Saturday, July 31, 2021

Writing Prompt

Thank you, Len Edgerly, for the writing prompt.

Although I spend my days working with words, my usual role is editing. Or writing stories of technology companies or short technical descriptions of products.

My writing as introspection and making sense of this life has languished. I feel the void. There's so much in this world to contemplate, which I do best through translating my thoughts into words on a screen. While my ego preens for the satisfaction of being read by others, the deeper gratification comes from rereading my own words and seeing if the ideas make sense.

Earlier today, I spent a fulfilling hour talking with Len Edgerly, a simpatico friend I met years ago at a podcast event in Boston. Via Zoom, we shared a few of the themes and questions in our lives, teasing out some of the deeper meanings:

  • What is it about meditation that causes the mind to settle?
  • Will acting quickly on intuition, rather than a thoughtful, deliberative tradeoff of pros and cons lead to a good decision?
  • Not knowing what will happen, can we be comfortable in the uncertainty and wait quietly for discernment to provide an answer?
  • In a world so troubled, how can we make a positive difference without becoming overwhelmed?

As we talked, Len asked whether I had written a blog post lately, perhaps wondering if he had missed one. It was a nonjudgmental question, a timely question — just the writing prompt I needed.

Len has started a new writing project, recounting how he and his wife adopted a puppy to fill the void from the death of their Yorkie. He's devoting 30 minutes each morning to crafting the story, while learning the nuances of a new writing platform. Just 30 minutes. But every day.

His example of persistent and modest effort tempers my impulse to make sense of the world's ills in one massive missive. What's more practical for a busy life is persistent attention and effort. And so, I send this out, a reflection of this moment.

Thank you, Len.

Initially published on July 31, 2021 on my HEY World blog.

The Master Interviewer

I've heard Studs Terkel's name at various times throughout my life, the mention generally lauding his interviewing skills. Most recently, Ezra Klein recommended his books; Klein's favorite: Working, Terkel's survey of people's jobs. That led me to an audio compilation of about a dozen of those actual interviews, produced by Radio Diaries from the original tape recordings. I bought the Audible version.

Wow. Such powerful interviews. Terkel's questions are short and direct, yet he establishes a trusting rapport with those he's talking with, where they feel comfortable disclosing. Moved by what I heard, I wrote this review:

Studs Terkel is legendary for his interview skills. These dozen interviews reveal why. Terkel's short, probing, disarming questions explore various jobs, their challenges, and what the incumbents truly feel about them.

Talking with the father and son in a car repair garage uncovers the tensions in a multi-generational family business. The only female executive in a national advertising agency shares she's either ignored or stereotyped, her talents discounted. A Black police officer describes the racism he faced in the Chicago police force during the 1970s; sadly, not much seems to have changed.

Each story is short, yet unforgettable.

I resonate with Terkel's skills because of my interest in interviewing. When I produced a series of podcasts talking with Unitarian Universalists about their spiritual paths, my goal was to get below the surface to reach the meaning of their lives. Now, when I write the questions for Microwave Journal interviews with industry executives, I try to craft at least one to connect with the humanity of the person I'm interviewing, hoping to get beyond the talking points of the business.

Listening to Terkel, I'm inspired to take a microphone and recorder and record impromptu conversations with people on the street, looking for our common humanity. In this divisive world, we need to listen to each other's stories.

First posted on my Hey World blog, on July 31, 2021.