Night-long Conversations and Getting “Deep” with Jeanine Walker

by Anca Szilagyi

In anticipation of our event featuring Jeanine Walker’s play “Polarities: A Verbatim Play in One Act,” I asked Jeanine a couple questions about eavesdropping and how memories are shaped over time. Join us live at the Hollow Earth Radio performance space on February 18 at 7 pm PDT or tune in online!

AS: Prior to “Polarities,” were you in the habit of transcribing dialogue, whether your own or eavesdropped? What kinds of things caught your teenage ear?

JW: I think I might have. I don’t have any other examples of it anymore, but I was really into conversation—a lot. My best friend (Minal, who’s mentioned in the play) and I used to have night-long conversations, which we taped with a little black tape recorder. We believed in our minds and recorded ourselves talking so that we wouldn’t miss whatever improvised idea arose from the collision of our words in the conversation. Nowadays, I love parties, mingling, and talking to people I’ve just met—a lot. Back then, I was really the opposite. I detested small talk, which I saw as useless, meaningless conversation, and I wanted to get “deep” with people as soon as possible. The kind of conversations I got into or paid attention to when I overheard them were inevitably ones that explored ideas. I always put it back into my writing.

AS: What was it like, coming back to this conversation, 22 years later? Had your memory of the scene transformed for you, over time? 

JW: It’s been a bit of a journey, I’d say. My brother and I grew up in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and now we both live in Seattle. It was interesting to read through it together for the first time several weeks ago. We couldn’t stop laughing. I think that was because we find parts of what we were saying funny, but even more than that, I think we laughed from the memory, and an overall appreciation for the people we were to each other then. Our parents divorced when I was 10 and Chris was 12; our older brother, Joe, was 15 and quickly got a part-time job and moved on to college, so he was taking care of himself. For Chris and me, our life with our parents was pretty tumultuous for a while, and we had to rely a lot on each other. Though we had separate friends and separate interests, we were kind of each other’s best friends, too. It was interesting to read this over with him and remember the ways in which, as teenagers, we were creative together and how we shaped our friendship, in particular how jokes (some of which we still tell) developed and stayed with us. Being reminded of this time has led me to explore that early relationship more deeply in some recent poems and an essay about some of the hidden benefits of divorce—namely, for me, a life-long close relationship with my brother. He’s awesome, I love him very much, and I feel grateful that we ended up living so close. Well, okay—I’m the younger sister—he moved to Seattle first. I followed. 🙂