Monthly Archives: November 2013

protagonist parting words


My dear friend Laura asked me this month to reflect upon romantic love by doing a bit of reading. She also asked that I dive into my interpersonal relationships by instigating recorded conversations through formal interviews.

Her simple requests gave me a fantastic opportunity to observe how I engage with the excellent people in my life. The interview process opened up new methods of interaction and communication and led to mixed results, some new positive pathways and some unexpected roadblocks. Being on either side of a microphone immediately changes the way we converse with one another.  Some of us immediately fall into playing roles and I quickly realized that not everyone is comfortable being in those roles.

Not everyone that I intended to have an interview with even agreed to be recorded.  For whatever reason, whether it was the microphone that made them uncomfortable, they didn’t have the time, or they didn’t want to be recorded, some people I really wanted to interview chose to decline. This may have taught me the most important lesson of the month: Sometimes NOT accomplishing what I set out or want to do may actually be the best way to learn what it is I need to learn.

Conducting an interview can very much mirror how we conduct relationships. In successful interviews there is an awareness of one another.  There seems to be an easy flow, a give and take, a push and pull.  The interviewer instigates, questions, guides the direction, but also is ready to receive, follow a new line of thinking and most importantly – listen openly and attentively. The interviewer must not expect or assume specific answers or outcomes.  The interviewer needs to learn acceptance of what the interviewee is willing to share or not share. Whether it is deemed successful or not, there is much to be learned in any interview, by observing yourself preparing for and conducting it while also listening and asking of others what they might need and want to get out of the process.

Because this blog is not the place to share specific revelations that I learned about the important people in my life, I will leave you with only a fraction of what I personally experienced and learned in these past four weeks.  Below, I will share the discoveries that I feel to be the most worthwhile and useful to me while developing my interviewing skills.

  1. Let go of assumptions of how others think and feel about being interviewed
  2. Let go of specific expectations of what could come from an interview process
  3. Accept and be thankful for what is created or shared from the interview exchange

Hmmm…. What would happen if I applied these lessons to my interpersonal relationships as well?


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For a week now, I have been instigating random encounters with strangers. Well, they may not technically be random to me considering I am hand picking the people who I am engaging. The unsuspecting strangers may find it strange or random, but it’s pretty commonplace for me. To be fair, this month’s wild card challenge really has not taken me outside of my comfort zone, but has allowed me to indulge in something I love doing. I have always been very comfortable meeting new people, and find myself doing it often.  I  never really heeded that age-old mother’s warning of “not talking to strangers”. If I had followed that advice I would have missed out on many memorable adventures.

Once I met a stranger in the baggage claim of the Sydney airport. That short jet-lagged conversation led me to a week-long kayaking/photographing excursion with this particular traveler to the Whitsunday Islands nine months later. Another great encounter happened in a bar on the west coast of Ireland. I introduced myself to a woman because she had the same model medium format camera that I did. We bonded over our love for shooting film and ended up traveling and teaching a photo class together in Cambodia the year after our first encounter.

Now, I cannot say that all of my meetings with strangers have been as pleasant and as exciting as these few, but I do have a rather good track record and somehow have managed to keep the crazy and/or unsavory situations at bay. I just seem to have a knack for cultivating encounters and finding fascinating people. If  only I could figure out how to make this skill work in my dating world, I would have it made. The approach has definitely attracted some interesting characters into my life thus far.

I like entering a situation not knowing exactly where it will lead me. I listen closely to my instinct and choose not to go down paths that make me uncomfortable, unhappy, or unhealthy. Most importantly, I just try to stay open, seeking to see or hear something or someone new gravitating toward what I don’t completely get or understand. I find that not knowing what to expect, is a good exercise in letting go of specific expectations, which ultimately can suffocate good relationships.

My encounters thus far this month have been enjoyable. Its like I’m taking a moment in each person’s day to redirect them. I have stopped people in the street, in the supermarket and at their jobs to talk to me for a minute or two. I first introduce myself and then ask them their name (as Aaron requested in his wild card) I then tell them that I am attempting to meet a stranger a day in a quest to collect reflections on love. That’s when either conversation entails or I receive blank stares of confusion. I ask them to record their thoughts in writing in a small “book of encounters” that I carry with me. They respond with a quote, a paragraph, or a thought. Some responses are sentimental, some sad, one in particular was a bit creepy – but all in all an interesting experiment in human interaction.

I must admit though, meeting strangers with a particular purpose seems odd to me as opposed to letting interactions happen organically. I feel like when forced into a situation or conversation with a mission, the encounter ends abruptly after the question is answered or mission accomplished. As I said, I am enjoying the process overall but prefer to let my encounters happen on their own time. Maybe this is why I have not tried online dating – it all seems too planned and purposeful. I don’t always know what my purpose is when encountering someone for the first time and I am learning that my relationships are much more fulfilling when I let go of initial expectations or intended desires from the beginning. They flourish when I let them grow at their own speed and style.

All I know for sure is this, allowing myself to be open to these types of encounters has led to me to life changing opportunities, new jobs, new love interests, more trust and most recently a new home. (more details on this soon)


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in the “vacuum of devotion”

In the spirit of this month’s wild card submission, I recently introduced myself to a stranger at the Annapolis Farmer’s Market. I normally track down my morning coffee and vegetables and then head out of the busy downtown on the weekend, but instead, on this particular Sunday I stuck around.  It was the unusually warm November sunshine and the music of a busker playing the banjo that made me linger.

The young man had a fantastic voice but it was his lyrics that caught my ear. Simple and sweet these banjo tunes were tinged with a bit of sadness and apparently inspired by some sort of epic break up. In between his catchy chord progressions I heard him utter lines like,

“Our love is like a treaty – this pain is like a war” – from Forward Progress

“There’s a woman I remember by the scent of her hair and my heart starts to struggle when my mind it goes there” – from Whole

Although simple, the songs were refreshing in their reflection of the raw emotion that emerges when parting from a relationship.  It seemed a perfect balance to the heavy feminist French philosophy that I have been spending time translating as of late.   There is no translation necessary here, what you hear is what you get from this once broken-hearted banjo player.

When he took a break from playing, I introduced myself and asked if he would be willing to make a recording and do an interview.  I wanted to hear more from this singer/songwriter about his post break up experiences that led him to create and also thought it would be fun to do a banjo recording session on the boat in addition to collecting this stranger’s reflections on love. He graciously agreed and a week later we sat down for an hour’s worth of conversation.

In this post, I mostly just wanted to highlight and share John’s musical talent with you but we had such a great conversation that I thought I would also include a few pieces of his reflections on the topic of interpersonal relationships.   What struck me most about John was his positivity and genuine enjoyment in playing music for others. I was also impressed by his ability to take personal struggles and make them work for him.  Instead of getting stuck in the lows of losing love, he translated his loss into universal songs reflecting the familiar feelings for all of us to experience and enjoy.

Most importantly, he expressed how the loss of love is what ultimately helped him develop his musical and performance abilities “given that vacuum of devotion, that attention, giving love to something – that is where this has all blossomed from.” I love the idea that each of our relationships bring us a great gift, either in their presence or in their absence.

Please note: I am NOT a musical recording engineer and apologize for the non professional recording and editing done here.  After all it was my first musical recording session on the lovable but creeky and echoey sailboat that I call my home. OH and take note on the “Beautiful Stars” recording – this musical file was sent to me from an earlier recording that John did with his sister Kelly Eaton who sings harmony on this track. Enjoy!

John describes his relationship to music: In that vacuum of devotion 

John’s newest song “Whole”:

“Weary Heart”:

“Forward Progress”:

When asked about a relationship that impacted him or changed the path of his life, John talks about his sister Kelly (who sings harmony on this song) “Beautiful Stars”:

If you are interested in hearing more of John Eaton’s music please contact me on the Living Chapters Facebook page and I will put you in contact with him.


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November: wildcard


After being a guest on the Baltimore radio show “The Signal” in September of this year, our protagonist invited radio producer and host Aaron Henkin to be a wild card for November.  He submitted his wild card task through a recording this month.  Listen below to hear his mid-month challenge.

November Wild Card

love, madness & “elemental passions”


“There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

So I am about half way through Luce Irigaray’s “Elemental Passions” and I am convinced that her words are mostly a long string of blubbering nonsense that sound in-genius and palpable for moments in time –perfect for a precise moment but then disappear again into nothing but distilled disillusion and disappointment. OH OF COURSE she is writing about the state of being in love! The elemental urges, ebb and flow of that electric emotion that makes the world go round. How could it or would it make sense?  If we understood it – it just wouldn’t be interesting right? We would simply stop yearning, trying, challenging ourselves to obtain it.

Maybe I am having a hard time relating to her words right now because this text was originally written in French (maybe the translation is off?) or it could be because I have been thinking too clearly and directly these days (I am currently past my last bout of love/sickness that clouded my judgement). For better or for worse, I don’t happen to be swimming in the sea of love at the moment, but I may be floating upon it.  Love, like water has this way of making you thirst again as soon as there is a draught or you find yourself landlocked.

I have been attempting to read Laura’s recommended book a bit each evening reading it out loud before going to bed on the  sailboat– savoring each sentence as if it were poetry, I am letting the words, and waves of confusion rock me to sleep. I am finding myself getting lost in its layers and caught up in the repetitive cycle of expression from ecstasy to misery and then back again.

I resonated briefly with this moment from Irigaray’s philosophical ramblings and then in a flash lost its meaning again:

       “What attracts me in you, what I love in you, is what remains of your own self that part you have left so far behind, covered up so much that I alone, without ever letting it appear, can sometimes catch a glimpse of it like a faint light shimmering in the night. 

In that frail illumination. I love you, I love myself. I would like to go back to it as to a place, an environment, full of impulse and growth, still vibrant with life. The whole of the living, the whole to live for, is that not kept captive within the almost imperceptible enclosure of light?”

An intangible elixir that intoxicates in ways beyond any chemical substance could. Love drugs us into such oblivion that we find ourselves singing, painting, purging, whining, writing and running furiously. Of course we all return to love. Who wouldn’t want to do all those things again and again?   Although I tend to believe that love afflictions are not chosen – you don’t find love – in the end true love finds you.

Here is some wisdom from another who has spent a lot of time in love and madness:


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JJ creator & BB originator

JJ writing and recording studioIMG_5383

It’s been a while since I have made a recording with my brother Jason.  About five years ago I did an interview with him to collect his perspectives on ‘silence’, which was a really positive experience for the both of us as we found out that we held similar insights in common on the topic.  This new interview experience was just as good for us, if not better. We talked for more than an hour covering topics that ranged from our relationship with each other to our relationship with our parents, love in general, faith and religion, creative writing and self-love.  I honestly do not think we have ever had such a rich discussion.

Unlike most people, if you put a microphone between Jason and I, we just seem to make a better connection rather than become uncomfortable. It may be due to the fact that our recording history goes way back.  I think we actually formed our relationship at an early age around recording ourselves – we made our first recordings when he was 12 and I was 8.

During this interview exploring our relationship, the most memorable (and I would have to say most amusing) recording experiences surfaced. Jason and I for a brief time were in a “band” together. My role in the band was primarily making the background sounds. I made drum sounds on chairs – hit glass bottles together, did some occasional screaming and once put my tape recorder in a metal mail box and threw rocks at it to get the right clinking sound.  Jason was the genius 12 yr old rhymer and rapper who also took samples from popular songs and looped them together for background music.  I only made guest appearances spewing out Jason’s written lyrics on certain songs. All of these songs were recorded with the high tech technology of hand-held tape recorders.

I find it fascinating that both he and I are still making recordings today.  And strangely enough we are both recording ourselves talking to ourselves. (He records his written poetry that he recites and I keep audio journals)

Listen below to hear an excerpt from our conversation.  Here we talk about our relationship today, what it was like when we were growing up together and most importantly the first time ever release of JJ Creator and BB Originator.  I also included some excerpts from his experiences with life changing relationships and love in general.

** Warning** I must apologize to my mother as I am not sure if she has ever heard our early recordings before now. We were not really bad kids just kids in the country with a lot of time on our hands. We also looked up to the Beastie Boys and Weird Al Yankovic a bit too much.

JJ Creator and BB Originator

Like an inner child

Love and Grace

JJ and Grace


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self-interview: take one


So I have talked to myself most of my life, many of us do. However, should I be worried about my sanity now that I am also answering myself AND recording it? This article says not to worry, talking to myself might actually make me smarter? With this in mind, plus the fact that I needed to practice my now rusty audio recording and editing skills, I decided just to dive in and do a self interview.

I figure, If I am going to ask the people I care about some heavy questions about interpersonal relationships, I should be ready to answer them myself. I also believe that being on the other side of the microphone and the questions is a valuable exercise in general if I want to become a better interviewer.

What I learned from this experiment is this: I actually prefer expressing myself through the written word or through visual images than through a formal interview experience. Although making recordings is not a new experience for me, I find that I am a bit nervous and long-winded when being recorded.  And after the process was over, I felt as if I could have come up with a more  articulate responses. Hmmm… can my “writing self” teach my “speaking self” a thing or two?

Each interview I do this month will most likely flow in an organic direction but I decided that for all interviews, I would like to focus on learning something about my relationship with the person I am interviewing.  I will try to do so by posing the following questions:

1. From your perspective, what or how can I learn from you or our relationship?

2. What or how have you learned from me or our relationship?

I also would like to see if any interesting stories come to the surface by asking this question:

Tell me about a specific relationship that has made a major impact in your life, one that may have changed your path or direction.

Asking myself these questions was more than a bit awkward but I gave it a go. The recordings below are results from the one and only take and are only slightly edited to take ums and pauses out.

Learning from myself?

Teaching myself?

Relationship that changed my path.


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seeking our story

I have been seeking stories for a while now both in my personal and professional life. It seems to be the one thing that I never tire of, listening to people share an opinion, a feeling, a perspective and observing the way in which they share them.

Even though I have been doing interviews for a long time and have had some success at collecting some incredible stories, I have never been taught officially how to do formal interviews. I just started doing them. I relied on doing my best to build a connection or relationship with the person that I was talking with to help the subject feel comfortable and open to sharing their thoughts. Out of the hundreds of interviews I’ve collected though, I really have done very few recorded interviews with those that I already share a connection with.

I began this new month last weekend spending time with two people who I hold strong connections to, Emily Wheat (October’s Chapter writer) and Cosmic Jim Naeseth (The Living Chapters Referee). As I did not have proper recording equipment with me, I simply tested the waters in my conversations with both of them to see how the interview process would go with people I knew well and cared about.


I didn’t technically interview Emily, although I spent hours hiking in the woods interrogating her and contemplating on why stories themselves are so important and why we are drawn to passing them on. By asking Emily these questions, I came closer to understanding what I, personally, want to get out of the process of collecting and interviewing. What do I want to learn? By the end of our visit, I came up with a list of questions in which I intend to explore with all who I interview this month.

Focusing on interpersonal relationships, I have decided that it makes sense to just dig in and ask directly about them. I would like to focus on interviewing individuals who have changed my path (either subtly or directly) through their engagement in my life.

What can I learn from my relationship with these important people?

What have they taught me? Or how have they impacted me?

What have I taught them? Or how have I impacted them?

Who has changed the path or direction in their lives? How?

How have relationships played a role in their lives?

These are questions that I would like to seek answers to through my interview process. I am interested in learning about the relationships that change the path of our lives. Who are the people who have helped you become who you are or land you where you are or helped you shape your values?


After leaving Emily in the mountains of North Carolina, I stopped in Hampton, Virginia to visit Cosmic Jim. He was there visiting his family’s first home where he grew up. It has been about a year now since his father passed away leaving him the only one alive in his immediate family. This visit may have been the last trip to this place where Jim’s story began. It seemed appropriate in this moment of closure to witness and capture the beginning of his next chapter. A good place and time to inquire about his feelings about his path and relationships. And a good place to question myself about why I decided to drive here to Hampton, VA to share the experience with him.

I tested out the questions with Jim, after we visited his old street and the sea-side spot that he and his parents use to vacation at. I realized that these questions about relationships are not easy questions to ask nor are they easy questions to answer (whether you know your interview subject or not).  It was more complicated than I had originally thought.

Years ago, I actually taught interviewing and story collecting to middle school youth in the neighborhood I lived in. In Remington Youth Community radio class, students interviewed their fellow neighbors and business owners in the community collecting the story of a neighborhood from the youth’s perspective. In order to get them use to the process of recording and interviewing, the first assignment I gave them was to interview themselves.

How could my students ask questions of others when they had not gone through the process of sharing their own answers with themselves? I’m now realizing that I may have something to learn by revisiting this assignment and interviewing myself first.

Before expecting the people I care about to answer questions about our life stories or our personal relationships, I would have to be willing to answer these questions myself.



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dear laura


Your requests this month seem to have come at a perfect time for me. Throughout the month of October I spent a lot of time thinking about the multitude of amazing people that are currently in my life or have been in my life – for the “treasure a day challenge” I created objects with the intention of honoring or thanking the individual I sent it to for being in my life. I feel as though I am not quite finished with this process. Even though the month of making things is over. I still have a long list of names to return to and think about. I am lucky to have entered into and developed so many rich relationships with others and I am seeing clearly now how much this has shaped who I am.

I also spent a lot of time in October thinking about what my purpose is – what I want to do using my skills to achieve my purpose – what I do well and how I can make the most positive difference doing what I do best. I have not come to specific conclusions on any of this as of yet but I do know this: Listening, creating, story collecting, and building relationships and connections with others have emerged as the most important elements in what I would like to embody moving forward.

Asking me to continue to think about the people I care about and interview them seems like an obvious direction to not only continue creating in my search for purpose but it is also an opportunity to learn something more about my myself and others by examining the relationships we share.

Thank you Laura for observing these threads and sewing them all neatly together in November’s new challenge. You may not know this but ever since you were my photography professor, now over 14 years ago, you have acted not only as a great friend but also a mentor for me. You have been someone that I have looked up to as you are always creating, questioning, and appreciating the world and people around you. As a collector of stories yourself through a variety of media, you have helped guide and mold my inquisitive nature. Watch out Ms. Burns because you are one of the people I love most in this world and I will be knocking on your door shortly on a quest to capture your story.

I am looking forward to our road trip together this month!





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December reflections


In December there will not be a chapter submitted on the first of this month. I think that there should be a way of marking the halfway point in the Living Chapters project. An intermission or reflection period seems to be the best way to do so. The last month of the year is as good as any to take a moment and look back on what has actually happened during this past six months. Where did I start at the beginning of this project? Where did I start at the beginning of 2013 and where am I now at the end of 2013?  What have these “Living Chapters” taught me thus far? What do I hope 2014 will bring?

Instead of running with a new chapter this month, I think it would be wise to take some time to let the lessons and adventures of the past six chapters sink in and ask a few questions.  I want to start the second half of this story in the new-year with a fresh outlook and new knowledge.  Let’s see if I can use the collective guidance from the past six months to help me make some of the life decisions I will be making in the next four weeks (without directives from a chapter writer) This is the month of the year that I am allowing myself to make my own new year’s resolutions and reflections.

Chapters will resume as usual on the first of January 2014. I will return to each theme explored in this past six months with new writers, new wild cards and in a new location.  If you are not too busy hibernating or holidaying this December please check in here this month for a few protagonist reflections as well as other Living Chapters players.  I am also accepting guest posts about the project overall. Please contact me if you would like to share your ideas or thoughts about the process thus far. I welcome and will post questions, observations or comments that Living Chapters readers may have.

Thanks for reading,

Beth Barbush


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