A few weeks ago I received an email from Nan Qin. She had spotted my poster on craigslist calling for volunteers to participate in my interview project: Minute Particulars. Nan had just recently started her own blog (http://nanqin.wordpress.com) about her experiences living as a foreigner in Japan and was eager to volunteer for an interview. We met in Tokyo by the giant spider sculpture outside the Mori Tower and began filming right away. Nan was a bit nervous and we had some difficulty understanding one another at times, but overall, it was a really wonderful experience to meet a stranger and share ideas.
As I was editing the video into parts, I reflected on an article I recently read about narrative research. In short, the idea is that we bring a lot to dialog: our culture(s), our personal history, our own thoughts and expectations, the tendencies of our families and communities and so on. It seems to me, that often conversation is less about dialog and more about asserting those voices…it is a constant challenge to learn to listen. At a few points in our conversation, I noticed that because I misunderstood Nan’s English…or for whatever other reason (my own preconceived ideas about what would be said…?) I would direct the conversation away from what Nan was trying to communicate. It was eye-opening to replay the conversation because it helped me to understand it from a different angle, to observe Nan and I interacting as an observer rather than a participant. (Mike Wesch addresses this phenomenon in his digital ethnography of youtube, when he refers to Marshall McLuan’s ideas about the new electronic media, the importance of the recording and replay of events…because it allows re-cognition.) It was fascinating…but also alarming in some sense because…I do wonder how often we simply do not hear one another when we engage in dialog. How do we learn to be better listeners?
Oh! One last point. It started getting a bit chilly ouside the Mori Tower, so Nan and I finished our taped conversation and moved inside to Starbucks. There, Nan gave me a charming surprise: she pulled a camera out of her bag along with a leather-bound notebook and asked me if she could interview me! She quickly set up her camera and opened her notebook to a short list of questions she had jotted down in advance. She was curious to know why I had initiated this project and what I hoped to accomplish. In retrospect, it seems I learned just as much about my new friend Nan when she was the interviewer and I was the interviewee.
Thank you Nan Qin!!! 🙂
If you are interested in checking out the conversation with Nan, you will find the two parts on youtube.com:
What are your ideas about narratives, listening, dialog or anything else that comes to mind. I’ll do my best to be a good listener!!
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