Final Reflective Narrative
20 April 2004
"Oh, wait!" Sarah exclaimed. "The tattoos!"
I glanced at the other marble column where my friend Kilt had his hands displayed. The knuckles were, indeed, bare. I rooted through my book bag for a moment before procuring a black pen. As I took his hand to write the requisite "HATE" across his knuckles, I tried to hide my discomfort. I knew he had a crush on me, and I had no reciprocal feelings, nor any desire to acquire such feelings. Finishing the "LOVE" on his other hand, I was sure to avoid his eyes.
"Okay, ready," I said. We resumed our former position, leaning between the columns on the west side of the Maeser building.
Sarah lifted the camera, looked in the viewfinder and lowered it again. "Get closer together," Sarah directed with an accompanying gesture.
I pursed my lips and leaned closer until we were touching. Sarah snapped the photo, capturing the picture complete with Kilt's five o'clock (1) shadow, long goatee, long hair and knuckle tattoos. For the moment, he was no longer Kilt, mild-mannered (2)-yet-quirky Xlear employee. He was Jimmy, the not-so-mild-mannered recently released ex-convict. And he was my fiancé for the purposes of my prank engagement. It was the close attention to details which successfully transformed Kilt into Jimmy. That same meticulousness successfully created a portfolio project of similar prank engagements for my class project.
At first, collecting stories of prank engagements was easier than I'd expected. The first few came easily--Kilt's roommate had one, I had one, Kilt had one (3), my mother had one. A friend, G.K., was hanging out at our house and told us a prank engagement story, which I captured with my tape recorder. On campus, I ran into a girl from my ward, Carly, and recorded another story.
But then the wellspring dried up. More than a month passed, and I hadn't found anymore stories. To further complicate things, I didn't have the consent forms ready, so all of the stories I did have were not yet usable, and I couldn't catch up with Kilt's roommate, Matt, to get his story. Time dwindled down to the last class period before the project was due, and I was still a few deficient. Thankfully, Professor Rudy allowed me to ask the class for submissions. I wasn't expecting very much. Professor Rudy had told me that one student in the class had informed her of a prank engagement, but aside from that one story, I doubted that many more would contribute. At the beginning of my collection period, I was highly optimistic. It seemed everyone and their roommate had a story to tell. But after a month-long dry spell, my optimism had faded. It was with little hope that I had brought my tape recorder to school that day.
To my surprise, Julie was not the only one who volunteered. Jessica Eldredge offered her husband's story, and Amanda Asbury actually contributed two stories, one of her own and one of a friend. That selfsame morning, I had collected two stories from one of my American Heritage students. Now all that remained was to record my own story and that of Kilt's roommate, Matt.
But much had changed since the time of the prank and the present. For example, my roommates and I no longer referred to Kilt by his nickname. To us, he became Ryan, while the rest of the ward (and the rest of the world, it sometimes seemed) still called him Kilt.
But the more startling change came in our relationship. In January, when we began the prank, Kilt's feelings were painfully obvious--painful to me because I didn't want to hurt my friend or lead him on, but had no intention whatsoever of being anything more than friends. By February, Ryan, as we now called him, had finally given up hope. He stopped trying to impress me--or, as I termed it, "frontin'"--and started being himself.
Whereas my roommates and I had classified Kilt as a poseur before, Ryan became a real person. He shaved his goatee and was promoted to manager at work. We, my roommate Sarah, Ryan and I, began to talk late into the night. And almost before I knew what had happened, we were dating.
Attention to detail had worked both for and against me throughout this process. It was meticulous attention to detail which stopped me from liking Ryan--the little things that annoyed me, the "frontin'" and poseurisms, and stubbornness in refusing to go back on what I'd previously vowed--that I would never date him. But that same careful observation of the change in him led to a change in myself. And now, scarcely two months later, we are engaged.
The details of this strange affair are recorded in both of our versions of the prank, which I tape recorded for consistency's sake. The same attention to detail that had so paid off in my personal life now benefitted me in my academic career. As I painstakingly typed each "um" and "[pause]," I found myself growing frustrated. A single sentence could take me 15 minutes to transcribe correctly. However, I could not compromise the integrity of the item. I refused to step down my level of diligence. As I persisted, I found that I was rewarded with a real sense of accomplishment, as well as a feeling of journalistic integrity in recording the exact words of my informants.
Once I had a good sense of the wordings and "ums" of my informants, I went through to break up their rambling paragraphs into separate sentences. Deciding which clauses to stick together to conserve the integrity of the item proved challenging at times, but remembering inflections and pauses usually settled any questions.
As I made the final proof of the items, listening to the tape and reading along, I made the final adjustments in the sentences--correcting the placement of an "um," changing the order of the words to match the recording. Although in their informant data, I could not be as thorough as I had been in my collection items earlier in the course, I still attempted to provide as many details as possible.
One of the two items that I submitted that was not tape recorded proved yet again how beneficial that attention to detail could be. I ran into Krisy Gashler at Professor Rudy's office, and she had another story for my collection. Although I was without my tape recorder, I was able to take notes as I listened to her story. A few minutes later, I reconstructed her story from my notes. I could still remember some of the exact phrases that she used, and included them in my telling of her story. I e-mailed the story to her for her approval, which she readily granted. The attention to detail in this case added a story to my collection that would have otherwise been lost.
The attention to detail also forced me to drop some items from my collection. Although I had heard Matt's story once and could reconstruct it pretty faithfully, I refused to include it without a tape recorded and transcribed version true to his own words. For one thing, he told the story better than I probably could have, but more than that, I just couldn't write the story myself. It violated the integrity of the project. Furthermore, I didn't have a consent form from him, although I myself would have been the informant if I didn't have his recorded story. The lack of a consent form forced me to drop Carly's story from my collection as well.
Unfortunately, the same level of diligence was not present in the rest of my coursework. Although I did complete many of the readings, and usually attended class, neither of these reflect my best efforts. When I did attend class, I often made an effort to participate, but often felt unprepared or unqualified to comment. It wasn't until the semester progressed that I realized that the professor was probably the only person more qualified to speak--the students were on an even keel. Most of us began the class without a clear knowledge of even the definition of folklore. Now, as we complete the final, we see folklore all around us. As I contemplate this class, I find myself wanting to do more collection projects--finals horror stories, brushes with the campus police, meeting in-laws, etc., etc. Despite a certain lack of effort on my part, I feel as though I have really learned something in this class. I have learned about the value of the little stories, jokes and riddles we tell. Although they seem inconsequential at the time, these stories can reflect our beliefs about any number of things. These stories make up who we are, defining us both individually and culturally. Again, attention to detail in the stories that I hear every day helps me to better understand the people that I meet and the culture which we share--or do not share. As an American Studies major, I feel as though this class has greatly benefitted me in understanding American culture--especially as I pay attention to the details, the stories that would normally fly past me every day.
1. Okay, so it's more like an 11:30 shadow.
2. Okay, so the mild-mannered line is only in there for effect.
3. Granted, it was the same one as mine, but it was still a story..