a peek inside the fishbowl

11 Jan, 2010

The story of the skull: a long intro and a bit of part 1

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life

A story can be immensely powerful. A great story makes you feel something, makes you think, makes you wonder, makes you laugh.

Stories can build us up and tear us down. They can move us to tears and move us to action. The best stories of all stay with us for a long time.

Our lives are based on stories in ways we haven’t even considered; the story of our childhood, the story of our parents, the story of how we became the people we eventually became.

When you really think about it, we are made out of nothing but flesh and blood and bone … and our stories.

Dinner parties are often the place where stories are laid out on the table – compared and wondered about like medical specimens bottled up to ponder and admire – but stories are also like currency, don’t you think? There’s value, and a give and take, a barter system of sorts. An unspoken I’ll tell you a story and then you give me one in return kind of rule.

One of the things that drove me to journalism was my love of the story. I do appreciate a good yarn; both the listening and telling parts. Maybe that’s why I’m writing here as often as I do – to share my stories (both big and small) with you. But this blog also keeps my little stories preserved, very much like those medical specimens. I think that’s pretty cool.

I don’t think I made the best journalism student at the beginning. I liked the storytelling part of the program – whether it was in radio, TV, or print classes – but I was a bit of a wreck when it came to talking to people for my assignments. This was a problem you see, because Talking To People was the very basis of every single thing we had to do.

I hated calling people. Almost everything about it made my stomach turn. I dreaded lifting up the heavy receiver and calling the number. I hated placing the call from my home (and possibly experiencing a nasty case of Roommate Interruptus). I hated sitting in the flickering fluorescently-illuminated telephone room at Carleton (a closet-sized space with nothing but with phones and tables with library-like dividers) for fear of being overheard and sounding like an idiot in front of my peers. I also hated the idea of interrupting someone else’s busy private life.

I was very good, however, at making excuses when I was supposed to call.

At 4:00 p.m. I’d say to myself: “I can’t call now because they won’t be home from work.”
At 5:00 p.m.: “I can’t call now because they’ll just be getting home from work.”
At 6:00 p.m.: “I can’t call now because they’ll probably be making dinner.”
At 7:00 p.m.: “I can’t call now because they’ll be in the middle of dinner.”
At 9:00 p.m.: “I can’t call now because it’s probably too late to call. Who calls at 9:00 pm.!”

Picking up the phone and making those calls required lots of persuasion, that is, me persuading myself to make the freakin’ call already.

The very WORST thing about making The Call was spitting out that first sentence: “Hi-my-name-is-Andrea-and-I-am-a-journalism-student-at-Carleton-and-I-was-wondering-if-I-could-ask-you…”

I always had to write everything down and recite it word for word (and this part is so embarrassing) including MY OWN NAME because I was so afraid of stumbling over my words.

There were other journalism students who dropped out for this exact reason. Making The Call is so intrusive. And selfish really, when you think about it. I wondered, why would anyone care about the stupid story I’m working on? Why would they bother wasting their valuable time on a journalism student? It was mind-boggling.

After I placed THE CALL one or five or 20 or 100 times I realized – to my immense relief – that it actually got easier. I also realized why people were being so generous with their time. Even though I was a lowly student and my articles were only for myself and for my teachers, people opened up and talked to me because they wanted to share their stories.

It didn’t take me long to appreciate the position I was in. After all, normal people could never call up a funeral parlour and ask for a special tour of the grounds and ask all manner of questions about the crematorium. (That’s a whole other story.)

It’s a strange benefit for curious people like myself. If you have a name behind you (i.e. the name of a newspaper) it’s practically a license to be nosy.

I have no idea how I found this fellow, but I wrote about him for my science reporting class.

His name was Peter. During the day he worked for the RCMP and in the evenings he worked as a pottery instructor. Little did I know that meeting him would become one of the most interesting stories I’d collect.

Part two is tomorrow.

7 Responses to "The story of the skull: a long intro and a bit of part 1"

1 | Stefania (formerly The Veg Next Door)

January 11th, 2010 at 9:23 am


I could totally relate to the ordeal of calling people. I used to dread those calls. I so remember the “calling room” at Carleton.

Looking forward to reading more of your tale.

2 | Just An Ottawa Dad

January 11th, 2010 at 9:32 am


I experienced the same thing at Loyalist in Belleville when I was taking PhotoJournalism….

Never was great at cold calling…

3 | Gwen

January 11th, 2010 at 9:37 am


Oooh, the dreaded calls. At my school (where I took journalism like you) our “call room” was a partitioned section of our production room. Very bad setup. So this started the telephone fear…everyone in the room could potentially hear my call, I could hear everyone in the room. Then even the thought of trying from home scared me….I lived with 5 other roommates and every phone call was guaranteed to be interrupted! But slowly, I found ways to get over my fear and it became easier as time went by. I actually grew to love it!

Looking forward to the rest of your story :)

4 | Laura

January 11th, 2010 at 8:26 pm


You are a great story teller! I will tune in to find out about Peter and the skull….

5 | Hilary

January 12th, 2010 at 5:23 am


The call is so scary. It’s one of the reasons I studied publishing and not journalism in the end – I couldn’t imagine cold calling or thrusting my microphone into the face of some unsuspecting passerby. Egads. I’ve noticed that an awful lot of my journalist friends feature friends and friends of friends in their stories – it’s so much easier all round!

6 | The story of the skull: part two >> a peek inside the fishbowl

January 12th, 2010 at 3:47 pm


[…] worked for the RCMP and in the evenings he moonlighted as a pottery instructor. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I have no idea of how I found him or why I chose to write about forensic […]

7 | Finola

January 12th, 2010 at 11:26 pm


I might have been one of the drop outs you mentioned if I had gone to journalism school – I detest the phone even now.
I am so grateful for email and the internet!

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark. We have two daughters: Emma (19) and Sarah (17). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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