“You have no choice, so start planning what to wear,” said my internal monologue, the interview confirmation blinking in my inbox.
I’d finally nailed down a time and place to meet up with Lindsey Petrosh, Rowan Grad student and former Miss New Jersey. I’d been especially keen to speak with her, as she had not only competed in Teen and Miss pageants, but she’d also competed in the Miss America pageant (you know, that huge televised thing I was talking about in my Miss America vs Survivor post). Lindsey placed in the top ten at Miss America.
Her cheerful email was encouraging, and I pulled myself over to my closet. I’ve found through trial and error that a concrete thing, like planning out my outfit, keeps me moving forward. I didn’t figure out possible responses or spend hours pouring over my research. Instead, I flipped through hangers, tried on a handful of shirts, and finally landed on my new purple blazer. Perfect! Professional, chic, and unassuming. Some jeans, some boots, and I was strutting around like Miss America herself.
Confidence is complex, and was a major factor in my upcoming chat with Lindsey. We all find it in our own ways, whether it be from a lifetime on stage or from a well-planned outfit, but the moral of this story (the pageant story) is to find that confidence and run with it.
But do you care what’s in my wardrobe? Well, It’s not really the what, but the why. Part of my prep work is gearing myself up to be the person who can put another at ease, who can laugh and chat for extended interviews. Someone who can guide a conversation to get the most useful information possible. Once I walk the walk, I feel confident enough to try to talk the talk.
I looked through my research, revisited my personal pageant experience, and wrote down a the topics that I hoped to discus. I wanted to get an idea of Lindsey’s personal experience with pageants, so I focused on how and why she got into them, why she stuck with them, and the impacts that it had and has on her life, both good and bad. A main point mined from my research was about the stigma and stereotypes that go along with pageants, to which I got some interesting answers. Answers that involved her amazing ability to hide rivalry and snark beneath a veneer of amusement. A pageant queen through and through. I also wanted to ask about the pageant forces behind the curtain, meaning directions, coaches, and clothing designers.
In there, I also added a few questions that would keep conversation going, broad enough to fill gaps and cold lead into new avenues of conversation. My aversion to interviewing is not due to lack of skill. I picked my bright orange notebook because it looked the least intimidating. A yellow legal pad is effective, but can seem so professional that it’s intense. Orange? That’s just fun.
So who thinks I’m an airhead giving way too much thought to my color-clashing habits? Boo, my habits are awesome. They’re also not the whole package that is me, the awesome researcher that happens to have these (awesome) habits. Thought was also given to my ethnographic approach to the interview. In Robert Emerson’s Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes (mentioned previously in this post) he speaks about a few theoretical approaches to interviewing. For this technically formal interview, I chose to mix a few of his approaches together, because I’m a rebel like that. First method, participating in order to write. What that means is that sometimes “…field researchers take mental note of certain details and impressions. For the most part these impressions remain “headnotes” until the researcher sits down at some later point to write full fieldnotes…”(24). I already had an audio recorder out to take down the conversation, and I always feel that writing observations about a person or place while talking to said person in said place is super mega huge awkward, especially for them. In the few times I’ve been an interviewee, watching them scribble on that darn notepad made me twitchy. I wanted to know what they were writing and that distracted me. No distractions for my victims (er – subjects…that doesn’t sound better).
But I said I was mixing, so the other ingredients came before and after the interview. I didn’t show up nearly a half-hour early to James Hall just for funsies. I went through my initial thoughts on the setting, the time, my expectations, and a few reminders not to nervous-laugh-snort. I noted that the upper lobby of the building that housed a majority of the Education/Teaching classes (complete with working daycare) held a smattering of students and professors. It was an easy atmosphere, with a soft rumble of friends chatting between classes, professors lecturing behind half-closed doors, and the scent of cheap coffee wafting up from the lower cafe. We would have an entire section of the open-plan space, providing privacy without undue intimacy.
After she’d gone, I whipped my computer back out (thought I was going old school with this?) and followed another piece of Emerson’s advice: “…field researchers can focus on their personal sense of what is significant or unexpected in order to document key events or incidents in a particular social world or setting” (24). I put down everything I thought had been important, both what was captured by the recorder and what wasn’t.
All that isn’t the end of my preparation, though.
Now we come to the panic.
Well, okay, not panic per se, since that’s a heavy word. More like, nerves. Yes, all the nerves. Those biological thing with their electric pulses that make my heart race and my hair stand on end. Nasty things. All this drama and internal angst is actually a major part of the prepping process, because being nervous focuses my mind. My brain probably thinks I’m in a life or death situation, and so I can rely on myself to be firing on all cylinders, bringing my A game, and generally kicking butt. It’s almost like being that nervous calms me down (and isn’t that such a human conundrum?).
I was at James Hall and I was ready! A quick text to Lindsey told her to look for a purple blazer. She responded laughing, saying she’d be in gym clothes. I hastily pulled my hair out of its corporate bun, thanked the powers that be that I’d worn jeans and t-shirt beneath my jacket, and watched the clock. I was pretty proud of myself as Lindsey rounded the corner a little after 3:30. Her bright smile was infectious. With a grin of my own, I let my prep work take me where it would, and it was all up-hill from there.