Fly on a notebook

This project has already had an incredible impact on me.  I might have predicted that it would, but I have been so consumed in building the project and reaching out to friends to connect with the Silent Generation that I wasn’t paying attention to myself.

Becoming a Better Anthropologist

An important change is my becoming a better Anthropologist.  Anthropology in relation to ethnography, to me, means removal of self for the greater good of a project or understanding of a group of people.  We learn this in school, in addition to critical thinking and best practices, but it’s easy to forget in day-to-day life.  Our gut reactions and upbringing play a role in all that we do.  Most of our interactions depend on our NOT dissolving our personality – our friends want to know what we think, colleagues want to know who we are.  Acting as a Faceless Man would draw suspicion.

But when conducting ethnography, it is best to fade oneself out.  This is hard to do, and it is obvious to a project when an Anthropologist is unable to do so.  At the beginning of the project, I found myself bumping against this wall like a piece of driftwood against the levee.  I knew that the wall needed to be dissolved, but I wasn’t sure how.  Most of the stories I was hearing weren’t in large conflict with myself, so the urgency wasn’t there.

The challenge came when I was in the South.  It is a cliché that the South is religious, but several of my interviews took that slant.  Some even went so far as to be anti-other-religion, which is hard for me to support.  This is where my levee finally broke.  You see, this project isn’t about me.  I am just a conduit.  I had felt as such at the beginning, that I was being given these stories in trust that I would direct their flow with care to their final destination.  Now I had stories I didn’t necessarily agree with.

I’ve always said I want to be able to represent a people or situation as accurately as possible, without sensationalizing as the news does.  For me to remove any part of a story because I didn’t agree with it would be falling into the very habits for which I frown upon the news.  It would also negate the trust I am building with the participants.  My walls are down, and it feels good.


When I started the project, I thought I might do best if I crowdsourced the stories.  I don’t know all 300 Million Americans.  After circulating the project in my own city, and getting a little local PR, nothing happened.  Not one story came through.  So I started calling friends.

This is where the snowball effect began.  I currently have five stories yet to transcribe, and fifteen more scheduled in the coming month.  The national map is growing, too.  I’m confident that the project will reach a critical mass wherein strangers will begin referring interviews as well, but it’s not there, yet.

The best part of all this is reconnecting with people I haven’t spoken with in a long time.  I am calling friends all over the country, people I have loved.  Hearing their voices, catching up on lives, leaves me a bit stunned.  Why in the world did I ever stop talking to them?  I don’t mean Facebook talking.  I mean really talking on a personal level.  Sending full messages, and spending the time on a phone call.

This project is overwhelmingly about connections.  It is about adding flesh and blood to the cold fact bones of history.  I am so lucky that a side effect of this is enriching my own connections once more.