interview

schmutzie quits smoking

About a month and a half ago, Schmutzie quit smoking. Since we're married, I get to see all the crazy technicolour effects in person: confusion, irritability, hopelessness, irrational bursts of joy and time dilation. I went through the experience eight years ago, when I decided one day that I no longer needed tobacco. I think the P@xil helped.

Anyway, it occurred to me the other day that I had a) an inquiring mind, and b) a cheap camcorder. Our conversation revolved around two subjects: her overweening ambition to rule the world and her fear of death. Usually this makes for a Genghis Khan-like tyrant mowing down a subcontinent, but in Schmutzie's case it's rather inspiring.

Here she is talking about quitting smoking:

And here's a longer disquisition on creativity and blogging:

Extra footage courtesy of archive.org.

*Facebook readers: to view the videos, please visit my weblog In Palinode's Palace.

Quest for Soda: Jan

So here's what happened. Two things happened. I bought a camcorder not much larger than a deck of cards. And I developed a burning curiosity about soda. I realized that, armed with a camera, there was nothing about soda that I could not ferret out from perplexed bystanders. Also, whom would you punch in the head if you had the chance? If that makes no sense, please watch this short explanatory video.

Full disclosure: The soda/headpunch interviews are part of the content I contribute to Tangible.tv, a venture I'm venturing upon with an Iowan-Mexican man who calls himself onlyaman. We go live every Wednesday and Sunday at 8pm PST, around about the time that onlyaman's kids go to bed. His kids just can't handle the no-holds-barred blistering commentary and insane lag times of Tangible.tv.

interview blues

Back before I wrote speeches and bullied undeserving graphic designers for a living, I was an interviewer for several television shows in the History-Discovery-Learning Channel mode. We all know the format: a portentous narrator, some stock footage of the Second World War or time-lapse shots of amoebas battling paramecia, then a series of interviews spliced into low-budget reenactments. Did you ever wonder about the person off-camera in those shows, the one in whom the talking heads are confiding their life secrets/expertise on tanks/wacky antics? Imagine me, unshaven and smelling of a mix of hotel soap and mounting desperation, coaxing answers out of people unused to having a camera pointed at them, and reciting to myself, mantra-like, this stranger is my new best friend, this stranger is my long-lost grandparent, we’re having a grand old time in this cable-webbed, silk-shrouded living room.

With only a few exceptions, most of the people I interviewed were not media professionals, politicians or celebrities. They were survivors of accidents and crimes, family members, police officers, owl-eyed historians or amateur aviation experts. They were ordinary people, and like most of us, they had no idea how to talk in front of a camera.

There are two ways that most of us respond to the presence of that unblinking glass eye. We either freeze up and deliver lines as if each phrase were a chunk broken off from a dripping icicle of thought, or we ignore the device altogether and talk ‘naturally’. I’m not sure which produces worse results. Watching fearful people dress up their speech with well-meant malapropisms is not fun, but an interviewee entirely forgetful of the camera can result in hours of fascinating, engaging, utterly useless conversation. It’s like going to buy a suit and being sold a few yards of nice Italian wool – undoubtedly of fine quality, but it’s not much good for your next job interview or wedding appearance.

A successful interview can be measured by the number and quality of ‘clips’ that it delivers (or sound bites, if you like that term). Depending on the purpose, a good clip can be informative, edifying, persuasive or heart-rending (if it ends in a brief pause and then fresh glinting tears), but most of all, a good clip is self-contained. It provides enough context so that even a viewer who has just flipped the channel can understand a good portion of what’s going on. Good clips avoid pronouns, hoard adjectives for maximum impact, keep the metaphors simple and evocative. Relative terms such as ‘here’ and ‘there’ are discarded in favour of ‘behind the shed’ or ‘in my face’. Here are some examples of terrible responses that interviewees have given me:

‘Yes’ or ‘No’. [Note: A good interviewer will avoid asking yes or no questions. But that won’t stop some people from giving yes or no answers. Also the variants ‘Yes it was’ and ‘No it wasn’t’ or ‘uh-huh’, ‘oh for sure’, ‘you betcha’ and the emphatic ‘absolutely’.]

‘It was horrible’. [What was horrible?]

‘I saw it happen’. [What happened exactly?]

‘When it happened I was as close as I am now to that guy with the camera over there (points to camera)’. [I am going to reach over and strangle you now.] [Often we interviewed people in their living rooms. The familiarity of the setting sometimes caused people to use cues from their surroundings. This is bad interview and bad memory. Not only does it restrict the audience to the small demographic of People Who Know What's In Your Living Room, I will not take your story seriously if everything is framed in terms of how you've arranged the furniture.]

‘It’s like I said to you earlier…’. [When you interview people in their homes, there can be anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes of set-up time. Lights need to be set up, furniture needs rearranging, settings need endless tweaks. During that time the interviewee will try to talk about the subject of the interview – in effect, scooping him or herself and drying out the reservoir of emotion that comes from relating something to someone for the first time. The interviewer will often divert the conversation, but the situation is artificial and awkward, and the temptation to talk about your actual purpose for invading someone’s home is very strong. Avoid it and your interview will be free of phrases alluding to other conversations. Again, this is not always possible. Your interviewee has already spoken with a researcher or the person who has set up the interview. Often the interviewee has consented to the interview based on the strength of the relationship formed with that researcher/coordinator/whomever. So you’ll get people saying “It’s like I told Lyn on the phone,” or even worse, “Well, I already told Lyn all about it, so I don’t see the need to go into it all over again”. THANKS A LOT, LYN.]

‘I don’t know anything about that’. [Fuck you so very much. I spent three hours in a plane, booked myself into a stinky Super 8, hauled a crapload of equipment into your living room and spent the last hour making aimless conversation while we turned your mobile home into a mini-studio, and now you claim ignorance about the very topic you agreed to be interviewed on. Next time, just say you’re lonely and you like the attention, and we’ll send you a box of chickens in the mail.]

my virtual dinner with Notfainthearted

A couple of weeks back, Neil Kramer of Citizen of the Month proposed The Great Interview Experiment, an interview daisy chain between fellow bloggers. By a fiendish arithmetic Neil came up with a list of interviewees and interviewers.

I was assigned the enjoyable task of forcibly detaining and interrogating interviewing Notfainthearted, a compulsive blogger and all-round interesting person from the Midwest. As you'll see from the answers below, Notfainthearted probably has a dog, leads a spiritual life, and saves candle ends for the purpose of making firestarters. Which suggests to me that she's trying to make a big wax sculpture of Drew Barrymore. And holy cow, she knows Grandpa Ken. That's a brimming ramikin of cool.

INTERVIEW!

Bloggers are an incredibly diverse bunch, but by and large we're all familiar and comfortable with the internet. Indeed, the internet has become so seamlessly integrated into our lives that it's hard to remember a time when it was strange and new. Tell me about your discovery of the internet.

In 1992 I was working as a temp for a wholesale drug company. They held the contract for pharmacies that were members of these new-fangled HMOs and state buying contracts. This company would send their catalog and prices out to the participating pharmacies on big floppy disks and the pharmacys would order via a BBS (or a bulletin board system). We had some email but it was text based only.

Around that same time, we got our second home computer (a MacSE) that included a modem and an email program. When my second son was born and I stayed home again, one of the things I tried was doing some research via this modem and libraries that had their catalogs available.

I remember being terribly disappointed that while I could determine that a library in Chicago or Paris had a book or (music) manuscript I was looking for, I couldn't read it. From home. I thought the whole idea would be a lot better if you could actually read the book or see the music from your own computer.

I spent a little bit of time on some early BBS groups (predecessor of chat rooms) but never really connected with any of the communities. Probably had something to do with the slow connection speeds coupled with two kids under three and at least two part-time jobs.

I see that you're part of Blog365. Blogging, even when you're writing short posts, requires a degree of concentration and creativity that can be draining and difficult to maintain. Share some of your strategies for blogging every day, without fail, for an entire year.

First, those who know me know that I am seldom at a loss for an opinion or the desire to express said opinion. Even at my darkest, bleakest, and most depressed I can always talk about how crappy I feel!

Second, despite my tending toward sucking up to people like Neil, and playing along with silly blog memes and scavenger hunts, my blog really is just for me.

I started this blog in November 2004 in a desperate attempt to succeed at keeping a journal. Partly because I was told repeatedly by my therapist to journal but mostly because I knew it would help me to have a way to process. I had tried repeatedly over the course of my life to keep a journal and to be consistent. And had failed repeatedly. Given up. The number of adolescent (and pre-adolescent) angst filled notebooks and "My Diaries" in my cedar chest is truly amazing. What's discouraging is how few of them have anything written past Valentine's day.

Internet journaling, blogging, has been a tool that for whatever reason has been successful for me. And I give consistent journaling a large amount of credit for dragging myself up from the bottom of the pit.

As I've come around the year from when I started to post regularly, I found it helpful (and interesting - from a self absorbed point of view, I suppose) to remember where I was "a year ago." Especially as I came up on the anniversaries related to my divorce and beginning to rebuild my life (not just the dating, but certainly not discounting that.) I found being able to look back to be a powerful motivator to keep writing for myself.

From a practical point of view, if I feel like I need to comment on something that happens, I write the post and date it for publication in the future. I can always change the publication date to fill in for a day I don't have a post written.

My cat likes to lick my laptop screen while I work and occasionally tries to eat the mouse pointer. Even though he'll never ever get to eat that pointer or even pin it down with a paw, he never gives up. Do you find that inspirational or creepy? I'm divided on this one and your input could really tip my judgment either way.

My dog likes to bark at the dogs on the TV and sometimes chases other animals around to the back of the set if they run off screen. That I find funny. I would laugh at your cat, too.

Ever notice how fish never do any of that weird stuff?

I used to be an interviewer for several television shows. I (almost) never appeared on camera, but whenever one of my shows came on, I was always aware that I was the off-camera end of the conversation. I was like a celebrity's shadow. What's your strange claim to fame?

You mean aside from playing the accordion on the Grandpa Ken TV show when I was 9?

Close your eyes and picture your favourite room in your house. Make a quick list of all the things you see in that room. Now tell me all the things in that room that you could throw away and not miss.

I'd love to say my favorite room was my bedroom. Sounds so much more sexy and self-actualized than "the kitchen." But the truth is, right now, my kitchen is my favorite room.

Quick list of what I see in my mind's eye.

    Antique farm table and mismatched chairs cookbooks dirty dishes in the sink from dinner cupboards with no doors on them - so I can see all the dishes and vases and glasses...and dust appliances phone dog (probably)

Stuff I could throw out and not miss:

    everything in the cupboards below the silverware drawer: (eleventy-three "silver" platters, cheesy Christmas candy dishes, Christmas plates I never remember I have, Santa cheese spreaders, hors d'oeuvre plate holders, boxes of plastic cutlery, and some stuff I probably would be surprised to find.) At least 1/3 of the cookbooks fondue pot and chafing dishes from my mom's kitchen plastic cups saved from the baseball games (these seem to mulitiply on their own) Probably more than half the stuff in the lazy susan cupboard (really old maraschino cherries, outdated baking mixes, that sort of stuff.) glass chip 'n' dip serving dishes punch bowls (Not really sure how I ended up with two of those...) probably a small box worth of "gadgets" that have been given to me over the years that I don't use but hang on to out of obligation candle ends (saved to make fire starters) files and files of recipes cut from magazines like Martha Stewart Living and several years worth of Every Day Food

sheesh! Thanks for reminding me of the de-clutter I need to do!

What role has the church/religion/the spirit played in your life? In an age when belief is not a given, how do you maintain your faith?

Wow. This is a biggie. Let me try to sum-up.

I would have to say that I don't maintain my faith. I am full of doubt and cynicism. Some days more than others. But the truth of my life is that I am continually drawn back into that relationship with the Divine. I guess I believe that God is a God of second chances (times infinity) and that no matter how balled up of a mess I (we) make of things, something good can be made of it.

I've attended church, been a member since infancy. I had parents who argued about double-predestination and the nature of God. (Vengeful and just waiting for you to screw up so He can blast you was the underlying feeling.) I got in trouble with them (and my grandparents) when as a first grader I voted for Hubert H. Humphrey for president. Their objection was that he was going to give all their money away to help "those people." They were not amused when I said "But I thought Jesus said we were supposed to help the poor?"

These same people sent me to conservative Lutheran schools where, in addition to pushing them on an answer about our social responsibility to one another as Christians, I argued with the religion teachers about the role of women in the church (this was in the mid 70's when other branches of the Church were starting to ordain women) and all sorts of other things. I was told that if I didn't straighten out my thinking (i.e. shut up and go along) I'd go to hell along with the Baptists and Catholics. Well, I knew I wasn't going to hell, so I figured they were wrong about the Baptists and Catholics too. And probably about the Buddhists and Muslims and maybe even about those godless atheists. (but don't tell them that!;-) )

It's at that point, I think that many many people throw up their hands and abandon "organized religion" completely. And I honestly don't know why I didn't. I certainly understand why anyone would. But it seems to me that the best part of a community of believers is also the worst part: It's full of people. It's a paradox.

Instead of giving up on church/religion/spirituality, the path of my life has been deeper and deeper immersion into the spiritual and theological (let's not split hairs here) within the Church. And what I found is that 20th century American "Christianity" ignored or actively hid a lot of what I was looking for and needed.

I'm wired as a mystic. Part of that comes through my music, part through my spiritual life. Most of both of those can't be separated from each other.

I think that one of the greatest gifts of the late 20th century has been the collapse of the "modern" lie: that spirit and body and mind are separate things, that you and I are separate, that the physical existence in and of itself is less "ideal" than the ethereal realm. The re-discovery of complimentary medicines, quantum physics and global climate change are all demanding that we abandon that compartmentalization and mechanization of the Industrial Age. These are all spiritual matters.

All I can tell you is that I can point to instances where I believe God has acted mercifully toward me through people. That my faith is a gift. That I don't maintain it, it maintains me. Those stories are the stories of my life. Some of them are written in my blog, some aren't, some will be.

What do you want to leave behind when you exit this world?

Everything.

Once I went to a bar and ordered the house wine. It came in a can. Have you ever had wine in a can? It was categorically wrong and it tasted like alcoholic metal. It made the concept of wine in a drinking box seem innovative instead of ridiculous. I know I had a question in here somewhere. Okay, it's a two-parter. Have you ever had wine in a can, and if so, how was the experience? And would you date someone if, on the first date, they brought over a six pack of sauvignon blanc? What if they brought over a six-pack of wine and said, "Baby, you're a Top Ten Washing Machine and I'm a load of dirty whites"? Would you date that person? Or call the police? I'd do both.

Ha! I'd probably do both, too. If nothing else just for the good story it would provide.

Wine from a can, huh? I have never had wine from a can. I've given up drinking canned beer, so I doubt I would try it. I have had wine from a box. In fact, there are a couple of nice Australian box wines that got me through several tough months of the divorce process.

I've never tried the individual drink box sizes. I suspect my inner 5 year old would emerge and I'd end up squirting most of it at my date, just because it would be funny.

If a spiderpig really does do whatever a spiderpig does, what does it do?

The only existing evidence suggests that they poop a lot and leave footprints on the ceiling. I suspect that further investigation would prove that they also make damn fine bacon. Not to mention chops, ribs and a tasty, tasty tenderloin.