A brand new podcast about
the meaning and identity
we find in work.

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Episode Thirteen

The single-handed comeback A concert pianist loses the use of his right hand, and finds himself again in unexpected ways

Illustration by Josh Cochran

It never occurred to Keith Porter-Snell that life could come without piano. With a pianist for a mother and a childhood of non-stop practicing, conservatory training, and major competitions, there was never any question as to how he’d spend his life.

“Being a musician is different, because by the time you’re in your early 20s, you’ve already invested 10 or 15 years in your career,” he explains. “It’s such a part of who you are. It’s not like, ‘I was an attorney but now I think I’ll go be an interior decorator.’”

Episode Twelve

When professional duty trumps personal conviction After overseeing two executions, a former prison warden works to repeal the death penalty

Illustration by Ping Zhu

The death warrant came about 18 months into Frank Thompson’s tenure as superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary.

A man on death row wanted to speed up his execution. The last time Oregon had put an inmate to death was 32 years earlier in a gas chamber. For the first time, Thompson had to perform an important part of his job that raised moral questions that were a matter of life and death.

Episode Eleven

All in a day’s work for a small-town Pagan cop How Andy Stuart bridges police work with a misunderstood religion

Illustration by Matt Huynh

The call to the police came on a Sunday morning. Officer Andy Stuart picked up. A citizen was concerned that the Ku Klux Klan were meeting in a neighbor’s garden.

The location wasn’t the Deep South. It was the Southwest of England. Somerset, to be exact — a rural area known more for its Glastonbury hippies than its Klansmen, but nevertheless, there was a suspicious group of people gathered in white hooded robes, and Officer Stuart needed to figure out what was going on.

Episode Ten

Becoming Santa for Life How a wartime crisis led Scott Serafin to find his true calling bringing holiday joy

Scott Serafin gets dressed for a kids event at his home in Eden, New York. December 9, 2016

Nearly 50 years ago, in a foxhole in Vietnam, Scott Serafin made a vow that would alter the course of his life.

The year was 1967 and Serafin was trapped in an underground tunnel with two other Marines. A mortar blast had caused the earth to cave in on them. There was shrapnel in Serafin’s leg and he couldn’t move. Above him, he could hear the Viet Cong.

Episode Nine

Where grace happens How a corporate recruiter found meaning helping people in recovery

Margo Walsh with a group of her MaineWorks employees on November 18, 2016. Photograph by Joanne Arnold

Nearly 20 years later, Margo Walsh still remembers the moment, sitting in a rehab facility in Portland, Maine, like it was yesterday.

Walsh was smoking a cigarette and thinking about her life — about the bruises on her body that came from falling down the stairs drunk, about her liver count, which she just learned that at 32 was that of an old man, and how it was finally time to admit, after drinking for more than half of her life, that she had a problem.

Episode Eight

Driven to make history How a fugitive slave founded Toronto’s first taxi company

Illustration by Ping Zhu

When Thornton Blackburn arrived in Canada in 1833, like so many immigrants to the New World, he carried with him the dream to create a better life than the one he left behind.

During his first year, Blackburn was working as a waiter when he overheard people talking about a new form of transportation that had just arrived in Montreal. It came from London and was called the hackney cab.

Episode Seven

Adventures of a world-famous librarian How Nancy Pearl’s life’s work has taken her from bestselling author to action figure

Illustration by Edward Kinsella

If Nancy Pearl was ever going to write a memoir, it would begin like this: “I went to Mukilteo to be digitized.”

Mukilteo is a small town north of Seattle and it’s the place where in 2003 Pearl stood on a rotating platform while a camera took photos of her every angle in order to create an action figure in her likeness. A librarian action figure.

Episode Six

A country for the countryless Filmmaker Mohamed Alborno dreams of a place for those who are citizens of nowhere

Illustration by Josh Cochran

A few years back, Mohamed Alborno was standing in a kitchen in Manchester, England, talking about his first film, about a man who wants to start a new country because he can’t return to his own.

“Mohamed, who do you think this character is?” someone asked him.

Episode Five

Following in the family footsteps Tradition and progress at New York institution Russ & Daughters

Joel Russ behind the register in the early days of Russ & Daughters; Niki Russ Federman and Josh Russ Tupper; the retail storefront, still in its original location, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Image by Gluekit.

A hundred years ago, before there was a bank and drug store on every Manhattan street corner, Jewish delis and appetizing stores were commonplace. Delis sold things like knishes and sliced meats. Appetizing stores specialized in bagels, spreads, and smoked fish.

It was in this cityscape that Joel Russ opened his appetizing store in 1914. He would eventually call it Russ & Daughters, after his three female heirs. His daughters and their husbands ran the business until 1978, when one of Joel’s grandsons took over. In 2009, the business was passed to the fourth generation.

Episode Four

Rebuilding Sandy Hook How architect Barry Svigals took on an extraordinary task

Illustration by Josh Holinaty.

An extended audio version of this story can be heard on Episode 4 of Work in Progress, Slack’s new podcast about the meaning and identity we find in work.

On December 14, 2012, a disturbed young man with a high-powered rifle forced his way into a local elementary school, and began shooting. Sandy Hook was left to deal with the seismic shock of senseless violence and its aftermath.

Episode Three

The funny thing about a career pivot Human rights lawyer Jess Salomon needed a change, so she took the next logical step

Jess Salomon at Cous Cous Comedy, Montreal 2011. Photograph by Elias Touil.

“I used to be a war crimes lawyer in the Hague before I decided it was time to get serious.”

This is how Jess Salomon usually responds when people ask why on earth she left her job as a human rights attorney to become, of all things, a standup comedian. It is, after all, no one’s idea of a typical career progression. But to Salomon, the connection between social justice and comedy became clear at her most difficult hour, as a way to be an advocate for others while discovering a new part of herself.

Episode Two

Seamstress to the (literal) stars How Jean Wright worked for three decades to land her dream job of sewing for NASA

Jean in front of Discovery. Photo courtesy of Jean Wright.

One summer evening in July of 1969, 13-year-old Jean Wright stepped outside her house and stared up at the night sky. The moon above Flint, Michigan glowed as brightly as ever that night, but Wright looked at it differently. Moments earlier she had watched Neil Armstrong on TV as he took his first historic steps on its barren surface, and suddenly the dark sky brimmed with possibility.

Episode One

Going with the flow Why sometimes having no plan is the best career plan

Hans Fenger’s Langley Schools Music Project got some unexpected attention from big stars like David Bowie. Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Most people have been asked that question (hopefully, expectantly) at some point in their youth. Some people have a clear-cut answer, others leave matters to fate.

Musician Hans Fenger was in the latter camp. The holder of a highly practical degree in Medieval English and Music Studies, life in the 1960s influenced him to pursue a path as a rock star — or at the very least a guitarist with steady paying gigs. That was he until he found out he was going to be a father.