Curating Stories (A Drink with a Friend) | 56

Humans love (and learn best through) stories. But we have so many options at our fingertips compared to all of human history that it’s now a virtue to curate well what we make time for and allow in our imaginations. Tsh and Seth explore what it means to curate stories as a sacramental act (and also share some of their favorites).

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Episode Transcript

Tsh: This is The Good List. I’m Tsh Oxenreider. In this episode, I am joined by my friend once more, Seth Haines, as we wrap up our conversation about sacramentality. And like before we have fun drinks with us. So Seth, tell me what you are drinking.

Seth: Today, I am drinking America’s favorite tea. Do you want to guess what that is?

Tsh: Lipton?

Seth: I don’t know actually what it is, but it’s Chick-fil-A.

Tsh: Oh, got it. I see what you mean. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Seth: I had a really late lunch today and so I grabbed my drink and my salad and then now here I am at the end of the day and all I have to drink is my tea that I didn’t get to drink over lunch. That’s the drink today.

Tsh: My weird, because I almost never go to Chick-fil-A so when I do, I like to get an unsweetened Arnold Palmer, do you know what that is?

Seth: Is that lemonade?

Tsh: Half tea, half lemonade, but the unsweet of both, because otherwise it’s sickly sweet. It’s so dumb. I don’t normally get that any other place, but Chick-fil-A, that’s my drink there.

Seth: They have unsweet lemonade?

Tsh: Yeah. It’s barely sweetened or something. I don’t know what they do.

Seth: Ooh, ouch. I’m not good with sour. I think that would hurt a little.

Tsh: Yeah, it’s tart, but I like that. I don’t like super sweet. So that’s my drink.

Seth: I’m glad to know. I’ll try it next time I go. Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I will, but I’ll tell you I did. And then I’ll say it was great.

Tsh: There you go.

Seth: What are you drinking today?

Tsh: I am drinking, because it’s the end of a work week and it’s kind of the end of the holiday season. It’s not the end. I should say it is near the end of the holidays for teaching. I am drinking black coffee with a little bit of Bailey’s in it.

Seth: Oh, yes you are.

Tsh: I don’t normally do this, but it’s very holiday-ish. Kyle bought some, I don’t know, October, and it’s barely been opened and I just saw it sitting there and I was like, what seems Friday afternoon? And that called my name. It’s lovely. It’s silly. But there you go.

Seth: Well, I mean, sometimes silly is the right thing for the end of the work week.

Tsh: It reminds me though, I laugh every time I drink this. When I moved back from Kosovo, I was 22, 23, something like that. I was on a long haul flight by myself from Eastern Europe back home. Actually, I was going to London first for a few days and I was enamored with the idea of the free alcohol that you get on international flights. I had read on the internet, which it was still kind of a new concoction, this idea of drinking Baileys with Dr. Pepper. I thought I would be fancy…

Seth: That sounds disgusting.

Tsh: …and drink Bailey’s with Dr. Pepper and it was horrific, but I did not want the flight attendant to know that I hated it because she gave me this look of like, you are a disgusting American college student. I wanted to prove her wrong so I drank the whole thing and it was awful. I think of that every time I drink Bailey’s.

Seth: The first time I traveled overseas, much like you it was before I stopped drinking alcohol actually, and I was on a long haul to South Africa. I was visiting a friend in Mozambique and it was kind of the same way. The flight attendant came up to me and she said, would you like some wine, some from South Africa? I said, yeah, sure. She said, do you like white or red? And I said, well, I like both, I guess. She said, okay, well here are three little bottles. And she said, do you like beer? And I was like, yeah, I like beer. She said, do you like brown or yellow beer? And I said, well both, I suppose, and she gave me two cans of beer and then she said, do you want any liquor? And I said, well, I like whiskey and she put a little whiskey down and she looked at me and she said, it is a very long flight.

Tsh: Oh my gosh. Did you drink at all?

Seth: Yes. 100%. It was like a 20-hour flight or something crazy like that. I had plenty of time.

Tsh: That’s so funny. Oh, good times. All right.

Well, this conversation today, as we wrap up this idea of sacramentality, we’re going to talk about something fun that you and I both really like a lot and that’s stories and not so much stories on the writing end of it, which you and I both do and which you and I will both talk about in the future, but more story enjoying, story consumption, which is what most of our listeners probably do. And a little bit, taking it a little bit deeper, we’re going to talk about story curation. I got this idea from this book called The Common Rule, written by Justin Whitmel Earley, you know this guy, right?

Seth: Yeah. He’s a great guy. Great good writer, phenomenal writer.

Tsh: Yeah, he’s really good. We are reading this book, well, we just finished reading this book in, one of my high school classes that I teach is high school leadership class. It’s the idea the common rules four daily habits and four weekly habits that you do in rotation and the idea is that you do them with other people, hence the common and the premise being when you do them in community, not only are they “more effective” because you have that accountability and the camaraderie, but there’s also something that helps you transcend a little deeper into this idea of what the point of good habits are to begin with, that it’s not just about you, it’s about being a better friend, about being in community and keeping the focus away from you. Anyway, we could probably riff off this whole book at some point, but the chapter that I thought was really fascinating to me was weekly habit two which we did not too long ago in my class. It’s this idea of curating media and I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, although I knew what curating meant. Obviously, I knew what media meant, but his point is this idea that because even though storytelling has been around since the dawn of time, the idea of curating is a necessary modern concept because we’re bombarded with so many, we can’t consume all the stories we’ve been given. Whereas thousands of years ago, you sit around the campfire and you hear the story that gets told, and that’s the story you consume and now we’re surrounded by these campfires and we’re overwhelmed. Seth, I am curious, whenever you guys sit down to watch something as a family or read something or whatever it is, but consume a story, do you guys have a plan going in or do you do that scroll and then sit in indecision for minutes and minutes?

Seth: Yes, both. I would like to say that we’re super intentional about the way we curate stories and there are seasons when we’re at our best where we do. There are certain shows that as a family, we’ve just decided, these are stories that we want to know. These are stories that we’re going to watch, or these are stories that we’re going to read. But I think like so many people, you get to the end of a long work week and you’re tired and you sit down and you don’t have any more willpower to do anything. I think in times like that, we tend to be a little bit more lax and there is a little bit of that scrolling and we’ve actually talked about intentionally getting away from that for the Advent season, which we’re now in. We’ve tried to do that and I think it’s been pretty helpful. But I think having, for us, having a plan really starts by being intentional at the dinner table and then limiting how much time we have at the tail end of the night to talk about or to consume other stories. I think part of what we’re discovering is the more we sit at the table or the more we sit in the little living room area without the TV and talk together, the more we start to listen to each other’s stories and make up stories more and curate sort of our own stories. I think that’s our approach to it. It’s definitely far from perfect.

Tsh: Remind me again, how old your four boys are, what’s your age range here?

Seth: Our oldest is 16 and then 14, 13, and our youngest is 9.

Tsh: He’s 9. Okay. I was trying to remember how old Titus was, and I thought he was around Finn’s age, my youngest who’s 10, and it’s better than it was when they were quite a bit younger, but there is still this tension between the oldest and the youngest and what is most enjoyable for all parties involved. My oldest, she’s almost 16. It’s not like she wants to watch things full of violence and sex and awful, awful things. But then there’s just some stuff that she’s more interested in that perhaps Finn is not and vice versa. We deal with that challenge. Is that something y’all deal with?

Seth: Oh, it’s brutal. My oldest right now is really wanting to watch The Office. Obviously my nine-year-old not only, he doesn’t care a lick about it, he doesn’t get it. He plays it up a little bit because he’s got three older brothers. So if we’re talking about Marvel movies or something like that, he can giddy up with, but he’s still kind of a little boy. In fact, this week he took Amber’s phone without asking he squirreled away off into the house and when she finally found him and figured out what he was doing, he was sitting there with iTunes open listening to Winnie the Pooh songs. It was like the sweetest thing ever. But it was kind of like in this house of older brothers who are consuming all these stories that he just doesn’t care about, he really wanted to go back to sort of the childhood simplicity of the Winnie the Pooh story. Yeah, it’s an actual tension in our house and it’s something we really try to be consistent and vigilant about.

Tsh: Yeah, us too. I love that you even brought Winnie the Pooh up because that’s a great example of a story that tends to be marketed or sold to the younger crowd, but actually, older kids or adults could really love it. My 15-year-old, almost 16-year-old actually loves it. Whenever we bring out The House at Pooh Corner, the big collection of A.A. Milne, they all weirdly get excited because there’s a little bit of reminiscence, but there’s something genuinely funny about those stories. That’s not just for little bitties.

Seth: Yeah, that’s one of the things that we’ve been talking about, is how do we find, one of the imperatives of really good story I think a lot of times is really good humor. In one of the things that we notice as we watch older content with the boys is sometimes things aren’t funny and so they just move to the cheapest humor that they can. You’re right, when you read the old Winnie the Pooh stories or watch the old movies now, there’s just this genuine comedy about it that is simple and quiet and funny, and everyone laughs out loud. We noticed that this week watching old Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote on Looney Tunes. We got into those again this week and we all were gut laughing and it’s just the simplest little stuff and the story is simple. It’s the chase, it’s the story of the chase and we all know the story of the chase. It’s just a simple, easy way to identify with this primal story and to get a really good laugh at it at the same time.

Tsh: I really like this idea that Earley talks about, which is this idea that the art of curating stories because of the sheer volume that we have, it’s actually a sacramental virtue. It’s a literal virtue to curate our stories well. I think that there is something to be said about finding Looney Tunes funny, finding Winnie the Pooh funny because you haven’t been numbed or you haven’t been, I hate to say brainwashed. That’s not really what I mean but diluted with just some dumb humor. I really liked that he talks about this. It’s not so much curating for the “good and bad” when it comes to wholesome storytelling, which is easy for parents to do, but it’s simply good versus not good art and that most of what he says, this is a quote, “Most of what gets labeled entertainment is really terrible.” We get the entertainment we deserve. He says, “To me, being entertained is having your mind engaged with the work of art on multiple levels.” I think a lot of what gets passed off as entertainment really does not qualify for that definition because it’s merely diverting. To be entertained by something is in turn to entertain it like you entertain ideas a kind of mutuality that’s part of that definition. I think that’s so true. And I think that’s what we mean here by curating stories. It’s not about what’s rated G or what doesn’t have a lot of blow-up scenes. It’s actually what’s good and not good.

Seth: Yeah. One of the ways I like to think about the stories that I read and the stories that I curate and allow into my life is, do they point to something bigger, to some bigger human experience? There are poets that I love who are vile in their poetry, they’re vial, but they point to something really necessary about the human experience that makes me think, okay, that is art worth taking in. In the same way, you can read Wendell Berry, or any number of very simple, like an E.E. Cummings. These are very simple, beautiful often poems that are not in any way “worldly” and yet they really get at the underlying human experience in a way that not many others do.

For me, that’s what I look for is, is it a pure art? Is it a true art, does it get at something really important and really real and genuine about the human experience? This is what I sometimes just miss when I’m watching cheap sitcom on television. You get a good laugh, some of the humor is kind of funny, because it reminds you of being15 and in the locker room or whatever, but does it really get at something bigger in the human experience? A lot of times it doesn’t. In fact, a lot of times, that kind of humor cheapens the human experience and that’s when Amber and I stop and take a hard look and say, is this really worth watching? Is this worth praising and allowing into our family experience?

Tsh: Yeah. Do you know Leah Libresco Sargeant, the writer?

Seth: No.

Tsh: Oh man. Okay. Leah Libresco Sargeant is this fantastic writer that I’ve only found in the past few months, but I have just eaten up everything that she’s written since then. She started off as a blogger back in those blogging days as an atheist and she is now a Catholic and she is a fellow at Word on Fire and writes in all sorts of places like First Things and Plow. She’s just a phenomenal thinker. She wrote this piece at the end of this past summer about art and wasn’t necessarily about storytelling. It was about music because she was relating to this one song that hit the charts, became really popular and it’s just vile in terms of what the content is. She wrote this piece about art, and she says in this, she says,

“Effective art shifts how we see the world. We might look at a puppet and see a vulnerable child who needs our direction. Or we might look at a woman and see a collection of parts to be manipulated and used. Training our eyes requires more than content-neutral abundance. It means raising up art that tells the truth and avoids works that warp our vision.”

She makes this point that what good art does is it tells the truth by helping us see correctly. We avoid the things that actually warp our vision so that our eyes stays sharp. Her talking about content-neutral abundance, that really hit me with this idea of storytelling curation, that we have an abundance of content that’s just neutral. It’s not awful. It’s just not that great. I thought that was so spot on the way she worded it.

Seth: Yeah. To you, what are some stories that do that?

Tsh: Yeah, I was thinking about this because I don’t know how you feel, but anytime someone asks me for like, tell me your things, whatever those things are, I’m terrified that I’m gonna forget something. I made a shortlist of my brain that I purposely did not do research so that I could just think about what came to mind. This is super not exhaustive. I thought through some stories in the categories of books, films, and TV, just because that’s how we consume as stories these days. I’ve got some that are really obvious that I think a lot of us can agree with, like the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, all these childhood stories that are about a journey, about a misfit or a group of misfits, and about this idea of things are not all they seem and that the journey is the redemption of bad to good. I think those are stories that are more than good, they’re formative and they do that thing that Leah was saying, they actually help us see clearer. To me, those were the three that came to mind for childhood formation and almost like essential for childhood reading or maybe watching afterward.

Seth: Yeah. I love that.

Tsh: I’ve also got, so a few that come to mind. There’s also Harry Potter, which I know, I almost feel like that’s so obvious, but it’s really true. There is a reason it’s so popular and so much a part of our DNA as a culture and that’s because it speaks into those truths that peel back the vision of this is not all there is, I think. Another one that really comes to mind to me is Peace Like a River. Have you ever read this?

Seth: No, but man, you know how many people are on Facebook? It’s crazy.

Tsh: Okay. This, this is to me, very Hainesey book. You and Amber would really, really like this. Peace Like a River. The last book that I cried in before this one was probably in college when I read Sheldon Vanauken’s memoir or no, you know what, Harry Potter book seven.

Seth: It’ll get you every time.

Tsh: Yes, that one, I forgot about that. But then years later, I just don’t typically cry when I read it until I read Peace Like a River. This book is phenomenal. Have you read any of his books? Leif Enger?

Seth: No.

Tsh: Okay. You would like him. That book is truly sacramental, it’s oh my gosh. It’s so good.

Seth: You know who’s on me to read that book? You know, Shawn Smucker?

Tsh: Yeah.

Seth: Shawn, the novelist is on me, literally monthly. And Nate Pyle both. They’re like, why have you not read Peace Like a River or The River Why? I’ve not read either.

Tsh: I haven’t read that second one.

Seth: They are on me monthly and I know I need to do it, but now it’s just iconoclastic to not.

Tsh: Yeah. You have to, it’s required. I would say also Steinbeck, a lot of his stories. I know you’re a big fan of his. I taught American lit last year for high schoolers and that was probably my favorite section when we read, all we read was Of Mice and Men because we didn’t have time, but we did a few short stories of his from Travels with Charley. I loved watching the kids respond to Steinbeck because we did it right after reading The Great Gatsby, which I love, but it’s so hollow.

Seth: It’s vacuous.

Tsh: Yeah.

Seth: It’s kind of the book for the age, right? I’ve been going over it with our ninth-grader, Isaac, or 10th grader, I guess now. He has been reading The Great Gatsby and he keeps asking me about the redemptive qualities. It’s so funny. I know they’re there, I’ve read it three times, but I’m like, man, the whole point is sort of the vacuousness of the whole thing. And then you juxtapose that against particularly Steinbeck’s work in East of Eden, and it’s just, you couldn’t have two different, talk about story curation. You couldn’t have two different takes on the human experience.

Tsh: They were not too far from each other time-wise, in fact they might’ve been around the same time. I know Fitzgerald and Steinbeck lived at the same time. In fact, this to me would be something interesting that we could explore, this idea of who we are as people as storytellers. The sacramental nature of the work we do reflecting the stories we ultimately tell because Fitzgerald, he died in his early forties from alcohol poisoning and he was so talented and yet his life was cut so short. Steinbeck, I’m not saying he was perfect, but whenever, was it The Grapes of Wrath? I think it was The Grapes of Wrath, whenever it just became huge and he won the Pulitzer. He was terrified of becoming famous so much so that he ended up living in the same house that he and his wife lived in when they were pretty much in poverty because he was terrified of what it would do to him to upgrade houses, to live in a different neighborhood. They stayed living in this ramshackle house and he got a job working in the fields among the migrant workers and this is where he got his idea Of Mice and Men because he didn’t want fame to go to his head. To me, that says a whole lot about the stories that he ended up producing, right?

Seth: Yeah, that’s good. I love his work. I think again, for the human experience, even Travels with Charley, I remember I read that for the first time when I was probably 14 or 15, my grandpa had a copy just in this spare bedroom and I just picked it up and read it and I lost myself in it. Just the idea of, the idea of the journey, the idea of the character study. It’s so fun to read particularly when your imagination is forming. It just introduces you to a whole world that you’re just not a member of.


Tsh: So films, this is a hard category because I feel like there’s so many out there and there’s a lot of good ones out there even ones that you wouldn’t necessarily put in the category of sacramental, but I think are in a way, or at least have sacramental qualities such as The Avengers. I really do think that there’s something to The Avengers there, but the first one that came…

Seth: Absolutely.

Tsh: …yeah. See? I agree. But the first one that came to my mind in curating this list was Dead Poet’s Society.

Seth: Yes.

Tsh: I love, okay. You do too.

Seth: So good. Such a good movie. In fact, I keep trying to get my kids to watch it and they haven’t bought off yet, so we’re going to have to make it happen.

Tsh: I showed my juniors and seniors, I rewarded them. We do this thing in my class a lot of times, whenever we read a book, if we have time, we’ll watch the movie version of it, but as a reward for having read the book. I had them read Confessions by Saint Augustan and there’s not a movie, at least a good movie of confessions. There are some really terrible Christian biopics of his life. It’s not good. I told them, okay, we’ll read, or we’ll watch a movie that has some kind of nature about the divine and about the hero’s journey, somewhat. I picked Dead Poets and they were in rapture. They were sucked in. At first, they were kind of laughing at it, but it didn’t take long for them to just get sucked in. Tate loves it, too. I think you have to be older to watch it and appreciate it. I mean, you could watch it younger, but you won’t appreciate it as much.

Seth: Yeah. The movie that comes to mind when I think of really capturing the human experience and telling an important story is, did you ever watch Almost Famous, the Cameron Crowe film?

Tsh: It’s been a long time. Probably almost 20 years since it came out since I’ve seen that. But yeah, that’s a good one.

Seth: It’s one of my favorites because it does, it’s the hero’s journey been in a different way. Right? You have this kid who is faking his way through the world as a Rolling Stone reporter and he joins up with a band that’s like a B tier band trying to reach the pinnacle of stardom. Everyone’s faking their way through their experiences of artistry and when everything comes crashing down, almost literally, at the end of the film, what you see is that really what all these people wanted, it was fame, but why did they want the fame? They were really just shooting for human connection. The whole point of the film was these attempts are hollow attempts at fame really are nothing when compared to the power of human connection. I love that film for that reason. And, and you see a little bit of that and Dead Poet’s Society.

Tsh: Yeah. That actually reminds me of the conversation we had a few episodes ago about addiction or about this idea of numbing ourselves. You and I have talked about this before, maybe not on the show, this idea of the opposite of addiction being connection. That to me speaks volumes about this idea that whenever we want to numb ourselves with a story, we want to just click next episode, next episode, does it stir us to deeper human connection I think is a good question to ask about the nature of a story and whether it’s worth being curated into our collection, into our libraries. I think those stories all do that.

Seth: And this is why I love the Chef’s Table. Do you watch Chef’s Table?

Tsh: You are like the fifth person to tell me I need to watch that. I have not seen it yet.

Seth: Go watch all of the episodes ever. It is hard for me to get my kids to watch it with me, but they take these amazing chefs from around the world and they really just do a deep dive into the story and say, why is it that you have dedicated your entire life to this one particular craft. Typically it’s not just chef in general, it’s a very subset, like a very niche area of cooking. But there are a couple of episodes, one in particular that I think he was from the French countryside, and he just lost his voice. He was the younger brother and he was wild. He speaks through the whole thing with this little whisper and he talks about how he got to where he was and how he dedicated himself to his craft. It’s a story of human excellence. There were moments in that particular episode where I wept because of his creativity. He’s just thinking so differently. There’s probably nothing else in the world he could do and be successful except what he’s doing. There’s just something really beautiful about that, but all the stories are that way they’re so deep and so rich and so human and so sensory.

Tsh: These are true stories, right? This is nonfiction.

Seth: Yeah. They’re all documentaries, it’s many documentaries on Netflix and they just follow these famous chefs. If you don’t like food, but you love a good story, you will love these. I mean, you’ll get lost in them.

Tsh: Yeah, that sounds totally up my alley because I love food shows. I love Somebody Feed Phil and that short series, Salt, Fat Acid, Heat. It sounds right at my alley. I’ll probably watch it over the holidays when I have time.

Seth: You will love it.

Tsh: Speaking of TV, because I wanted to segue into that, did you ever see the series Band of Brothers?

Seth: Yes. In fact, this is a good example of when you curate stories well, how it can really impact friendships. I had, uh, a friend, and he said, have you ever seen Band of Brothers? And I said, no. So we carved out, I think it was Tuesday nights or something, but every Tuesday night he lived right next door to me and so I would just walk down my back porch and go over to his house and his wife would go over and be with Amber. We would sit down and we’d watch an episode of Band of Brothers because he had all the DVDs, at the time we couldn’t stream anything. We got to be so close, like actual brothers over watching Band of Brothers. It’s like one of my favorite TV watching experiences. Such a good series.

Tsh: It is. I saw it quite a few years later. I streamed it. I think it’s on Amazon Prime. I felt that too, I watched it on my own. I think Kyle and I started watching a little bit and then there was one night when he couldn’t join in and so I watched a couple and I felt that desire to find camaraderie while watching it. I even went online and tried to find some stuff. If you’ve had a show that you love so much, you just want to talk about it with somebody else. To me, that was that show. It was years ago and I probably think of that show weekly. It was so formative. Obviously, it’s based on history and so to me, it speaks into that generation, yours and my grandparents’ generation, what they went through, but why they are the way they are and the human nature of going through hard things together and what that does to you permanently.

Seth: Yeah. Which we just don’t do anymore. It doesn’t seem like, I guess now we all have COVID so that’s the thing we can all say that we went through together, I guess.

Tsh: That’ll be our story. That’s a whole thing that I thought about frequently during 2020 is this generation going through World War II together and the bands of brothers out on the fields, the women who planted victory gardens, and made ends meet by not buying new things for a couple of years. Here we are a hundred years, not quite, later needing to do the same thing and it doesn’t quite happen.

Seth: It doesn’t quite have the same effect either. There’s a moment there where I thought maybe we would get a taste of that. But I think maybe this is where story creation is really important because if you curate good stories and you know the good stories and you have a historical imagination and a good story imagination, then you can have an imagination for how to sort of tackle the hard times of life, the difficult things when they come. One of my concerns about the age we’re living in is that we just don’t have an imagination for how to do the hard things anymore. I can’t peg that all on the failure to tell good stories or curate good stories, but I think it’s gotta be a component.

Tsh: I think it’s part of it, for sure. I think that’s what started me after watching Band of Brothers, it stirred in me this desire to do something bigger than myself, whatever that was. If it can’t be World War II, what’s it going to be? We rewatched a show called Home Fires at the start of the pandemic. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it. It’s a British, it’s a BBC show. It was my second time to watch it. We showed it to the kids. The thing that’s frustrating about it is that it ends after season two abruptly because it was canceled, much to the chagrin of many people. I was reading on forums afterwards, because I went online and a lot of people were complaining and I had never heard of the show when it first came out, it was like 2015 or something. But it’s about World War II on the home front. It takes place in England and it’s about the women who stay back and basically take care of the village while the men are off or the older men. The butchers and the farmers that stay back. It’s the same camaraderie and fostering of community through going through something together on that side. That’s another good one.
Seth: You know what’s interesting as I’ve talked about your shows, the common thread, I want to listen to this episode back to see if I’m right about this. But I think the common thread for you has been community.

Tsh: Probably.

Seth: All the great stories that you’ve talked about, it’s been about this connection with the bigger community.

Tsh: That’s true. Like I’m looking at my list right now and most of them have to do with a group of people going through something together, whether it’s like defeating Voldemort or defeating Hitler. Right. That’s fascinating.

Seth: I think maybe that points to the bigger sacramental reality, I mean, for you, one of the things that you cherish and one of the things that you love is just this notion of bigger connection and bigger community. And I don’t think this is just a Tsh thing, right? I think this is a human thing. We all want bigger connection, bigger purpose and maybe the stories that we curate should point us to bigger purpose, bigger connection.

Tsh: And you know what, I love that you bring that up because Justin Earley in The Common Rule talks about this. He recommends that the stories we curate, we curate them for beauty, for justice ad then he says for community. He says, curating for community means realizing that fundamentally our stories should be pushing us out of isolation, not into it. The vast qual quantity of addictive media poses, a danger because it captures our hearts with stories, but at the cost of spending our lives on the couch. Then he says, one of the baseline practices for him, is to watch most, if not all media with someone else for that reason. There you go. I love that.

Seth: That’s good.

Tsh: I’m curious, Seth, I’m putting you on the spot here, because this is around the holiday season, there’s a lot of stories we watch or read on repeat annually this time of year. I think every family has their traditional movies that they say is not really the season unless they watch them together. Do you guys have any that make your shortlist as a family?

Seth: We really only have one and I think we all agree on it. Although Ian, my third born doesn’t love it as much, but It’s A Wonderful Life. It is not Christmas until we watch It’s A Wonderful Life. Here’s the amazing thing about that, growing up, that was not a thing in my house. In fact, I don’t think I saw It’s A Wonderful Life until I was probably 30, 31. I was a super latecomer to the party but now we watch it every year and every year, as much as I think that I’m gonna make it through the end without crying, I just can’t.

Tsh: Yeah, I know. It’s not until you, I feel like the older you get, the more relatable he is. Oh my God.

Seth: I think I cry more every year. We have that one and then the boys have some, they love to watch Christmas Vacation so long as it’s a TV version or I have my hand on the remote because we still do have a nine-year-old. They love that. We love Elf as a family. We’ll watch that at some point. We’ll watch Charlie Brown Christmas at some point. But for us as a family, it is Christmas when we have seen It’s A Wonderful Life. That’s where we are. What about you? What’s your Christmas movie?

Tsh: I was going to mention three, but the top one is It’s A Wonderful Life as well. I’m laughing because it makes sense. I was reading about how it’s more appealing to those with the melancholy nature. And I think you and I might eat a little bit like that. I asked my Substack, and my newsletter subscribers, we have a weekly private chat that’s really active. I throw them a question a week and not too long ago, I asked them, what is your, the same question, what is the movie that it’s not Christmas until you watch it? Most everybody, whenever I said, It’s A Wonderful Life, commented either, I just need to give that another try, I guess, or that’s just too depressing for me or I appreciate it in terms of art, but it’s not really my favorite. I am shocked because these are people, they’re listeners right now and so they might be thinking, gosh, what depressing people Seth and Tsh are! I have to say to me, I love It’s A Wonderful Life, both for all the things you said, but also for me, there is a sentimentality to it. It is my dad’s, not just favorite Christmas movie, but all-time favorite movie. We would watch it as a family every year and he would even make an event out of it. Sometimes we would have people over and he would play, he had these trivia questions. He has this movie poster up that’s this vintage poster of It’s A Wonderful Life. He loves Jimmy Stewart, the whole bit. Honestly, just to come full circle, that’s the reason I put Bailey’s in my drink. Really. I didn’t want to say it until now. But because of that, It’s A Wonderful Life is easily my favorite. I think there’s just something I love about the message of the ordinary being really good and the ordinary being best that I love about that movie, especially during the holidays when we’re so tempted to look for the over the top greatness in stories that there’s something really ordinary about Bedford Falls and a guy who has a broken down house and a job he doesn’t love that we can all relate to.

Seth: And then how does it end?

Tsh: Right. Everybody comes together.

Seth: Right. That’s why it makes Tsh’s list.

Tsh: That’s right. And then the other two that are honestly distant seconds and thirds is A Christmas Carol, sometimes I’ll read it every, it’s a short book by Dickens. You can read it in maybe two days, it’s short. Then one that’s not quite holiday-specific, but it is because it starts and ends at Christmas is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Seth: I thought you were going to say Die Hard.

Tsh: I know, I know, I cringe a little and die inside whenever people talk about that being their favorite Christmas movie. But I know a lot of good people who do so, no judging.

Seth: We are going to watch the Little Women together as a family this year and we are not going to watch Die Hard together as a family. So there you go.

Tsh: That’s good. I think Little Women is great for boys to see.
Good, boys in particular need to see Little Women, especially the new one. The nineties one is good, but the latest one that came out is fantastic.

Seth: Yeah. It’s the one we’re going to watch because we haven’t seen the new one yet. So, and Amber said boys in the same way that you try to convince us that Die Hard is a Christmas movie, this is a Christmas movie.

Tsh: It is. It literally begins and ends at Christmas. It’s such a good movie and it’s about community too. So there you go.

Seth: I’ll make sure to report back.

Tsh: All right. Seth, we’ve been talking about all sorts of good things. I don’t know if you have anything in addition, but we like to end the show talking about what’s one good thing, work of art, idea, or habit that’s making your life a little better. Do you have anything?

Seth: Yes. I am currently reading How to Write One Song by Jeff Tweedy. Jeff Tweety was the frontman songwriter for Wilco and that dates us a little bit. that kind of dates us a little bit. Those people who know Wilco are probably 40 or older. But what I love about this little book is it’s not high art, but he talks about songwriting in the most human way and just how to use language to get into the human experience and to share emotions and how to play with words. As a writer even though I haven’t written a song probably in five years, I used to write a lot of songs, but as a writer, as someone who loves poetry and writes some poetry and writes fiction, just the idea of wordplay and human experience and emotion is so good. It pairs well with what we’re talking about because we’re talking about stories and he talks about writing stories and it pairs well with my sweet tea because on the front of this book, How to Write One Song, it’s the artists’ upper half of his face and a cowboy hat and when I think cowboy hats, dang, if I don’t think about sweet tea, so it all works together for me. That’s mine. What is yours?

Tsh: Very good. Okay. Mine is a book as well. It’s called The 25th. It’s brand new. It came out, honestly, I pre-ordered it ages ago and it showed up in my mailbox a few weeks ago and I forgot, I don’t know if you’ve ever had that experience.

Seth: Absolutely.

Tsh: It’s written by a guy named Joshua Gibbs who I really like. He usually writes, well, this is non-fiction, it’s a collection of his essays. But he’s an educator. He teaches the classics at some school on the East coast. He’s just a really smart thinker and funny and snarky and all the things that I like. This book is called New and Selected Christmas Essays. I am only on the fourth or so essay of his, but they remind me a little bit of Garrison Keillor or David Sedaris, but slightly more hope-filled with a little bit, I don’t want to say with the bow tie it at the top, like everything is all saccharin sweet. He’s not like that at all. He doesn’t pull punches, but he’s very sacramental nature. He’s an Orthodox Christian and he has that mindset. Just to give you a taste of some of the chapter titles, “When to Start Listening to Christmas Music,” “In Defense of George Bailey,” “Death at a Party,” which is about the Feast of the Holy Innocence, “On Grinches.” I like short story collections whenever I have a lot going on and the past few weeks I’ve had a lot going on as school year ends with a lot of grading, I’ve been reading a lot of student essays and so short story collections are good for me or essay collections because I can just read one and then put it down and walk away and not read for days on end. It’s really good. I really like it. I’m glad I ordered it. My past self was glad I pre-ordered it.

Seth: Yeah. My past self is glad I pre, your future self is glad your past self pre-ordered it? That’s awesome. I’ll have to check that out. I’m curious to know, did it arrive on November 25th?

Tsh: That’s a good question. I’ll have to look it up. I don’t even remember.

Seth: That would be super meta.

Tsh: That would be fantastic if it did. I don’t know. I’ll have to look at my orders.
Thank you for joining me in this series. It’s been a lot of fun. This five-part series. I’m very grateful for you joining me and we’re going to take a few weeks off on the podcast. For those of you listening, enjoy the holidays. Seth, enjoy the holidays.

Seth: I will. You enjoy the holidays too. I will say this has been one of the most enjoyable things I’ve done in 2020.

Tsh: Me too, actually. It’s a good way to end the year. This otherwise very meh year. Yes, thank you. As we take a few weeks off, I will probably join in here in the audio feed at some point, just to make a little announcement that I’m really excited about that Seth is excited about too. Stay tuned for that.
Music for the show is always is by Kevin McCloud and thanks as always to Caroline TeSelle and Kyle Oxenreider for their help, as well as my furry intern, Ginny. Seth, where can people find you?

Seth: They can find me @ or on my Substack channel, which is Seth Haines, it’s H A I N E S so just search that in Substack or you can find me anywhere the little @ sign is used, @sethhaines. That’s Instagram, Twitter, anywhere like that.

Tsh: Very cool. We’ll put links to all that in the show notes as well. You can find my work at, where you can find links to my books, my newsletter, my audio series, all my things there. Head on over there. All right. I’m Tsh Oxenreider and Seth and I will be back here eventually. Have a great holiday season and thanks for listening to The Good List. Seth, thank you for joining us.

Seth: Thanks for having me. It’s great fun.