Background show artwork for Surprisingly Awesome

Maeve Higgins joins us to explore... her mouth. Welcome to Planet Floss.

The Facts 

Surprisingly Awesome’s theme music is “How We Do” by Nicholas Britell. Our ad music is by Build Buildings. Andrew Dunn mixed this episode. This episode was edited by Annie-Rose Strasser and Peter Clowney and produced by Rachel Ward, Christine Driscoll, and Elizabeth Kulas. Jacob Cruz, David Pitman, and Laura Varela provided production assistance. Thank you to New England Public Radio and KQED in San Francisco.

Learn More

Impress us and Punmaster Gary Roma with your best #flossipher puns and send them to us at @SurprisingShow or

Did you like our incredibly fast description of biofilm? You can read a very approachable primer about the biofilm in your mouth here -- "What is Plaque"

Not enough floss, hoss? You can get more flossing fix in the ebook - The Joy of Flossing, which we read for this episode. It's just 42 pages and it you'll even find some philosophy in there, too.

If you want to hear more from Maeve Higgins about big AND small issues, you can follow her on twitter @MaeveHiggins and check out one of her many shows!

Where to Listen


MAEVE HIGGINS: It hurts a bit. It's a bit gross. I'm just really worried I'm gonna like bleed in his bathroom. [flossing sounds]

MAEVE: So invasive.  How long … Josh how long do you normally do it for?

JOSH GONDELMAN: [background] so like I just do all the, I try to work my way into all the gaps. And they tell you to like each one go up and down a little bit, it's just like, one two three.

MAEVE: I can taste blood in my mouth, it tastes like iron. It tastes like Josh Gondelman punched me in the face.

JOSH:  [background] Sorry!

RACHEL: Hi I’m Rachel Ward and this is Surprisingly Awesome from Gimlet Media. And this week my co-host in that endeavor is Maeve Higgins. Maeve, for listeners who have not heard of you, can you tell them who you are?

MAEVE: I can, Rachel! Thank you for having me. I used to describe myself as Ireland’s answer to Bill Cosby.I stopped doing that a while ago actually.

RACHEL: That is very understandable.

MAEVE: Thank you.

RACHEL: And, I understand you are a, you are a comedian and you're a writer and you have your own show every month in Brooklyn, at Union Hall. And you are also a co-host of StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson on National Geographic.

MAEVE: Yes, and I’m a comedian co-host. So I'm not like an astro-physicist. I’m more, I'm just a joker. But I love thinking and talking about huge cosmic queries and I spend a lot of my time like wondering about space and the galaxy and humans and, like, where we fit into it all. And learning about that big stuff really does appeal to me.

RACHEL: So when Adam Davidson, who is a regular host of this show, when he and I asked you to come in and help us explore some big cosmic idea, what did you propose to us?

MAEVE:  Dental floss! Immediately I knew I needed to figure out flossing.

RACHEL: Flossing is the galaxy that you wanted to explore.

MAEVE: Yep, my mouth. Planet floss. That's all I'm interested in.

RACHEL: So wait why then did you choose flossing for a topic?

MAEVE: Well, it started with with a series of tweets my friend Josh -- that’s who you heard earlier in the show -- that he has been sending out these tweets and they’re sort of bragging tweets about how great he is at flossing and every time I would see them, they would make me feel so furious!

JOSH: I flossed every day for three weeks and now my eyes shoot lasers and I can suddenly play violin.

MAEVE: And so when I saw this tweet I thought, he's doing it. Like he's, Josh has got it under control. I don't think I'm like a jealous person. Um, but I felt so jealous of that. I genuinely started to think like, oh he just got engaged, he has a pug, a rescue pug! Like a beautiful-- you know, I don't even want a dog actually but I just started to put it all together. And then you, also, you went to Beyonce.

JOSH: That was pretty exciting. I've had a pretty good year, between Beyonce and flossing. And engagement. I would say probably I put those in exactly the wrong order. [laughs]

RACHEL: Ok, I kinda see what's going on here, this is about much more than just flossing. You think that Josh has this like wonderful, perfect life and flossing is just part of it.

MAEVE: Yeah, I suspect it’s a key part of it. Because Josh and I we’re both comedy writers. We both live in New York City. But there’s these differences in our life: he has an amazing fiance he’s got a really cute dog and he has this serenity that I find unattainable!

RACHEL: You seem to be attaching a lot of weight to the fact that you don’t floss. It seems like this very, very heavy take on what is actually just like a small personal hygiene habit.

MAEVE: Well it's -- I know, it's a symbol, it’s like an indicator to me of how my life is going, really.  Everything and everyone in the world tells me that I should floss, but I can’t seem to make myself do it. So what I want to do is figure out -- is it really important for me to floss, and if so, what is stopping me. And these questions may sound inconsequential but they really, really have been bothering me. To the point that flossing is the the last thing I think about at night. You know that special time before you sleep where you berate yourself for various failings and flaws in your character? You know that time?

RACHEL: Yeah intimately.

MAEVE: Same. And the final thought that I often have is ‘and you don’t even floss’. To me, that means I don’t have my life together. And I think that this is a common feeling!  I didn’t make this up. I have evidence, if you don’t want to take it from me, like you can go to American documentary Pretty Woman, I don’t know if you’ve seen that? Do you know this?

RACHEL: Documentary... where Julia Roberts plays a woman who works as a prostitute and falls in love with Richard Gere.

MAEVE: There’s a scene in that when Richard Gere bursts in on Julia Roberts and she is flossing and he can’t believe it.

RICHARD GERE: What is -- What do you have in, uh, your hand there? What are you hiding?


GERE: All right, look. I do not want any drugs here. I don't want any of this. Get your things and your money and please leave.

ROBERTS: I don't do drugs, all right? l-l stopped doing drugs when I was fourteen.

GERE: What is this? What is this? This is dental floss.

ROBERTS: Yeah? So? I had all those strawberry seeds. And you shouldn't neglect your gums.

RACHEL: Ok so because she’s a prostitute, so Richard Gere has this assumption, now way she’s got her life together enough to  floss.

MAEVE: In fact that was the only part of the entire film that did not ring true for me.

RACHEL: Oh really.

MAEVE: That said, I’m very lucky and grateful in that I’ve never worked as a prostitute myself.

RACHEL: Plus, if you were taking all of your cues from Pretty Woman, you would already be flossing.

MAEVE: I would be a terrible sex worker. I have a limited repertoire of sex stuff, my back isn’t great, and I think personally it should be a crime to pay for sex so that would make it really awkward between me and the Johns.

RACHEL: Sure that’s a big one.

MAEVE: I do like citizen’s arrest on them. Charge extra.

RACHEL: It is to me VERY worrying to me how much of a foundational movie Pretty Woman is to you, because I feeeel like you should be flossing because of science.

MAEVE: Yeah no -- that’s something I’ve realized that I don’t actually know what it does for your gums.  Because when I was flossing at Josh’s house, like he made me floss for the first time in a long time, and part of my gum started bleeding, it was very hard for me to imagine how this good be a good thing for my gums.

RACHEL: Yeah. I was also profoundly worried about your bloody gums. And getting an answer to this question, about WHY we floss. I did you a favor and I went ahead and I booked you a dentist appointment.

MAEVE: Yeah, thank you.

RACHEL: You sound so grateful.

RACHEL: Hey, here’s our train!

MAEVE: This is my favorite train.


MAEVE: Color-wise, I feel like think the light on this train is really flattering just to my skin tone.  And it has this like 1970s color palette of oranges and mustards and browns. But I like the G. It’s much maligned.

MAEVE: Yes, there was a creeping sense of inevitability about me seeing a dentist for this show, but still like, on the day, and especially on the way there, I was anxious about it. Now there are a lot of really cool special fun things about me, and one of those cool special fun things is that when I get anxious, I really cannot stop talking.

MAEVE: It’s like, who’s gaming who. I’m getting a free cleaning. Like, I’m getting my teeth cleaned, but it's like I also now have to come into contact with a dentist, who’s going to tear my house of cards to shreds. I just wasn’t prepared to, like, be on a train to the dentist. Even though you told me yesterday that this is going to happen.

CHRISTINE: OK, we’re here.

MAEVE: Okay, Garden Dental Arts. That’s nice - arts - as opposed to, like, tortures.


MAEVE: Ooh it already smells like a dentist.


MAEVE: So we went into Dr. Samantha Ifill’s very pretty waiting room and it had the latest copy of O Magazine. So Oprah was smiling, you guys were there, but you can dress up a dental office all you want, it’s still a dental office and if you haven’t been for a check-up in awhile, it’s just not fun. And I was nervous.

M: I brush my teeth two or three times a day.  If I’m – I mean that’s the bare minimum, right?

I: Yes, that is the bare minimum. That is the bare minimum. So it's good that you’re brushing 2-3 times a day. But the flossing component is so important -  because if you think about it, each tooth has five surfaces.  So you’re brushing only 3 of the 5 – you’re only taking care of and removing the bacteria from 3 of the 5 surfaces when you’re brushing.

MAEVE : Not even.The back?

DR. IFILL: You should be brushing the back. You should be brushing the back, the front, and then the biting surface. And then the flossing.

MAEVE: You know what, I’m sorry. It’s really hot outside, but i'm sweating now more than I was sweating outside. Because I’ve never done the back.

DR. IFILL: Yes, you can't forget about the back.

MAEVE: That’s just logic but I haven’t been doing that.

DR. IFILL: Yeah, I find logic tends to go elsewhere when it comes to dental treatment. So that’s why when you come in, there’s no judgment or anything because perfectly logical people in other parts of their lives, when it comes to dental treatment, if it can be postponed, usually the majority of folks try to postpone it.

MAEVE: I wish the listeners could see you shrugging.  Just like, so like … maybe you’ve said this before.

DR. IFILL: A few times. A few times.

MAEVE: I think at this point she could tell I was stalling, because she just swiveled away and started opening up her tool packet.

MAEVE: Alright. OK.  So what are your tools?

DR. IFILL: So let's see. I have mirror and my explorer which I use to pick up any cavities or anything else that may be going on.  And the most important periodontal the probe, which is what we use to check the gums, to evaluate whether or not you have any kind of gum disease at all. So that’s usually the first part this is an ultrasonic scaling tip that removes the build up above the gum line.  Any plaque or tartar above the gum line.  And then I have hand scaling instruments that will remove any tartar below the gum line.

MAEVE: So she’s using all of these technical terms to describe these tools. All I see is a tray full of what looks like knives, But Dr. Ifill insists that it’s going to be gentle, it’s gonna be fine.

M: You’re not going to be like and here’s my metal hooks that I’m about to stick into your gums. You’re like …  my periodontal tools. OK.

DR. IFILL: Just tilt your chin up a little bit for me. Perfect. And turn a little towards me. And open for me now. OK, good. You gonna feel me scraping your teeth ever so gently.

MAEVE: Mmhmm.

RACHEL: If you’re squeamish about like dental noises, I would recommend that you skip the next minute of the podcast.

MAEVE: And if you enjoy hearing that metal scraping on teeth then I would recommend you turn it up.

DR. IFILL: So what I’m doing is measuring the pockets around the tooth, and that gives us an idea of whether or not there’s any infection, and as a result of that infection, any inflammation in the gum tissues.

RACHEL: So Samantha, Dr. Ifill she has this tool that’s got little hash marks on it, and as she’s working on Maeve, she’s sliding it between her teeth and gums.  These little “pockets” are less than 3 marks deep, you’re doing OK.

MAEVE: So of course I went and asked her how my pockets were doing.

MAEVE: What was my highest number?

DR. IFILL: Your highest number was 5. …

MAEVE: Yeesh

MAEVE: And that means I definitely have some gum disease. And I’ve put it on my my tinder profile.

MAEVE: Can you tell by looking at my teeth that I don’t floss.

DR. IFILL: Yes, I can, I can.


RACHEL: Your dentist can always tell. But that doesn’t stop us fibbing about it -- according to the American Academy of Periodontology more than a quarter of Americans lie to their dentists about how often they floss.

MAEVE: Yeah, it got even worse when Dr. Ifill looked behind my teeth.

DR. IFILL: There is a lot of tartar build up behind there and that tartar just acts as a permanent house for the bacteria to hang out and wreak their damage until you come in and have it professionally removed.

RACHEL: OK Another aside here. Tartar build up. This is something we’re always vaguely aware of but I had never stopped to look at it. This is a moment here where i want to bring in Christine who is a producer on this show and he’s been a little bit research about hardened dental plaque, because it turns out that tartar, hardened dental plaque is the like third or fourth step in a process that’s happening all the time in your mouth. So Christine, how do we get to tartar?

CHRISTINE: Ok so like most places inside of your mouth bacteria is living there. And bacteria thrives off of a couple things in your mouth. Food, so sugars and carbohydrates. And also saliva. Specifically the proteins that are in your saliva. And the bacteria is floating around your mouth and when it can latch onto the protein in your saliva, it can create this thing on your teeth called a biofilm. And a biofilm is something that can happen anywhere so it’s really just a gross slimy surface that exists and is created by bacteria in any watery environment -- so your mouth.  Or another good example is if you ever go to a river and try to walk across and there’s a bunch of slimy, slippery rocks. That’s also a biofilm.

RACHEL: Oh, that’s also a biofilm, OK.

CHRISTINE: And so that’s basically what’s in your mouth.

RACHEL: Yum, that is so delicious!

CHRISTINE: Yeah, this is the other delicious part is that it’s both feeding off your saliva and excreting its waste.


CHRISTINE: It’s acid and that’s what wears away your enamel. And that can lead to cavities and general tooth decay.  So if you’re not flossing regularly you’re not disrupting that process of creating a biofilm. And that’s really why you’re flossing. And you only have like 48 hours to do that  before it hardens and turns into tartar which you cannot get off yourself at home and you have to go to the professionals.

RACHEL: So the deal with flossing is that you want to bust up the cartel of biofilm, rather than cure something that’s there.


RACHEL: Which is a good thing because as Maeve discovered at the dentist, it tastes terrible.

MAEVE: What’s that that I’m tasting - do you think that’s the tartar?

DR. IFILL: Tartar with a little bit of blood from the areas that are [unintelligible].

MAEVE: Oh my god…

MAEVE: It tastes like actually tastes like bad breath.

DR. IFILL: That’s exactly what causes bad breath. It’s the same bacteria that’s in tartar that causes bad breath. And um, so it’s also important to remove that bacteria from your tongue … So when you’re brushing your teeth, it’s also very important to brush the back to your tongue.

M: So much homework.

RACHEL: So this goes on for … maybe an hour, Maeve?

M: yeah it felt like a long time it was possibly longer for you guys just standing their watching. She was just scraping scraping scraping. Dr. Ifill herself never got tired. She actually seemed like, cheerful.


DR. IFILL: alright. How are your teeth and gums feeling.

MAEVE: Good. – oh my god, they feel so smooth. Can I touch them with my hand? They feel so clean.

MAEVE: The scraping is so intense, right?  It’s so like, that’s the only way you can do it.

DR. IFILL: It really is. To get way below the gums to remove that tartar that’s under there.

MAEVE: I think I could hear you faintly humming. And I felt like maybe because I’m such a bad patient, that like that’s good.

DR. IFILL: I enjoy what I do. So um, I mean that’s totally unconscious.

RACHEL: I have to say, I’ve never seen a tooth cleaning from that angle.

MAEVE: Was it a blood bath?

RACHEL: It was a little bit bloody.

MAEVE: Gross. I’m so glad this isn’t a video.

RACHEL: Surprise! It was a video all along, no that would be terrible

R: So you’re like primed for kissing now.

M: Not right now my mouth tastes disgusting. So don’t you try it Rachel.

MAEVE: Dr. Ifill had me convinced and I was filled with the zeal of the newly converted. Like you saw that, right? Because now I knew so much more - about why it is that you’re actually supposed to floss - and about the state of my own gums.  And I felt really optimistic. But, I have to say, I also felt this creeping dread.

RACHEL: What about?

MAEVE: I’ll tell you after the break.


MAEVE: Cliffhanger!

RACHEL: Tease.


RACHEL: Welcome back to Surprisingly Awesome, from Gimlet Media, I’m Rachel Ward.

MAEVE: And I’m Ira Glass. No, I wish! No I’m going to read the script. I’m Maeve Higgins. And today I’m making you, Rachel, help me explore my attitude towards flossing. Making your dreams come true today..

RACHEL: If I had a terminal illness, this would definitely be my Make a Wish thing.

MAEVE: Sorry, thank you for helping me and bringing me to the dentist.

RACHEL: Right, so, we took you to the dentist and she advised you to floss at least once a day…

MAEVE: But what I’ve never told you is that I’ve been told that before. Can I just say that I’ve been told that before? When I was here for like a year and realized how difficult and expensive health insurance is and I didn’t have any, I went to this dental hygienist college where they give you a cleaning for $10. You go in and you wait for a while and there’s this big hall and there’s lots of people getting there teeth cleaned by students, and there’s one professor who goes around and is like “no, not that way” and she definitely told me to floss. Like, I remember her very clearly saying two things. One was, get a cleaning every six months and floss every day. And the other thing she said to me, I was sitting in the chair she looked me up and down and said my ‘my boyfriend would love you’. Yeah, “my boyfriend would love you.”

RACHEL: That is either a threat or that is an invitation. But you kind of got what you paid for. yeah, cost is a factor in dental care here in the USA...I’m sorry!

MAEVE: I would say that is another huge factor, dental care being too expensive here. I lived in London and under the NHS, the National Health Services, a cleaning and checkup is around $25, here it’s 10 times that. I love living here but sometimes I need to stop and like weigh up the pros and cons, you know? Like, ok, your portion sizes -- incredible, great, so big! So much low quality food for not that much money, I love it! But it’s like your toddlers have guns,

RACHEL: That’s true.

MAEVE: But….I love the subway. You know, it’s like...swings and roundabouts, that’s what I always say?

RACHEL: Wait, why do you always say that, what is swings and roundabouts?

MAEVE: You know, like, swings and roundabouts, six of one half dozen of another, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

RACHEL: Okay, so Irish folksy wisdom aside, I think that of those questions you set out at the beginning of the show, we have answered our first one which is WHY anyone would floss. We have pretty good reasons to floss now. We need to work on the second part of that problem. How to get you to floss. You just can’t do it with any consistency. Is that right?

RACHEL: But I see what you’re saying: Dr. Ifill gave you a clean slate by cleaning your teeth. She helped you understand WHY you need to floss. You really WANT to floss. But it sounds like you’re saying you’re worried that you won’t be able to keep it up because you’ve been through this before.

MAEVE: Historically, no, I have not kept it up. My attitude to flossing, to doing lots of these small daily self care acts, has been hopeless.

RACHEL: So the thing that it seems like you need, is to change your RELATIONSHIP with flossing. Like this guy did.

GARY ROMA: Well, the truth is I went into a therapy session one morning and told my therapist that I was struggling with overcoming cynicism about changing anything in my life and I said one small example is flossing. So my therapist said that’s interesting, what would it be like if you made a film about dental floss.

RACHEL: This is Gary Roma. He is, it’s probably fair to say, a man of … niche interests. He’s also made documentaries about library cats, and doorstops.  He’s making this documentary about floss. And ...

GARY: I’m working on a book about puns and I am a crossing guard for an elementary school in my hometown.

RACHEL: Gary is someone who has RADICALLY changed his relationship to flossing. He says before he started working on his flossing documentary, he’d put sticky notes all over his house, to remind him to floss. But it never worked, because he would like, see right through them. At his therapist’s suggestion, he start learning everything he could about floss. And he learned about a couple really interesting figures in the HISTORY of flossing. So first up is… Charles C. Bass, or C-Bass, you can say it however you want to say it.

GARY: One of the historians I interviewed referred to him as crusty, cantankerous, and curmudgeon.

RACHEL: Bass was OBSESSED with flossing, like way before it was accepted into the mainstream in the middle of the 20th century.  He developed this floss that he called the “right kind” floss. It had to be exactly 170 nylon filaments -- no more, no less.

GARY: Any other kind was-was not acceptable.

MAEVE: The wrong kind

GARY: Exactly.  Every other kind was the wrong kind.

RACHEL: And he wouldn’t sell the floss to just anyone, like at a drug store. No. You had to haul yourself down to New Orleans where he lived.  You had to take a CLASS with him. And then:

GARY: He gave everyone who attended his class a card and they had to present the card at the store in order to be able to purchase the products.

MAEVE: Wow. Maybe that’s where dentists get their, you know, bad name for kind of being critical of people who are just trying to like help themselves. You will come to New Orleans, take my class, get my card, and then you’ll buy my floss.

RACHEL: But after Bass revolutionized the flossing industry, floss took a SINISTER turn. In prison.

GARY: The two inmates for Green Bay, Wisconsin, took three and a half miles of floss and created these rope ladder in order to scale a 35-foot wall of the prison. So they managed to get up and over the wall, but they were immediately captured.

MAEVE: Do you know how long it took them to make the ladder?

GARY: Ah, I spoke to the inmate who created the ladder and he said it was a very long sweat filled nine hours of putting this together.

RACHEL: Nine hours, that’s all?

MAEVE: I thought it would be over three years they were collecting dental floss.

RACHEL: I thought for sure it was a Shawshank situation.

MAEVE: Yeah!

GARY: Sure, well that’s the thing, this guy was very intelligent, cause the tensile strength of the nylon floss is much stronger than any cotton would be. So.

RACHEL: So aside from this history of flossing stuff, Gary has also become kind of an amateur dentist. And he gave us this quiz.

MAEVE: I’m still reeling over the results

GARY: What percentage of US adults think they have gum disease?

MAEVE: I’d say 20 percent think they have gum disease.

RACHEL:I think it’s even lower. I think maybe 10% think they have it and like 100 percent have it.

GARY: The answer is 4 percent.

RACHEL: Wow. Underestimating Americans.

MAEVE: We’re fooling ourselves.

GARY: And then the percentage of people that actually do have gum disease.

MAEVE: Oh God.


MAEVE: I was going to say 80.

GARY: 90.  Very close. Four percent think they have gum disease, 90 percent do.

MAEVE: it’s the same as talent.

RACHEL: But the great thing is, Gary’s therapist was right! Gary is flossing now. He’s been flossing since he started working on the project. And that’s what I want for you Maeve! So I wanted to get someone LIKE Gary’s therapist into your life. Someone who can appeal to your interest in big ideas, big questions, the cosmos. The Neil deGrasse Tyson of dental floss.

MAEVE: Mmm hmm.

RACHEL: And that means we need a philosopher.  Or a FLOSS-ipher.

MAEVE: I just knew you were gonna say that. You’re just reducing this doctor down to a pun. I like it though.

RACHEL: Wait, no I have one more: Neil DeFloss Tyson.


RACHEL: No? No it’s not working?

KEISHA RAY: The key word is control and I think that is why we do the little things but, so in your case, it would be why do you did not do those little things that your minor form of rebellion against the patriarchy, or against parental advice or whatever you want to call it.

RACHEL: So this is Dr. Keisha Ray. She’s a philosopher and an assistant professor of bioethics in the philosophy department at Texas State University.

KEISHA: There’s so many things that I have no control over that affect me daily. Social things, cultural things, things at my job, maybe family and friends.

MAEVE: This conversation made so much sense to me! That one of the reasons I wasn’t flossing was this misplaced sense of like, me taking control.

KEISHA: But there are a few little things that I can control, I can control my outlook on floss and dental health and how it relates to my overall adulting, as you may want to call it. So that is the one thing that I can do in the big world of so many things that I have no control over

MAEVE: And an example that Dr. Ray gave us came from Albert Camus, the French philosopher and novelist and his take on the myth of Sisyphus.

RACHEL: Right OK so Sisyphus, he tried to cheat death and that pissed off the Gods who made him roll a rock up a hill all day knowing the whole time it would just like roll right back down.

KEISHA: And Camus uses this story to talk about the absurdity of life, and that we all know that life does not go on forever but yet we do these daily tasks like brush our teeth, like floss, like comb our hair.

RACHEL: But we are choosing to do these thing anyway. We choose to do them because while we can’t control having to push this rock up and down a hill -- we can’t control you know that we were born and have to be alive -- we can choose which of the small tasks of being alive we do and HOW we do them. So, we can be resentful about flossing. We can be happy about it. We can feel guilty about it, which, Maeve, seems to be your chosen approach.

KEISHA: And I think one way to interpret Camus’ story is to look at the things about that that Sisyphus can control. He can't control his fate. But he can control his attitude about it. And I think that’s what I’m getting at with control. Is that there are some parts of our life that we can't control. And a lot of the time there are these bigger overarching things we can't. But there are smaller things, the things that are personal to ourselves.

RACHEL: And doing these small things really add up, as long as we take charge of ourselves.

KEISHA: As a human, you are responsible for finding the person that you want to be and working towards that person.  That that is something that you must do. That being human comes with this great responsibility to be authentic. To be who you are and make efforts to be who you want to be.

KEISHA: You can also think about it too in you won't be able to do those bigger things if you don’t first take care of the smaller things, right?

RACHEL: Dr. Ray was so great, because she really helped us understand that have to be responsible for ourselves … but also that we are all a little bit flawed. So she was saying, she flosses, she flosses at least 3 or 4 times a day, sometimes multiple times an hour.

MAEVE: It’s so funny because we just wanted to talk to you because you’re a biomedical ethicist. I didn’t know you had this dark habit.

KEISHA: Yeah, I have this habit. And then, what’s really bad is I floss a lot. I go to the dentist frequently. I brush my teeth twice a day. But I have an obsession with candy. I eat candy all the time. I don’t drink coffee, but in the morning I can pop a piece of candy and get that little jolt that I need for the day.

MAEVE: What’s your favorite type of candy?

KEISHA: Ooohh....That’s a hard one.

MAEVE: What one do you have for breakfast, instead of coffee?

KEISHA: I would probably just pop a quick Jolly Rancher but I really like Skittles, and I like Sour Patch Kids, and I like Sour Belts. And I really like candy from Mexico a lot. I like candy. It’s a part of my personality. Everyone has their vice. But I floss afterwards.

RACHEL: So see, we are all human, but we can try to be the best version of ourselves. We’re trying to bridge the gap between who we are and want to be.

MAEVE: But I think a lot about stuff and care a lot about these big issues, but what good is it, that when I can’t even do the small stuff for myself - like, let alone me being this dream beacon of health doing pilates in the forest, so that I can then help the universe... like I can’t even floss.

RACHEL: This is the thing that Keisha is telling us. It’s like when you’re on an airplane and the flight attendant is always telling you, “PUT YOUR OWN MASK ON FIRST AND THEN HELP YOUR KID/OR YOUR ELDERLY PERSON” Your responsibility is to take care of your own stuff first so that you’re in a position to do the bigger stuff that you want to tackle.

MAEVE: Yeah and so now when the stewardess is like, “Put that mask on!”  I’m gonna be like, will be like “How can I, I’m flossing?” “Put that mask on your dirty mouth!” I’ll be like “I’m flossing!”

MAEVE: Our theme is by Nicholas Britell and our ad music is by Build Buildings. We were edited this week by Peter Clowney and Annie-Rose Strasser, and produced by Rachel Ward, Christine Driscoll and Elizabeth Kulas.

RACHEL: Thanks to Jacob Cruz, David Pitman, Laura Varela, New England Public Radio, and KQED in San Francisco. Andrew Dunn mixed the episode.

MAEVE: You can also tweet us @surprisingshow, email us at And our Tumblr is

RACHEL: And also just one other thing: We’re trying to help out some scientists who are friends of the show. And since you guys are already into awesome stuff … we thought we would ask you.  The folks at the Sky (SCHI) Lab at the University of Sussex in the UK have put together more than 300 videos that are AWESOME -- like, moments that will take your breath away, and inspire a state of awe.  And they’re looking for volunteers to watch a few of them, answer a few questions about them, and basically help them determine how awesome they are. If you're interested in helping out these researchers, you can head to Surprisingly Awesome's Facebook page.

RACHEL: Surprisingly Awesome is a production of Gimlet Media.

GARY: I found out that a Christian camp based in Wisconsin lined up 300 of their campers and counselors and set a world record for most people flossing simultaneously on a single strand of dental floss.

MAEVE: Wow. That’s the kind of thing you have to do when you have abstinence as part of your religion. Like how are we going to keep these kids busy.