Listen & Learn

Today and yesterday, I spoke to two mothers. Yesterday I recorded my own mom as she told me the story of the day I was born. Today I did a more structured interview with James’ mom. I have been doing a lot of typing since yesterday afternoon. And somehow, I feel compelled to sit here now and do some more.

These two exercises, though they seem quite similar, are for two different classes and two distinct purposes. The first, the recording of a story, is for my folklore class. Already, I have discovered that I like this work better. Although I was nervous about how it would come out, I think it’s actually going quite well. The object of making this recording of a story someone tells is to experience the process of collection. To take these spoken stories and translate them to written words on a page. How do we do this and still maintain the integrity (awkwardness and imperfections and all) of the speech? The rise in tone, the fluster, the pause, the laughter, the emphasis? What do we lose? What do we gain? It’s all very fascinating, and really, really similar to my experience with writing poetry.

And I also got to learn some amazing things. Not only about my own beginning, but about my mother’s life. After I turned off the tape recorder (I was taping her over the speakerphone), we had one of our usual conversations, but it was colored with this story. The story of birth, of children, of creation and desire. It was comforting to talk to my mom about all of this. Comforting to listen to her share such extraordinary things, although not so uncommon in the fact that people experience these things. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I have always felt a strong bond with my mother, and hearing her tell me these stories from my early existence helped me learn more about myself, what I want, and what I am capable of.

Today, speaking with my mother-in-law involved a completely different process. It is an exercise for my nonfiction class in profiling and interview. Even my professor had never interviewed someone before, so I really didn’t have a clue as to how to go about it. Part of me just wanted to use my folklore collection story for this exercise as well, since I had it all recorded and everything already. But I didn’t. I decided not to cop out. So I talked with my mother-in-law, and I asked her questions that she found difficult to answer on the spot, although they were things like, “Who do you admire,” and “What would you like to be remembered for.”

We had a nice talk, but I felt nervous because I was trying to take notes on the answers, and there was often silence. And after my questions were through, we talked a little bit, but it was mostly about the interview. She did say a few things, though, afterward, that I will probably include in the profile write up, because they came through far more easily then in the question and answer exchange. I just felt like I was trying too hard, and I didn’t want to get too personal or not personal enough, so I was attempting to maintain that balance as well. And sometimes, not always, my mother-in-law can be a little bit difficult to talk to. We have had some great conversations, don’t get me wrong, ones that go on and on and we both enjoy it (for the most part), but this just felt too forced. Although the writing of the profile paper is coming along nicely. I think I’ve found a few angles that I can work with, and I’m comfortable with the fact that I won’t be including everything that we talked about. It would be tough to do that, anyway, in a three-page exercise.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. And no, I wasn’t too hungover from my Saturday night on into Sunday morning. Although I was woken up by the telephone at 10:00am, which I thought was going to be James calling from Atlantic City, because of the ring tone, but it was actually one of his assistant managers calling from the store (which I have identified by ring as James, because no one else calls me from Blockbuster). So I answered, “Hey, babe,” without looking at the caller ID display. Yeah. That was kind of embarrassing, but I can excuse it because I was still half asleep and had been a little bit, you know, over-served.

The next time my phone rang with the James song, I made sure to check that it was, in fact, coming from James’ own phone.


2 thoughts on “Listen & Learn

  1. Brighty18 says:

    Interviews are bizarre things, are they not? Don’t forget with your mother-in-law that part of the issue was that she, herself, was not prepared to be interviewed – or at least not prepared for the specific questions. When you contrast that with, say, the Proust Questionnaire in Vanity Fair, you realize that responses are far more eloquent when the interviewee has a chance to consider them before hand. This also leads to another thought – how much are standard interviews edited? Unlike your recorded/transcribed story with your mother most interviews in magazines, journals and newspapers are very highly edited and that editing is a separate process with separate considerations. I rarely think about it when reading (Rolling Stone, Playboy, Vanity Fair, Time, etc.) but the responses usually are so cultivated compared to a simple conversation. I guess this is how a magazine can interview someone such as Jessica Simpson (who appears to have the IQ of a garden rake) and make her appear somewhat eloquent in print. I highly doubt that such changes would be intentionally deceptive (and why even bother to make her appear smart?), but who really wants to read a bunch of “uhs”, “ums” or phrases such as “yeah… it was… like totally amazing, ya know?” Whatever, it would be interesting if you posted the final results of both projects!
    – Michelle

  2. Sara says:

    I would have to discuss that with the mothers involved. I don’t know how comfortable they might be with details of their lives out there on the internets for all to see. Unlike me, of course, who openly discusses any and all aspects of this life of mine and feels no shame.

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