As we settle in from life on the road, the editing process has begun. It’s a big job. I interviewed more than 125 people over the past two years. Found them, got to them and sat with them.
It was a whirlwind of thoughtful conversations, eye-opening revelations and deep human connections. And as the body of work grew, I knew there would be a day where it would all have to be processed, organized and made sense of. But that day couldn’t be on the road. There was too much going on and “in the field,” I committed myself to gathering. Sharing as we could, but mostly gathering.
Now the season has turned. As we find our new rhythm, I am shifting gears into the editing process and it’s like unwrapping a new gift.
It’s like the day after opening the gift. When you first open a gift – say a new painting – you are thrilled with the idea of it. You look at it, smile a little, set it aside and move on to another package. But the next day, you start to look a little closer. You appreciate it in a way that you couldn’t in the rush of unwrapping. You start to notice the individual brush strokes. You watch the light play off the colors as the light changes through the day. You wonder what the artist was thinking as they moved across the canvas.
As I sink into the editing process, I get to organize and revisit the stories and each of them is a gift. I remember the conversation. The place we sat for it. The smell of the air and the warmth of the sun. I get to read and reread the words and hear the lessons in a new way.
It’s a good process. And it’s a lot. Transcribe an hour-long interview and you might get 10,000 words. Multiply that times 100 interviews and you’ve got a million words in your Google doc. Close to 1,000 pages. And the real trick is to uncover the gems.
If you want to throw a worn analogy at it, we are looking for the needle in the haystack. But this haystack is chock full of needles. Insights. Wisdom. Truth bombs. Epiphanies. There is so much subtlety and nuance in each of these stories that it’s hard to trim them down.
The reality is, there will be multiple edits for each story. One version for the website and the podcast. One version for the exhibit. Yet another for the book. The focus right now is the exhibit.
We’ll use the same basic framework as our American Stories exhibit, because it has worked so well at venues across the country. Each story will have a portrait, a short bio, a pull quote and a 350-word excerpt from their interview. The problem is, most people have several good, compelling narratives that can do the job. You have to choose.
You start looking at the individual stories, but also curating the larger body of work. How do the stories fit together? What hasn’t been heard yet? Who hasn’t been heard from?
It’s exciting. And daunting. If I didn’t care so much, I suppose I could knock it out more quickly, but it feels like the stories are sacred. Scratch that. They are sacred. These folks trusted me with their most persona; thoughts, their heart and soul, and that needs to be handled with care.
I don’t often share the edits with the people as I work on them, but I always have them in mind. Is this true to their intent? Does it honor their experience? Would they feel like it is an accurate reflection of who they are? I was working on a particularly sensitive story the other day and I did send it to the woman who had shared.
The story was a little abrupt and in your face. Just like her experience. In some ways it was hard to read, but it had so much power and truth to it. It was important. I just wanted to make sure she was ok with it. I sent her a draft and she replied, “I think those who might be caught off guard by the abrupt start – or feel uncomfortable – likely should feel those feelings.”
There is wisdom and beauty all around us, if we take the time to see it.
There’s a pile of editing in the weeks and months ahead. One day at a time and we’ll get there. I can’t wait to share it with you.