My first instinct was to say “No.” Thankfully, I resisted.
It was June of 2005. I had just returned to my desk from a meeting at the job I held at that time. A year and a half had passed since I completed a Master of Business Communication degree at the University of St. Thomas, and although I had explored different career options, nothing really materialized. A job was a job, I had resignedly concluded. And that’s when my mobile phone rang.
“Hi, Luke,” said a vaguely familiar voice. “This is Steve Anderson at Minnesota Public Radio.”
Exactly one year prior to receiving this phone call, I had interviewed with Steve, a creative director at MPR. The job ended up going to someone else, but Steve said he’d keep my details on file in case anything opened up in the future. It’s a stock line everyone hears when rejected by a potential employer, and it’s often consideredinsincere; Steve, however, had meant it.
Since we’d last spoken, a writer/editor job had opened up on Steve’s team, and he wanted to know if I’d be interested to learn about what had been going on at MPR and to hear more about the job opening. My mouth might have even begun to form the word “no” – and then I remembered some lessons from a class I took while enrolled in the UST MBC program.
The class was called The Creative Process, and it was co-taught by Charlie Girsch and Glenn Karwoski. One of the key tenets of the class was learning to resist the fear that keeps us from taking creative risks. I remembered one of Girsch and Karwoski’s helpful acronyms: “FEAR stands for ‘False Events Appearing Real,’” they said. “Ask yourself, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’”
Girsch and Karwoski also assigned the book, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihali. The book describes a psychological force called entropy, which “gives us pleasure when we are comfortable, when we relax, when we can get away with feeling good without expending energy.” Entropy works against creative impulses; it motivates us to plop down in front of a television rather than, say, pick up a guitar.
Although I liked the people that I worked with, I knew that I had reached a state of entropy in the job I had at the time, and it was starting to creep into other areas of my life. Steve’s phone call dangled a possible antidote to the intensely seductive, sedentary and sedative pull of entropy.
“Yes,” I said to Steve. “It would be great to talk to you.”
Steve and I had a meeting; a couple weeks later, he offered me the job. MPR is a nonprofit company, so big salaries are not to be expected. But I’ll never forget what Steve told me the day I said “yes” to his job offer: “I think you’ll find this job very enriching.”
He was right.
The members of the creative services team provide writing and design support to MPR’s marketing, live events, administration and development departments as well as to American Public Media’s national distribution team. Each day provides an opportunity to be creative, to write, to learn and to solve problems in a number of areas. And, given the breadth of subjects covered on public radio, the topics present a panoply for a writer.
In the four years I’ve been working at MPR, I’ve strived to be as creative as possible, not just at work but outside it as well. A lot of opportunities for creativity arise when we simply say “yes” to challenges and opportunities that present themselves.
In late 2006, Jennifer Haugh, an internal communications manager at MPR, asked me to write a piece for an internal newsletter regarding some aspect of grammar or writing style. It sounded interesting, so I said “yes” and began to do a weekly installment in thenewsletter titled “Grammar Gems.” A few people in the company read it and shared some positive feedback.
One morning in March 2007, I got a phone call from three members of MPR’s Digital Media team: John Pearson, Brett Baldwin and Julia Schrenkler. “You know that ‘Grammar Gems’ thing you do in the internal newsletter?” Pearson asked. “What would you think about making that into a podcast that went externally?”
It was completely unexpected – but by now, saying “yes” had become easier. Pearson told me to come to a meeting that afternoon and to “bring ideas.”When the four of us gathered, Baldwin, the producer of the podcast, already had a name: “Grammar Grater.” Schrenkler had a plan for an online presence. Thirty minutes later,Pearson told Baldwin and me to go into a studio and start recording some pilots. Some weeks later, Pearson stopped us in the hallway and said, “Make it go live on July 1.”
“Grammar Grater” has now been a weekly podcast for more than two years. According to Nielsen Net Ratings, we enjoy an average of 50,000 downloads per month. We’ve received e-mails from listeners from around the world.
On “Grammar Grater,” we introduce linguistic concepts using an amusing sketch that depicts some sort of real-life situation. Some sketches include a forklift driver with great vocabulary tips and a game show called “Name That Verb.”
Each week, a troupe of actors called the Grammatis Personae Players act out the sketches. Producer Baldwin mixes the music selections and adds sound effects that bring the sketches to vivid life. And because we’re from Minnesota Public Radio, we take a more journalistic approach to the show. That is, we’re not the grammar experts,but we’ll find answers to common linguistic bugbears by consulting expert reference materials you can’t find online or by interviewing the experts themselves.
If part of the mission of Minnesota Public Radio is to enrich lives and expand perspectives, we hope “Grammar Grater” helps do that in its particular way.
And if potential listeners wonder whether spending time with the podcast is worth their while … we certainly hope they’ll say “Yes.”
“Grammar Grater” is a free download; visit mpr.org/gg to subscribe. It’salso available through iTunes.