Listening, Learning, Connecting by Cara Ellen Modisett

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Listening, Learning, Connecting

I've worked for many years as a reporter for magazines and radio, and sometimes my favorite part of that work has been not the writing but the interviewing. I tell students and young writers: a good interview is a conversation. It's not about the Q&A - it's about listening, learning, connecting. The words you write afterwards are a way to tell the story, to clarify and understand. And the stories we tell are the stories that connect us all as human beings.

Over the first week or so of my residency, I've been spending time in particular with patients who are expecting babies, dealing with cancer, or recovering from heart surgery, talking with them, delivering journals (part of Carilion's healing arts program) and playing music.

Just today I spent a wonderful half hour or so with a patient: I came in, an unknown person, and nearly the first thing she said to me was, "pull up a chair." Turned out she was as much a storyteller as any writer I know. We laughed. A lot. She talked about cooking, her musical grandson, her great-grandmother's cheesecake recipe, the sayings that our elders have passed along, like (this one was new to me) "fine as a frog's hair."

That last bit was in response to a nurse's question - how are you today? Two weeks ago, this woman was diagnosed with cancer, out of the blue. She's facing chemotherapy, a heavy dose of it. Yet she's in her hospital room, laughing, sharing recipes and cooking secrets and old-fashioned sayings.

So I'm learning a few things in these conversations: how to face the unknown, how to find joy in the midst of it all, the treasure of a family recipe. Those are the things I learn, just listening, and those are the reasons I love what I do.

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