Monthly Archives: November 2013

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.



Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.

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!





Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.

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


Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.

chapter six


Stories from Your Life (and meditations on romantic love…)

Dearest Beth,

I have been wondering for months what the hell I’ve gotten myself into and how to engage with something so intimate and something so not my business as your interpersonal relationships.  But talking to you has helped me come to grips with this dilemma.  Our conversations over the last month have been extraordinary.  Because of these conversations, you have been floating around my daily life even more than usual.  I hear something, or see something, or think of something and you immediately come to mind.  But even though you wash over me as a presence, there are times when I wish that I had recorded our talks so that I could pull you to my side in a more physical way.

This month, for the chapter on interpersonal relationships, I’d like to see you blend your friendships with your love for collecting stories. I would like you to interview four people (feel free to interview more if you like the idea) who you love, care about, or are intrigued by.  You may choose old friends or people you want to get to know better.  It would be wonderful to interview and record people who you’ve talked to for ages just to see what it’s like when you move from spontaneous conversation to a slightly more purposeful format.  And I think one of these interviews should be with your Mom.

There needn’t be specific rules as to how you go about your interviews.  You could decide to be dead serious, dead silly, to talk about deeply personal things or to talk about your favorite foods or films.  You could talk about the past, present or future. You could ask someone to read your favorite story to you or to sing a song.  Whatever is important to you at the time is good.  I do think you should decide on some key questions before you begin your interview.  It would be nice to begin by asking that person something you’ve always wanted to ask them or something that you’d like to be able to replay in the future.  If the conversation meanders and you get completely side tracked, that’s fine. There is no need to share these stories or interviews with anyone if you don’t want to.

I would aim for one interview a week.

Now you have much more experience than I do related to collecting stories and thinking about story telling.  But I’ve come across a few beautiful stories or meditations on storytelling over the past few weeks and I’d like you to listen to them.  (Can you feel the teacher in me coming out here?) Hopefully you will just enjoy these.  And we can include these pieces in our future conversations.  Maybe, maybe, maybe you could think about the idea of a “single story” and your family.

What Are The Dangers of a Single Story? By Chimamanda Adichie on the Framing the Story episode of the Ted Radio Hour

 Hitchhiking as A Family from Dick Gordon’s The Story program

Terry Gross interview with Maurice Sendak from September 2011.  This link takes you to the last 5 minutes of the interview, illustrated by Christoph Neimann.  There is a link to the entire interview on the page.

I am going to use this challenge to record some stories from my parents.  I have thought about doing this for years and will now get off my butt and do it. At the very least I can immortalize the story of my Mom getting her mouth washed out with soap by her father.

In terms of romantic love, I would like us both to read Elemental Passions by the philosopher Luce Irigaray.  I will be sending you a copy of this book soon!  Now this book will in no way give you any kind of useful advice about creating, maintaining, or leaving romantic relationships.  As a matter of fact, you may find this book way too oblique and even annoying.  But I’ve found sections of this book strangely beautiful and I thought we could talk about love and try to untangle what Irigaray is saying together.  It’ll be a slightly different interaction between us, but it would certainly make a car ride to western Maryland edifying as well as fun.




Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.