When you think about past versions of yourself, it’s tricky, right? Once you start down that road, it’s hard to separate the real from the imagined, a true nemesis from someone who just had her own shit going on and maybe deserves a break, your unforgivable screw-ups that really hurt someone else from the inevitable but forgivable mistakes you get a pass on because you were young and didn’t know any better. Joan Didion, patron saint of writers who revisit the past and author most likely to make me cry on a train, nails the what-to-make-of-your-past-self question when she says, “I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”
The Mortified Podcast and Heavyweight both try to make sense of the past, and both do such a good job walking that tricky line, making a structured story out of what could have easily ended up being a muddy rabbit hole of memories, and letting the present-day version of each individual inject just the right amount of self-deprecation and perspective into the story.
Galit (#5) was the first episode I listened to of Heavyweight. I wouldn’t usually start with an episode that breaks its own format (interviewer Jonathan Goldstein doesn’t usually tell personal stories, and this one was about him), but I’m so glad I did. When he sees his college girlfriend Galit for the first time in decades, he’s able to show what it felt like to be so all in for this girl as a college kid, to ask 40-something Galit awkward, honest questions, and risk not hearing what he wants to hear and dissolving the version of the relationship and the breakup he’s carried with him all these years. She’s kind and honest, but she’s coming from a completely different place in this interview than he is. Listen to this one as you’re driving around your hometown around the holidays, as you pass the diner where you used to eat cheese fries with your first boyfriend, wondering how anyone survives the intense way you feel every emotion before the age of 25.
I saw the live version of Mortified, where people get up and read excerpts from their teenage diaries out loud, a few years ago. The live show was ugly-laugh, crying-snorting laugh, can’t-catch-my-breath laugh kind of funny, and I had convinced myself there was no way the podcast could be as good, even though it’s been on so many best-of lists. I started with “One Hundred Percent Jersey Girl” (#107), and it was so funny it got me through a super boring elliptical workout on the first cold, windy, sad day of the year. If the Galit episode of Heavyweight is the emo band boyfriend you never had, “One Hundred Percent Jersey Girl” is the teased hair, potty-mouthed best friend from an 80’s family sitcom you never got the chance to hang out with. But she’s real! Or at least she was. Come for the many, many breakups, stay for the racy story about the graveyard, and then add allllll the other Mortified Podcasts to your playlist to infuse your adult responsibilities with a dose of teen angst you (thank god) never ever have to experience again in real life.