Talking with Michelle tonight on the phone, “debriefing” after the awesome little social event last night thrown by the 38th St. Business Association that we found out about at the last minute and crashed at Mi Sinaloa Restaurant.
What’s been happening with me and with Michelle too for the last few months since this started, happened for us once more last night. As we met folks and introduced ourselves and told them about the project, people just started telling us the stories that were important to them. We didn’t have to ask them well-thought out and probing questions. Just saying we’re looking to hear stories is invitation enough.
A taste of what we talked about tonight:
Me: “We don’t have to push it, or be strident. We can let this come to us; just be open, and be available.
There’s value in listening.
In asking and in open and gracious listening”
Michelle: “we want to hear what people are passionate about. To be open to the passion of the person, separate from our assumptions [of what we think their connection and story might be”
She went on: “All we have to do, all we’ve done, is just tell people that we’re gathering stories from the neighborhood, and they just start talking”.
Now, our goal is to maintain that clear openness to what someone wants to talk about as we begin to meet people specifically to hear their stories. IE – more “formal” interviews, along with the random, “happenstance” moments and encounters that have been sustaining us till now (and hopefully will continue!)
If we schedule a date to speak with a child-care provider in the neighborhood, and she doesn’t want to talk childcare, but wants to talk about the importance of the #5 bus for the neighborhood, we want to be conscious to hear what she is passionate about and not just what we *thought* she might share with us.
After talking with Michelle, I went and visited with a dear old work friend. Ev is a wonderful lady who helped train me in to my very first job out of college, back when I was an employment counselor with newly arriving refugees.
She’s spent years helping refugees adapt and, as she put it “re-integrate” their lives here. She’s heard countless stories, and for more than a decade, mainly stories most of us would wish never to hear.
We haven’t caught up in over ten years. She was so excited to hear what i’m up to, and especially about my work with story, pointing out that it’s a continuation of how I met and worked with the people just days after they arrived in the country back when I was 22.
“People are totally surprising if we get beyond the surface things that we see in them or that they first reveal”****
“Everybody’s got something that doesn’t fit the picture you see of them” ****
“it’s not just the story of what I did or where I was, but what I wanted, and what I dreamed about but didn’t accomplish and why, or what was important to my mom or dad”
“The most common mistake made in listening”, she said, was starting to share one’s own story that relates to what you’ve heard, before the other person’s done talking”
And why? Because we all want to relate and share the things that are important to us.
She went on to say that it’s usually a negative term “he just wanted to hear himself talk”, but it’s TRUE.
“We DO! We all want our story told, and other people to listen to it. In the telling and the hearing, it validates our lives.”
“We need that – to hear ourselves talk. We’ve got so much to tell!”
**** She told me, as example, back when she lived in Frogtown, she remembered seeing Wing Young Huie’s photo of “a whole bunch of blue collar white guys covered in snakes. I LOVED that photo. I mean, I *ABHOR* snakes, but looking at those guys, I would never have imagined that they’d be be so into them, and I was just totally surprised.”
postscript: Wing was there last night at Mi Sinaloa. His space The Third Place Gallery is kitty corner from the restaurant and just a couple storefronts down.
He’s doing a project for Arts On Chicago too; and it’s through AoC that we’ve been getting to know eachother.