What an amazing day.  I am still reeling from the love, excitement, and gratitude received by all of you.

On September 30, 2018, I hosted a Release Party for my book, Stories of Elders, in Downtown Grand Rapids.  I was honored to host eight of the elders whom I interviewed in the book at the event, and they signed the books alongside me.  100 friends, family, and community members attended, as did FOX17 news.

We also premiered the Documentary, which was absolutely smashing.  I was delighted to hear the audience laugh, moan, and comment on the film.  Several asked for a feature length documentary, which is now being considered.  Thank you all!

The goal of the first leg of this work is to write a book to chronicle the experience and research.  But what of my writing experience?  In this Inside Scoop, I give a brief summary.

I strongly believe that publishing the Untold Stories Project’s interviews in a book is the best way to go.  In this Inside Scoop, I explain why.

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.