After being postponed by a few weeks for scheduling conflicts, I’m finally getting ready to sit down on Thursday with the interviewee I first mentioned two months ago. Out of all of the people I’ve talked with, he is actually the only one who re-enlisted. After finishing his time in Iraq, he spend time in the National Guard, and is now back as a full time member of the U.S. Army.
Which is why he’s been so hard to get to sit down and talk with me.
Fortunately our schedules have now coalesced, and Thursday Sgt. A.S. and I are sitting down for a conversation. Also at the table will be former Pvt. T.B., who enlisted at the same time as did A.S., but who was discharged shortly after his return from Iraq.
I’ve known both of these guys for some time. I knew them before they enlisted, and I’ve been able to see the changes in them over the years. They both had the thousand-yard stare for years. Even now it’s there sometimes, when they think nobody’s looking. It’ll probably never go away.
I’ve always been hesitant to ask about what they saw when they were overseas. What it was that changed them. I never really felt like I had the right to ask, since I myself have never served. So it is with no small amount of gratitude that I’ll be sitting with these two gentlemen, sucking down coffee cup after coffee cup, and listening. Just listening.
You may, by now, have realized that I’ve been relying rather heavily on Postmodern Interviewing to help me. There’s good reason for that: I want more than just the standard, back-and-forth Q&A model that I used for years when I was a newspaper man. It doesn’t really allow for much leeway, or for new avenues of conversation to open up. One of the repeated points in Postmodern Interviewing, though, is that interviews, particularly in person, should act as a more organic conversation than anything else. Naturally, you should have talking points you want to cover, but don’t feel beholden to them like they’re Gospel. Try to cover them, sure, but if the conversation goes in another direction and it is germane to the topic, by all means follow the lead.
And that’s what I intend to do on Thursday. When A.S. and T.B. and I sit down, we’re just going to talk. Like the old days. I’ll steer the conversation this way or that, but I’ll let them take the lead, and tell me the story they want to tell me.