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Act Three: Oedipus Hex

Shalom Auslander reads his true story, "The Blessing Bee." It's about the time when, as a third-grader at an Orthodox Jewish school, Shalom saw his chance to both make his mom proud, and push his drunken father out of the picture. Part of his scheme involved winning the school's bee on the complicated Hebrew blessings you say before eating certain foods.

Act Four: Tin Man

Sometimes it's hard to figure out if you're doing something of your own choice or because someone wants you to do it.

Prologue

Ira talks to historian Ted Widmer about two of the first pen pals in the New World. John Winthrop and Roger Williams were both Puritans in Massachusetts in the 1630s.

Act One: Who Put The "Pistol" In "Epistolary?"

Andrea Morningstar tells the story of a ten-year-old girl from small town Michigan named Sarah York, and how she became pen pals with a man who was considered an enemy of the United States, a dictator, a drug trafficker, and a murderer: Manuel Noriega.

Act Two: Pen Pal Husband

When Janice Powell's husband went to prison, he wrote her a letter every day for eight years. When he was at home, he'd drink and get violent, but Janice said that the years in prison were the best of their relationship.

Act Three: A View From The Mop

A guy who writes under the pen name Greg Tate wrote a book called 11 Years, 9 Months and 5 Days, which is nothing more than a year-by-year account—one vignette after another—of things that happened to him in his minimum-wage job as a janitor in a fast food burger place that he calls "The Burger Store." Justin Kaufman reads surprisingly riveting excerpts. The book was self-published at xlibris.com.

Prologue

Host Ira Glass talks to Neil Chesanow, co-author of Please Read This for Me, a self-help book that doesn't just give you general advice. It gives you actual scripts to use in various difficult situations: Pre-written speeches to deliver if you've fallen out of love with your boyfriend, say, or if you've decided you want to have a baby.

Act Two: The Battle Of Words Vs Fear

Michael Bernard Loggins, a developmentally disabled man in his 50s, tried to battle his fears by listing them, and came up with a list 138 items long. With the help of an arts program, Creativity Explored, he published his list in two zines called Fears of Your Life and Fears of Your Life: A Whole New One.

Act One: Jarhead

Anthony Swofford reads an excerpt from his memoir, Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles, about his experience fighting in the first Gulf War in 1991, as a Marine sniper.

Act Two: Letters To Home

One way to understand what war will be like is to understand what past wars were like. Andrew Carroll recently started something called the Legacy Project, which collects letters Americans wrote home during wartime, from the Civil War up through the conflicts in the Persian Gulf and Bosnia.

Act One: The Disappearance

Genevieve Jurgensen and her husband Laurent lost their two daughters—Elise and Mathilde—at the ages of 4 and 7. Actress Felicity Jones reads from her book The Disappearance: A Memoir of Loss, in which Jurgensen tries to explain their lives and their deaths to a friend, in a series of letters.

Act Two: Look For The Union Label

A father and daughter (Adrian LeBlanc and his daughter Adrian Le Blanc) decide to write his obituary—together—not really thinking very seriously at first about the real meaning of what they were doing.