A month or so ago, a friend of mine gchatted me.
“I have a podcast I think you’ll really like,” she said. “It’s flame.”
The Heart, she said, when I pressed her. Have you heard of it?
No, I hadn’t heard of it. But I had a 40-minute commute ahead of me and I was too unfocused to read the book I’d brought with me. So I started it that day.
It blew me away.
The Heart is a storytelling podcast about intimacy. About sex, romance, women, men. About love. The premise of the first official episode (appropriately titled, “First”) is simple: two women fall for each other. The execution is instantly impressive; the small, sweet narrative is told inside a contained echo chamber of sounds from the story’s setting—a clatter of dishes here, rushes of whispers there, set to slow, subtle, easy music. The woman telling the story had the best goddamn voice I’ve ever heard; I was smiling like a lunatic on the train. It made me feel good—that guttural good that you sometimes feel when you see or hear something fantastic. Something pure, something that feels like it has come from someone else’s—well, heart—straight to your ears.
That is what the first episode of The Heart feels like. Halfway into its first season, there’s not one piece that fails to elicit emotion in an incredibly sincere way. Not every piece surrounds romance—“Beauty is Pain” is a poignant and sometimes painful exploration into a trans woman’s battle to fit the aesthetic ideals of femininity—but every piece is intimate. It’s almost like a kickback to when you would spend hours on the phone with someone, finding out everything about them. Except it’s a radio show, and creative director Kaitlin Prest and her crew have curated this personal moment for you, while somehow managing to erode that wall between listener and subject.
The full-length episodes are punctuated by shorter pieces—a devastating list of “firsts,” a quixotic history of a transgender painter, a brief love affair on the afterhours New York City subway. Each of them are compelling nine-minute punches to the gut.
A three-episode installment explores the idea of a “one-day’s love,” trying to get to the truth of those brief, yet potent, connections we sometimes encounter. The final chapter in the trilogy, “The Spark,” transitions from a story about two women trying to make that magical moment stretch into a real-life relationship into slivers of other peoples’ hyper-temporary romances that feel like they could be our own stories. Told in fragments from various interviews, the piece paints a cascading narrative of the five minutes we spent on the train with that striking woman with beautiful eyes, or the man with a great head of hair; the 30 seconds we considered walking up to a total stranger and asking them, maybe, did they want to get coffee?; the few times we actually did, and how it felt, and how it ended as quickly as it started. And how that felt, too.
Words and stories and moments topple over one another, and the people speaking run the gamut of emotions so quickly that you’re in the middle of smiling before you realize they’ve moved on to something sad. Prest and her crew artfully craft a narrative that emulates its subject matter—a one-day’s love. This is characteristic of the podcast as a whole, and The Heart is truly a piece of art in that sense.
“Everything changed,” one of the men interviewed in “The Spark,” remarked. “My guts were in different places than they were earlier in the day.”
Funny—that’s sort of how I’ve felt listening to this podcast. I can’t wait to hear what’s next.