There are days when I wish I could bottle up voices. I imagine capturing stories, sayings, and songs from the people who paint such strange and vivid pictures of the lives they’ve lived, the world they see, the things they find beautiful, the future they imagine. I’m so often struck by the beauty of the glittering words that fill the air on quiet Tuesday mornings in Maine kitchens, on rainy car rides to the airport, on walks home from the grocery store. Like learning to listen for bird calls and suddenly hearing familiar songs in what had before been ambient twittering, I’ve felt like the stories swirling around me have the whole spectrum of human emotions wrapped up in them, even if it sounds like people are just talking about cell phone towers and bread recipes and election day.
I have two theories. Either I’m surrounded by a cleverly disguised cast of eccentric radio personalities masquerading as my friends, neighbors, professors and relatives, or, even more amazingly, human beings are constantly performing the strange alchemy of translation and narration about everything and nothing, spinning daily life into golden thread of meaning and wisdom. I’ve pretty well ruled out the first possibility; it would be way too expensive to hire all those actors, plus that idea already got used by the Truman show so I doubt they’d do a remake so soon.
So I guess this is just life. An indefinite number of days on a strange and beautiful earth filled with oaks, streams, apartment blocks, bluebirds, moss, honeybees, sunrises, and people. A dizzying cast of people in various states of composure or disrepair, bumbling about with the work of growing food, finding shelter, raising children, building communities, creating art, and always telling stories.
Sometimes I long for silence, a respite from the air saturated with sound waves so saturated with human joy, suffering, wisdom, wonder and love. But at the same time I’m saddened by voices and stories dissipating into silence like morning fog burned off by the sun. I want to capture, catalog, and dissect it all, picking apart and prodding at the words that seem to have so much meaning packed inside. But it’s so hard to find time just to listen, much less to capture and reflect on anything in a world that feels like it’s constantly hurtling forward with more noise, more activity, more demands on time and energy just to get to tomorrow. It can feel like a waste of time to stop and listen in the present, and even more strange to collect and go back to the stories of yesterday, re-listening and mining for meaning and patterns. That work takes silence, stillness and time, which sometimes feel like critically endangered species.
When I find myself drawn towards an ambiguous and invisible idea and want to explore or study something I cannot see or touch, I find a way to trap it in a practice or a project. For looking inwards and sorting through mental tangles, long runs in quiet woods. For finding hope and light in dark places, watch birds and talk to children.
For seeing and capturing the golden threads of human beauty in the chaos of everyday life:
- Ask people for their stories
- Go together to a safe, quiet place
- Ask questions
- Listen for answers
- Concentrate, condense, and share what you’ve found
On this blog, I’m cataloging the recordings of conversations. Talks with friends, grandparents, neighbors; anyone willing to talk. If you want to tell your own story and have it featured here, shoot me a message and I’d be happy to find time to talk. For me, I want to have a structure to solicit and capture the stories that remind me that people are dizzyingly wise, kind, and unpredictable. For the people I interview, I want to share the beautiful stories they’ve told me and give them a chance to take that story and share it with others. For anyone who just wants to listen, I hope these stories bring you joy, new ways of looking at the world, and courage to tell stories yourself, and find time and energy to listen to and learn from the people around you.