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"Reading Fine Print."

John Norris: our WRBH Volunteer of the Month for February 2019

You may have heard him dishing out funny stories and voices on our Sunday Satire program or maybe reading the Newspaper of the Air on Friday mornings or maybe reading a book of short stories on our Best Selling Fiction program or one of any other things that’s John’s done as a volunteer during his few years at the station. All we know is that we’re happy to have him and his booming laugh.

For this reason, we’ve named John our Volunteer of the Month for February and asked him to tell you a little bit about himself through a few questions. This will be a new ongoing series from WRBH, so enjoy and look forward to learning more about the wonderful people who read for us week in and week out.

1. Why did you start volunteering for WRBH?

I began volunteering at WRBH back in January of 2017 as a way of honoring the memory of my grandfather, Homer Stanley Norris. He was an avid reader, but towards the end of his life became visually impaired and unable to read texts. I was fortunate enough to meet a kind WRBH volunteer, Wendi, who invited me into the studio while she recorded and introduced me to the wonderful people at the station. One nervous audition later, I was offered a spot, and I’ve been reading ever since.

2. What was your favorite thing you’ve read for us?

I love reading articles from The Onion and McSweeney’s for the Sunday Satire program, though sometimes I have to pause recording because they make me laugh out loud. Another piece that sticks in my mind is a short story by Roald Dahl called ‘Georgy Porgy’ about a vicar who’s pursued by his parishioners – it was quirky, humorous, and unexpectedly racey – so unlike his children’s stories!

3. What is your favorite piece of art?

I recently saw the Paracas Textile, a hand woven mantle made by indigenous artisans in South America more than 2000 years ago. It has intricate mythical figures and bright colors. As someone who does some sewing myself, the amount of time and skill that went into making a piece like that boggles my mind.

4. What are your favorite and least favorite things about New Orleans?

My favorite thing about New Orleans is that it’s a city of celebration.  Of course there’s Mardi Gras, the biggest celebration of them all, but also so many other festivals around food and music where people come together to have a good time and live in the present moment.  

My least favorite thing about New Orleans is the inequality.  For all the revenue that the city brings in from tourism, that money seems to end of in the hands of a small, select few.

5. Which living person do you most admire?

I most admire my mom.  She’s had many health challenges in the last few years from Charcot-Marie-Tooth, a currently incurable neurological disorder that causes peripheral nerve damage.  Even after a long day at the doctor’s office, she still has smiles and kind words. I hope to age with the same strength and fortitude.

6. What is your greatest extravagance?

BOOKS.  I love to read, and sometimes I purchase a new book even though I already have a very tall ‘To-Read’ stack.  I’ve been getting much better about using the excellent resources at the New Orleans Public Library.

7. What is your current state of mind?

I’m feeling fairly clear headed, calm, and peaceful at the moment, which I’d attribute to the tai chi practice I started last year after taking a class taught by a fellow WRBH volunteer, Mary Lou.  (I also haven’t logged on to Twitter yet today, which also helps.)

8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

I don’t believe virtues can be overrated.  I think virtues like courage, temperance, and justice provide practical guides to ethical behavior in our post-modern era of moral relativism.  I used to teach a undergraduate course in critical thinking, and it truly frightened me how many of them though ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ were entirely subjective.

9. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

I teach English as a second language to immigrants as my other volunteering activity, so I try to be conscientious about modeling good English. In my younger years, I would pepper my sentences with the word ‘like’ whenever I became nervous (which was fairly often back then.)  That habit was broken rather abruptly by a few stern words from a very dour Oxford don.

10. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

I would come back as a star.  Some of the first stories I read as a child were Greek myths.  In those stories, the gods would turn the mortal heroes into stars when they died.  That idea has always stuck with me.

11. What is your most treasured possession?

My memories are my most treasured possessions!  In the more tangible realm, a silver Pioneer SX-737 AM/FM Stereo Receiver I inherited from my grandfather.  I’m also tempted to say the kitten I rescued, Cassette, but I posses her so much as she lets me hang out with her.

12. What do you most value in your friends?

To paraphrase Michel de Montaigne (and whichever ancient philosopher he was cribbing from), friends are people who voluntarily chose to be in each others lives, (unlike family members to whom we are always inextricably bound.)  The choice to spend their time and love with me is a thing I value most in my friends.

13. Who are your favorite writers?

I’ve always been drawn to great storytellers and poets.  Currently, I’ve been delving into the horror novels of Michael McDowell:  he’s best known for writing the screenplay for Beetlejuice, but his novels are wonderfully atmospheric and macabre.  Alfred Bester is another favorite. He wrote short stories and radio plays during the golden age of science fiction in the 1940s and 50s, and was the first winner of the Hugo Award for science fiction for his novel The Demolished Man.  His work is incredibly imaginative.

14. Which historical figure do you most identify with?

There’s a koan about a professor who seeks wisdom from a Zen master who, upon receiving the professor, serves him tea and keeps pouring and pouring even when the cup is overflowing.  I oftentimes feel like the professor with many opinions and speculations who must learn to empty his cup.

15. What is your motto?

Wisdom is knowing what you know and knowing what you do not know.

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WRBH 88.3 FM, Radio for the Blind and Print Handicapped, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and is the only full-time reading service on the FM dial in the United States. At WRBH, our mission is to turn the printed word into the spoken word so that the blind and print handicapped receive the same ease of access to current information as their sighted peers.

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