Celebrating Petra Mayer's legacy and the joy she brought to NPR : Pop Culture Happy Hour There's no good way to share terrible news. Pop Culture Happy Hour panelist and NPR Books editor Petra Mayer died suddenly on Saturday of what is believed to be a pulmonary embolism. We take some time to remember our friend and colleague, and revisit some of our favorite episodes featuring Petra.

Celebrating Petra Mayer's legacy and the joy she brought to NPR

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LINDA HOLMES, HOST:

Hey, I'm Linda Holmes. I'm here with Stephen Thompson of NPR Music. Hi, Stephen.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Hey, Linda.

HOLMES: Also with us is Glen Weldon of NPR's Culture Desk. Hi, Glen.

GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: Hey, Linda.

HOLMES: Also joining us is our friend Barrie Hardymon, senior editor at NPR Investigations. Thanks for being here, Barrie.

BARRIE HARDYMON, BYLINE: Hi.

HOLMES: So we are sharing some very sad news today. We're so sorry to have to share with you that our panelist and our friend Petra Mayer, who was an NPR Books editor and a treasured fourth chair for us, died suddenly on Saturday of what's believed to be a pulmonary embolism. On today's episode of NPR's POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR, we wanted to take some time to remember Petra.

Petra was 46. She had been at NPR for more than 20 years. She had most recently been working on the Culture desk, but she also directed and produced for NPR radio shows. She's one of those people who's had, like, half the jobs at NPR. If you followed the wonderful growth of NPR Books in recent years, a lot of that was Petra. She worked on the summer reader polls, which are one of those massive projects that everybody loves, that you can't always see all the enormous amount of work that go into them. She was instrumental in developing the Book Concierge, which is so beloved, which - same thing. She edited book reviews. She brought in new critics. And she was also, I think, the main voice of NPR Books on social media. Boy, she had a ton of passions - romance fiction, science fiction, "Doctor Who," "The Great British Bake Off," her cats, her friends, her family. It is a lousy and awful loss.

Glen, you and I have talked about how instrumental Petra's interest in genre fiction was to the way NPR coverage evolved.

WELDON: Yeah, absolutely. And first up, I want to say - and I think Stephen will touch on this, but I am so grateful to this show, that so many people had the chance to get a sense of the Petra that...

HOLMES: For sure.

WELDON: ...We all knew here - so smart, so funny, so passionate in a way that ignited your curiosity about the thing that she was passionate about. She wanted to bring you into the fold. That's what marked her as a nerd.

But that's the public face. What listeners may not have a - as clear a sense of is how good she was at her job. Her position at an organization like NPR made her a de facto gatekeeper. I mean, she assigned many book reviews, which meant she assigned the books that got coverage, but she also assigned who would write or talk about them as well. And...

HOLMES: Yeah.

WELDON: Yet, her mindset was about as staunchly anti-gatekeeping as I can imagine. She was adamant that a platform like NPR feature the work of writers or critics of color, queer writers, from the disability community, body types. She sought out and not just featured, not just highlighted, but championed writers that I don't know if NPR might have ever done without her. And that's within and without genre work. And the thing that I am remembering about her now is that she brought such deep knowledge, such a deep cultural context to every conversation, one of her key roles here was completely invisible to the public. She was known for interrogating story ideas as they bubbled up...

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: That's beautifully said.

WELDON: ...Whether they came from within and without the building. Before we spent any resources on them, if someone noticed a trend, if someone pitched a half-assed idea that intersected with the world of books, she was there to send a very direct but polite email, warning editors that this trend that has just been identified wasn't new.

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: If we do this story, it will come off like NPR thinks it's discovered this. And it's been part of this community for decades and will reek of cultural tourism and of privilege. Every time I would see one of those emails, I'd send her a note saying thank you once again for keeping this organization from showing its entire ass in public.

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: We're all navigating the personal loss. And by the way, if you're shopping around for stages, I recommend anger.

THOMPSON: Yeah.

HOLMES: Yeah.

WELDON: I've got a timeshare in denial, but I am taking up some permanent living space in anger. But we're all going to deal with a personal loss the way we do. This organization - I can't get my head around what a loss this is for who we are and what we do.

HOLMES: Yeah, absolutely. Barrie, you worked with Petra for a really, really, really long time. What kind of thoughts do you have?

HARDYMON: So I worked with Petra. She and I both actually are those people that, while our hearts and home were in books and in culture, we both did a ton of news. I'm in news right now.

HOLMES: Yeah.

HARDYMON: So we always recognized each other when we were, you know, in a breaking news situation. It was like, hey.

HOLMES: Hey.

HARDYMON: I see you.

(LAUGHTER)

HARDYMON: I see you thinking about something else right now and not the price of oil.

(LAUGHTER)

HARDYMON: Yeah. I've known her for quite a while. And she - you know, we both worked on weekend shows. And the weekend shows are, you know, a really lovely space where there is a lot of space for culture. And we became close when we both were books editors. And the thing that I was remembering about Petra - I was re-listening to a wonderful episode of POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR that we all got to do together, Linda. And we had so much in common...

HOLMES: Yeah.

HARDYMON: ...In a way that we were always really surprised by, like, down to the fact that we both learned to ride a bike in our 40s.

(LAUGHTER)

HARDYMON: Now, I was not brave enough to do a whole story on the radio about that, which she did and will live in the hall of fame of just pieces of radio and pieces of courage. So there were those kinds of things we both - like, nail polish, jewelry, color. Like, there were a lot of sort of aesthetic choices we had.

HOLMES: Oh, my God. She was always the first person to - if I wore, like, a colorful dress or something...

HARDYMON: Yes.

HOLMES: Petra was always the first person who wanted to know, like, where'd you get the dress? Where'd it come from? Where can I get it?

HARDYMON: Because we were both really into nail polish, I remember at one point being like, God, like, how do I - I just can't paint my right hand. And she was like, who cares? Just enjoy the way it looks as it is.

HOLMES: Yeah.

HARDYMON: And I was like, oh.

HOLMES: That sounds like Petra.

HARDYMON: And that was very much, like, do you like this color on your fingernails? Put it on. Like, it was very - which is how she was about books. Like, are you interested in the dragon romance with the policemen? Enjoy. So we had just a lot of these things that were, like, very much - you know, where we really intersected, even though we didn't actually work directly together all the time.

HOLMES: Yeah.

HARDYMON: And, you know, I have to say, you know, way before, again, either of us were in books, we sort of looked out for each other in that way. And I have such a fond memory of when I was on maternity leave with my first baby, I sleep trained him while reading "Game Of Thrones." This was before the series.

HOLMES: Oh, sure.

HARDYMON: (Laughter).

WELDON: So I think you mean "A Song Of Ice And Fire," Barrie.

(LAUGHTER)

HARDYMON: Exactly. That's exactly what I mean, "A Song Of Ice And Fire." And it was right before "A Dance With Dragons" (ph). And I remember, you know, we were emailing one day, and I was still at home and not back at the office. And I was like, I don't know what I'm going to do. I got to sit in that room, and I got to stay up all night, and I'm at the end of "Ice And Fire" (ph), and, like, I need something. And she got me - and it was really hard to get the galley (ph) because it was such a big situation. And she sent it home with a friend of mine who, you know, showed up and said, this is from - and as she held up the book to me, I was like, oh, it's from Petra. She really looked out for other people's loves and interests and what they needed, and she was just sort of a caretaker of your loves...

HOLMES: Yeah.

HARDYMON: ...You know?

HOLMES: Yeah, Stephen, she was a caretaker of some of your loves, I know.

THOMPSON: Gosh, yeah. I mean, Glen, I think, really touched on this - how hard it is to parse out my personal grief with my grief on behalf of the network and what a loss it is for NPR. But for me, you know, in terms of what stage of grief I'm in, I'm still really swimming in just the personal loss. This was my good friend. This was my neighbor. This was my colleague. This is my Pokemon Go friend. You know, we did raids together. She baked a cake shaped like a chicken and brought it to my Super Bowl party, which is also a fried chicken eating contest.

HOLMES: Yeah she did.

THOMPSON: Absolutely amazing baker.

HOLMES: Yeah.

THOMPSON: You know, one of the things people have talked about a lot is like, oh, I was in this situation, and she baked this thing that spoke to that situation. I mean, all this stuff about what an incredibly thoughtful and kind and weird and funny person she was - it's really hard to kind of pick apart that personal grief with the professional loss. And I cannot overstate how important it has been for NPR, a network that has not always traditionally been known as a place that has been super kind to genre fiction and kind of nerdy pursuits, to have her in that building, championing her favorite stuff and kind of opening up, broadening NPR's coverage of pop culture. It has really helped pave the way for what we do on this show. It has made NPR a more welcoming place for all of us. Just to have this avatar of completely open-hearted enthusiasm has been so incredibly important. And not for nothing, she sits on my personal Mount Rushmore of wonderful loud women at NPR...

HOLMES: Love that.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: ...Up there with Holmes and Hardymon and Lyndsey McKenna and people without indoor voices who kind of storm that building, being just unabashedly loving about the things they care about the most. And I don't mean to suggest for a minute that Petra did not have an edge because Petra had many, many, many jagged edges.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: Petra was a prolific, loud swearer.

HOLMES: Yes.

HARDYMON: Oh, my God, I could not find an email to read to you guys...

(LAUGHTER)

HARDYMON: ...That wasn't filthy.

HOLMES: Just the best.

THOMPSON: Even just playing Pokemon Go with her would be - like, at the NPR break room doing something. And I would kind of turn around to see who else was around while Petra was loudly cursing.

HOLMES: Yeah.

THOMPSON: As Glen kind of said, like, she was willing to shoot down ideas. She was not afraid of conflict. She was not afraid to mix it up and have hard conversations. It was not that she was just walking around - I use phrases like open-hearted and open-minded so much, but it was also fiercely critical at the same time. It was just completely open in what she was interested in and willing to digest in ways that all of us, I think, are so willing to close cultural doors in our lives because it makes our jobs easier, right? Like, it's just easier to close cultural doors and be like, look, I don't know from romance novels involving dragons, so I'm going to just - I'm just going to slam that door shut and not worry about it. Petra flung those doors open at will in a way that is so inspiring to me and that I really just want to carry forward in my life as much as possible. Just don't slam the cultural doors shut.

HOLMES: Yeah, I sometimes remember that in the very early days of my time at NPR, a person in a position of some authority, who's not there anymore so it doesn't matter, responded to a pitch about comic books by saying, I don't think NPR listeners read comic books. And...

HARDYMON: They never met Neal Conan, who hosted an NPR show.

THOMPSON: Seriously.

HOLMES: First of all, that was not true even then. But I don't think you'd ever hear anybody say that now, and that's partly because of the work of lots and lots of people who have worked overtime to try to bend that perception both inside and outside the building. You know, I think some of them are people you hear on this show. But one of them absolutely, positively was Petra, who just felt it was incredibly important for NPR to be known as a place that cared about and wrote about mysteries and romances and sci-fi. And, you know, when I saw that she had been warmly remembered on Twitter by Beverly Jenkins, who's an absolute superstar romance novelist...

HARDYMON: I edited that piece, yeah.

HOLMES: ...My first thought was like, oh, my gosh, Petra would get such a charge out of that. She would be so delighted by that, and that would mean so much to her. It's just, as I said, a terrible, lousy, awful loss. And I know we're all feeling it very deeply, and we want to make sure that you get to actually hear some of what we're talking about. So we're going to take a quick break, and then we're going to listen back to some of our favorite memories featuring our pal Petra. Come right back.

OK, first up, I have to give this one a little bit of background.

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: A lot of background.

HOLMES: Until 2017, there was an FM radio station called NPR Berlin, and it was out of Berlin - like as in Berlin, Germany. And one of the things that they did at NPR was up in programming, they would get people to read the weather, and it was the weather in Berlin. I did it once, maybe twice.

THOMPSON: Yeah, me too.

HOLMES: It would just be like a thing where you would randomly get to go up there and read the weather. But for some reason, this was always a thing that people chuckled about being asked to read the German weather. And we sat down to do a taping. So this tape comes from the studio before the official taping had started. And I was talking about the fact that I had just done the German weather. Now, you will hear me do a silly German accent at the beginning of this, which, A, is terrible and, B, is a joke because I did not actually do the weather with a silly accent. But Petra picked it up from there.

PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: I want to do the Berlin weather. That's, like, my goal. Yeah.

HOLMES: (Imitating German accent) This is German.

MAYER: (Imitating German accent) Oh, the German - it is very enjoyable doing the German accent.

HOLMES: (Imitating German accent) Yeah.

WELDON: Yeah.

THOMPSON: I'm totally adding it to my resume, German weatherman.

MAYER: (Imitating German accent) I wish to be a German weather girl.

HOLMES: Yeah.

MAYER: (Speaking German).

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: Her heritage was indeed German. She talked about that actually quite a bit. And we actually have another clip of her talking about that because she was with us when we reviewed "Pitch Perfect 2."

WELDON: Yeah, she was.

HOLMES: And specifically, she talked about Flula Borg. Go ahead.

MAYER: The amount of effort it takes to keep up that bad of a fake German accent while you're singing.

HOLMES: Yeah.

MAYER: I actually looked them up to discover if they were really German, and I discovered that the guy is. And not only...

WELDON: The guy - can I just say? - with the best name ever. Flula Borg is his name.

MAYER: Yeah, Flula Borg. He's a deejay, but he got his start as a Schuhplattler. And if you know anything about German culture, Schuhplattler is their version of Morris dancing. It is the most Bavarian thing you can possibly do.

(LAUGHTER)

MAYER: They wear - they used to do it at Blob's Beer Park up in Maryland. You wear the lederhosen. And you wear the silly hat. And you thump, jingle, jingle, thump. And you slap your shoes a lot.

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: Awesome.

MAYER: It is the best. And, you know, perhaps it is uncool of us to make fun of Germans. But frankly, I'm about as German as a truck full of cabbages crashing into a pickle factory. My name is Petra. Come on. I can make fun of Germans.

HOLMES: We recognize they are German jokes. But they are funny, and we give them a little bit of room.

HARDYMON: A delight.

HOLMES: I could listen to her describe dancing styles all day long.

(LAUGHTER)

HARDYMON: Same.

HOLMES: She had many passions that included - by the way, she was a singer. She was involved in lots of kind of out-there performance stuff. You know, there's a photo of her reporting from Comic-Con while in costume.

HARDYMON: Of course.

HOLMES: Oh, my gosh.

THOMPSON: A prolific wearer of costumes.

HARDYMON: Oh, my God, the costumes she had.

THOMPSON: Prolific wearer of high-concept costumes.

HARDYMON: The highest.

HOLMES: Yeah. Came one year for Halloween as the AP style guide - as AP style, I believe.

WELDON: Spider Jerusalem from "Transmetropolitan" - yeah, that was also a thing.

THOMPSON: She definitely dressed as Rose Quartz from "Steven Universe."

WELDON: Yes, I remember that.

HARDYMON: Oh, amazing.

HOLMES: Yeah. So we talked a little bit earlier about the romance novel episode that Barrie and I did with Petra and Sarah Wendell. And we have a little clip from that as well.

MAYER: I am, like Barrie, a historicals girl. I love the Regency or the Victorian era or fake Elizabethan or fake medieval.

HOLMES: All right. So tell me...

SARAH WENDELL: Do you like medievals where they bathe all the time?

MAYER: Yes.

HOLMES: Yeah.

MAYER: Yeah. Oh, that's always a scene. There's always, like...

HARDYMON: There's always water.

MAYER: ...A sexy bath, and you look at that and you think, what?

HARDYMON: Yeah.

MAYER: How many servants had to carry that up? Like...

WENDELL: There is a wonderful Scottish historical series by Maya Banks. And I read one, and there was a bath in every chapter. And I was like, these are the cleanest Scots people.

(LAUGHTER)

MAYER: In fact...

WENDELL: This is Clan MacLean. I love these guys.

MAYER: I read one, in fact, where the heroine - people thought she was a witch because she insisted on bathing all the time.

WENDELL: That might have been "A Knight In Shining Armor" by Jude Deveraux 'cause she had - she paid a kid to turn on the shower.

MAYER: No, it wasn't Jude Deveraux. It was one - I don't know. It was one that's sort of faintly supernatural involving a curse and a...

WENDELL: Of course.

MAYER: ...Woman who could never be touched...

WENDELL: As you do.

MAYER: ...Or else death would come.

HOLMES: OK, so...

WENDELL: But I bet she got touched...

MAYER: Yeah.

HOLMES: So, Petra...

THOMPSON: ...In the water.

HOLMES: I want to ask you - you talk generally about reading sci fi and fantasy and stuff like that. Does that crossover with your taste in romance or no?

MAYER: Peculiarly no because I have found very few things that hit both genres. We're talking about fantasy-romance crossovers. I cannot pass up this opportunity to mention one of my favorite series of all time. Although I'm unembarrassed about my romance habit, I am embarrassed about this - Anne Bishop's "Black Jewels" (ph).

WENDELL: Oh, no, shame there.

MAYER: Oh, come on.

WENDELL: Oh, mercy.

HOLMES: Tell me. Tell me what this is.

HARDYMON: Yeah.

MAYER: Oh, God. So I actually wrote a piece about this for NPR. It's a series where - OK, she has kind of an interesting project, right? The idea of this series - and it is haute fantasy. Everybody has A-E in their names. You know that's how it's fantasy.

HOLMES: Right. Sure. Sure.

MAYER: Right.

WENDELL: They're Fae-y (ph).

MAYER: Yeah, sure. The heroine is Jaenelle.

HOLMES: Sure.

MAYER: And so it's set in this universe where there's three different layers of world, from the normal world down to hell. And the fantasy tropes of light and dark are flipped, right? Power comes from the darkness. Women rule. The witches...

HOLMES: Yeah.

MAYER: The magic users are ranked by their jewels. And the darker jewels, the black jewels are the ones that rule. But it's just so incredibly - it's like a 15-year-old's fantasy of emotional fulfillment. Like, the men are incredibly hot and incredibly emotionally protective and incredibly...

HOLMES: Right. Sure.

MAYER: Like, they go mad. I mean, one character spends most of one book completely insane because he thinks he's hurt the woman he loves.

HOLMES: It's funny because when we were first talking about remembrances of Petra, one of the things that I told people was, you know, she had this way of - like, she would come to me. And she would be telling me about something that she was reading. And she'd be like, OK. So it's, like, an eight-book series, and it's sisters. But one of them is a wolf, and another one is a lawyer.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: And the reason I put it that way - like, it sounds like I'm making fun of the stuff that she liked.

HARDYMON: No.

HOLMES: And it wasn't that. It was that she loved...

WELDON: Yep.

HOLMES: ...To describe how out there the thing was and to kind of play up how out there the thing sounded, and then turn and explain to you why it was great and you would like it. And it happened a bunch of times that she would describe stuff to me. And I would start off thinking, like, this does not sound like a thing that I would ever read. And then at the end, I'd be like, what's that called again?

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: Yeah.

HOLMES: Because that's how Petra was.

HARDYMON: I also love, in that clip, you can hear that she approached her criticism with real intellect and expansive love.

HOLMES: Right.

HARDYMON: Like, she didn't mind if the historical stuff was a little ahistorical, you know. She didn't mind if, like, the baron was going to pull up in a Lamborghini. But she also knew and was just extremely precise about whether or not the critique was a worthwhile one. And also, you know, she had encyclopedic historical knowledge. I mean...

HOLMES: Yeah.

HARDYMON: I pride myself, particularly on Tudor, both real and fake, but she had me beat and also 100% owned a French hood, a gable hood.

WELDON: Yeah.

HARDYMON: You know, these things that, like - the gable hood is - guys, that's the Catherine of Aragon one that's shaped like a house on your head.

THOMPSON: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

HARDYMON: She owned it. It was in her house.

HOLMES: Oh, yeah.

HARDYMON: You know, like, it really sort of got to that sort of, like - the precision of, you know, that she really was a giant intellect as well as this lover of things. And sometimes, those things don't go together, you know?

WELDON: No. Right. That's the unique fuel mixture we're talking about here. It's expansive enthusiasm plus deep knowledge plus - got to say it - sheer force of will.

(LAUGHTER)

HARDYMON: Oh, God bless.

HOLMES: Yes.

WELDON: That's the thing.

HOLMES: I think it's only fair to point out, like, Petra also covered and assigned reviews of and knew how to deal with the same literary fiction that...

HARDYMON: Oh, yeah.

HOLMES: ...All book editors deal with. She was not the genre specialist who left literary fiction to other people. She was deeply, deeply knowledgeable about lots and lots of kinds of fiction. We talked earlier about the fact that Petra was a very, very generous and warm and open person. But she was also a person who was absolutely unafraid to say what she thought and to call out problems that she saw. And we had a conversation about kind of toxic fandom issues around - I think the issue of Sonic is my memory.

WELDON: (Laughter) Yeah.

HARDYMON: Oh, my God.

HOLMES: And this is sort of peak Petra explanation of that and of her appreciation of fan fiction.

MAYER: Throughout this conversation we've been having, the term fanboy comes up, right? And I do feel like the kind of loud, angry, entitled fan reaction tends to come from dudes. Maybe I'm opening myself up to an internet beatdown now. But fan fiction, which I think of as a much more constructive way to engage with a property - like, the fix it fic is a pretty standard trope where, like, you don't like something about - like, personally, I'm a "Doctor Who" fan. We all know this. I hate the fact that Donna was mindwiped at the end of her season. So there's a million fics out there where somebody writes her recovering from the mindwipe and going off to be a time lord with the time lord half of her brain intact, right? That's awesome. We want that to happen. And I feel like that's the providence of non-male fans, this more constructive engagement. Rather than screaming for the creator to change something, you say, I'm just going to do this myself.

WELDON: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, I get what - you don't want to be gender essentialist here. But there is something also queer about taking a narrative and distorting it and making it reflect you or people you know.

MAYER: Right. It tends to come from people who frequently don't see themselves in those narratives.

HOLMES: She was so smart, so smart.

WELDON: She was smart.

HARDYMON: Yep.

HOLMES: And I don't think that you can talk about Petra's pop culture loves without talking a little bit about "Great British Bake Off." A lot of people love "Great British Bake Off." Not a lot of people taught themselves how to make a Charlotte royale, which is that slimy, dome thing that looks like a brain with the jelly roll slices on the outside. You know what I'm talking about...

THOMPSON: Wow, yeah, I know exactly what you're talking about.

HOLMES: ...If you've watched that.

HARDYMON: Yeah.

HOLMES: Petra learned how to make a lot of things they made on "Great British Bake Off." She made the kouign-amann, those, like, really elaborate, like, muffin-y (ph) looking, crossaint-y (ph) looking things.

HARDYMON: Didn't she make a meat pie?

HOLMES: I think she made a great many things that were featured on "Bake Off." Here she is talking a little bit about her love of "Bake Off."

MAYER: "Bake Off" is so gentle and comforting compared to American reality TV. Like, I love "Hell's Kitchen." Don't get me wrong. But, like...

THOMPSON: There's a little bit more yelling.

MAYER: With "Bake Off," I feel like these people are my friends. And I want to just go spend time with them. And the way that they interact and they help each other and they just - they sit there with their mugs of tea. And if one person needs help sliding their enormous three-tiered cheesecake onto the cake stand, they'll gather around and help them. And it's just - I don't - it's like - I can't (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

MAYER: It's like...

HOLMES: Petra's in her happy place.

THOMPSON: For those who can't see us right now, Petra kind of put her hands together under her chin and kind of slightly gazed heavenward and just twinkled. You twinkled.

HOLMES: She did.

MAYER: The show's - it's just, like, a big, fluffy blanket that I want to wrap around myself.

HOLMES: Yeah, it's true.

MAYER: And it's also inspired people to bake. I made a Charlotte royale.

HOLMES: Oh, I know you did.

MAYER: It looked like an alien brain.

HOLMES: Just the greatest. Glen talked a little bit about what stage you're in. We've all talked about trying to find our way through this particular mix of personal grief and professional loss. And sometimes, you find after people are gone that they have left help for you on how to cope. We actually spoke to Petra at one point about pop culture and grief, and she shared some thoughts about her sources of comfort, and it's a pretty remarkable clip. I want to play it for you.

MAYER: I am immensely lucky at this point in my life to not have experienced the kind of all-consuming grief that you've been talking about. You know, my griefs have mostly been sort of mild break-ups and crummy times at work. And I sort of have a taxonomy, actually. I think that there are - you know, that some people use pop culture to process what's happening to them. Some people want to find a kinship in it like, oh, I'm not alone, and some people just want to get the heck away from whatever's bothering them. And that's me. I'm an escapist. I've talked before - I think you all are sick of the fact that I'm obsessed with "Doctor Who" and Buster Keaton. But the reason I feel so strongly about those two pop culture properties is that they came to me at times in my life when I desperately needed to not be in this world because this world was so uncertain that I didn't know what was happening from week to week. And it was wearing me down to the point where I couldn't think straight, and I needed to not be here. And, you know, during one of those times in my life, I chainwatched all of new "Doctor Who," and that's why now I hear that theme music, and to me, that's a security blanket made of purring cats and Klonopin. I mean...

(LAUGHTER)

MAYER: You know.

THOMPSON: Sure.

MAYER: Silent movies are a little bit of a harder sell. I mean, it's - you know, it's sort of hard to lose yourself to escape into an art form that's so alien to what we now conceive of as a movie. But before I was anything else, I was a historian, and silent movies are the ragged edge of living memory. They're the sunlight of a day that is 100 years dead. And they're like having a time machine. I mean, you know, they don't work at all anymore. The dialogue is clunky, if there is any. You know, the jokes don't make sense, but somehow I could lose myself in those sort of silver shadows and not be here for a while.

HOLMES: A beautiful pal and a great co-worker and somebody who, you know, brought so much to NPR and so much to all of us and I know so much to all of you. We're just going to miss her so very much. And I'm so glad that we got to share her company with all of you. Please come and find us. You know, if you want to tweet at us, if you want to come find us on Facebook and you want to share some thoughts, we'll try to make sure that other people get a chance to read them. I thank all of you guys so much for being here to talk about Petra.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

WELDON: Thank you.

HARDYMON: Thanks.

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