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.