It’s a time of transition at KNOM. Emily, the newest volunteer to join the league of Western Alaskan awesomeness, arrived last week. Josh is flying out today. I’m flying out in two weeks, which makes this my last blog post. Time to say goodbye.
When I think over my year there’s no real way to encapsulate everything it meant to me. Or what it will mean. Ric says it will takes us years to unpack the experience and I think he’s right. There’s no way an experience like this deserves any less. I guess all I can do, for now, is speak honestly.
When I arrived in Nome last August, I had just graduated from college, and was pretty unsure of myself. I wanted to be a features reporter, I desperately wanted to be one, but I had no idea if I could do it well. I remember the first interview I did was about Nome’s community garden. I was so nervous I plugged the mic into the wrong spot on the recording device and got absolutely no tape. Never did figure out that Marantz recorder. Haven’t done a single interview all year. Just kidding! I’ve been lucky to talk to many people I never would have dreamed of meeting. From a snowmachine racer, to a 50-something man who survived a grizzly bear attack, to an 80 year old Inupiak elder who survived at sea for three days.
There’s something magical that happens in an elder interview. You’re completely focused on the other person, making them feel comfortable, and helping them communicate their essence–the best of themselves. Do you know what that’s like, to be a 23 year old foreigner meeting a 78 year old Inupiak elder in a small rural community, and five minutes later, to attempt to be there for them, and help them revisit their past and speak freely, from the heart, and be honest and real? It’s crazy. It’s bold. When it works it’s beautiful. You ask them to choose three things they want to talk about, three traditional activities, values, or bits of knowledge they want their grandchildren to know about, so they control the material. After all the show is called Elder Voices. They ought to decide what they use their voice to say. Then they start talking. And you listen. There’s no judgment. Or at least you try your hardest to have none, to simply understand. To just be there, with them, and give small questions to help the story along. To help them understand themselves, their value, by helping them tell the dim chaos of a life as a story.
As Laureli taught me, in a story, a person gets in trouble, and gets out of it. They must have gotten out of it because they’re still around to talk about it. Over the last year I’ve come to believe telling stories helps, especially if the middle is hard, because you have to get the storyteller to reach or at least imagine a happy ending. And to imagine a happy ending is to make it possible, especially when that hope is broadcast to hundreds or thousands of homes.
I’ve been terribly lucky to have elders trust me with their stories. I don’t know if I’ve given them half of what they gave me.
That’s the thing about KNOM. We never know what we give, or who is listening. Josh said it very well in his last post. We’re public servants but we don’t know who we serve or how, or if, we help them. We’re just voices on the radio. But I truly believe, in my heart, KNOM helps people stay together. That’s why I came here. I wanted to work for a station where media was used by people who care about other people, who were aware of the power of stories and sound, their ability to inspire, and provide company.
Somedays I’ll read a Hotline that moves me so much I almost cry. The other day I read one that was something like, “From grandma, to our one and only birthday boy, I was happy to be there the day you were born, and I am happy to be here now. Happy first birthday.” There is so much love in that message. So much hope. Those sentiments have nothing to do with me except I was the one who read it. Each of them are mini-stories. I think they make other people happy too. I met a guy in Gambell the other day who wished KNOM streamed online (I told him we’re working on it… I think) specifically so he could hear hotlines when he travels to the lower 48.
I can’t imagine how or if I’ve helped this community. I guess the main thing I’m trying to say is it’s been a pleasure, a true gift, to meet everyone I’ve met in Western Alaska. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Especially to the KNOM staff and fellow volunteers. Growing often comes with pains and I don’t think I would have made it without you. Scratch that. I know I wouldn’t have.
The true pleasure of my year has been getting to work and live with four of the most dedicated, kindest, silliest, morally-fibrous people I know. As I get ready to go, I feel like I’m leaving a large thumping part of my heart behind. Because doing interviews and reading hotlines and being a part of the communication and contact our station provides has been great, but what has been truly wonderful is the people. Our conversations, walks, adventures, dance parties, dinners…well, you made me feel alive, whole, and proud to be myself. I’ve rarely felt like that before. I don’t know where my story will take me, but you all have been an integral part of it. I’m excited to imagine what happens next, and to see what each of us do, where we go, who we become. Stay in touch, and safe travels.