Last night, I finished my 12th and 13th ‘advocacy profiles’, my blog posts that, for me, mark the end of an interview transcription.
The interviews have been as short as 25 minutes, as long as two and a half hours.
The transcriptions tend to take 2-3 times as long.
And the posts are my commentaries on the people, on the conversations. If I've known the person previously, it's more about the person. If it's a new connection, more about the conversation and what I learned — I have to do a little more thinking, perhaps some digging, some research.
(For the purpose of marketing, I'm temporarily focusing on folks who Jenn and I have shot in the studio...)
Ultimately, these blog posts, the profiles, are just short snapshots from the conversation. A few bon mots, some deep thoughts, and maybe a story or two from their past. This biographical granola then gets sprinkled on top of my summation — who this person has been for the cycling community.
Or, more accurately, who I believe they have been.
The book, however, will be much less me, more about them.
So this is my one chance to build a narrative of my own. A better analogy, actually, might be more like building an archipelago of stories...of people, these islands of experience who are interdependent yet independent. They exist on their own, yet have created waves of influence, their own little ecosystems that comprise a greater community, and sit on the map as a total place that many people want to get to.
it will eventually be a narrative thread that tells that story (perhaps with less metaphorical baggage).
And again, that will be where the book comes in.
That's also where I see the challenge. How to make it not about ‘just cycling’. What is the bigger story here?
That's it, isn't it? Something all writers (or perhaps the good ones) face — how to write something that is, ultimately, about something else.
In this case, stories about bikes, cycling and Vancouver that come across to the reader in such a way that the words re-arrange themselves....that they might, in the space between the page and the brain, take on different meanings.
So that, instead of being about projects, policy and politics, they might express deeper thoughts about freedom, community, and social equity. You know, hope-y, change-y kinda stuff. Or something like that.
After finishing last night's post, I listened to one of my favourite podcasts, Real Time with Bill Maher. His final commentary ("New Rules") ended with a mini-rant on one particular topic, as it usually does — this time about cars.
And as they usually are, his New Rules rant is funny, sad, and timely — you can watch it on video here, it’s just under six minutes:
I grew excited as I listened to it. On the one hand, in railing against the glorification of car culture, Maher expressed a sentiment I had felt for many years. Why the obsession with cars? Why so little expression of bike culture on TV and in film? Where’s the newspaper section called “Cycling”?
And on the other hand, as a result of beginning his rant this way, I sensed him building to something else, and so I wondered, "Is this about cycling? Or cycling and walking?"
Does Bill Maher — green vehicle driving, pot smoking, animal rights protecting progressive independent — also ride a bicycle?
No. The bit turned from cars to men, and that’s okay because it remained a funny, sad, and timely bit. (Again, if you haven't watched it yet, you should.)
It was just another reminder of how hard it is, not only to write something that becomes about something else, but to surprise your audience.
I wasn’t expecting his subtle twist, the smooth transition to a topic that was unanticipated but totally spot on. And a new take on an age-old problem.
Researching, talking about, and compiling this history of cycling in Greater Vancouver is not at all hard. It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had on a project, the most satisfying synthesis of research, communications and creative, that I’ve ever experienced.
But I know the hard part is coming. About 20-25 more interviews from now, after about 150 more hours of transcription, I will begin weaving the stories together.
Cutting here, trimming there, and stitching memories, thoughts, ideas and postulations together into something that will hopefully be about something other than bikes.
All the while, telling the story of cycling. The people, the policies, the projects, the events, the disputes, the wins and the losses.
And even though it will be hard, I still think it’s going to be a lot of fun.
It just might not be about cycling.