Listen to This

My very first interview for the Missourian was also one of my longest to date. For just over 100 minutes, Dan and Teresa Nelson told me about their marriage, family, business backgrounds and preparation to start Giggles Thrift Shop.

That first encounter, which also brought along another hour-long follow-up, taught me something pretty valuable: the importance of listening.

Last week, Katherine posted an article from the New York Times about the science and art of listening.

A lot of the points that Seth Horowitz brings up in his piece resonate with things I’ve noticed about myself and my reporting throughout the semester.

First, the difference between hearing and listening, like REALLY listening. It is all so simple, yet hard to actually make the effort to improve. It’s all about paying attention.

For the community beat, most of my interviews are over an hour long. It can be exhausting.

I feel that as the semester has gone on, I’ve realized that I need to schedule the longer interviews at a time where I have some downtime before and afterward to mentally prepare for the conversation and then later soak in all the information that I’ve been told. It’s not a matter of hearing the story and telling it, it’s about listening to it and understanding where the person is coming from to be able to relay that back to the readership.

Next, I’ve also had to make conscious decisions about scheduling interview locations, given the nature  and length of the usual interview.

I’ve noticed that whenever I have to schedule the interview in a public place (Kaldi’s has been the chosen coffeeshop as of late), it’s a little harder to stay focused on the conversation at hand what with the other conversations and coffee grinding going on behind the counter. What has been helpful is having a recording of the conversation and playing back parts of it when I’m going through the draft in a quieter setting. I know that this isn’t a fool-proof method, but I’m adjusting. Like (hopefully) my attention span.

The comment about listening to new and different music during routine music-listening time is something I’ll definitely have to take on. I’ve realized that other than trying to get Pandora to not skip every 45 seconds with the shoddy internet connection at my complex, I haven’t listened to much new music lately. My iTunes library has been severely neglected the past few months. Seriously, the last playlist I made was titled “Summer Skin,” and that was back in May. This tell me two things: 1) I make lame titles, and 2) it’s time to find some new tunes.

From my first-floor apartment window, I can hear people walking along Hitt Street, cars passing by, the occasional television turned up way too loud and bus brakes screeching at the intersection (seriously, THERE WAS NO BUS STOP OUTSIDE MY WINDOW WHEN I SIGNED MY LEASE IN MARCH. A notice over the summer would have been nice). All this used to be bothersome noise, especially during the first few months when construction crews would make sure that I never spent  a morning in bed past 8:30 a.m. But now that I’ve adjusted, it’s all background noise.

And that makes me wonder — is that necessarily a good thing? To be able to adapt is one thing. To assure that even when going into a noisy coffeeshop I’ll be able to test my mental stamina, as well as the subject’s ability to do so with all the distractions, is another.

I guess as long as I’m able to concentrate on the task at hand (like writing this post with my roommate walking in and out of my room asking about the tow truck sitting idle outside) I should be golden. Like silence, which I probably don’t experience enough of.


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