Friday, May 24, 2019

42 minutes with Beth

 

Innately curious about people, I invited my memoir teacher, Beth Finke, for an interview at StoryCorps. Beth is a Chicago-based award-winning author, teacher, and journalist. She is the author of two memoirs, 'Long Time, No See' and 'Writing Out Loud’. She happens to be blind.

Read about my interviewing experience on Beth's blog (original post) or here.

The first time I stumbled upon StoryCorps I was meandering through the Chicago Cultural Center. I was drawn by their bright red, cursive sign. After listening to a couple of stories about love and forgiveness, I left the place charged with hope. I was reassured that despite our differences and how diverse our lives are, we all want the same: to be loved, accepted, and understood.

Since then, every time I pass by the Chicago Cultural Center I would try to think of someone I know that has a story worthy of sharing with StoryCorps. In anticipation of taking a memoir writing class with Beth Finke, I read her memoir Writing out loud. A few chapters in, the light bulb in my head went off. What a spirit she is; she would be a great StoryCorps guest. Luckily, she agreed to be interviewed.

I really wanted to do this. I worked diligently on thinking up good questions for the interview. I ran them by a teacher I had for an interview class. Yet, there I was on the day of the interview, nervous, questioning if I was right for this.

When Beth arrived to StoryCorps we first had to fill out some paperwork. I offered to help. The last question on the form, “How would you describe yourself in a sentence or two,” was a perfect segue to our interview.

The recording studio is in essence a wooden cube with a three-yard long side. Stepping in felt like jumping in at the deep end. Once in, however, it’s dimly lit, incredibly quiet ambiance gave a sense of intimacy and safety. I began asking questions in the order I had them written down. But interviews do not always follow order. I skipped, returned to, and improvised questions.

I’ve been taught to be an active listener, to nod occasionally, keep eye contact, smile and use facial expressions, but Beth wouldn’t see that. I’d like to encourage the speaker with verbal comments like ‘yes’ and ‘uh huh’, but the StoryCorps facilitator warned us the microphones are very sensitive so when one of us speaks the other must be quiet. I was struggling to adhere to the rules.

I reached the more personal questions. After hearing the first one Beth paused, adjusted in her chair, looked right at me and responded with honesty. I could see this was emotionally taxing for her. This was exactly the bravery that I was hoping to hear about, the strength to deal with life’s unfairness, the resilience in the face of adversity. The life experience gets relived briefly, the feelings from the past may resurface for a moment, but the story of the human spirit’s strength is told. It’s stories like this that inspire and encourage us.

It was an honor to interview Beth for StoryCorps. I doubt the 42 minutes we had in the recording booth would do Beth’s story justice, but I’d like to believe I gave it a chance to be heard by sharing some of her experience, highlighting her incredible ability to take things lightly, and proving that attitude and humor make life a bit easier.

I hope the interview piques the listeners’ curiosity and they read her books, take her memoir writing class, and maybe, hopefully, make Beth’s dream — to teach her Memoir Teacher Masterclass around the world — come true. I, personally got to know Beth better and that is something to cherish.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

18-word memoir


My entry for the Gotham Writers’ 2018 18-word memoir contest. Underappreciated.

         Fifty moving boxes—single life's ending.
         I worry.
         He winks. 
         Is third time the charm?
         We shall see.





Sunday, January 20, 2019

A 40-year-old virgin




First-time sex for most Americans happens at around age 17. Yet, recently I met not one, but two men who remained virgin late in their 30ies. One of them shared his story.

The first mention of sex was his father’s “drunken sailor” talk and uncomfortable off-color jokes. Pornographic movies, school, and media expanded his sex knowledge throughout adolescence. “Watching porn felt naughty, but I was curious”. Yet, sex was among many topics of curiosity.

It was a long road. High school would have been the easy time to make out, but he wasn’t the coolest of kids. He went to college and connected with people, but soon he left off to start a startup company. “It was a different environment. There were a lot of hot women, but they were much older and inaccessible.”

Ten years later he moves to Chicago. Most of his new colleagues are married, which isn’t boosting his social life. He admits he was not keen on pursuing social interactions just for the sake of it, not obsessing about sex, even thinking it wasn’t worth the effort. Pressure from different sides added up. 

A shred of regret in his voice tempts me to ask if he ever felt peer pressure, sadness or depressed about his virginity. No, he perks up, because nobody knew. I start to believe that it was all circumstantial - people assume he is like everyone else and he lets it be- a convenient protective shield. But he adds something that links to the beginning of our conversation. 

“During my time at the startup, things could have been different, but the co-founder was over the top always trying to impress - sexually and otherwise, he reminds me a little bit of Trump.” 

He chuckles. I am careful, “You mean that in a putting off way, he was giving sex a bad name?”
“Yeah.”

What he adds after a pause is more to reassure himself rather than talking to me. “Yeah. It definitely feels like a number of things were tilted in different directions, just happenstance”.

But he liked a coworker. When he learned that she was engaged, with a quite healthy sex life the light bulb went on – the lack of sexual experience might be a block in pursuing a relationship of his own. Seeing a sex therapist and a dating expert came to the rescue.

Having sex for the first time later in life was neither a choice nor a condemnation. He was comfortable with focusing on his business first and letting sex enter life in its own time. Sexually active for a few months now, he finds it hard to disentangle sex and being in a relationship - he is dating his first sexual partner, and that’s big for him. 

“It’s really not that difficult if you find somebody that is willing to go through that first experience with you. And it’s ok, it’s not like you are going to be a million years behind everybody.” – he smiles.