An almond croissant and coffee on a sunny morning — my first signs of spring are coming to me at Patisserie Lenox, talking with an old friend. She’s my first boss and my first editor, and by now we’ve known each other more than half my life.
We’re talking about oral histories, and what it means to understand events from many perspectives, in the past and in the community right now. We are both still involved, one way and another, in the work we used to do together at the old Berkshire Advocate … an independent newspaper that no longer exists.
I remember the summer night when she called to invite me to interview — I was just graduated from college, fresh from exams, about to get on a plane for California to see my sister. I had that interview jet-lagged in an empty dorm room across the country, and I spent two or three days thinking about what working for a community newspaper could mean, before I called Judith from Yosemite to take the job.
But I had no way of knowing then what the job really would mean. Because the job is talking with people. When you’re writing based on conversations and experiences, when you’re meeting people face to face, sitting at their tables and listening, that practice shapes your stories. And it can shape your relationships.
Judith is the first person who taught me to interview, and talking to people isn’t a skill most of us get to practice. Feeling out a conversation is a skill, or a web of skills — helping someone put thoughts into words, understanding when to ask, when to listen, when to push back gently and when to sit back and pay quiet attention.
When I talk with someone with a pad and pencil in my hand, I hear and absorb what they’re saying much more clearly. I’m there. I’m paying attention. Something about taking notes seems to slow us both down, and we find or make a space together that they can relax into.You can feel it when someone settles in and takes a breath, and you know they feel comfortable saying something real.
You can feel it, when a conversation picks up momentum and one idea launches the next, and you’re both flying. A good talk can be a high. It can send you out ready for action. It can make you feel close to someone, close enough at least to hear and understand honestly what matters to them.
Those skills feel so increasingly important now, and one clear reason why would hit me later on today in Nora Krug’s new exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Museum. Among sketches from her awardwinning graphic memoir, she also illustrates Timothy Snyder’s principle to practice corporeal politics.
“Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.”
As I look at her images, illustrating his words, I think he means we hold power in our bodies and minds — confidence and compassion, excitement, willingness to act. Mental strength has symbiotic relationship with physical and tangible exchanges with people and to the world around us. Put it simply … We all need human connection.
Energy is stirring as we come to the equinox. Images Cinema screens international Academy Award nominated films, the acclaimed Irish film ‘The Quiet Girl’ and ‘Close,’ and Mass MoCA’s artists in residence open their studios …
Events coming up …
Find more art and performance, outdoors and food in the BTW events calendar.