Sources of Connection
Meet people where they live and as they are
As an interviewer and in life, I always have endeavored to meet people where they live. By doing so, I gain a better understanding of people, their motivations and their interests. Too, it’s a way of making people feel comfortable and respected. The best stories result not from journalist-to-source interaction, but from person-to-person dialogue.
When I determined that I wanted to do a story on Sam Dunlap and his Seineyard restaurants, I knew better than to conduct the interview by phone. It was better by far to chat at the table in the far corner of his restaurant near Medart and take in the sights, sounds and aromas of the place.
We discovered immediately that we are contemporaries — I’m three years older than Sam is — and soon found that we have friends in common including his neighbor Jack Rudloe, whose tenacity and commitment to fostering appreciation for bays and estuaries we both admire.
As it turns out, we both like to spend time in North Georgia and both have fond memories tied to Cashiers, North Carolina, where Dunlap, as a boy, thrilled to slide down a smooth, algae-covered rock face into an icy stream.
We talked about how it is that there are so many juvenile snappers in the Gulf that bottom fishermen can’t get their baits past them to the grouper. And, we talked about one-time livelihoods that are fast vanishing — crab pickin’ and oyster shuckin’ and shrimpin’.
And, after a while, we got around to discussing the restaurant business. Sam nearly gave up the recipe for his popular Sticky Shrimp. Next time, I’ll get it out of him. And, he knows, there will be a next time.
I knew in advance that artist Anne Hempel and I would have a lot in common. She is a lover of the natural world and most especially of birds. We spoke for a time about the crow-sized pileated woodpecker; the clatter it makes as it sends bark flying; and its high-pitched, piping call, one that would be as appropriate to a jungle as it is to Tallahassee’s Imagination Road.
I am pleased that Anne paints unglamorous birds like anhingas and gallinules in addition to the far more striking peacocks and spoonbills. Sure, we got around to talking about Anne’s preference for wood over canvas and her painting technique, but mostly we talked about creatures with wings. I was delighted when she called me back just to let me know about her fondness for swallowtail kites. I love them, too.
Meeting people where they live when they are disabled is more difficult, but we owe it to ourselves and to them to try. Recently, I came across an exercise designed to make it possible for me and you to appreciate the mind-body disconnects that many autistic people contend with.
Start by placing a legal pad on the top of your head. Hold it there with your non-writing hand. Then have someone give you, in random order, a series of instructions for drawing a snowman. “Draw a small circle near the top of the paper to represent the snowman’s head,” might be followed by, “Draw a large circle at the bottom of the paper for the snowman’s base,” and then, “Draw a top hat on top of the snowman’s head.” And so on, until the carrot and buttons are placed.
Inspect your work, and you’re likely to find that it resembles something that Joan Miro or Pablo Picasso might have created while smashed on absinthe.
Now, imagine that you had produced that work with the paper in front of you and all of your faculties about you and that the drawing was the best you could do. Finally, imagine someone reacting to your work angrily or disappointedly and telling you that it wasn’t good enough.
The exercise is sure to stick with you and one that you will want to share with others.
Meet people where they live. See them for what they can do, not what they cannot.