Nearly forty years ago, Julie Mangos was just thirteen when she lost her five-year-old brother, Philip, in a hit and run. As her daughter, you’d think I might have spoken to her about such a traumatic experience before, however, this is the first time my mum has ever opened up to me. For twenty years, Philip’s death was buried in her family, and she still doesn’t feel comfortable talking to her mum about it, but she’s told me her story.
When I realised that the first assignment for my second year journalism class was an audio recording that was worth 40%, I’ve got to say I was pretty scared. While I’d never used any professional recording equipment before, I also had to interview someone and effectively capture their emotion on audio. It sounded like a very difficult thing to accomplish.
With that fear, there came many questions. Who will I interview? Should I try for happy, sad, angry etc.? Will I use music? What kind of ambient noises would I use? All of these were questions I was worried about answering.
Thankfully, after the first couple of lectures and tutorials in the subject, I started to relax a bit and really think about what I could do for the assignment. I decided to interview my mum about her younger brother Philip who died in a hit and run at the age of five, she was thirteen. The topic was nearly never talked about in my house, and the tragedy was buried for 20 years in her family and is still hardly discussed today. I think I might have used the assignment as an excuse to ask my mum about it, because I have never known how to bring it up until now.
The interview was very successful (I hadn’t told mum what I would be asking her about so the emotion was genuine) and I learnt a lot about the event that took the uncle that I never got to meet.
While I learnt a lot of new information from the interview about the event, I also learn a lot about my mums view of the event and the things that affected her the most about the situation. Surprisingly for me, she felt no anger towards the person who had hit Philip. She actually felt sorry for them, because they had had to live with what they had done for their whole life. Her true emotions were really displayed when she started talking about the way her parents had buried the event and never talked about or even acknowledged it. Now, I’ll probably get in trouble from my grandma for posting this (I have never talked to her about Philip and I’m hoping this assignment opens an avenue for conversation between her and myself) but they actually didn’t even have any pictures of Philip in the house for 20 years after the accident. I hadn’t known this and found it shocking. Of course back then there were not the counselling facilities available today, so I assume this was how a lot of people dealt with tragic events. Overall I found the experience very enlightening and interesting.
The experience of undertaking this Emotional History assignment has taught me a few things. One is that interviewing family can have both advantages and disadvantages. When interviewing my mum, at one point she got really emotional (which was to be expected) and started to cry. Now, nobody likes to see their mum cry! But I had to remain professional, I could hardly start crying with her because it would ruin the audio and interrupt the interview. It was very hard for me to act like a stranger and continue to ask questions rather than comfort my mum like I wanted to. So that’s one negative. Another negative was that I was scared to ask too many questions that would further upset her and cause her to relive memories that caused her pain. This, however, is the role of the interviewer. You don’t have to be cold and distant, but you cannot allow yourself to avoid questions or topics that could really be the key part of the interview and hold the most emotion. Thankfully, I believe I asked the questions that were necessary and I am quite happy with the end result. One positive of interviewing family is that the interviewee is quite comfortable and at ease around you. With my mum, although she wasn’t sure what was coming, she trusted me to just start asking questions that were potentially controversial. If interviewing a stranger, I feel like this trust would be hard won and I think they may even put up walls to defend themselves against tough questions.
One risk with interviewing my mum was that she lives in Canberra. Although I do drive back to Canberra every week, transporting a hired audio recorder that was only meant to be loaned for one night looked like it was going to be a problem. Luckily, I decided to ask tech support about it a fair while before the assignment was due, and they were nice enough to lend the recorder to me from Thursday to Tuesday (the time that I would away for). Without this privilege, I really have no idea what I would have done for my assignment and would have struggled to find a good new idea.
Here is a copy of the transcript: Julie Mangos-Emotional History Transcript