[image: A photograph of Protanguilla palau, a pinkish eel that has a long body and white tipped fins, swimming along the seafloor, which is white]
Note: Today's newsletter is LONG! If you want to read it in a browser here's a link. There are also a lot of images. SORRY. I haven't sent one of these in a year, please forgive me for being long winded.
Today’s eel: Every edition of this newsletter is named after an eel. Today’s is Protanguilla palau, an eel that is both incredibly new (to us) and incredibly old (to the world). Scientists first encountered Protanguilla palau (which doesn’t have a common name, as far as I can tell) in 2009, in a deep underwater cave off the coast of the Republic of Palau. Palau is a nation made up of about 340 islands in the Pacific, in between Indonesia (to the south), and the Philippines (to the northwest).
You might notice that Protanguilla palau doesn’t look like a lot of the other eels we’ve done on this newsletter. And that’s because it’s not all that like them at all. When they first discovered Protanguilla palau the scientists went for the whole “living fossil” schtick — like the Coelacanth. In fact, the authors actually cited the Coelacanth in their press tour: “The equivalent of this primitive eel, in fishes, has perhaps not been seen since the discovery of the coelacanth in the late 1930s,” said lead author Dave Johnson. (Side note: the Wikipedia page for “living fossil” is actually very interesting, but we don’t have time for that right now.) According to the Smithsonian post on the eel’s discovery, “this fish exhibits many primitive anatomical features unknown in the other 19 families and more than 800 species of living eels.”
Based on DNA and morphological evidence, scientists think that this eel has an evolutionary history some 200 million years long. And this eel has some physical features that no other eels still have — stuff you only see in fossils of eels long extinct.
Like many eels, Protanguilla palau is a lot more beautiful in action, so I definitely recommend checking out this video taken by scientist Jiro Sakaue where you can see just how pretty its fins are when they move.
I picked Protanguilla palau for today’s newsletter because I’m feeling both very old, and very new.
[image: against a black background two images of the eel Protanguilla palau laid flat (dead) -- the top is a reddish color and the bottom is a whitish one]
Current status: It's been almost a year since I sent out a newsletter. Oops! I spent a lot of this year in a not-so-great mental place. I won't get into it here but I'm okay, and I'm figuring out what's next for me. And on that note, I am sharing with you some big personal news about Flash Forward.
After seven years, and over 150 episodes, it's time for me to move on to something else. I'm really proud of what we've accomplished with the show! I'm also ready to try other things. Below you'll find an essay about how to end a show, and what that decision was like.
Before that, a few programming notes:
1. What will happen to the Flash Forward feed/episodes?
Everything will stick around! I have no plans to delete the feed or any of the episodes so you'll always be able to come back and listen to stuff again, and new listeners can find the show any time.
2. What are you doing next? No more podcasts at all or just no more Flash Forward?
I'm going to try to do a few things next. The first is to write some books. I have a non-fiction book that I'm working on a proposal for that's all about the future, and I'm about a third of the way through writing a sci-fi novel. I'd like to finish both of those! I'm also Executive Producing Advice For and From the Future, which means you'll hear my audio influence (and maybe my voice) on that show. I'm also working on some audio projects, although right now they're not future related — they're about sports, gender and power. I may do more audio about the future in the future (hehe) but I'm not sure! I'm evaluating my options right now, and if an idea comes to me that I think would work best in audio format I'm certainly not going to shy away from it. I have a few short stories that I think could make for good audio dramas, for example.
3. If we want to support you doing those things you just listed, can we?
Yes! The Flash Forward Patreon is going to close. But if you do want to support the ✨ Rose Eveleth extended cinematic universe ✨ so to speak, there's definitely a way to do that by becoming a member of the Time Traveler Club. That money will go to all the stuff you read about above — and to break it down even further here's what I spend Time Traveler money on:
📚 Misc research (for example: buying books that are out of print/the library doesn't have, or paying a translator to translate a document I might need)
🚀 Travel for interviews for projects
🔮 Paying the Advice For and From The Future team (hosts and producer!)
🎙 Licensing footage or music
⚡️Helping me afford rent while I'm working on thusfar unpaid projects like writing novels (which you have to write the entirety of before you can see if someone wants to buy them)
🌀 Seed money for any future podcasts I might want to help create or produce (or help others create/produce under the Flash Forward Presents umbrella)
What you get in return for your Time Traveler support:
🤖 Exclusive bonus podcasts
🚀 Behind the scenes on new projects
🌀 Time Traveler Dispatches (aka members only newsletter)
🎙 Early access to new shows
📚 Futurology book club
🧠 Quarterly videos & AMA’s
⚡️ Goody bags!
We have two big projects coming your way in the feed to wrap up this year! I'm excited about both of them.
[image: a grid of illustrations showing all kinds of scenes such as a wheel on fire, a robot cat, a broken piggy bank, a series of robots on wheels, and others -- in the middle there's a wooden sign that says "Welcome to Vanguard Estates"]
First, you're going to get something called Vanguard Estates — a choose your own path style audio drama about aging and the future. There are 14 different endings! It's a wild ride, and you get to pick what happens. After the fiction bits, you'll also get five episodes where we talk about all the real science, policy, ethics and technology that inspired the series. Ozzy and I are working with an incredible composer (Ilan Blanck) and sound designer (Mischa Stanton) and some of your favorite voice actors to bring this big story to life. There will be an online game to play too! It's gonna be fun, and weird, and I really hope you like it.
[image: a caterpillar turning into a chrysalis in various stages from left to right]
Then, in December, you're going to get our GRAND FINALE. I'm calling the series Onward and Upward, and it's a series of audio essays that try and encapsulate what I've learned about thinking about the future from making Flash Forward for eight (eight!!!) years. It will be experimental, and weird, and hopefully interesting! I'm working with yet another incredible sound designer (Ariana Martinez) and an amazing editor (Avery Trufelman) and I'm really excited about it.
Okay, now on to the essay about endings.
I did a talk recently about endings, and how to think about them at the Multitude Podcasting Conference. I linked to that talk in the last update, and you can watch the entire talk here, if you like. What follows is an essay version of the talk, if you'd prefer to read over watch!
So let's talk about endings, yeah? A lot of podcasting conferences and talks and blogs and guides and how-tos are about beginnings. How to start a show. How to start a company. How to find a new job in podcasting. And that’s good! Starting is good. Starting is essential, even. And it can be really hard to start, right? So hard.
But I think a thing we hear about a lot less, but is equally important is endings. And I've been thinking about endings a lot because Flash Forward, the show that I’ve poured eight years of my life into, is ending. At the end of this year. After 2022 there won’t be new episodes. It’s over. I can’t go home but I can’t stay here.
[image: a tombstone that says FLASH FORWARD 2015-2022 PODCAST AND LOVING FATHER]
I tend to come to decisions slowly — I’m not a big aha moment person. And that means that I’ve had a lot of time (almost a whole year) to think about this choice, and to think about endings.
So today I want to talk to you about endings. About deciding to end my show, but also about other shows that have ended, about how to figure out if it’s time, and about how to feel GOOD about ending something you’ve worked really hard on.
In podcasting and radio, we can all probably think of shows that have gone on for a really long time.
In researching for this talk I did google, longest running radio programs and of course there is this Wikipedia page of "Longest-running radio programs" and let me just tell you, it’s fascinating. So after this, if you’re looking for a research rabbit hole to fall down — I highly recommend that list. According to Wikipedia, here are some of the longest running radio programs.
[image: four podcast/radio show logos in a row, from left to right The Shipping Forecast (an image of a map of Europe), Grand Ol Opry (an illustration showing a banjo wearing a hat and standing in front of a microphone), The Daily Service (a photograph of a pair of hands holding a Bible), and Rambling With Gambling (a black and white photograph of three white men sitting in front of microphones)]
First we have The Shipping Forecast, which is exactly what it sounds like, a shipping forecast and which has been broadcast several times a day for 98 years (this show also has an incredibly fascinating Wikipedia Page, and of course there's a great 99 Percent Invisible episode about it as well). Then we have the Grand Ol Opry, which is a radio program that broadcasts the performance from the Grand Ol Opry every week, and has been doing so for 96 years. There's also The Daily Service, which is a daily Christian service broadcast, 94 years.
You probably get the gist, a lot of these old programs are these kinds of weekly programmed things. But I do want to just do this one last example from this list because it's extremely delightful to me. Have you ever heard of Rambling with Gambling? It started in 1925, and was on almost continuously for 91 years, and the funny/interesting thing about it is that it was hosted by three generations of people named John Gambling. So it started with John B. Gambling, who then passed it to his son John A. Gambling, who then passed it to his son John R. Gambling. The show ended in 2016, because Wikipedia says, quote "with no sons named John to carry on the tradition, the show thus came to an end.”
Now that you've indulged me in a short Wikipedia dive, let's talk about long running shows that maybe you've actually heard of: Car Talk was on for 35 years; This American Life is still going strong at 26 years; Film Junk (the longest running podcast, according to the Guinness Book of World Records) has been running for 17 years. There are a lot of big name long running shows — I'm sure you can think of some of them. Here are a few that come to mind for me: Hardcore History, WTF with Marc Maron, Comedy Bang Bang, On the Media, Stuff You Should Know, Planet Money, Welcome to Nightvale, The Truth.
[image: a grid of colorful podcast logos including Hardcore History, WTF with Marc Maron, Comedy Bang Bang, On the Media, Stuff You Should Know, Planet Money, Welcome to Nightvale, and The Truth]
And I think sometimes this can feel like the gold standard. This is the success we aspire to, right? To make a show that is so popular and successful that it sustains itself, that the fans keep coming back, that we can grow a team, that we can return week after week after week to make the thing we love.
And that can totally be your goal. There’s truly nothing wrong with that at all. But I think that maybe, many shows — I might even say MOST shows — don’t need to go on indefinitely. Most shows aren’t the Shipping Forecast, where their usefulness to the listener will never change — where the weather is always there.
And when we think about shows that have ended, I know that personally I mostly thought about shows that ended for clear reasons. They were cancelled, or the hosts left the company, or the television show they were a companion podcast for, ended, or they lost funding.
But nobody really tells you when to end a show without one of those outside stressors. Nobody tells you how to end a show that’s doing well enough that it doesn’t have to end. How do you know it’s time to stop making this thing that, in theory at least, you could make forever? I could, hypothetically, make Flash Forward episodes until I die, and then find some poor soul named Rose Eveleth to hand the show off to and it could carry on forever a la Rambling with Gambling. There is no formatting reason to end, there’s no logical conclusion, or narrative arc that stops. The driving mechanism of the show isn’t broken, it could chug along forever.
And there is, at least in my experience, a real pressure to do exactly that. To keep grinding, to keep making the thing, to keep going. And I think there are a handful of pieces that contribute to this feeling.
[image: a Venn diagram with three overlappping circles: parasocial relationships, hustle culture, and podcast $$biz$$. In the middle of the three is a frowny face emoji.]
It’s a combination of hustle culture — that rise and grind idea that we're all probably very familiar with (and that has been well critiqued all over the place).
On top of that, there’s a business pressure. In podcasting business advice we so often hear about how important it is to have a regular schedule — to make a show weekly, if you can — and to constantly be updating and posting to keep your listeners engaged and your advertisers happy. But as in most things, the best business advice is not the best human advice.
And the third element at play, at least in my experiences, is the parasocial relationships that develop between listeners and podcast hosts. And this is I think maybe the trickiest piece of this puzzle, because often this pressure comes from really well meaning people. People who want you to succeed but also don’t know you. And those people can be very vocal about how much they love the show, how much they rely on the show to make them happy, how sad they would be if it went away. Even before you decide to end something, I think this piece is always kind of in our brains as hosts — especially for those of us who make smaller shows, indie shows, where we’re often the ones reading the emails from listeners, reading the tweets and the comments and the messages and all that.
But none of those things are good reasons to keep making a show, right? We all know this. So what are good reasons to keep making a show? That was the question I actually found perhaps more helpful when thinking about ending or not ending Flash Forward. Instead of spending time trying to figure out whether these things were weighing on me enough to pack it up and go home, it was actually more helpful to think about the opposite. Why am I making this show? What is the reason to carry on?
The answers to those questions are going to be personal to each host and producer. Not everybody is doing this for the same reasons, and that’s fine. I want to share with you my three big factors, but this isn’t to say they should be yours. But maybe identifying yours would help.
So here are the three things I realized I wanted my work to be doing, the three reasons to carry on with something, whether it’s Flash Forward or something else.
[image: a Venn diagram with three circles: fun, lucrative, expansive. In the middle it says "DO!" On the left side of the image it says "tell me what to do."]
The most obvious one here is that things need to be fun. Look, I didn’t go into journalism to make money, okay? For me, having fun is actually a really crucial part of my work. I’m not a long suffering artist. I don’t enjoy reveling in the pain of the work. I think some people do, and that’s fine, but that’s not me. What I’m doing has to be fun. I have to look forward to it, and want to tell my friends about what I’m working on.
The less glamorous (but very real) second piece is that projects I do should be lucrative in some way. I want to be clear that this can mean money — if something is going to pay me a ton of money, great. But I also think that lucrative can mean other things too. Am I getting connections to people I want to meet? Am I gaining valuable skills I couldn’t otherwise get? Those are forms of lucrative (lucrativity?) that matter to me.
And the third piece of this Venn diagram for me is that I need my work to feel expansive. This is the hardest one to explain but it’s actually the one I feel strongest about. I have always been the kind of person who is easily tired of doing the same thing — I like variation and building upon things, I like projects that feel additive and expansive in nature.
To try and explain this further, I’m now going to make a very tortured analogy.
[image: a black and white sketch of a roller coaster from 1898]
Some people are roller coaster designers. They want to build the very best coaster anybody has ever seen or ridden. Every episode (or, in the podcast analogy, ride) helps them gather data to make small changes and adjustments to this roller coaster to provide the best possible experience for each rider. This is really tricky and hard work, often behind the scenes and the reward is that you’re creating this incredibly perfect ride.
[image: a colorful illustration of a top down view of the Tema theme park design in Istanbul (created by Jora Vision)]
Other people are like theme park designers. They don’t find the specific design of each roller coaster that fulfilling, they want to keep adding and building and brainstorming new attractions and worlds and ways to tie those worlds together. I’m that one.
And that was what I realized was wrong with Flash Forward, for me. I was falling into a routine of treating it like a roller coaster that I could tweak on each ride, rather than the theme park I was always adding to.
And so the first thing I did was try and change that — at the end of last year, I announced I was changing the format of the show. No more weekly episodes, no more regular format, special projects only. And that's what I've been working on this year. (And you'll get in your feeds soon!)
But even that shift didn’t push me back into my center DO circle. Sure I was having some fun, and I guess it was a little lucrative, but it didn’t quite sing the same way — I still wasn't hitting that expansive note in the way that I wanted to. And I had other projects, waiting in the wings, that I knew would hit that DO circle way harder. So that’s how I decided.
Okay, great, so… now what? How do you end a show? Once you come to a realization like this, you have a few choices I think. You can sell our show to someone else or find new hosts. This is a totally doable thing! It's a thing many shows have done successfully (like Invisibilia or Radiolab). Alternatively, you can pivot your show in some way. Even shows that have a natural endpoint like television recap shows, will often pivot to a new show so they can keep going without losing their audience or feed (like U Talking U2 Me or Startup). And that’s fine! I want to be clear that I’m not saying that any of these shows should have ended. Handing off to new hosts is really cool, I think, and can be a great choice. Changing to a new topic is also great. This is not a critique.
Or! You can simply end. Now, I’ll caveat this a million ways — it’s much easier to do this if, say, you don’t have a huge staff; if you don’t rely on the job for your healthcare; if you are confident you can pay your rent and feed yourself and all that if you end something.
But I do think, that sometimes, there can be a pressure to keep something going perhaps beyond its shelf life. And so I want to talk about how to officially END end.
I’ve listened to a ton of “final episodes” in researching this topic. And I’ve come to the conclusion that people tend to do this in three main ways ways.
The ghost. They simply stop releasing episodes completely and don't say a word.
The “professional conflict.” Hosts come on and say "hey, we both have too many things going on and we’re moving on to other projects." This is probably true in some cases! But I suspect that in other cases it’s more of a way to avoid having to explain why the show is ending.
The true finale. The shows that have said, "hey, it was a good run, and now it’s time to go home."
That third one is obviously the one I'm the most interested in. It sounds so simple when you say it like that, right? And yet, at least for me, it was NOT. And I know I’m not alone. In doing research about this I talked to almost a dozen people who have ended podcasts or other big projects, and they all told me that actually announcing the end was terrifying.
I think it can often feel like ending a show is some kind of admission of failure. Especially for smaller shows and indie productions.
Here’s what I’ll tell you that I worry about, what I think people will think when I tell them I’m ending Flash Forward. That I couldn’t make it. That the show wasn’t good enough to make money. That the show wasn’t good enough to be bought by a bigger player. That I failed. That I’m giving up. That I’m ungrateful for the success I have had.
And it’s totally possible that some people out there think that. But I think two things are also true.
[image: in large, bold all caps text "those people are fucking assholes" and "those people are quite rare"]
I’m not naive enough to think that I can teach you how to end a show without feeling some sadness or anxiety or stress. But I do want us all to consider how we maximize feelings of joy, relief and excitement. And I think that one way to do that is to think about yourself like a podcast death doula.
What would a podcast death doula encourage us to do? They'd probably ask us to start with being proud of what we’ve made instead of ashamed of what we didn’t. They'd also probably tell us to consider the wins, and the good shit, and the stuff we accomplished. They might suggest having a party! Inviting our friends and listeners! Doing something that is a celebration, rather than a goodbye.
Think about TV — when there’s a series finale it’s an a whole event! Everybody is maybe sad but also excited. It’s a whole thing! Can we do that?
I think what I’d like is for us as an industry and a community to do is be more celebratory and open about things ending. To consider lifespans of podcasts as real, finite, and a good thing. Because endings are also beginnings, right? They close one door and open another.
So I’m going to end this post about endings with this poem that is cheesy and yet I still unabashedly love by Emily Dickinson.
[image: on a rainbow background the text of an Emily Dickinson poem that goes like this:
That is solemn we have ended,—
Be it but a play,
Or a glee among the garrets,
Or a holiday,
Or a leaving home; or later,
Parting with a world
We have understood, for better
Still it be unfurled.]