1. Memory and Forgetting: For me, these stories beg questions about the point of telling non-fiction stories. If we can never remember something with complete accuracy, why do we tell stories in the first place? Does the third story answer this? Is it good or bad that every time we remember something (tell a story) the memory takes us farther away from what actually happened? Should we try to make technology so that we can remember stories accurately/does voice recording do this? How has Henrietta Lacks’ story changed because of Skloot’s book and the BBC documentary? How have our stories changed as we tell and re-tell them? How do we reconcile the importance of honoring a person’s story with the stark reality that we’ll never really be able to do it? Is it worth it to even try? Finally, does remembering the past keep us there (for me, this is the hardest question)?
2. Notes on Camp: I just re-listened to this one...it’s hard for me to relate it directly to the non-fiction topic, but perhaps we can learn from this quote from Note 2 (only 7 minutes):
The older kids are funny in how they handle the ghost story with the younger kids....the older girls unsure of what to say [to the younger girls]...take every possible position on the subject...10 year olds sit on the cusp of belief and disbelief when it comes to stories like this. For them, talking about these stories is part of the process of trying to puzzle out how the world really works. When you’re 10, remember, people are constantly telling you scary stories...and the thing is...a lot of those stories are true. So you’re still figuring out where the line is between fiction and non-fiction.
Are we still trying to figure out where this line is too? What is this process like for us now, and what was it like for us when we were 10? Is it even worth our time to figure out where this distinction lies? What can we learn from the questions and tones of the 10 year olds and what can we learn from the responses and tone of the 12 year olds?
3. Listening Beyond Life and Choice: This one makes me think about whether or not my truth can coexist with your truth if they’re different. Often when I read a non-fiction book, it presents a story like it’s the only way that story can be told. Parts of this hour upset that notion.
I’m not a big believer in common ground...Common ground...is not practical. I do think that when people who disagree with each other come together with a goal of gaining a better understanding of why the other believes what they do, good things come of that. The pressure of coming to agreement works against really understanding each other.
Is she right? Skloot worked closely with the Lacks family to tell Henrietta’s story and she writes with striking sensitivity. Skloot also writes clearly and honestly about the importance of HeLa cells in science. Has she successfully put these stories in conversation with each other or has she contrived common ground where there can never be common ground because the trajectory of each story has polarized the players?
Also, in the last 15-ish minutes of the show their conversation turns to the public/private elements of a human body...this is definitely related to the Henrietta Lacks story. Where do we draw the line between public and private? How much of my body is actually my body? Do we owe something to the public (our cells, our wombs, our thoughts...)? Obviously, these questions get a lot more complicated when race and power enter the equation. How is the private/public nature of a black woman’s body from 1951 different than the private/public nature of my body now?
4. So, if you’re going to listen to one of these, I’d listen to Memory and Forgetting. Then the 7 minutes from Notes on Camp because its short. Then Listening Beyond Life and Choice only if you want to because it’s long and not divided up into neat segments, and maybe not directly related to where we want our conversation to go (although I do think it offers important perspective on the current political circus that is the conversation on women’s reproductive rights and choices and gifts)
5. Also, I suggest doing something else while you’re listening. I get really antsy/bored/frustrated when I just sit and listen...I’ve found that knitting or cleaning or cooking or walking or running or doodleing or driving helps me to focus on the show. I also wouldn’t worry about the details of each story. For me, it’s been more important to mull over the questions I ask myself in response to listening. Obviously though, you’re experience might be different!