TAL Mini Theme List

The latest from TAL. -Mia

Hello This American Life Contributors,

We plan to be sending out a more comprehensive email listing themes-in-progress in a few weeks. That list will have the shows we're planning for late fall and winter. But in the meantime, there is one show we're so excited about that we'd like to begin the work on it immediately. The show – tentatively titled "The Things You're Not Supposed to Talk About" – is being put together by TAL producer Sarah Koenig, so I'll just let her take it over from here.

You can reply to Sarah at this email address or sarah@thislife.org

Here's Sarah:

My mother lives by a set of rules about conversations. Things you're not supposed to talk about with anyone outside your immediate family – or even, sometimes, inside your immediate family. The list has eight topics on it, chosen not because they're taboo, but because they're potentially boring.

We'd like to do a radio show where we prove this list – and this mother – wrong. Our challenge is to find such interesting, entertaining stories on each of these supposedly off-limits topics, that by the end, the list and its limitations will seem feeble.

Here is the list of things you're not supposed to talk about:

1. Sleep. As in, how you slept the night before. "…Oh, I slept so horribly. I got to sleep easily, but then I woke up around 2 am because there was a dog barking and then I couldn't get back to sleep so I took a pill, but then… " You get the idea.

2. If you're a woman, you don't talk about your menstrual cycle. Nobody cares.

3. Your dreams. Again, no one but you finds them interesting.

4. Your health. Big, serious health scares are OK. But talk of aches and pains and the common cold and "oh, I just don't feel so good today… " – that stuff is deemed whiny and uninteresting.

5. Money. This one, as opposed to all the others, is because of old-school taboo, not because it's necessarily boring. Money talk is just not done; it's vulgar. So you shouldn't talk about how much you make or how much your house or your car costs or any of that stuff.

6. Route Talk. This is the number one off-limits topic for my mother. Any discussion of how you got somewhere – no. Especially how you got to where you've just arrived. As in, "Sorry we're late. We planned on coming in on I-94, but there was a detour because of an accident, so we took route 79 instead, and then got off on exit 12, which wasn't quite right because we ended up just north of…" etc. Again, it's just boring.

7. Weather. Just regular what's-it-like-out-today weather discussion. Once again, boring.

8. Your diet. What you're eating or not eating; your weight-loss regime. No one cares.

So that's the list. We already have a pretty good one for the menstrual cycle example, so we probably don't need pitches about that, unless they're really, really good. But for all the others, we need your stories! Again, we want stories on any of these topics that are the opposite of boring; they're so gripping or funny or surprising that you can proudly tell them at any dinner party — at which you can imagine my mother sitting, one of the guests, rapt. The stories can be serious, too – funny is great, but certainly not mandatory.

Thank you so much for your pitches and suggestions.

Sarah Koenig

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