Try something new and learn something new. Did I make that up or just steal it from somewhere? I don’t know. Never mind.
Last weekend I got to do something that was quite new to me and I learned a little something new as a result. I’ll tell you about it, if you like, but I haven’t fully reached a concrete conclusion about it yet. Perhaps you might be able to help with that.
The thing? It was nothing earth-shattering. Probably not for you anyway. But, for me, it was quite exciting and I was looking forward to it and quite nervous about it for days before.
I got interviewed, you see, on camera. This was the new thing for me.
They’re making a TV Documentary about Ireland’s love affair with The Cinema. It will go out on Irish Television on Easter Monday next, apparently. I had showed them my ‘First Night of Alien’ story (click on the title if you’d care to see it for yourself) and they asked me to come and tell it to them for the programme. This doesn’t make me special or anything (well… no more special than I was before), lots of people are being interviewed for this programme. Lots and lots. So I’m not bragging or anything.
I figured the set-up would be that me and about twenty other people would roll up to the cinema in Westport on Saturday morning and we would file in and say our piece to camera and then go home again and that was perfectly fine. But it wasn’t like that at all. When I got there, it soon became clear that I was the only one being interviewed. They were all set up, ready to go, and the next hour was for me and me alone. I was radio-mike-ed up and black coffee-ed up and positioned in a nice cinema seat facing a nice cinema screen. There was boom mikes, glamorous assistants, the whole shebang. I was hugely complimented at their interest and also a bit anxious about what I could think of to say for, like, an hour.
Of course, I needn't have worried about that. The interviewer was obviously a fellow movie fan and seemed by turns interested and amused by my answers to his questions. It was really a lovely experience. To be honest, I felt like a bit-of-a Megastar, what with all the crew working hard just to get my feeble musings down in digital form. Our discussion ranged across quite a lot of stuff and I got far too comfortable and probably defamed a few people along the way not to mention throwing in a few confessions which will probably result in criminal prosecution at some time in the future. It was fun, though, it was great fun and I know I’ll probably end up on the cutting room floor where I belong but, if not, I will let you know.
Now, here’s the learning bit. See what you think.
Near the end of the hour, the interviewer started to ask a new question. It was a difficult question. I won’t get too specific but it was something along the lines of the contribution which cinema-going had made to Irish Society down through the decades. The question took quite a long time to ask and, as it was unfolding, I became rather clinically aware of my own unfolding thought processes. They went something like this:
“Oh, God, what’s all this now?”
“I don’t know this. I don’t know anything about this.”
“What’s he saying? Keep focused. You’ll have to answer all this in a minute.”
“What the hell are you going to say?”
“I don’t know, do I?”
“He’s reaching the end. He’s stopping talking. It’s your turn now. He’s stopped. He waiting. It’s your turn now.”
I didn’t know what to say. I had hardly assimilated the question, never mind formulated any kind of answer. I dropped my jaw in preparation for gabbling a bit and then admitting I was a fraud and shouldn’t be here at all.
And then I answered.
I said quite a lot actually. Despite my best efforts to stop it, the hard question he had asked had somehow soaked into my brain and, because I had to, I formulated an answer and provided it. And, not to blow my own trumpet, I think the answer I gave was actually quite good. It wasn’t something I had ever really thought about much before but, when I was pressed on it, it turned out that I had some thoughts to share and they were actually almost worth hearing.
I thought about this afterward, as I do. There’s a lesson to be learned. For me at least. I can’t speak for you. I shouldn't be afraid to ask myself hard questions. That was my first thought. I am capable of formulating a response if I put myself in the right place to do so.
Yes, okay, fine, but that’s just too easy. As I found out. I tried, you see, I tried asking myself a hard question. Just in my head, I didn’t do it out loud or anything. That would be disconcerting to passers-by. I just asked myself something hard in my head and I pressed myself for a sensible answer. But it didn’t work. You probably knew that already, you’re usually way ahead of me on this kind of thing. It turns out that I can’t fool my own mind that easily. I can insist that I want an answer to my hard question but my mind knows it’s just me doing the insisting and effectively tells me to sod off.
It doesn't work.
So that’s about as far as I've got. I have learned that if you are asked a hard question in a pressure situation you may surprise yourself by how quickly and well you can collect your thoughts and how much of a revelation those thoughts may be, even to you. But I've also learned that you can’t replicate that pressure situation just because you’d like to.
So there’s the rub. How can I manage to ask myself the hard questions and expect to get a meaningful reply?
Answers on a postcard…