When I conducted my interviews I kept a simple metaphor in mind: “conversational gates”. I imagined that each person was represented by a series of rings, one within the other, and that the outer rings contained shallow musings, thoughts and beliefs and that the centre-most rings contained a person’s deepest reflections, stories and ideas. I imagined my aim as the interviewer was to make my way from without to within these rings, with conversational manoeuvres—questions, reciprocating the sharing of a story, a deliberate pause—serving as the gates between the rings. Essentially, the aim was to make my way from the superficial to the sacred of a person’s being.
Another way to think of it is using a categorisation I picked up from Robert McKee’s Dialogue: the current of a person’s thought has three flavors—the said, the unsaid and the unspeakable. The idea of conversational gates and McKee’s three-tier categorisation of thought combined and visualised looks something like this:
I was thinking about this structure as I was going up hills, down country lanes and taking water breaks on a cycle ride yesterday. It occurred to me that the layers of concentric rings can be likened to the different layers of the Earth’s crust.
Simply put, the Earth itself has five layers: crust, upper mantle, mantle, outer core and inner core. At the centre of the Earth is a seething ball of molten death. Why does this matter? Well. Take our conversational gates, McKee’s said-unsaid-unspeakable, and the rendition of the Earth’s structure, and what do we get? The (rough) outline of the journey to the centre of the self.
The outermost layers of the self are shallow, superficial, easily spoken of. The medium layers of the self have more complexity, more nuance, and are harder to reach and examine. The innermost layer, the core of the self, is terribly complex and near-impossible to comprehend. And the passageways between these layers, the gates? Nothing more than the constant cycle between action and reflection, that is, the living of life itself.