read a full transcript of our interview, and hear both the Comedy Bang! Bang! and Who Charted? podcasts on the Earwolf Podcast Network, and donate to the Indiegogo campaign for Kulap's documentary Origin Story.

And speaking of Christmas traditions, here's Zach Galifianakis wearing a santa suit on Scott's IFC show Comedy Bang! Bang!:


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Cult Comedy Heroes Have Bills to Pay, Too

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Sep 10, 2014

Chris Gethard is at a personal peak, but in a professional valley. Maybe you’ve seen him in brief turns on The Office or Louie, but he’s best known for his Manhattan public access television show, The Chris Gethard Show. It’s beloved by New York comedy nerds and hapless teens across the Internet, but it just got passed over by Comedy Central ? and eleven other networks. Now, he's wondering whether to keep doing the show. But he can’t say it wasn’t worth it. After all, he got a wife out of the whole thing.

Hallie Bulleit is the singer for The Chris Gethard Show's house band, The LLC, along with the punk outfit The Unlovables. Until recently, she made her living as a professional dancer, who performed in popular shows like Rent and Stomp. Now that she's in her early 40s, dancing for a living is no longer possible. So she’s also questioning her professional future.

They got married this summer, and while it’s an exciting step for both, it brings a whole new set of pressures and challenges. Right before they took off for their wedding, I spoke to them about Chris’ struggles to overcome depression, the awkward start to their relationship (he was on-stage, naked, and she was in the audience), and whether they can continue as middle-aged artists who don't know where the next check’s coming from.


They were fans of each other first:

Hallie: The first one that I saw…I mean I was completely hooked. I don’t think I missed many shows after that.

Chris: No. And that used to freak me out because Hallie is the frontwoman and songwriter for this band The Unlovables that I really loved. I had been listening to her music for like five or six years before she started coming to the show, and I thought she was the coolest, prettiest lady.

Hallie's band The Unlovables performing "Today's the Day" on The Chris Gethard Show in 2013:


Chris comparing himself to his father:

I always have in my head that my dad had two kids and owned a house when he was I think 27 years old. And I’m 34, and I’m just getting married now, and I’m like, currently workshopping a joke about how I pooped my pants on a subway platform. Like that’s professionally what I’m up to right now, is trying to really tighten up a joke about pooping my pants in public. 

Hallie on what happens when your body stops supporting a dance career:

Now I’m at a point where I’m trying to figure out, okay so I did all this—had this brilliant career that I loved so much. And it’s a tough act to follow. It’s—how do I find something that I love as much as I loved what I did. That’s just the nicest thing about being around Chris is just, to use that as a model. You have an idea and you just do it.

Chris on the new kind of money fears that come with planning a family

I’ve lived this lifestyle that’s all calculated on risks. Which is pretty fun, but I legitimately don’t know how I’ll be making my rent money in November. I don’t know if I’ll have any money coming in. That’s pretty fun when you’re in your 20s, and when all you have to worry about is yourself, and where it’s like, oh well, if I need to sublet my room and find someplace not as nice to crash, that’s pretty fun. But now there are actual consequences: someone I have to come home to and look in the eye, and a small human I’m dragging into it. Who doesn’t have a choice in it, you know? It stresses me out.

You can read a full transcript of the interview. And if The Chris Gethard Show does indeed resume, you can watch new episodes along with all the archived shows at thechrisgethardshow.com

And here's a video of Chris doing the Carlton dance with a box of Ritz crackers in front of the Ritz-Carlton hotel:  

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Chaz Ebert on Life Without Roger

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Aug 27, 2014

Don’t call Chaz Ebert a widow. She’s Roger’s wife. Since his death in April of 2013, she says she still feels his presence. She knows it sounds a little crazy, but she says they still communicate in their own way.

There was always magic in their relationship. She admits that their partnership was unlikely. He was a white, Catholic film critic and television star who'd been a life-long bachelor. She was a black lawyer and mother with a proud history as a civil rights activist. They first met after an AA meeting, and their connection was instant. Whatever hang-ups about personal history or race she may have had, she knew she loved Roger Ebert.

When they married in 1992, she left her law practice to manage his business dealings. After he was diagnosed with cancer in 2002, she also became a full-time caretaker, buoying him through years of treatments, setbacks, and recovery. His lower jaw was removed in 2006, and Roger eventually lost the ability to eat solid food, and to speak. He continued writing and reviewing movies, and when he asked her, Chaz spoke for him. 

Now, she’s touring the country talking about Roger and the documentary about him, Life Itself. She spoke to me about mourning her husband in public, and the presence he still has in her life today. 


What happened when Roger lost his ability to speak:

Almost nothing, because Roger and I developed almost a mental telepathy. We were so in tune with each other that we actually could speak to each other without words or without even being in the same room . . . And I know that happens—sometimes when he was in the hospital, I would wake up in the middle of the night, and I would call the hospital and I would say, oh my God, he is so cold. Would you please go in and put the warming blanket on him? And the nurse would come back and go, how do you know? Did he call you? And they would say, he couldn’t call you. He can’t speak. And I said, I don’t know, but he just told me it was cold.

How she still feels Roger in her life:

He still talks to me. Yeah, he does....It’s very comforting, because he lets me know that he’s okay. He’s more than okay. He is blissful. It is so reassuring, It just makes me smile to know that he is this...I don’t know what he is. I don’t know what form we’re in. But I know that it’s something that’s comforting. And it feels so natural and so normal, and I know that there are a lot of things that we shut down talking about in our society, things that we can’t prove. But now I firmly, firmly believe in an afterlife.

How sobriety helped their relationship from the beginning:

I tell you, I think it was a gift, because when you are someone who is sober and you’re very grateful for being sober, you realize, that’s a process that increases your compassion for other people. It really helps you to minimize the small talk, and you’re more willing to talk more openly and honestly with someone about the things that are important in life. And so, when Roger and I first met, I think we fell right into a conversation that turned out to be our lifelong conversation with each other.

You can read a full transcript of our interview, and see the documentary Life Itself in select theaters or on demand. Here's a preview:


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A Player Leaves the Game

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Aug 13, 2014

Jozen Cummings can’t get any woman he wants. But for a while there, the New York Post's dating reporter was doing pretty well for himself. He used to take out multiple women a day: one for coffee, another for lunch, and another for dinner. He left the rest of the night open for a wild card.

But as a kid, he'd watch his single mom stare at the phone, waiting for a man to call. They often didn't. He knew he didn't want to be one of those men. For a long time, he was.

Now that he's found the woman he plans to spend the rest of his life with, he knows he can't treat her that way. 

So there are challenges ahead. For example, all that dating he did wrecked his financial life. He also made some pretty bad decisions — like cheating — that ruined past relationships. Because his father couldn't keep a relationship together, he's had to learn what it means to be a committed partner on his own. 

Jozen and I talked about how what life was like as a confident ladies' man, what he learned from his father’s death, and what he hopes for after bachelorhood ends.


The first girl he liked didn’t like him back:

You definitely remember the first. Roxanne, this girl in my second grade class. I started off coloring pictures for her at home and leaving them at her desk. I’ll never forget one day, the person sitting next to me tapped me on my shoulder and said turn around, Roxanne is trying to get your attention. And I turned around and she just mouthed the words, 'I don’t like you.' And I was just like, Oh man. I was so upset, and so hurt....And that stayed with me. And you just don’t forget that feeling. And what’s funny is that no matter what age it comes, it feels the same.

Jozen Cummings in middle school.

 How he learned to be confident:

I worked the deli section of a restaurant, which was right next to the host stand. And we had a bunch of pretty hosts. And all of them were about — if I was 16 they were 18. [One of them said], you know Jozen, the number one thing that you have to have as a man is confidence. It doesn’t matter how you look to anybody, but people can see whether you’re confident. So you have to be confident if you want to get anywhere with girls. And that’s when I just kind of told myself, well, okay, get confident.

 He doesn’t want to die alone like his father:

None of [the mothers of his children] showed up to his funeral. What that showed me was that you can love someone, but you can also put them out of your life. And I just thought that, here was my father, a man who was loved, but nobody really wanted to be there.

On dating black women when you're multiracial:

I feel like for a while, I subscribed to this idea that I was actually being like, doing a noble thing. Like that I liked black women was somehow progressive….I grew out of that. And that’s when I, once I let that go, that’s when I started becoming more open to dating anybody....I used to feel like very much that they were a gateway, or they strengthened my identity.

Why he’s getting his finances in order:

What I see with Gina is somebody who will love me, and ride for me, like be by my side. But I don’t want her to have to take responsibility for decisions that I made before she came into my life. And my finances are a reflection of that. And I’m really trying to get myself into a better place, because I want to take care of her.

You can read a full transcript of our interview, and visit Jozen's blog, Until I Get Married, for regular updates on his love life.

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I Love You, But There's This Money Thing...

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jul 30, 2014

We like to think of our romantic lives as pure and unbothered by the cold business of spreadsheets and tax documents. But here's the thing: serious relationships are both romantic and financial partnerships. That can come as a shock to a lot of people. I asked for your stories about love and money. Tiffany sent in this plea:


Can we talk about prenups? My fianc? and I just broke things off because we couldn't agree to the terms that each of us wanted...I'm completely devastated and I'm getting mixed messages from people. Some are for and some are against but everyone seems to feel very strongly for one side or the other.

Tiffany’s 28, and she’s disappointed by what killed her otherwise great romance: an irreconcilable disagreement about money. 

Tiffany is dating in Washington, D.C. after breaking up with her fianc? over a prenup dispute.

Her problems aren't unique, though. Relationships demand regular financial negotiation: prenups, joint checking accounts, retirement plans. What if one partner wants to buy a luxury car and the other finds that totally embarrassing? Is it worth getting remarried later in life when pricey hospital bills are looming? These are big questions that might not seem romantic, but talking about them is essential for a healthy relationship.

Got a money or relationship question that's causing stress at home? Let us know in the comments below ? or share a tip that might help us all.

Eric and Martha are teaching their 4-year-old daughter about money while figuring things out themselves.

Consider Eric Burton and Martha Mills. They opened a joint checking account, and had a perfect system in which each of them deposited a percentage of their income. Until the kid came along. Here’s what Eric wrote us:

After our daughter was born 4 years ago, we chose for Martha to stay at home (since I made more money).  We both do a little bit of side work, but I still earn most of the income. Now all of our money goes into joint and we each just tend to use spending money via our credit cards and figure it all out down the line. The stay-at-home mom/not-working-but-always working dynamic kind of [adds to] the difficulties of our new fiscal reality. 

When you have a system around money that’s been working for so long, how do you deal with change?

Lola, a personal assistant and actress, is paying all her own bills now. 

Ask Lola Davidson. Several years ago, she fell in love with a very wealthy man, and he paid for everything. That included the BMW, the handbags, the jewelry, and the condo on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles:

I remember the day we went to the open house of that condo and the realtor, a sharply dressed woman, asked what we both did for a living and I said some obnoxious thing like, "just living the dream," and she replied, "and that's how it should be, the man makes the money and we spend it." Today I'd be so offended if someone said that to me, but that day, at that time in my life, it sounded more like approval.

Then, Lola and her boyfriend broke up. She had no income and had to face her financial problems head-on. That’s what this episode is all about — the ways money complicates our relationships, what we learn, and what questions still linger.

And we got a lot of calls from listeners dealing with money in their relationships. Here are a few more.

Erin's inheritance makes her feel guilty that she can't fully support her family:

Rob and his husband have separate checking accounts and very different spending habits:

This listener dated a 32-year-old man who was totally happy to let his mother support him, and she couldn't stick it out:

Jeremy's in his 40s, and has no idea what his parents actually made to afford the life they gave him:


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Dan Savage Says Cheating Happens. And That's OK.

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jul 16, 2014

Occasional infidelity adds excitement to Dan Savage's marriage. He's not afraid of talking about that, he told me. What he doesn’t like discussing is money. Namely, how his husband Terry likes spending it: on shoes, clothes, and records he may never listen to. It’s what they fight about most.

Dan and Terry have been together for nearly twenty years. They married in 2005 in Canada. Dan told me that if you’re in a committed relationship, you should consider this: cheating happens. Studies differ on the rate of cheating, but after writing a sex advice column for decades, he wants us to confront the fact that infidelity touches more monogamous relationships than we like to admit. And sometimes, he says, being with other people is what keeps couples together. It's worked for his marriage.

So that’s part of what he and I talk about in this episode, plus building honest boundaries with your partner, fighting about money, being a gay activist with a conservative father, and missing his mother.


Keeping sex fun after 40:

One of the things that’s kept our sexual connection really intense has been the non-monogamy. We have these adventures together. People have come into our lives as lovers and enriched and enhanced our lives. Taken us into new worlds. And exposed us to new communities. New groups of people, new groups of friends. And that’s been very rewarding, and very rich.

Experiencing the AIDS epidemic as a teenager:

Something that makes straight people sometimes uncomfortable when you talk about gay life, particularly then, is that I came out at 15, 16, 17 years old. And most of my gay friends were older. My first boyfriends were older. Because my peers weren’t out. I didn’t have 15, 16, 17-year-old gay people, lesbians, bi and trans folks to hang out with. Because nobody was out except for me. So I lost people — mentors. I lost first boyfriends.

gay pride parade 2011 New York City
Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller at the 2011 NYC Gay Pride Parade. (Amy Pearl)

How the Supreme Court gave Dan and Terry financial security:

One of the things that was so wonderful about the DOMA decision from the Supreme Court was the Sword of Damocles that had been hanging over our heads — it disappeared in an instant. Because I’ve been the sole bread-winner and Terry’s been a stay-at-home parent. If I had died, if somebody killed me, Terry wouldn’t get my Social Security survivor benefits because he has the wrong genitals. He couldn’t inherit my property or keep our house without paying onerous, crushing taxes. So, in addition to losing me, he would’ve been pauperized, and he and D.J. would’ve both been turned out of the house.

The challenge of relating to his father:

We’re in a much better place than we were 20 years ago. We have a difficult relationship, or a relationship complicated by politics. He’s one of those guys, 70-year-old guys who sits in front of his television set in Arizona in retirement watching Fox News. But he’s a good guy, and a fun guy, and I enjoy talking to him when we talk. We’re not the closest, but that’s life, I guess. I don’t even know how to talk about it. I don’t want to disrespect my dad. But we never really clicked.

Here’s a full transcript of the interview.

Dan Savage talked about the death of his mother onstage at This American Life in 2009:



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Alpha Dad Gets Snipped

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jul 02, 2014

In a lot of ways, vasectomies couldn’t have asked for a better spokesman than Australian Clint Greagen: weightlifter, Australian football fanatic, loving husband, and stay-at-home father of four who blogs about pretty much everything -- including the time he got his vas deferens cut by a man named Dr. Snip.

Here in the U.S., the pill is the most commonly used form of birth control. Second is female sterilization -- procedures like women getting their tubes tied -- which is a more common form of contraception than condoms. But urologists say that vasectomies are simpler, safer, faster, and less expensive.

Why don't men get vasectomies more often? The answer may have to do with our assumptions -- and our insecurities -- about gender roles. This is something Clint had to deal with long before going under the knife. He left the workforce about six years ago to raise his children, and that switch took some adjustment.

But all this change has paid off. When I spoke with him recently, he talked about getting used to the stay-at-home dad life, rethinking masculinity, and experiencing the sexual freedom that comes after two easy snips.


Committing to the vasectomy was a little scary:

The two biggest things I was worried about [were] all the inspections that had to go on with my genitals in front of other people, and the second thing was actually having my genitals pierced by sharp objects.... It was probably about two years after we first brought it up before I actually got into gear and got the job done.

A new sexual life with his wife Tania:

She can just throw me onto a bench anytime she wants now and not have to worry about it. It’s good fun. If you take concern out of it, you can just go and do whatever role play you want right to the very end....Freedom.

Clint Greagen and his wife Tania (photo: Clint Greagen)

 Coming to terms with being a stay-at-home dad:

Being a man who was moving out of the workforce to become a fulltime [care-giver] in what has traditionally been a female role, I did start to notice things around me that sort of suggested I was doing the wrong thing. Little tongue-in-cheek jokes that people say, but that has that kernel of truth to it, or their kernel of truth to it.

You can read a full transcript of our interview.

And Clint Greagan blogs at reservoirdad.com. His first book, also called Reservoir Dad, was released in Australia in June 2014.

Here's a Safe For Work (sort of) video of Dr. Snip performing the vasectomy:

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Jane Fonda After Death and Divorce

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jun 18, 2014

What do you think of when you think of Jane Fonda? The sexy space traveller from Barbarella? Vietnam War activist? Fitness goddess? Fonda, now 76, has had quite the career. She’s also had three marriages — to a French director, an anti-war activist, and the billionaire Ted Turner — and each ended in divorce. When she found herself newly single at 62, she felt whole for the first time. Now, she says she’d disappear into a monastery before getting married again.

After seven years of celibacy, she started dating her current boyfriend, music producer Richard Perry, when she was in her seventies. With him, she’s discovered a mature kind of intimacy and a new role as caretaker. He’s living with Parkinson's, and she’s learning how to help.

She's also working more than ever. She just published a relationship guidebook for teenagers calling Being a Teen. She's writing a novel. She continues to act. Next summer, she reunites with her 9-to-5 costar Lily Tomlin in a new Netflix series about two divorced women finding their way late in life. The American Film Institute honored her with a life achievement award this year.  

Busy as she is, Jane Fonda took time to talk to me about her mother's suicide when she was a girl, her father Henry Fonda's long decline, and the lessons she learned by choosing to be alone.


Finding out about her mother’s suicide:

We found out through magazines how she killed herself, and we never were told by anybody in our family that she did. And no one ever mentioned her name again. So it was like a huge emptiness....I just got together with my brother three days ago, and he and I made a pact that we’re going to Ogdensberg, New York, where she is buried, and we are going to kneel at her tombstone and we’re going to plant things and clean it up and pray for her. And we’re going to do it together....We both feel we owe it to her. When she died, I was 12. He was 10. No one ever mentioned her again. So we want to make up for that.

Sexual confusion in her teenage years:

Nothing seemed normal. I didn’t get my period until I was 17....I actually did think that maybe I was supposed to be a boy....I used to get a mirror and sit in such a way that I could look at my vagina and try figure out if maybe it wasn’t supposed to be a penis. I just, I didn’t know what I was looking for. I didn’t know what was supposed to be there. I didn’t know what was normal. I didn’t feel any of the things that my girlfriends seemed to be feeling.

Feeling whole after her divorce from Ted Turner:

I moved into my daughter’s house in Atlanta. I was all by myself, which after Ted, the silence was deafening. And I remember standing in the middle of this little bedroom that didn’t even have a closet. I’d been living in 23 kingdom-sized estates, flying in private jets. Now I had a rented car and a room with no closet. And I stood in the middle of the room, in tremendous pain, with sadness that the marriage hadn’t worked, and yet there was also this voice that said, I’m okay. For the first time in my life, I do not need a man to be whole.

Jane Fonda and then husband Ted Turner in 1990 (Tony Duffy/Getty)

Jane Fonda and then-husband Ted Turner in 1990. (Tony Duffy/Getty)

Sex gets better with age:

I think that when a woman is older, sex is better. Partly because she doesn’t give a fuzzy rat’s ass anymore, you know? She’s not out there on the marketplace anymore. She knows her body. She knows what she wants. She’s less afraid to ask for it. If it doesn’t work out, so what?

Read a full transcript of the interview, and hear a bonus excerpt of Jane Fonda talking about reuniting with her 9-to-5 co-star Lily Tomlin for their new Netflix comedy.

Jane Fonda recently spoke at TEDxWomen about living in this age of unprecedented life expectancies:

In 1972, Fonda spoke out at a rally in protest of the Vietnam War:

And for a certain generation, Jane Fonda might be most well-known for her workout videos:


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I Married the Gay Father of My Child

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jun 04, 2014

New York-based performance artist Lucy Sexton was never one for convention. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when it came to having a family, she found a way to make it happen on her own terms. When she found herself childless, divorced, and pushing 40, she decided to have a child with a friend, Stephen Daldry, the openly gay British director.

But what started as a planned transaction grew into a close relationship, and then a marriage. Add to this arrangement another mother and daughter who share Sexton's loft, along with a few other adults. To Sexton, who grew up one of six in Brooklyn, this complicated crew is family. “That structure is there for a reason,” she says of marriage. "I think for me, [we are] more stable because the commitment is so much about the family, and the primary piece of it is not a romantic situation."

I spoke with Sexton about the choices that got her to this point, what she tells her daughters, and what she learned about parenting from her Irish Catholic mother. 


Deciding to get pregnant first, married second:

We were trying to have a kid together. We wound up getting married. We really wanted a family together. And that went from being sort of, 'Yeah we’re friends and I know you want this Lucy so I’ll help you out,' to really both of us being a unit....Then it’s also health insurance.

How she explains their household to her daughters:

One interesting thing is that you do have to be conscious and intentional about who you are telling them is family. Because we have lots of grownups who also have other relationships, and then I also live in the loft with other roommates, and in one sense they’re all part of an extended family and have been and it’s been incredibly valuable. On the other hand, they need to know who's never leaving.

Lucy performing on WNYC's Kings County with Kurt Andersen in 2012. Photo by Josh Rogosin.

Committing to marriage like a true Catholic:

I would absolutely would say there is a lifetime commitment to it, a deep love commitment to it, a sacred commitment to it, there’s nothing more sacred than making a commitment to raise children together. And that is a primal, deep, human activity. The more we can surround it with sacred support the better.

She’s not the only one with an 'unconventional' household:

Probably the most unconventional [among my siblings], but still, there’s an unmarried couple with two kids and they haven’t married yet. They didn’t live together for a while....My sister had two [kids], a baby and a toddler, when her husband died, so she was single for a while and then she married somebody else that had kids so they have the blended family thing....You just don’t know how life is going to go. So you keep making it up as you go along. So in that sense, I don’t feel like I’m that weird in my family.

Read a full transcript of the interview.

And to see a bit of what Lucy does when she’s not running a household, here she is performing with her Dancenoise duo at The Pyramid Club in the mid-1980's:

She’s not alone in figuring out ways to have children and raise kids. Fertility challenges, adoption, LGBT families dealing with the law, multiple parents after divorce and remarriages, and even the basics of creating routine for kids when you, the parents, are busy making money to support them. We’re collecting stories about all this — leave a comment below, or tell us in an email how you’ve built family in your life. We’re at deathsexmoney@wnyc.org.

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Confessions of a Nashville Power Couple

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, May 21, 2014

Jason Isbell was performing in bars before he could drink in them. By his early 30s, he’d played the Grand Ole Opry, joined the Drive-By Truckers, and gotten married and divorced. And when he found himself drunk one morning in a McDonald’s parking lot, he was lucky enough to have just the right person to call: Amanda Shires, a musician he’d chased for years who finally gave him a chance and helped him get clean.

Now they’re more than a year into their marriage, and Jason, a self-described “philanderer in a past life,” is two years sober. But this new life doesn't come without its challenges. Jason's still an Alabama boy learning to be a feminist husband, while Amanda is figuring out where her own career fits in amid his success and their plans to raise a family. 

I went down to Nashville on the day Jason and Amanda were going house hunting, and I spoke to them about love, liquor, trust, and staying connected when everything in your lives is changing.


On Building Trust in Early Marriage:

Jason: We didn’t know each other very well, and I was a philanderer in a past life, so it was hard for her to trust me, you know . . . I wasn’t an easy person to trust, because I hadn’t been sober very long, and I felt like I hadn’t been a grown-up at that point.

Co-parenting and Family Planning:

Amanda: Generally when a woman has a child, the child is always left to the woman. The guy can go off touring or gallivanting around the world. I understand there’s sacrifice and everything, but I’m still a selfish person. I still want my own career and freedom and time. I want the — and I don’t know how this is gonna work, I guess I’ll see. I feel like if I do have a child, it’s something I’d be very involved in.

Jason: I’ll be there until the baby — or I’m — gone from the earth. I’ll take care of it. I’m not gonna screw up on that responsibility. But at the same time, that motherly instinct when it’s combating the desire to be your own individual person for a woman, I can’t even weigh in on that. That’s just incredibly difficult for me to even wrap my head around. 

Cheating Is Lose-Lose:

Jason: We don’t ignore it, the fact that there are other people vying for our attention. And that when you’re on the road, it makes it easier to think you can get away with stuff like that. We discuss it. If somebody’s worried, we talk about it. And usually if you name something, it becomes a lot less difficult to defeat.

Amanda: Some days, I’m like, whatever he does, I have no control over his actions. Whatever he does or does not do, it’s no reflection on me. . . . Sometimes it helps me to say it right out, or say it in my brain, I’ll feel so bad for you if you f*** this up. I say it all the time.

Read a full transcript of the interview.

Jason and Amanda performing “Cover Me Up” on APM's Wits:

Jason and Amanda playing "Traveling Alone" on WNRN:

You can also hear Jason and Amanda performing songs off "Southeastern" on Soundcheck.

Jason and Amanda have also been into The National and The War on Drugs lately.

The National performing "Pink Rabbits" on 89.3 The Current:

The War on Drugs, "Red Eyes":

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This Senator Saved My Love Life

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, May 07, 2014

You have to give it to some elected representatives — they really will respond to the letters you send. Or at least, Alan Simpson did when my boyfriend Arthur sent a plea for help. We were in love, but I was a reporter in New York and he studied wildlife in Wyoming. I didn’t think it could work. He did. And he thought that if a U.S. Senator intervened, the relationship could turn around.

That’s how I wound up in the kitchen of Alan and Ann Simpson, getting advice on maturity, commitment, and of course, sex.



On sex and intimacy: 

Ann Simpson: The hardest thing for all couples to talk about is sex. And it’s hard to believe, but it is. And the big issues in all marriages, that hang it up, is your sexual relationship.  Whoever is the most aggressive, the other one is in control. 

Sen. Simpson: Then when you talk about that, you think, well there's a couple of horny people. No, that's not the point. It's called intimacy. Scratch my back. Give me a hug. Just a hug. I’d say, ok [pant-pant-pant]. Just a touch, you know, a whack on the fanny in the kitchen.

My boyfriend Arthur and me with Sen. Alan Simpson and his wife Ann at the ball that changed it all.

On dating and drinking:

Sen. Simpson: I got arrested one night, got in a fist fight, got in a fight with a cop, slugged the cop. Ended up in jail, called her. I said I need $300 bail. She said, are you kidding? I’m working my way through school, I don't have $300 bucks bail. Maybe you oughta just stay there -- and I thought Jesus, you know, it would be good if I linked up with her. She could be a helpful ally in this continuing battle for maturity.

On couples counseling:

Ann Simpson: We had the good fortune of getting some outside help when we needed it. Through our church.  Uh, we had been married probably 10 years at that time, and it was not a good time for us. Three children, busy life and just a feeling that I needed help. Our minister, he came to see us, to call on us. And I said -- what a great life I had, as I burst into tears.

Sen. Simpson: The secret is, you both try to control each other, and you both fail. And it's critical that you both fail. And you do it in the most skilled and manipulative ways. 

On questioning Anita Hill in 1991:

Ann Simpson: I said you all came across like a bunch of bullies.

Sen. Simpson: I’d had a wife who'd had much more harassment than Anita Hill. And that's when I lost my marbles. I thought, what is this? I mean, for god's sake, what did he do? Well, nothing. “Did he touch you?” “No.” “What is it?” “He wanted to talk about Long Dong Silver and pubic hair and coke cans.” “Is that it? Is that it?” “Yes, it is.” I wanted you to be aware of his behavior.  And so I was a monster. I was just pissed to the core.

Correction: During the Clarence Thomas hearings, Anita Hill testified that Thomas described porn movie scenes to her. They did not watch pornography together as former Sen. Alan Simpson said in our interview. We regret the error. 

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Brooklyn Left Me Broke and Tired

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, May 06, 2014

Heidi Reinberg is tired of worrying about money. She’s 53 years old. She’s gotten by as a freelance documentary producer in New York for 30 years. But she told me her coffers have dried up just when her landlord is selling. She’s losing her apartment — one that's just six doors down from Mayor Bill de Blasio's house in Park Slope.

Heidi made her choices, she knows that. But as her own neighbor came to dominate the mayoral race with his tale of two cities — one of the ultra-wealthy vs. those near the poverty line — there's been another group in the middle that is quietly losing ground. Median rents have increased seventy-five percent in New York City since 2000, while incomes have declined by 5 percent. Heidi is one of those people in the middle: a college-educated professional who's finding that the life she's used to now comes with a heftier price tag. 

This is the story of one woman whose optimism couldn't hold up against financial realities.

We're collecting your stories, too: when was money the deciding factor for you in a major life transition? Tell us below, in the comment section. 

Heidi's apartment, in the brick building, is just six doors up from Mayor de Blasio's house in Park Slope

Heidi's apartment, in the brick building, is just six doors up from Mayor de Blasio's house in Park Slope.



Money is hard to talk about:

I think you can talk to your friends about sex. You can talk to them about depression. You can talk about health things — what are the other taboos? You can’t talk about money. Money is the last taboo. And maybe I'm underestimating my friends, but nobody wants to hear that you're having a hard time making ends meet.


She remembers her social life being less expensive when she was young.

Heidi (second from right) remembers her social life being less expensive when she was younger.


Defining a decent life:

I don’t want much. I just want a decent place to live and a decent neighborhood with people that I enjoy seeing in the morning, that I can have relationships with. I want home.

Dating when you’re broke:

I met somebody who’s going through pretty much the same thing right now, and things were going pretty good for a while although nobody could afford to fly to meet the other person. I think, for me at least, the stress of being optimistic all the time — there’s just not much to be happy about. I like being positive around everybody else, and I feel like I’m walking around in this constant — I’m gonna burst into tears any minute.

On shame:

There’s definitely a shame factor to it. I mean, I’ll say that. You feel like a failure. There’s just so much shame attached to money and to not making a living. 


Heidi and Anna in Heidi's apartment of 17 years, just weeks before she has to leave.

Heidi and me in her apartment of 18 years, just weeks before she's being forced to leave.

Over on The Brian Lehrer Show, we've been talking about rent. How do you feel about the place you rent, and has your apartment ever really felt like home?

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How to Be a Man With Bill Withers

WNYC (WNYC Studios)Author: WNYC Studios
Mon, May 05, 2014

Maybe it’s not manly to say, “I’m scared.” But for Bill Withers, being a man isn’t about ignoring fear. It's about getting things done in spite of it, and knowing when to ask for help. Before he wrote some of the most memorable hits of the 70s and 80s—songs like “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and “Lean on Me”—Withers was a stuttering boy in a poor mining town.

I spoke with Withers, a fellow West Virginian, about leaving his small town, caring for his dying father, and finding the courage to make something of himself.


The true meaning of fear:

If I were gonna write anything longer than a song, I would write about fear. People get stuck in situations and they want to do something else but they’re afraid. And there’s no way not to be afraid. But to me, courage is not not being afraid; it’s, what do you do in spite of being afraid.

Losing his father early:

Well, it wasn’t like he dropped dead from a heart attack. He was sick for a while, so there’s a reality to life that you can see certain things coming, and so you prepare. You know, you miss somebody that dies, but I was prepared to go on with life. Or maybe that’s just my personality.

What he'll be remembered for:

I know what I’ll be remembered for, you know? There’s a reality to [it] — I’m sitting in my wife’s office, and her job is to license and track these songs. So I’ll be remembered for the ones that send her downstairs to the bank the most. That’s it, you know what I mean. You’re remembered for the things that made the most noise.

Bill Withers visits the USC football team in 2009 (wait for 1:18)


Trailer for the 2009 documentary "Still Bill"

Live on WNET Channel 13 in 1971

"I Am My Father's Son" with Johnny Mathis, a song Withers wrote for Bill Russell in 2013

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