Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My "Gig"

So I'm officially working on the Census gig - no good stories yet - other than getting lost A LOT. But what has been interesting so far is the people I'm meeting. Today I met a man from Uzbekistan, an older couple in their 80s who have been married for over 50 years and a woman who's aunt is over 100 years old. Each of these people was fascinating and shared just a tiny sliver of their life with me. They were so welcoming and friendly. Ok, the old folks griped a lot, but hey, they've had 80 years of life, you're bound to have some pent up bitching.

One didn't know what the Census was but took my word that it was real then listened with interest while I gave him the history of the American Census (take that all you who said my History degree was worthless!) Another told me all about the history of their house and how they came to have it. And yet another told me all about their neighborhood. For a social historian like me, it was just wonderful.

But it also reminded me of a collection of books by Studs Terkel. I was also reminded of this by my husband who brought home another of Mr. Terkel's books. If you have never read one of his books I greatly encourage you to do so. Studs Terkel writes books which are a collection of essays from every day people. His most famous work was "Working" in which people described what kind of jobs they do. He talked to people from all across America all walks of life. This body of work was done again in the 90s in a book called "Gig" which I also highly recommend. But back to Studs Terkel.

Terkel has written many books about the American experience. Race, the Great Depression, WWII, Working, Chicago, American philosophy, and on. What makes each of them just wonderful is that he talks to America - ordinary men and women who can tell you about the subject matter. For instance I read the book on the Great Depression and he interviewed people who lived in the cities at the time, dust bowl, southern blacks, politicians, people who were children at the time - everyone. It gave such a perspective that you usually do not find in text books. We usually only hear about what was happening at a macro-level, not a micro level. Not what was happening in the neighborhoods, in the houses like yours and mine. That's what Studs Terkel brings home.

It occurred to me that in taking this job I have the opportunity to have my own little slice of a "Terkel event" if you will. I'm going to meet a lot of interesting people in this little journey. Some are going to be really interesting, some will be scary I'm sure, most will be just average people like you and I - and I get to be a part of it. I'm thinking it will be cool.

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