admiring: the beauty of conversation with another, and yourself

Yesterday was a pretty busy day at work so I didn’t get to listen to the radio as much as I typically do. But in the few moments I caught during my mid-morning drive to a meeting, and then the few additional moments I caught on my way home from work in the evening, were two engaging conversations that tied rather neatly together.

In the morning, I caught a piece of Diane Rehm’s interview with Dave Isay on StoryCorps and The Great Thanksgiving Listen. If you are not familiar with the StoryCorps project, it began as a mobile recording studio that was set up in Grand Central Station in New York to record a conversation – or rather, a question and answer session – between two people. One person interviews the other, asking a series of questions they’ve already prepared or that they ask from a list of provided questions. They’ve recorded thousands and thousands of these interviews, and a small percentage of them are further edited to a three minute “story” and broadcast on Fridays.

StoryCorps might be one of my favorite things on public radio – I’m often reduced to tears when listening to them. The recording of stories has now expanded beyond the original sound booth idea with the launch of their new recording app. In conjunction with this, they’ve launched The Great Thanksgiving Listen where they’ve asked high school teachers to incorporate these recordings into their curriculum. The idea is that a teenager will record a conversation with an older member of the family while everyone is celebrating together over the holidays. These conversations are cataloged with the Library of Congress where they will be stored for future listening by generations beyond their own.

If you have a chance to listen to the show, the link is here. If you only have time for a few of the story clips they play during the interview, my favorites are at 7:05, 18:20, 31:00 and 35:45.

Later that same day was a completely captivating interview / story about the film Later That Same Life. I haven’t watched the short film yet (there’s a longer version in the making), just listened to the interview with the creator Stoney Emshwiller. When Emshwiller was eighteen years old he dressed up in a blazer and slacks, pinned the number 18 to his lapel, sat down in front of a black background, and recorded himself interviewing… himself, only an older version of himself. The now fifty-six year old Emshwiller decided to film himself answering those questions – and then he edited it to appear that the two of them were talking to one another.

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Now I thought the premise of this sounded so cool, but when they played an actual clip of the “interview” – my goodness, it was crazy to listen to. I had first imagined the younger kid just reading off a list of questions – but he did so much more than that. He asked questions, and then imagined the responses, and asked follow ups – recording a really indepth half that leant itself to conversation. And listening to the current guy talk about how it felt to “talk” to his younger self? I’m not kidding – this is really worth listening to.

An interesting way to bookend my day with stories about stories – what a gift it is to find the time to sit down with someone, ask them questions, and really listen to what they have to say. Maybe over the next few weeks as we move through the holidays, you might find some time to do the same with family or friends. Or share these ideas with your kids, and have them ask those questions they’ve always wanted to ask – maybe even of their future selves! I’m fairly good at recording a lot of things in written word, but these interviews really inspired me to open up more, and listen to the stories of those around me in my life.

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