Stapling and Story Magic

by Sofia Anjum FCLC ‘22

I loved stapling to the Joy Division beat. I took off my StoryCorps headphones long enough for one of my bosses to tell me that I was a blessing for actually liking stapling. Laminating. Collating all of the colorful, user-friendly training materials for my department, Community Training. For a college student sick of the constant undivided academic attention that college demands, stapling was sweet.

My team was lovely to me and did not want me to staple very much. During my internship at StoryCorps, I also conducted independent research on the crisis of social isolation and the potential role of storytelling in its remediation, coordinated partner outreach, and wrote articles for publication on StoryCorps’ Legacy program. 

But stapling put me in the moment, made me comfortable in the moment. I switched my music from Joy Division to people talking. For as an intern, I also logged interviews and marked segments ideal for production. This was the first step in the process of cutting 40-minute interviews down to 3-minute segments to be broadcast on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Over 99% of StoryCorps interviews never hit the airwaves. The dozens of interviews to which I’ve listened do not scrape the tip of the iceberg of the StoryCorps archive. The real point of SC isn’t to broadcast, it is to record hundreds of thousands of pairs of people and allot them all the same respect — undivided attention for 40 minutes. 

As I listened to the halting, interrupting melody of this interview, I stilled, stilled, stopped stapling, started listening completely, with my hands that I stopped moving and my fingers that I stopped cracking and my head that I stopped nodding and my eyes that I let smart a little bit — a highly uncharacteristic display of emotion. The interview was between two siblings who were children when their mother died. Now in their late 20s, Luna and Gabriel spoke of never being able to tell anyone that they were hurting. They spoke of how much anger they had. They spoke of the healing nature of time. And the violence with which time takes one’s memories. They spoke of how it is impossible to close oneself off to one emotion — in trying to do so, one closes oneself off to all emotions. And they spoke of coming full circle. They spoke many things I needed to hear from a stranger’s mouth, far from my own life. They spoke, and I listened. They spoke, and I listened, and only listened, listened with complete presence, complete absence of self. 

My internship confirmed to me things that I have believed in forever, things that I worried I had begun to believe more out of habit than out of genuine feeling. Things like, simply listening to one another has real and immediate impact on the world. Things like, it is actually possible to step out of one’s own experience and try to understand someone else’s. Things I can only write if I preface them with self-deprecation in order to protect myself — stupid, idealistic, true things like, we can come to know one another though storytelling.

I worked in a quick-paced professional place where it was normal to listen to 40-minute interviews in full. 

That is kind of magical in itself.