The Collaborative No. 22
Today we are featuring Everyday Visionary Paul Fuhr, creator of the podcast Drop the Needle & Addiction Recovery Writer.
Paul is passionate about recovery and helping others find it. He is a man that embodies gratitude and is very transparent about how he got there. His journey is one of discovering how to listen...really hearing the people and life that is around him.
He created the podcast Drop the Needle, a show that's essentially like NPR's All Songs Considered with good friends Mike Verlie and Sean Golden. The podcast is authentic sharing of stories and music around topics that tie into recovery. This is real talk about the challenges and pitfalls, as well as the celebrations and successes of living a life in recovery. The podcast is an auditory ----of hope. The music that is shared on the podcasts traverse lands that words cannot and remind the listener that solace can be a close as a chorus in a song.
Paul's book, articles and podcasts are full of truth and from this space he builds hope. Life, even at it's darkest moments can change for the better. There is a "brutal" honesty that runs through recovery much like the veins in a body. Truth telling loosens the binds and releases the things that were blocked. The music that is shared on the podcasts traverse lands that words cannot and remind the listener that solace can be a close as a chorus.
"I'm honestly no expert, but I do understand the slow corrosion of addiction. I understand how it works quietly, like water damage within the walls of your life. And if I can unwind 20 years of drunken disaster, anyone can."
You can follow Paul Fuhr on social media by clicking these links:
- Where do you currently work?
- What is your current role?
Podcaster & Addiction Recovery Writer
- How would you describe to a child what you do for a living?
Wow. What a first question! I guess I’d start by telling the child that there are lots and lots and lots of people in this world who abuse drugs and alcohol. Sometimes it’s because they feel hurt or alone or afraid. Who knows? Maybe they’ll never know why they’re doing it. And even though they’re in pain, they just can’t stop doing bad things to themselves and others. In fact, most people who abuse drugs and alcohol don’t ever get better. It’s really sad but it’s true. However, there are some people out there who do stop using drugs and alcohol. Those are the people I like to listen to and write about the most. I help share their stories. My hope is that someone else in the world might read or hear what they have to say and want to get better, too.
- What do you hope you have a reputation for as a professional?
Being honest. That’s it. There’s nothing more important to me than being a transparent, authentic person. That goes for my professional life as much as my personal one, too.
- What is an accomplishment from your career that meant the world to you?
Probably when I discovered that people weren’t just listening to “Drop the Needle” but getting something meaningful out of what we’re doing there. The same goes for my writing. The first time I ever received an email from a stranger who told me that something I wrote meant a lot to them? That’s the best feeling ever.
- What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve had to learn the hard way in your career?
That doing what you love sometimes means that you don’t always love what you do. With my writing career, the last few years have been a steady stream of articles, essays and features that each have a deadline. Early on, I assumed that because I love writing, it’d somehow always be easy. Not so. One time, I had two articles due on the same day and I thought they’d come easy to me, so I waited to start on them. They didn’t come easy at all. Both were nightmares. The words just didn’t come like I thought they would. But my editors weren’t going to give me an extra day just because it wasn’t pleasurable for me to write. Also, at the beginning of “Drop the Needle,” I discovered that there’s a lot more to podcasting than simply putting a microphone in front of a guest and enjoying the conversation. It’s about editing audio files for hours on end. It’s about trying to improve your sound quality. It’s about preparing for the next episode instead of just showing up and hoping for the best. We had lots of terrible-sounding early episodes of the show before I started investing the time to learn how to do better. Anything that comes easy to you probably isn’t worth it.
- What are some of your go-to sources of inspiration and staying on top of emerging trends that impact your field or industry?
I draw a lot of inspiration from the people around me. I have friends who are filmmakers, musicians, graphic artists, documentary makers, novelists, embroidery queens, stay-at-home moms, factory workers, teachers, coin collectors, coaches. You name it. I even have a friend who bakes ribbon-winning pies. No matter where I look, someone I know is absolutely killing it at whatever they do. That’s inspiring to me. In terms of trends, it’s really about being plugged into the news and understanding that, statistically, someone close to you is struggling with addiction. And you don’t have to look very far to understand that we’re going through something both horrific and historic with our nation’s drug epidemic. I try to find hope in all the sadness that’s going on.
- What is something you need in your work environment in order to thrive in your role?
With my work, it’s people. I couldn’t thrive without others’ stories, thoughts and opinions. Sure, I could record podcasts alone in my basement until the end of the time, just chattering on about James Bond movies or how much I love cats, but there’s no meaning in that. I’m also not interested in writing dry, academic pieces about addiction that are nothing but statistics. I’m at my best when I’m truly, genuinely connecting with another human being.
- What you envision for your customers/clients/stakeholders/ patients/citizens/students, etc.?
Hope. When you’re writing and talking about addiction, you’re writing and talking about subjects that are inherently pretty bleak. That’s why it’s always important to me that by the end of a podcast episode or an essay, a listener or a reader feels some glimmer of hope.
- What is one of the biggest challenges you are facing or trying to solve right now?
Time is always the challenge for me. For example, it’s really easy for me to overcommit to writing projects. Something might sound straightforward enough but then, I’m suddenly having to interview five separate people. Before I know it, I’ve lost half a day between phone calls, emails and Skype interviews. I’ve arrived at a point in my career where I have to turn down writing work, which is something I never thought I’d say. Years ago, I would’ve killed for this problem. Now, I’m coming to terms with the fact that I simply don’t have time for everything and everyone. And that’s okay.
- When and where do you tend to get your ideas?
I'm pretty sure I always get them when I'm supposed to be focusing on some other task. My office, car, kitchen table and garage are littered with little pieces of paper where I've written a good idea down while I'm doing something else.
- What are three of your favorite books?
“The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is just about the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read. In fact, it’s all about the love of reading and the power of storytelling. It’s also a translation, which just blows my mind since it’s so gorgeously written.
“The Mysteries of Harris Burdick” is this black-and-white picture book from Chris Van Allsburg, the guy who did “Jumanji.” I came across it when I was a kid. You’re supposed to dream up your own stories behind each photo. I’ve come up with so many different plots for each picture over the years. If I ever feel like I can’t write, I pull out the book.
I’d also have to say “Matterhorn” by Karl Marlantes. It’s this epic, perfect novel about the Vietnam War that took him thirty years to write. It’s just stunning.
- What’s one of your favorite non-profits?
The Wikimedia Foundation. Its philosophy of free, open-source content being available to everyone is really inspiring. Dictionaries, textbooks, quotations, media libraries.
- If you could collaborate with any group or individual in the world, who would be your top three picks?
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
A podcast company/network
An independent film studio like Annapurna
- What would you want to collaborate on with the people/groups you just mentioned?
I really just want to help other people. That’s why I mentioned NAMI. They're really well-organized and doing incredible things. Also, I feel like it'd be rewarding to under the umbrella of a really engaged, creative, prolific podcast network. I also see so many terrible, inaccurate depictions of alcoholism and drug addiction that I feel like a truly independent studio like Annapurna would really commit to something honest.
- If you were invited to give a TED Talk (or have given one), what would you speak about?
"Why the stigma of addiction *shouldn't* go away"
- How do you unwind at the end of a stressful day?
Reading and cuddling with my cat
- What do you think your 80-year-old self would tell you right now?
“I can’t believe you make it to 80 years old.”
- What do you think your 10-year-old self would be most impressed with about your life right now?
That I've become a person who tends to listen instead of someone waiting for their turn to speak.
- What does your creative process entail when you're doing what you do best?
Due to the nature of my work, I’m generally working on three or four projects at any given time. I try to tackle the hardest tasks first, whether that’s transcribing an interview or editing a particularly long podcast episode. I also tend to write the piece that I’ve already finished in my head. I know where it’s going to end, so it’s easier to get there. Regardless, I find that my creative process is less about being creative than it is about being creative with my time management.
- Is there anything particularly compelling that you want us to know that we didn't ask?
That I’m someone who doesn’t lie to get out of trouble and/or someone who embraces challenges instead of doing the easy thing.