Story Time

[So i thought I posted this a month ago and it’s been sitting in my drafts. Oops.]

Ok, I wrote a little thing recently about coming to terms with fear. Thought I’d share here. (but hey, don’t copy this one without my permission. Just sayin’.)

Thanks, G

Stage Fright

(Or how the play within the play made me a better therapist)

I don’t know how I became a person who does things. As a child, I remember being afraid of everything; I didn’t even want to climb up to the diving board platform because I knew I wouldn’t jump off. My biggest enemy was something called Public Speaking, something that didn’t intimidate me when I was very small but strangely enough shrank me into silence as I grew older. When I started realizing I wanted to do things like be a lawyer, or a teacher, or just someone who wouldn’t pass out when asked a direct question, I knew I had to do something to push back against Public Speaking’s humiliating gaze.

As I currently work as a professor, and I entered a “people profession” called counseling, somewhere along the way I successfully vanquished my foe. Yet knowing myself as someone who had to do battle with this beast, and knowing how that fight took most of my life, I have not lost the sense of myself as someone who once lived regularly with fear. Fear hasn’t disappeared from my life; rather we’ve just learned how to live together peacefully.

So when someone calls me, “brave”, I get confused by that. I recently had an experience that several people have called a “brave moment,” and this feedback set me to wondering about how fear and bravery were working in my life and what they might be trying to help me out with this time. As I’ve shared the following story with others, particularly students who are new to the profession, I’ve found that talking about these tales of fear seem to be having some effect on other’s attempts to bolster bravery. Thus I offer this story here in the hope that something can be gained from my experience, or if not then at least my students can get some joy at seeing their professor “freak out.”

Some time ago I attended a workshop led by David Epston. He was introducing to us some highly innovative narrative practices he’s been developing for some time. As per his style, we spent a great deal of time examining recorded interviews and transcripts to gain insight into these practices and learn more about philosophies influencing his work. I find it all exciting, even though by the end of the day my brain declares itself full and needs to take a big long nap afterwards.

After sharing session material demonstrating what he refers to as “insider witness” practice, David indicated that he had not been able to get recordings of a particular aspect of this practice. Now being a professor in a counseling program that requires regular recording of all client work conducted in our clinic, I heard his problem as an issue of technology. He is unable to get a recording? I can get a recording. We record everything. I was also in a position of supervising students in the clinic, which meant several possible opportunities to try the practice he had demonstrated. So I approached him and naively offered to get a recording of what he was wanting. He jumped at the offer, and when I later returned home and back to work, I started to set up the kind of interview sought after.

The practice I needed to demonstrate involved two stages; the first where I would interview a supervisee with that supervisee portraying the client. The second stage involved me interviewing the client, who would see the recording of that portrayal, about the portrayal. As luck would have it, I had two students working with a couple where this practice seemed possible and of benefit; we presented the idea to the couple and they agreed. All was ready! Now we just had to conduct the actual interviews.

Prior to meeting with my supervisees, I had read several of David’s transcripts and talked with my students to help prepare them for the task at hand. On our arranged meeting date for the recorded interview, we set up our room for multiple recordings (backups in case one recording failed), had a short chat amongst ourselves to get ready, and then pressed “record.”

About 8 minutes into our interview, I was hit over the head with a hammer of a thought: What am I doing? It came crashing down on me that not only had I never attempted the kind of interview I was now in the midst of performing, I was also going to share this recording with David – the God of Narrative Therapy, and he could strike me down if he wanted. Panic washed over me as I thought, of all the times to share your work with someone, you picked something you’ve never done, and you’re going to show it to the one person who could see just how much you don’t know? Gandalf suddenly appeared and shouted in my little face, “You shall not pass!”

Instantly I was catapulted back to being 14 years old, in my high school speech class, standing in front of an audience of cold, disinterested pasty-faced adolescents who had no idea who I was and also didn’t care. Would my speech, scribbled on disorganized note cards shaking ever so slightly in my hand, die in my mouth before the words even came out? Would the students simply stare at me slack-jawed or would they scoff loudly at my mistakes? Would I prove to the world I really was as foolish as I felt?

I don’t remember what that first speech was about. Likely something mundane like rocks or tennis. But what I do remember was being surprised at the sound of my own voice, how loud it was and how at some point all the dull faces became awake. There was even a laugh somewhere, maybe more than one, at a point where it was supposed to be funny. I felt like I stood in front of that room for two days, yet I am sure that speech only lasted about 5 minutes.

It was not a perfect speech. Some of the words needed work. But afterwards I remembered feeling the fire of excitement with the kind of racing heart you get after driving a car ridiculously fast and managing to not crash in to anything. I don’t think I heard a single speech after mine, because my pulse was pounding in my ears and my brain was shouting, “You’re ALIVE!” Did someone just say, “hey, not bad”?

Fast forward to the next speech, 10 minutes, one where I had to actually perform something like a magic trick in front of the class. I don’t remember the sweaty panic, the hyper-awareness, or the breath stuck in my throat; rather I remember starting to actually enjoy myself when again my voice boomed to the back of the room and more laughs (in the right places) replied. I might actually be able to do this, I remember thinking. I might even someday grow to like this. This crowd is actually applauding as I walk off the stage.

Flip the channel back to myself staring blankly as I sit in front of two supervisees who are trying something completely foreign to them. One of the reasons they have agreed to walk into this unknown territory is because they trust I won’t leave them wandering in the dark on their own. I’m not hearing what they’ve just said, my head now full of doubts like, “what am I supposed to say,” “how did I get myself into this,” “what if I ask the wrong question…” The same kinds of overly self-conscious appraisals I remembered asking myself when I was a student sitting across from a client for the first time.

But as the panic transported me to earlier fights with fear, it also brought me to the companion that I found in those experiences: Reassurance. It reminded me that I do know how to hold a conversation; my work has been watched before; I don’t know what David would say but I do know what I would say; and if it all goes belly-up we’ll just try again. My many tussles with fear also gave rise to the many skills I now had to put fear in its place and do what I came to do, including the biggest skill of offering compassion towards my own mistakes. I did not know what I had entered into but that did not mean I had no right to be there.

My ears tuned back in to my supervisee’s words, and I opened my mouth. Words came out, and the interview continued. Upon reflection, I don’t think it was the best interview I’ve ever conducted. But it also wasn’t the worst, and in the end we found our way. No one died; the room didn’t catch fire. When it ended, we all breathed a sigh of relief, not because we had failed miserably but because something indescribably cool had taken place.

A few days later when I met again with the students, we talked about our experience of the interview and I shared my panic moment. They both expressed having no idea that had taken place. When I looked back at the video of that session, I saw the moment when panic started – and in real time that moment ended after about 75 seconds. Years of my life were re-experienced in 75 seconds.

We later record the next interview which included students, clients, and myself. Still uncertain, yet no panic intruded upon me this time, and this interview required even more invention than the prior one. David and other practitioners viewed the videos. Much feedback was provided. No one said, “You suck.” The good and the not so good were commented on, and many, many suggestions were given. The ideas were invigorating, and I found myself in a curious reflective experience. Without meaning to, these comments had the effect of showing my professional self to my personal self in a way that hasn’t happened to me since I was in my doctoral program nearly 15 years ago. The picture presented to me was intriguing, not because it depicted someone who gave a perfect session but because the image showed a person who made some effective attempts, took some missteps, dealt with the unexpected, and tried a few risks. These are the same hopes my high-school self had when she first rebelled against fear and signed up for speech class.

While I still hesitate to call myself, “brave,” this experience had the effect of showing me where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m still trying to go. It has been rejuvenating and refreshing, a good antidote to the tediousness that accompanies adult working life. I realized that the once overly-methodical, reluctant to move little girl now shares the stage with another version of herself who willingly, spontaneously, bumbles into experiences just like the one described here – experiences that let both of us see just how much potential really exists in any given moment. Improvisation writes our script in the play of Not Knowing, and I can’t wait to see where the next act will go.

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Interviews…DONE

Well in theory at least…today was our last day of filming.  Sort of.  There are some loose ends as well as cover material to be shot.  But as of right now all 8 interviews are complete.  Notice I said 8.  That’s because #9 is me, and we still haven’t fully decided to film me again.  Well at least I haven’t decided.  John is fairly certain I should be filmed again.  I waffle.  (How come no one ever pancakes?  Anyway…)

My spirits are up a little compared to the last interviews done, meaning I was in a better place to conduct interviews.  Overall the day’s interviews went well; we finished off with Richard, Gaby, and Vicki. There were some tears.  We really aren’t trying to make everyone cry.  It just sort of happens.  The irony is I think John and I get better with every interview we complete, so now that we’re at the end, I wish I could go back and redo all of them.  I guess that’s just the way it goes.

Between the last interviews and today’s, we also had the first showing of the Pilot film at ConversationFest.  About 11-12 students from our program attended this conference along with John and myself.  Pretty cool experience to have students at a conference, especially a narrative one.  It’s just kinda nice to see students learning things from other people…’cause frankly it helps them to see that we’re not so crazy.  Here are all these other people saying what we’ve been saying, which is affirming for us, and also our students can direct all their millions of questions to someone else.

7 people from the pilot were at the screening: Gaby, Bryan, Emily, Shannon, Lance, Jonnie, and Jessica.  Our audience was small, but they gave great feedback.  We heard that they were pulled in to the stories, that they wanted to hear more…they resonated with some pieces and reacted to others….they heard things that were unexpected and things that left them thinking.  They were speechless.

It was more than we hoped for!  But we also had the experience of watching the pilot as a group, the first time this has happened.  We met later to talk about this, and what we’ve learned is that this film has done something to everyone involved in this project.  We have, I think, become our own community around this film.  I had started to see how the film had become a stand in itself; I am also now seeing it as a unifying factor, something that is giving strength to everyone involved.  Everyone has displayed great courage in speaking on the film, yet the film is also making people courageous…this is a really interesting phenomenon that I don’t fully understand yet.  But it makes me excited and curious, which is a wholly unexpected thing.  Last summer when this idea came about, I had absolutely no idea it could evolve into what it is turning into.

They got excited at the possibility of meeting again in 5 years, with the hopes of shooting it again.  Had never crossed my mind.  It was then that I realized…I think this film has also become my parting gift.

I say parting gift because there is a part of me that has been saying “goodbye” to this place and these people for some time now.  It is not because of the people…I care about all of them a great deal, now even more because of what we’ve been experiencing through this film.  But my spirit has grown tired of where I live, and what I live through…and I know it is now time for me to move on.  While I thought I knew what moving on was going to look like, I now don’t know what exactly that will be, but only that it will happen.  So while everyone is coming together, I sit and watch their movement, while feeling like my little boat is drifting away.

Makes me sad.  Makes me sad mainly because it brings up the shit I’ve been enduring for some time now.  Makes me sad because I realize I’ve gotten so tired. Makes me sad because I’m not sure what it will take for me to regain what I need to get back up.  Makes me sad because I see these people needing me, and I’m not sure if I have anything to offer.

Perhaps this is why the two surprises that came recently seemed to have made a little dent in the misery that’s been enshrouding me.  Two surprises: 1) An unsolicited email from David Epston, and 2) an unexpected note from a student.  So yes, real surprises, things I didn’t see coming.

Perhaps, as John Winslade phrases it, I was open to being surprised?

David E also saw the pilot.  He sent an email to let me know this and to share his thoughts.  In short – he liked it!  Longer – he didn’t expect what he saw.  He was captured by the people on the film and intrigued by their words, and fully pulled into the experience.  I think we must’ve told a “good story.”  Shakespeare thought we wrote a good play.  Actually, I think the fact that he took the time to send me an email to share this, is really what touched me.  He didn’t have to.  But he felt compelled to let us know his experience.  Our film motivated someone to share his experience.  Now that is cool.

I did that.

Student – oh, my student who is the student I am clearly meant to have, the one that has lead me to rethink what the whole student-teacher relationship is about – sends me an email about the project we’re working on.  Ok, that part is expected.  Most of it is work.  Then at the very bottom, in its innocuous form, is a line thanking me for the amount of time and work I’ve invested in the project…and in him.

Huh?

Didn’t see that coming.  Great timing.  Because I sit over here, fretting, worrying, now spending time wondering what the fuck I’m doing and why…and here’s this little teeny glimmer that says maybe it is still worth it.  “It” being going through all the slag that I go through to do this work.  Or maybe it just helps to be noticed, even for a tiny bit.

Noticed.  Is that it?  Did my two surprises leave me feeling noticed?  It sounds a bit selfish when I say that.  But maybe there’s something to it as well.  I’m turning 40 in 2 months.  Maybe I’d like to know I was noticed for something, something worthwhile.

Fuck fuck fuck fuck.  Being reflective sucks.

Filming Day 1 – Again

Action! Ok we didn’t really say that.  But we did start our first filming for the feature.  It was quick notice, so we basically had two people – Mandi and, er, myself.  Mandi did great.  I could’ve been replaced by scrambled eggs.  Anyhoo…

Exciting to finally be filming for the main piece.  Shooting the pilot really has helped us get a real sense of what we’re after, and thus we were able to be pretty productive with setting up the shot and providing direction.  Salwa as ever was excellent – she turned a blah room into something that made our interviewee look great.  The only problem really was that it was apparently delivery day and the loading dock was right below us.  So I’m hoping we didn’t lose too much to the sound of loud annoying truck, grumpy loud man, and stupidly loud motorcycle.

Giving direction was somewhat spontaneous and easier than I thought.  Jb did the interview so I got to watch; it became easy to see the small things to tighten up interviewer and interviewee, since I didn’t have to actually guide the interview.  It was also strange to listen to someone’s story in terms of “soundbites”…I would usually get excited when I heard a part that I knew we could cut into the final piece.IMG_0667

I must say I am enjoying the differences between this film interview and a counseling type interview.  There is something about it that removes some of the pressure of a counseling situation, yet still includes some of the potential benefit.  It is also exciting to see my once obscure vision coming to life.  It’s not “can we make the film,” but rather “this film is being made.”  It’s a good shift.

My interview was less exciting to me; within moments I was giggling

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on the film and couldn’t help but direct myself while I was the interviewee. Well ok, I directed the interviewer too.  It took me a while to figure out what to say, and I don’t know if I said anything worth keeping…it was all different from what I thought I’d say.  Some would say it was good for me to be in that chair, but I’ve been in that chair and that’s why I’ve told everyone it is better to keep me at the back of the camera, not the front.

I suppose I said a few things that were ok.  And John tried to make me cry.  Unfortunately you probably can’t understand a word I said in that moment.  So here’s what I was trying to say:

Why did I want to do this film: because this film is my stand against oppression.  This film is my boldest statement to date, my true putting it all out there.  No compromises, no attempts to hide the truth.

What inspired me: my students inspired me.  they are the true conveyers of parrhesia.  Students get convinced in our educational system that they know nothing.  I was continually inspired that these no-nothing people were willing to struggle with something that experts would shy away from.

What are my hopes: I hope people recognize the struggle.  I hope they honor the struggle.  I hope they choose to engage in the struggle and see it worthwhile.  I also hope we get to show at Sundance. And I hope TR buys me a milkshake (since it seems my brain is now rejecting all alcohol, no pint for me).

What do I hope my kids say to me: good job mommy, it was all worth it.

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John looking interviewer-y

 

 

Interviews: Day 7 and 8

Wow…this brings us to the end of our preliminary interviews.  In some ways I am glad it is over; we’re both exhausted and this means we can now move to the next phase.  However it’s also something I’ve found I would want to continue – these interviews were fun, exciting, educational…and yes I was surprised by what I found.

Initially I wasn’t certain if people would even be able to talk about oppression…it’s not to say I didn’t think these individuals knew about it; they were selected because we knew they understood it.  But I didn’t know to what depth, expression, or experience they would speak to.  Would we get identical stories?  Would they all be academic?  Would we hear things we had heard before?  Those questions were likely the fear talking, the fear that the project wasn’t going to generate much.  But in actuality, the interviews were complex, nuanced, emotional, and expansive.  At the conclusion I was reminded of the TED talks, “The Danger of the Single Story.”   Truth, this is one of my favorite TED talks.  Adichie speaks about how the single story limits understanding, reinforces stereotypes, reduces who we think we are…her talk is a highly effective demonstration of dominant discourse, how the single story will shape who we are and what we expect of ourselves and others, and how without other stories to expand and richen this understanding, we will be denied the multiple expressions of who we really are.  When it comes to oppression, this force is definitely at work; it is easier to oppress when those being oppressed are reduced to simple story lines: “illegal immigrant,” “criminal,” “vagrant,” “lazy,” “uncivilized,” “drain on the system,” and so on.  It becomes much harder to participate in oppression though when these words are surrounded by more words that paint a fuller picture, and when those words are joined by larger stories that show variety, mutlifaceted experiences.  It is also much more possible for people to connect with these expanded stories, because we can begin to see the places where our stories overlap – and we can also see how our stories are affected by the stories of others.

I suppose this is really the point of the film, and it has become highly obvious at this point.  These last interviews have driven the point home, that to isolate any ethnic, gender, or sexual orientation into a flat one-dimensional experience only serves to further misunderstanding and perpetuate dominance.  For example, we have 6 White interviewees, all talking about the impact of Whiteness on their understanding of oppression.  There are similarities across these stories; experiences of being told who could be “in” and who was “out.”  Recognizing the inherent unfairness of this system, that people were relegated to “out” status for no true reason other than skin color.  But also feeling caught in the bind of what to do, if there was anything to do, and then how to actually do it presuming they choose to do it.  These similarities start to shape an experience of “whiteness”, or more clearly White Privilege.  But the other aspect to be revealed is that the stories of these interviewees are all vastly different.  There ways of coming to terms with whiteness contrast with each other; their conflicts differ, their conclusions differ.  I can’t say that their personal experiences constitute a “white” experience, but rather expresses the confusion of having to navigate this construct called Whiteness.  Their stories are inspiring not just to other “white folk” making sense of the “white world,” but also to people of color – to see that white dominance, white privilege, is just as confusing and limiting to someone who is White, to see that these people don’t desire separation but do seek reconciliation.  But I do imagine that the impact could be great upon those who, for example, do support notions of white supremacy, who think it is perfectly ok for White to be Right – because here you’ve got 6 people sharing honest stories where they found white rightness to be a lie, and ultimately harmful to themselves as well as others.

It is helpful, for me, as a person of color to hear those stories.  Not because I put white folk in a box, but because I need to know that people who have had white privilege bestowed upon them, people who were fed the lie of white supremacy, went through some pretty awful stuff as a result of those lessons.  That’s not to say I want them to suffer.  Rather it matters to hear that they experienced pain, that they used that pain to change themselves and seek connections with those they had been denied. They spit in the face of privilege, yet use it at the same time to speak up in defense of those who have been denied voice.  Bravo.

Let me share a few of those stories from days 7 and 8: Emily, Rachel, and Jessica.  Emily was a surprise; literally we didn’t expect to be interviewing her.  Emily is J’s graduate assistant, which also makes her a film assistant.  She initially declined to be interviewed, but after watching several, she decided to try it.  Boy am I grateful. Emily spoke about areas no one had really talked about yet.  In particular was her experience growing up as a Quaker, as a member of a group dedicated to fighting oppression, and then her slow journey of realizing this wasn’t entirely true.  But also this experience tossed her into becoming the outcast among the privileged.  Right color, wrong order, and no one is going to help you with that.  Emily also came alive on film, which she didn’t expect.  Time to come out from behind the camera, I say!

Jessica also gave us an angle that we hadn’t heard – the experience of growing up with people with disabilities and having to learn later that she wasn’t supposed to think they were “normal.”  In some ways Jessica’s story recalls the parable of Paradise Lost, that in youth innocence allows us to be in ways that adults lose sight of.  She had to learn from peers and adults that there was something wrong with her friends, to the point where she feels the loss of that “ignorance.”  They were just kids and they could play…but as adults it’s not so easy.  Jessica also presents the conflict of trying to incorporate what she has had to learn with how to “be” again.  How to acknowledge the realities of oppression and still connect with others.  “Others” is an interesting word…in many ways Jessica reminds us that our innocence keeps us from having the “Other,” that until it’s shown to us, we’re just a “We.”

Rachel rounds out the interviewees who spoke mostly about Whiteness.  I admit, I was hoping Rachel would talk about experiences I knew she’d had because of reading her work in a prior class. Rachel spent most of her youth in Hawaii, a white person who wasn’t even accepted as a local among the white hawaiians because she hadn’t been born there.  Rachel spoke of strong discrimination enacted by native Hawaiians, and of her desire to leave and seek out the “American White dream.”  She wanted to be near white folk so she wouldn’t feel different, so she could get a piece of the privilege pie and finally be regarded with respect.  She learned in many ways that wasn’t actually going to happen.  But most remarkable to me is that after experiencing this discrimination, after being able to “get out” and immerse herself in Whiteness, she found the lies of white superiority, and developed compassion towards her aggressors.  She could see that those who had hurt her did so because of the hurt inflicted on them.  The interview produced layers of complexity in this dynamic, and I was excited, because it was more than I hoped for.  And personally, I just don’t find many people who go that far, who generate that level of understanding and forgiveness.

The final two interviewees express more of the marginalized experience; first Lance, a biracial, young gay male, and Julie, a white, older lesbian female.  They both talked about “coming out” experiences, but here again we have no single story.  “Coming out” simply becomes a backdrop for framing multiple layers of existence.  They are also opposite ends of the spectrum for me: Lance is a student I’ve only known for about 8 weeks; Julie graduated over a year ago and I’ve known her for a few years.  Julie was one of those students I’d wished had been my neighbor instead of a student, because I could imagine some great talks late at night out on the patio.  Julie also stated that the reason she agreed to do this was because of JB and me; we asked and therefore she said yes.  It was a humbling moment, to be presented so clearly with the trust that students can put in us.  I also realized at that moment that she stated a motive that others have felt; in other words I think everyone has agreed to some extent because we asked them to.  Not out of obligation, but because they trust that we won’t mishandle them, that we’ll respect their stories, and that in some ways they do believe in us.  Pretty big there.  Honestly don’t feel real comfortable with it, but likely because I don’t want to let anyone down.

Julie spoke about the intersection of sexism and heterosexism; she’d been told in many ways as a child and young person to stay in her place, which was below men. Being female already meant being less than; to come out as gay would make her wholly unacceptable.  She also spoke of how this enforced silence, that it was as an adult where she learned to speak up for herself.  She could also talk about how she now has to speak because to not speak means to deny her very self.  She speaks up for others but also because she knows that silence equals denial and subjugation.

And last we have Lance, a leader in Lambda who also speaks up because he knows what will happen if no one does.  His coming out experience was very different from Julie’s, especially in that he came out younger, and grew up in a time when more existed to support young people who are gay.  But that support didn’t make things less difficult, even though Lance shared a common experience of feeling like he didn’t really have it “that bad.”  There were many interviewees who had this same sentiment, “it wasn’t so bad for me so I have no excuse not to talk.”  Yet what I notice is that when I hear the stories, I want to say, “What do you mean that wasn’t bad?!?” It’s almost as though oppression convinces us that because we are still alive, it means the discrimination wasn’t “that bad.”  I wonder if that’s another way Oppression tries to subjugate us, by making us almost become “grateful” that we aren’t beaten to a pulp, that we’ve been “allowed” to coexist with dominant society.  So stop making so much fuss, it seems to say.  Yet here is Lance, making a big fuss, because he knows all the times he couldn’t and needed to, or more rightly needed someone to do so on his behalf.

Of course my biggest problem with Lance is that we talk about way too much scifi.  Ya, I’m geeking out on that.  But I think after our intense interview, a little geeking out was warranted.  I will add though that Lance’s interview brought me to places I remembered…sexual orientation always had an interesting place in my life.  First because my household was anti-sex…next because I had to learn about sex and sexuality from things like television and books.  I think also because I was biracial in a place with almost no other biracial people, and because I had the experience of “passing,” I could connect more with my friends who were questioning.  I have no idea why I was able to let myself question instead of judge and condemn them, because my environment should have brought me there.  But when friends first starting talking about possibly being gay, I let myself ask the same question of me, and my friends and I kept talking.  I found it to be life changing.  It also meant I saw a lot of my friends get hurt by homophobia.  It also meant I was subject to heterosexism and homophobia, because others thought I must also be a lesbian, or trans, or whatever.  So when I hear someone like Lance tell stories about school, coming out, being let down…I remember many things.  Not things, people.  In some ways it’s the memory of those experiences and people that lead me towards social justice, because I watched my friends be let down, I watched as no one came to their aid.  I also watched as I did not go to their aid either.  No one came to mine either, but like so many others we’ve interviewed, I was pretty convinced that I didn’t have it “that bad.”  So I still believe I could’ve said something, should’ve said something…and now do, because I can, and I do know what happens when silence reigns.

Interviews: Days 5 and 6

And the interviews keep marching on…At this point we’re all getting pretty excited about these interviews.  Even though I missed a couple, the themes that are coming out are very clear, and quite frankly more than we could’ve hoped for.  These last three interviews provided for an interesting mix and of course, more lessons.

I wasn’t able to attend Greg’s, but from what I’ve heard Greg will be a valuable addition to the film.  I know Greg, and I was interested in him because of his ability to speak plainly and from the heart.  Apparently he delivered.  It also sounds like it was a valuable reminder to us as well that our backgrounds are going to influence the process as well.  To what extent does Greg need to know that his white, male interviewer can accept a black, male experience?  How is race influencing our conversation?  Does it inhibit the discussion?  Or can we use this to expand it?

 

Now Richard provided a remarkable surprise.  I’m not sure what originally drew me to want to invite Richard.  It was more of a gut reaction to extend the invitation, and I half expected him to turn it down.  But he agreed, and his interview is, in my opinion, the jewel in the crown.  Richard was born in England, moved to the USA, considers himself an American and holds an English accent.  I think initially these factors are part of what lead me to think he could offer an interesting perspective different from others we had invited.  And it did give some, but the real surprise was Richard’s ability to articulate the true struggle of those who claim membership in the dominant group: Do I really want to give up my privilege?

While the other white interviewees we’ve had could all pinpoint ways in which they came to recognize oppression as hurtful, none could really put words to the process of coming to terms with white privilege.  Richard articulated the growing awareness of his privilege, the recognition that privilege carried inequality and potential for harm, and also the fear that giving up privilege would hurt.  Does he want to do better? Yes.  Can he do better?  Not sure.  He hopes so, but he doesn’t feel ready to lose the advantage just yet.

I thought it was a fabulous interview.  I remember Richard starting off worried that he would be “dull.”  Not even close.  See, he didn’t just tell us the struggle, he showed it to us.  We saw a man conflicted, and we could feel compassion for that person.  And he needed to put that out there, as sort of his first step to getting closer to the person he wants to become.  Brilliant! You can’t script that.

Richard was followed by Mandi, who JB interviewed.  Mandi’s was also a very moving interview, but for different reasons.  Mandi told the story of being the white woman her brown husband didn’t deserve, of being the person who saw privilege because of having been denied it, and also of coming to terms with seeing her heroes fail.  There were many tears.  I became a literal observer; JB and Mandi got into the “zone” of interviewing, a space that I’m familiar with – that place where it’s just two souls sitting in close proximity, conversing with a particular vibe that

makes its own music.  That means I decided to stay well out of it.  When something like that occurs, better to let it play out, because any attempt to interfere is like throwing a brick into a still pond.  You don’t just make ripples, you piss the pond off.  Mandi could feel, and she showed us and invited us into it, and we were all affected by the experience.

As a side note, it is amazing to see how moving it is for everyone to tell these stories.  Although some may attempt to be more cerebral, in the end everyone has an emotional experience to convey.  And it becomes necessary to share it, that somehow in doing so they are repairing the damage.  It’s that idea of having the story validated, viewed, accepted…Saying it out loud makes it real, putting it on film, makes it undeniable…It seems that many of our interviewees want to share because they will be sharing it publicly, because it will be preserved – and thus the permanency of the experience is guaranteed.  They are able to make their positions known, to take a stand.

Now that’s cool.  So yes, I’m feeling excited about this.  I am jumping up and down about this.  I kept thinking throughout those last 2 interviews that we are in a sense combatting the “Single story”.  This is not just giving the “white” view or the “color” view…this is showing the many different stories of different people, giving us new possibilities and nuances, which I think in a way also tells Oppression that we won’t be fooled into accepting a single vision of oppression or anti-oppression.  Huh.  Maybe this narrative stuff works after all.

Well that’s enough to put a real smile on JB’s face, at least.

Interviews: Days 2,3, and 4

More interviews!  At this point in time I’m starting to see some themes emerge.  That’s exciting.  I didn’t know what themes we might find or if we’d get any at all, but something is coming out.  Our first interview day featured 3 people who are white.  Since that day, we’ve interviewed people who identify ethnically as non-white, and also one person who identifies as a lesbian. We were noticing on our first interview day that all three were talking about moments when it was first brought to their attention that non whites were “different” from whites, and those differences was not exactly a good thing. These stories also included a theme of separation; you were supposed to hang with those who were the “same.”  Access to non-whites was a choice, and only to be engaged in under certain circumstances.  All three we interviewed also talked about getting to a point where they did not agree with those conditions, but they all had to deal with recognizing those conditions existed and were endorsed, often by people they cared about.

From those who’ve experienced a greater deal of oppression though, the story sounds different.  It includes early experiences of having the message, “you don’t belong” communicated to them in many ways.  The stories then go on to include the effect of that message, and eventually how those effects lead to decisions to prevent that message from getting communicated to anyone else.

I admit, I resonate more strongly with that second set of stories.  Having my weird biracial experience, I also remember being told that “white is better,” and don’t do things that will make me stand out.  That also included messages about not hanging out with “those” people, which included people of color, people who are gay, people who are poor, boys, people who drive cars, people who know how to use a telephone, people who have the letters “a,” “i,” or “o” in their name…

Ok so aside from race, my parents were pretty wonky about who I was supposed to hang out with.  Bottom line was I ended up hanging out with everyone I wasn’t supposed to.  And I ended up not being white after all, so I’m sure my parents were shaking their heads a lot when it came to me.  So yeah, stories of being oppressed sound very familiar to me.

I didn’t get a chance to be at Vicki’s interview.  From what I’ve had a chance to watch though, she was animated and ready to talk.  Vicki is white, and also a lesbian – which formed the core of her experiences around oppression.  Vicki was someone I wanted to include in the film from the get-go, because I had a chance to observe a transformational moment of hers while she was in my diversity course.  I watched her decide and learn to stand up for herself, something that was a new experience.  So I witnessed anti-oppression first hand, and I just knew it had to make its way into the film.  Since John was the only person who could be at the interview, we didn’t get a lot of photos of her…but I think this one captures some of the spirit.

We were both present for the next interview, Jonnie.  Jonnie was another person who undertook a courageous endeavor while in my course.  She also stood up for herself, but at that point such action was not new to Jonnie.  Jonnie’s interview included many stories of discrimination, racism, and sexism.  In her stories we saw someone who had been repeatedly told to sit down, be quiet, and do as she was told – and yet managed to stand up, get loud, and do as she would.  We very much wanted to talk about how she was able to do that, to keep going, to find her “spirit” when so many had tried to take it away.  Jonnie put her finger on the main motivation: she had to keep going because she could not allow someone else to have their spirit stolen.

After Jonnie’s interview, we realized we were getting into some pretty cool stuff.  Cool in the sense that we were hearing the anti-oppression, we were seeing the actions taken to make a difference.  The next interviews added to this awareness: Gaby and Becca, the first from Puerto Rico, the other from Houston.  Gaby speaks Spanish and English, with Spanish his dominant language.  This leads him to speak in a manner that is highly intentional, descriptive, and captivating.  His story gets told in a straight-forward manner, and because he has to think more about the words, he uses words that convey a great deal of imagery and emotion.  So Gaby’s interview is the one where everyone cried.  I’ll say I didn’t actually cry, but I came close.  It was one of those times where the rest of the room was crying and it makes you want to cry…but I had to keep interviewing so I didn’t.  Also realized I was having my first “filmmaker” moment – the director in me was getting all kinds of excited at the prospect that someone could put forth such raw experience on film.  Ug, now that was strange for me.  Very un-counselor-like.  But I don’t think it was a “yes, made you cry” sort of excitement, but rather the excitement at realizing how much potential these stories have to move people.  We were all moved…when you watch someone like Gaby, a young, strong-looking male, suddenly stop and lean over, choking up from recollecting a past injustice, seeing the shoulders slump under the weight of having been told, “you don’t matter” in so many different ways…yes that hits you.  That hits pretty hard.  And what hits next is how someone who has been burdened by that message can stand back up again and insist on finding a way to make life fair for everyone.

So that leads back to Becca, the girl from Houston.  I say that because Becca is Chinese-American, born in the USA with Chinese parents who immigrated from Taiwan.  Grew up in Asian neighborhoods, insulated from the realities of racism, until she attends school with kids who aren’t just Asian.  Then she gets to interact with kids of different colors, and teachers who are white.  Here she gets informed about her differences, and told like all the others, “go home.  You don’t belong here.”  Becca’s story was hard to hear as well because she was so quite clearly bullied.  Bullied for a long time about many things, and abandoned by the adults who should’ve known better.

Becca’s is one that demonstrates the true systemic nature of oppression – it wasn’t just stupid insensitive kids, it wasn’t just a bad teacher, it wasn’t just parents who didn’t understand – it was ALL of that, all conspiring together in a way that leaves the victim forever questioning what is real.

Yet with all these stories what is remarkable isn’t just the magnitude of insults and injuries hurled at them.  It is actually the ways in which they all made the decision to engage in anti-oppression in spite of it.  Becca, for example, is becoming the teacher she never had, the person who educates children about differences, who speaks up when a child is being mistreated.  Gaby wants to be the person to let others know that they matter, and Jonnie will make sure everyone knows their history.  Vicki has learned that she really does deserve to be defended.  Every single one of them was told they wouldn’t make it.  And yet here they all are, making it, making it well, and working to inspire others to make it.

Yes, that is what this film is about.

Interviews! Day 1

First day of pre-interviews.  Amazed I didn’t crap myself.

Ok really…I found myself in swimming in a little pool of uncertainty up to this point.  We’ve bounced the idea off others, we’ve made all the arrangements to get the film going…but it seemed it wasn’t really happening until we sat down in those chairs and began talking (and filming).  After about 10 minutes into that first interview, I found myself thinking, “yep, this might really work.”  I didn’t know what to expect, but what came out was more than I could have hoped for.

And these were preliminary interviews, not the ones that we’re actually using in the main film!  I hope that’s a good sign.  Not to say that I think we’ve got a real winner here (don’t want to jinx anything), but it is definitely exciting.  Plus it was an incredibly educational experience, I think for all of us.  Ok, and a little fun.  Figuring out where to place the camera, putting people in frame…yeah all right I got a little buzz off that.  So very much geeking out here.

But to get back to educational, yes educational.  In ways I couldn’t predict.  I found it to be harder in some ways than counseling…but also easier.  There was no pressure to be in the focus.  I could hang back and let all the focus be on the interviewee, which is something I don’t often get to do.  Not that counseling is about me, but usually I am being observed when I counsel, and I come back to the viewing room to face many many questions.  This time though…no questions.  Don’t have to worry about how I’m dressed, what I look like, really just only thinking about what I’m saying and how I can get interviewees to go deeper.

And how about that!  Deeper.  Not usually something I need to worry about either.  As John said, I interviewed about the “near experience.”  Translated: I wanted to put people into the story, to see if they could convey that story on film and carry it.  The trick though, I found, was that everyone needed a different way to get there.  Duh. I mean I have to tailor my counseling to individual needs, of course I’ve got to direct people based on individual needs. Tiring on my part, because of all the energy I have to put into such things.  But damn…really, that was also fun.  Feeding into that little crazy part of me that likes making stories unfold.  Likes connecting dots. Likes watching House MD and Sherlock…that part of my brain does not always go well in session.  But for anti-racism interviews….excellent!

Ok so before I start sounding all high on myself…I suppose part of the educational experience was seeing that it could actually work.  I didn’t know what people would talk about.  I still feared we would get into and find that it’s not really producing anything useful after all.  I didn’t know if I could interview people in a way that would make for an interesting film.  So some initial confirmations in order, but not in any ways I could’ve predicted.

Let’s take interview #1: Murray.  I’m sure I’ve got other interviewees wondering, “Why Murray?” In class there were those who had a hard time with his point of view.  But this is where my position in the room has an advantage.  I get to see so many other things.  I get to have the private conversations outside of class with different students.  I get to read the journal assignments and papers that no one else sees.  So I get access to this whole other world people experience while in that class.  It’s not that they present one image in class and a completely different one outside of it – but I get to see more how things change, what they struggle with, how they end up in a different place at the end from the beginning.  Murray was one of those – he struggled at first but he allowed himself to be affected by the experience.  Which in the end is all I ask for.  I appreciated his willingness to put unpopular ideas out there, to challenge other’s points of view, to ask difficult questions.  Because he didn’t just put it out there to be troublesome, but because he really wanted an answer, he really wanted to understand.  Fabulous.  Give me 10 like him.  Murray isn’t in the film because he’s an exception, he’s in the film because he represents so many out there – regular people who have seen a lot of life and had to make sense of society’s crazy rules.  He’s trying to live honestly but there’s a lot that makes that hard.  And he let himself get tied up in knots in a class when he could’ve just skated by.

  Murray’s interview was a great way to start.  That’s the other great thing about him.  He does not tell a boring story.  Animated, passionate, he brings a lot to the front.  Which means as the interviewer, I just had to prod in a couple directions to get the ball flying down the hill. And what stories…Murray’s had 66 years of life and seen stuff that most of the students in my course only read about.  And he talked about that stuff.  He could articulate about the multiple confusions that come with segregation and the value of equality.  To know that you should be kind to all, but have been taught that you are better than some.  Murray’s had to deal with this conflict in some of our country’s deepest ways…and he’s still figuring it out.

Let’s move on to Bryan, #2 interview, probably the opposite of Murray.  White, yes, but at the start of his life’s journey, and already figured out that he’s been part of racism for most of his life.  So now committed to not doing that, but filled with questions.  If anything, that’s Bryan’s achille’s heel – a few too many questions.  Had to get Bryan to FEEL…he is so very good in his head, but heads don’t film as nicely as hearts.  So it was a real question of whether or not Bryan would allow himself to expose those parts to us, and be recorded while doing it.   We got there.  And it was a “we” thing…which was a taste of having to tailor the conversation to the interviewee’s needs.  Bryan needed to know it was safe to go there, that he could hang out in a more vulnerable place and it would be the right place to be.  I will say, it was pretty cool. That gets to another neat part – getting to see these individuals in a way that I didn’t always get to see them.  Even with Murray, who puts it all out there, to see him reveal his struggle was a pleasant surprise.  Bryan’s “tell” that emotional content was just behind the surface – these things unfolded in front of us and it was like watching pictures paint themselves.

So that leads us to #3, Shannon.  I’ve known Shannon for a couple years now, so this is pretty cool that she’s involved in this way.  Yes she’s also on our filming team, but to also have her as an interviewee is great.  John and I both thought of her quickly for this project, because she has a way of putting all those soft emotions out there with great sincerity.  And you need a ton of sincerity for this kind of subject.

Shannon’s interview turned out to be educational in other ways, different than expected.  Shannon is also an actress – and I realized that a few minutes in when she was pretty much waiting for us to literally direct her.  I thought, “oh, this is what directing really involves.” It wasn’t that she didn’t have stories to tell – she had great ones – but she needed us to let her know how to be on camera.  To know that we wanted the emotional, that it was ok to be her instead of a character, that we were there to guide her.  So basically we stumbled at first.  But it was a good lesson; the whole day was a good lesson and reminder in the uniqueness of each interviewee, and that we would need to be very good at tailoring our approaches to each person.

Overall it was fun and exhausting.  I couldn’t believe how exhausted I was.  I’ll never understand why when I put out some very good work, I always feel a little bit sad.  Maybe sad isn’t the right word, maybe it should be melancholy.  Is that some strange existential thing going on?  Putting my heart into something that matters to me makes me melancholy.  Weird.

So this boulder is rolling down the hill!  Can’t wait to see what the finished product looks like.  Now on to my next interview….

whoops, there go those rabbits jumping out of my head again.  Ha ha, sorry TR, gotta wait in line.