After several months, and many long hours in front of a scanner, I’ve mostly completed copying Isaac’s files. It was a huge pile of paper, about thirty large boxes; apparently he never threw away anything he’d written or received. (It’s "mostly completed" because Phaedra still has some boxes of his unsorted papers in North Carolina.)
Although I scanned the papers, I didn’t spend much time reading them. I had to get the images into my computer, and get the boxes to the University of California at Santa Barbara; they’re going to be stored in their American Religious Studies collection. My next step was going to be to go over the papers carefully and index them, to know what questions to ask when I started interviewing people.
However, told me I was being foolish. There are some people I want to interview who might not be around if I delayed too long. Also, for this type of research, there are always follow-up interviews for the new things you discover; I’d be interviewing the key people multiple times no matter how much preliminary research I did. Therefore, I’m starting to contact people.
I find that I’m very nervous about the interviews. There’s no rational basis for this feeling. So far, everyone I’ve contacted has been polite, agreeable, even enthusiastic about participating. Why am I worried?
Part of it is that I feel unprepared. Since I haven’t read through all the files yet, my questions may be generic: "When did you meet Isaac? What was he like? Do you have any interesting Isaac stories?"
Another part is that I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing to a stranger. Some of the contacts now have different names than in Isaac’s files; what if I call someone by the wrong name? What if I blurt out something private about person X to person Y? What if I tell them something about Isaac that they didn’t know and would rather not have heard?
I have to cold-call people I met only once, on the day Isaac passed away. I’m used to the easy time-shifting of e-mail; if I send you e-mail in the middle of the night, it’s no inconvenience. But if a stranger calls you, and you’re busy, it can make a lousy first impression.
In other words, what if I come across as someone who’s ignorant or unpleasant? That might compromise my already-haphazard research efforts.
I have to remind myself that these folks want this project to succeed. Most of them have been in contact with the pagan community for more than twice as long as I have; I will not be the most foolish person they’ve ever met.
That helps a little, but not enough.
Breathe, Bill! Breathe!