Monday, May 7, 2012

Getting to know my subjects for just a little while

From the time I could hold a pencil and put sentences together, I was writing. I was writing poetry and short stories and plays. I always loved sharing stories or making up stories. When I was very young I thought maybe I'd grow up to one day be a Lois Lane, chasing the latest unfolding events and reporting the news. Later I wanted to be a novelist. I ended up being a writer, but not in either of the capacities I thought I would.

Although I did writing before I had kids, it wasn't until they were born that I actually published something I was paid for. I was writing little bits of information for a parenting magazine. It was thrilling to write content for a magazine that I actually enjoyed reading. That was over a dozen years ago and I haven't stopped writing since. Every month (almost every week) since then I've had a byline show up somewhere. I write about so many interesting topics, do a lot of research and learn a lot of new things. It's something I truly enjoy. No two days are ever the same. I've written for magazines, newspapers, newsletters, blogs, websites, contributed to books and written books of my own. Much of my day is spent in my home office (a.k.a. my computer armoire in the corner of my dining room) questioning people for information by e-mail and doing interviews by phone. It's always nice to get out from time to time to do a face to face interview. Those are so different and I get so much more out of them. I love getting to know someone, however briefly, and learn about their life. I just find such pleasure in listening to people and hearing their histories.

Those face to face interviews stick with you longer than those phone versions where you multi-task by typing as they talk and often never even know what the person on the other end looks like. They don't know if you're completely engrossed in their conversation or if you're peering out the window and folding laundry and they spill things out. Regardless of what they are sharing with you, it's just not the same. It's not as personal.

Through the years I've talked to people about sensitive subjects. They've answered questions that were hard for them to talk about. It's a privilege to be someone they open up to about such things. I've had many statements told to me off the record - things they didn't necessarily want to see put in print but wanted to discuss or get off their chest. I remember a man once telling me that he had a son he hadn't seen since he was a baby and the regrets he had in not being part of his life. I recently talked to man who went off subject and started talking about the wife he'd lost a few years ago and how much he missed her. It had nothing to do with the interview. I don't know what made him bring it up, but he did and I listened and a watched his face as he talked still full of pain from a loss long ago. Sometimes my subjects inadvertently give bits of wisdom and advice that I very much value. And sometimes it's hard to get to know them very briefly, hear so much about them and their lives and then move on never to have contact again.

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