At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.

art theplaceFace-to-face communication is a lost art.

Besides the actual act of writing, my favorite part of being a journalist is conducting the interview. Everyday, I meet up with complete strangers and immerse myself in their lives. It is a surreal and incredible experience, one that only gets sweeter every year I dive deeper into this profession.

I specifically became an arts and entertainment writer because I’ve had this lifelong fascination and thirst for exploring the creative process, what it does to human beings, and what it means to hone your “antenna” and connect to the energies of the cosmos around you. For the subject, I can imagine the idea of someone posing you questions about your life, your past and what you do is probably a little jarring. I mean, how often are you quizzed about your existence? 

So, for me, it’s all about making them feel comfortable, finding a common ground. The more I reveal about myself in the conversation, the more they’ll reveal about themselves, where their walls come down once I show vulnerability, where the interview isn’t one-sided. And over the years, through all the amazing interviews, there are ones you really got to push through the subject’s apprehensiveness. 

For example, I sat down with acclaimed painter Jenny Buckner this week. Now, I’ve never met Jenny before, and she seemed a little uneasy about how this interview would go. I could sense it, as I do with a lot of things I easily notice in conversation after all these years interviewing. So, I started talking about what I do as a journalist, my writing process and so on, in an effort to break through. 

Soon, her facial expressions, voice and mannerisms all changed. She was getting comfortable, ultimately opening up like a flower on a sunny day. It turned out to be a fantastic talk about creativity and what it means to be an artist in the 21st century. Her work is absolutely beautiful, check it out for yourself: www.paintingsbyjenny.com. By the time I turned off my recorder, we had become friends — strangers no more. I walked out of her studio with a smile on my face and kick in my step, as per usual when I leave a great interview. 

And I find that seem feeling washes over me, almost like a baptism of humanity, when I talk to people in every aspect of my life. With a rich Irish background, I guess you could say I possess the “gift of gab.” I’ll start a conversation with someone in line at the bank, down an aisle at the grocery store, fueling up my truck, at the counter in a diner, during a concert or simply just sitting by myself and noticing the person a few seats down is alone, too — I’ve never met a stranger.

It never ceases to amaze me how much someone will spill about their life within just five minutes of meeting them. It’s not that I’m trying to pry something out of them. It’s the mere fact nobody probably ever asks them how their day is, what their dreams are, and if they’re happy. Sure, at first, they may act a little caught off-guard, seeing as I am a stranger and they don’t know me, or my intentions. And I think it’s pretty sad in our modern world when people think you have some kind of hidden agenda, whereas in all actuality you simply feel like making a connection with another person.

That aside, I’ve found, more often than not, people are always up for chat when you engage them positively. Though they may open up slowly, the floodgates of their soul soon release. They smile. They laugh. They get sad. They might even cry. But, what remains, when both sides of the conversation depart, is a sense of clarity and camaraderie with your fellow man, where you realize deep down we are all a lot similar than we give each other credit for.

People (you, me, that person sitting next to you) are starving for conversation. I can promise you that. When was the last time you actually had an honest, hearty talk with someone you didn’t know? Strike one up. Do it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how wild, beautiful and rollicking those surrounding you are when you discover their essence. Make eye contact. Be pure in your intent. Speak up. Join in. Be a participant in this whirlwind universe we’re all part of and utterly curious about. 

I really do feel I have the best job in the world. Find your passion, and pursue it with everything you’ve got — what do you have to lose? You only live once. This ain’t no dress rehearsal. 

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

Go to top