Jen Jeffrey: The Tables Turned

Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - by Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey

Whatever it is that we do in our day-to-day jobs, we sometimes forget what it is like on “the other side”. I once worked for a surgeon as his surgery coordinator setting up the patients’ surgeries. I would talk with the patient and make sure of their needs – whether they were allergic to latex (and non-latex surgical gloves need to be used) or if they were a diabetic and would need an early appointment (diabetics cannot be fasting for too long). Then I would find which facility would be best for the surgeon and the patient and coordinate the needs and follow guidelines of the patient, the surgeon, the facility and the insurance company. I would also make sure my surgeon would have the proper tools he requested.

This was in the good old days when doctors could be doctors and not be dictated by insurance companies or corporations, but there was still a lot to synchronize. Dr. Mastey was able to take time teaching me exactly what he needed from me and he put a lot of trust in me, as every patient was important to him. When he handed their chart to me, he trusted me to make the patient comfortable with the procedure they were having done – because after he saw a patient, they could easily chicken out. Surgery is a big deal, but I also trusted my surgeon to only advise surgery when totally necessary. I had to put myself in the patient’s shoes and not treat it as a job that I did every day. I had to remind myself each time someone walked through my office door that they had apprehensions and fear and they had individual needs.

Whatever our job is, we can get caught up in the daily grind and forget what it is like for the person on the other side.

Recently, I was asked to be a guest on a live radio talk show hosted by David Tulis on Copperhead 1240 AM. When he approached me by email to be on his show - all of a sudden the tables were turned!

Why in the world would someone want to interview ME? I am a ‘behind the scenes gal’. I am also a writer – not a talker. I have friends who would disagree with the veracity of my statement, but what I mean is – I write a bit more flow-y than I speak. When I talk it is like a dam busting loose! My soul erupts like a volcano as I spout off my passions or as I try to identify with someone or to enlighten them. And, don’t even get me started on my hands flying or my mind wandering and taking the person on many rabbit trails in a conversation. I am not a polished speaker and my vocabulary is limited unless I have time to think or have a thesaurus and dictionary handy.

To talk on live radio was as nerve-racking to me as when I used to sing solos at church –especially on Sunday morning when our service was broadcast. I remember my heart raced and my mouth got so dry that my lips stuck to my gums. I didn’t think there was anything interesting enough about me to be on a radio show anyway and I told David this. Then I remembered how many people I have approached to interview for a story who said, “But I am not that interesting” and I knew that I could still find a story in them.

I didn’t close the door on David’s request after he replied and told me a little more about it, but I was apprehensive.

His show was entitled “Nooganomics”. I first thought he was part of another news publication who seem to have very liberal views and I wondered if this was a joke or …a sabotage.

I remember when I first pitched myself to publications while living on Long island and I was laughed at by one of my New York friends when I told them I had sent a query to the Huffington Post. It hurt my feelings that they were trying to shoot me down instead of believing in me – even if it was a publication bigger than I could chew as a new writer. Then they explained the “audience” of the Huffington Post and the difference in my writing style.

God is my life and I need the freedom to talk about Him. I also need to be proud of who I work for and their views and to respect them. I wasn’t sure if this ‘Nooganomics guy’ knew exactly what style of writer I was or my views, so I looked at his website and I saw that he was a deacon of his church and that he once worked with my boss. That took away my fear of possibly swimming with a shark that just wanted to eat me alive. I trusted David but I was still apprehensive because of the “Omics” part of the name.

That just sounded like something far over my head – that the topics would be what PhD’s would discuss. More sharks. David was good to make me feel comfortable by sharing with me his audience and how he thought I would fit in. The show wouldn’t be what I do – to tell someone’s life story in a few pages… it would be sharing my knowledge of what I have learned from people I have interviewed. Easy. I love sharing others’ stories whether in writing or talking about them. It’s what I do. I showcase THEM.

I was on board, but the “tie in” of interviews I have conducted, with his audience of conservative males ranging from 30 to 50 years old, would be the challenge. I have written about men who would fit his audience but I also write about women, young people and seniors. I have interviewed prominent people and then people who are just your neighbor next door. I didn’t want to promote a lot of ‘educated testosterone’ coming my way to do stories only about them. I don’t mind doing those stories, but sometimes I need a brain-break and to take on a simple story that makes people laugh or enlighten them in some way.

I also feel in writing about “Chattanoogans” that no matter what my views or beliefs are, I am a neutral person who interviews people of all views and all beliefs. I do very little research about someone beforehand so that I can stay neutral and represent Chattanoogans as a part of the community.

David suggested, because his show promoted localism, that I should talk about the farmers I interview for the Growing Local series and also the people profile on a few of the entrepreneurial types who are shaking things up.  

Brian drove me there so I could stay focused and not worry about finding the place. It is so nice to have that moral support. When I walked into the small Soddy Daisy studio, I saw David talking “on air” through a window of the wall he was behind. He motioned for me to join him as our time drew near. I watched him ‘roll’ for about 20 minutes before taking a break. How does one person hold the floor that long?

I had hoped that he didn’t expect me to do that, but would be in it with me. I am fine with a partnership but I don’t feel equipped to be the sole speaker. When I got up to the mike (which was lowered to my five-two height) and I put on the headphones, my heart began to race. My mouth was getting dry and David asked if I wanted water. “No, thanks,” I said as the dutiful Southern woman who doesn’t want to impose. “Are you sure?” he said, “I am getting me one.” I changed my mind, knowing the show would last an hour and I was already dry.

David brought up one of my interviews about a 15-year-old, who had started her own fashion design business. I loved talking about her and how her story tied into his audience. The fact that she had a few years of homeschooling and she was an entrepreneur herself are topics his listeners were interested in. As I had a list of the 124 people I have interviewed, I wished that we had time to talk about each one. We discussed a judge that I had interviewed and we discussed a 90-year-old war veteran who began a restaurant in her seventies. When we touched on farms and a few of my farmers were mentioned, we discussed local food and how it benefits our economy and community.

Even though, I was not nervous and I felt comfortable, it was the whole “on air” thing… that stage fright I have always suffered with, that gave me cotton-mouth! I tried to drink my water in between talking but I found myself still licking my lips just to keep them from sticking to my gums! Why does our body do that? The adrenaline that was pumping through my body wanted to take me hiking or on the ARC trainer… it did not want me to stand still and be composed. I was glad though, to share the cause of local food and local businesses so somehow I managed to keep ‘rolling’ the way David did.

We had a break before the farm conversations and I wasn’t sure I realized that the web-cam would pick up our ‘private’ conversation – or I thought if it was, he would edit that out when he put it on his website. So, I mentioned the time I did a farm on a GMO farm. After nearly 30 farms I had visited in the region, there was only one that did not have organic practices using no chemicals. It was a family farm where activities go on and they only sell their grain for feed, but I am still passionate about what goes-into-our-beef-that-goes-into-us! I had to write their story, but I also had to be true to myself by not hiding that fact in the story.

Then I told David that Growing Local was something I became passionate about after learning from the farmers about organic practices. I told him it became ‘my baby’ so much so, that when another writer had sent him a piece he wrote on an area farm, that I didn’t want it under Growing Local. It was my boss’ publication and he didn’t even have to ask me, but when he did, I think he could tell in my response of, “Go ahead, if you need to” that I thought of Growing Local as ‘mine’. I told him I didn’t mind him using that piece the writer sent in, but I wished he would stick it with another title… when I told this story to David, the light bulb went off over both our heads and he said, “I was that guy!”

It was funny to me, because I had forgotten ‘the guys’ name, so I had no idea until that moment and then – we were back on air. We finished the interview and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I actually liked doing it, after I got over the initial feeling of being on stage. David helps his guest in the beginning to know that it is not a stage but an intimate setting of just the guest, he and the listener. But never having been on an hour-long radio show, I was not sure I would even have anything to offer so the stage fright was more about freezing up. Since it went well, the fear was gone.

I conquered yet another fear that I didn’t even know I had. Not much makes me afraid or holds me back, but occasionally, I will find myself up against the unknown which can be a little unnerving. I put myself in the shoes of those I have interviewed and it helps now in preparing them more – the way David did me. I think I have always eased their mind if I sensed any apprehension when I approach someone, but now I would be sure to think “on the other side”.

My publisher John has been good to take time to ‘prune my branches’ since I started writing for him, teaching me styles (or grammar rules I had forgotten) but I also learn on the job and that is my 401k. To bank experience and on-the-job-education, is as important as doing the job or getting a paycheck.

One of the topics of conversation during the radio show was how people are going back to their roots and doing what they love. It is my hope that everyone has the opportunity to do what they love, but if doing what you love doesn’t pay the bills, maybe we should assess where the joy lies in our lives.

Do we find joy in all that we afford ourselves or should we let certain things go? What really matters and gives us the freedom to fulfill our purpose? What you enjoy doing – that initial dream you once had most likely brought joy to others as well. If we put away what we ‘think’  we are supposed to do in life, and do what brings us joy and brings joys to others, instead of being bound by our debts and running in the rat race of the corporate world - imagine the freedom of letting go.

Whatever you do for a living, always be aware of the person on the other side. Think of the tables being turned and see their perspective and do what you do well.

jen@jenjeffrey.com


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