By LAURA JEU
How much can we learn about a person from four simple questions? The entire region of Appalachia contains the tradition of storytelling. Human nature compels us to build our identities and communicate them. An inherent form of expression, storytelling represents vulnerability and unrestrained communication.
I asked each participant four questions, designed to learn about their identity in a specific way.
“What brought you to AppleFest today?”
As someone who attended AppleFest, Market Day, IceFest, and many other events interspersed between them as a child, I return because of the food. The aromatic wafts of warm food cut the chilled morning air and draws me into the booths. After digesting the initial euphoria, I catch the twinkling wind chimes in the breeze, catching every ray of light. Though no longer a participant, I laugh with the children spiraling down the inflated slides and empathize the young athletes attempting to hone their aim to win a teddy bear. Throughout the entire corridor of activity, I find the faces of people I know. Some people attend for similar nostalgia. Others seek a smorgasbord for their meal. Some find themselves in the middle of the crowd while walking through the streets and stay out of intrigue. Drawn to the community, they overlap stories with the people in line for a dumpling, or the people admiring the same bushel of fruit, or the people brushing past them in the crowd.
“What is something you’re looking forward to?”
In those excited crowds, I feel present, fully contained within a moment. Buzzing with the energy of the people and tingling with excitement for what I might see next, I imagine the ecstatic nature of the crowd can continue, carrying on into the next day. With this question, I wanted to hear about future excitement. Anticipation is a group effort. Some people mentioned upcoming holidays or celebrations. Other people discussed food. Some people mentioned personal events while others remained broad. In each answer, I felt the excitement build from them, transferring a little more energy to the crowd around them.
“What’s a word people should use more often?”
I love words. Hearing about a person’s identity from them transforms that human into a dynamic person, discovering themselves alongside the listener. When I asked people what word other people should use more often, the tone shifted again, so that we became investigators together, considering the words we hear every day and asking which word should appear more often. Some people talked about gratitude, while others opted for words intended to inject humor. Everyone picked words carefully, whether it leapt off their tongue as if a word they couldn’t wait to use or whether it emerged from deep within their safely collected words, the word became a prize, easily dispersed to anyone who might want to hold it.
“What is your current favorite song or song on repeat?”
I wanted to end with a fun question. When people engage with crowds, the noise can become overwhelming or inviting or buzzing. But when someone asks me my favorite song, the other noises fade away, and I hear the instruments reverb through my brain into some power that overrides my ears. Music can represent a place of comfort, or an escape, or a party. It can transform a tone and dance with the human spirit. When people told me their songs, they sometimes had “a-ha!” moments when thinking of the song stuck in their head. Other people searched for a while, as if mentally scanning a catalog of artists and genres and albums to find the correct answer. Some people didn’t have a song title for me, and they intrigued me, because I wondered if the songs were too many to list, or the song was too special to name quickly.
With each question, I saw another part of the person sharing their answers. Some people smiled at my questions. Others widened their eyes to focus on their answers. At an event with hundreds of activities, I was honored that so many people stopped to share their stories with me.