(Image credit: hickorytreechorus.blogspot.com)
Meeting with Lindsey was much like how you’d imagine it would be to speak with a former Miss New Jersey. She was poised, verbose, collected, and had a light laugh that put a smile on my face. Her blond hair was pulled back in a messy bun, an apt companion to the soft gym clothes and sneakers she wore. No sparkling gown or crystal tiara, but I did notice her full mask of make-up. The way she sat, with her back straight and her shoulders square, her voice soft but words carefully chosen, gave me the distinct impression that Lindsey was putting on a show for me. She was presenting herself subconsciously (or not) as she might in a more standing-before-the-judges setting.
I know that doesn’t sound like a negative, but something about it prevented me from feeling completely at ease. At every interview, there is a point where my subject and I find ourselves on the same level. Where I’ve recovered from whatever social anxiety that lingers, and they’ve realized I’m not a stiff Professional Interviewing Them About Stuff, but an adorably awkward gal who is actually interested in their (in their opinion) mundane lives, and they relax. They say “um” a lot less, and their speech picks up, and suddenly I’m knee-deep in a childhood story that I’m leaning forward to hear better. It took a while, almost two-thirds of the way through our time, before I felt like Lindsey dropped the mask a bit. I don’t think it ever fell away completely.
Going into the interview, I was expecting Lindsey to give me a lot of information about the pageants she was in, the experience of her large win and becoming Miss New Jersey, and about her try at winning Miss America, but I thought she would go into her own life and story a bit more. That’s not to say I don’t have a great overview of where she comes from and where she has been, but it was very much a surface bio. She loves to sing and that’s what got her into pageants. She has siblings, they all play sports, and she herself has been an athlete for most of her life. Instead of focusing on her feelings and stories, she focused on the Miss America organization, what it stands for, what it believes in, all the jargon that I’m sure she’s given to other interviewers in one form or another. Instead of speaking to Lindsey, I realized that I was speaking with Miss New Jersey.
Then I got her talking about her platform, or what sort of topic that you’re really passionate about and what your focus would be as the winner. Lindsey’s was volunteerism, and as she spoke about it her eyes lit up and her shoulders dropped and suddenly I was knee-deep in a fantastic story where a school wanted her (Miss New Jersey) to speak about anti-bullying instead of volunteerism. It was great, because from there she stopped speaking as though she were in Miss America’s PR department and started speaking about what other’s don’t see, like how winning a high level pageant like that is more like winning a job after a very glamorous and showy interview.
I believe that much of the “issues,” if that what they could be called, stemmed from my inexperience with interviewing and my inability to ask the right questions. I was leaning too much on Lindsey to give me the information about the Miss America and Miss New Jersey pageants and organizations, when I should have already had that knowledge from prior research. It was a serious oversight that no doubt left me floundering, and probably made me appear every inch as uneducated about pageants as I was. There is also the possibility that, while a comfortable topic for her, it may be that she wasn’t expecting me to be so unknowing and so may have felt forced into the role of teacher. Because I wasn’t prepared enough, the interview was too academically informative, and not enough about Lindsey herself. Remember my last post? About the blazer and blah blah blah… yeah, next time, I’m going to skip the fashion show and get my rear in gear when it comes to research.
I still have questions about how Lindsey views the way pageants have been run in the past versus how they are today, if she would encourage her own daughter or friend to become a part of them, if there were other stories she wanted to share, maybe about her and her family, her friends, how being on the road affected her more than just the opportunities it offered. There were many instances within the interview that, after going over the transcript, were openings for some great questions. How much does Miss New Jersey make? Was it worth it? How was getting back into life after the year traveling all around with a tiara and sash? (Which, by the way, you don’t get to keep.)
Also, speaking from an ethnographic standpoint, I wish I had pulled out the notepad and let the awkward mystery of writing about a person while interacting with them thing go. Emerson writes, “Although taking down jotting may at first seem odd or awkward, after a time, it often becomes a normal and expected part of what the fieldworker does” (37). I want that. I want to develop the confidence in my work and in my role to be able to utilize it to the full extent. I know that there are dozens of telling details that, as they happened during the interview, whether it be a body gesture or Lindsey’s demeanor, or the flux and effect of the environment, as they happened I mentally noted to record them later, but most were either forgotten or lacked clarity as to why I had thought them important.
Moral of the story is that my focus on preparations was heavily skewed, and this led to my interview, while enjoyable, not providing me with the kind of insight into a pageant girl’s thoughts and processes that I really needed. This is certainly something I plan on adjusting in the future!