The Bad Interview


All right, I can write about it, finally, now that the interview has been broadcast and is no longer up for listening on the BBC Radio website. Thank God&dess.

 A couple of weeks ago, for the first time I can remember, I gave a terrible interview with BBC Radio. My host was the elegant, beautiful, well-spoken sinologist and journalist Isabel Hilton and my fellow interviewee was the Harvard and Oxford educated American-Burmese and upper-eschelon U.N. historian Thant Myint U. 
I’d had a devastatingly bad night with little teething Timo, and that morning I could barely put a sentence together. I exaggerate only very slightly.

 Kazzie Connelly: Uh. glugglugglug. Ahhh. Blahblahblah.
And you can quote me on that.

Isabel would ask a question, and it would take me so long to digest it and think about it that the silence would well up and Thant Myint U, understandably, would begin to speak. And then, when I wasn’t being distracted by the lilting trans-atlantic provenance of his accent, I would listen to him and forget what I was thinking myself, and respond to the question (what question?) like someone trying to swat a pigeon (or an antelope) with a tattered fly-swatter.

 And there was nothing to do but stumble through. It was made much much worse by the fact that both of my fellow radio voices were formidably articulate and intelligent. If only one of them had been an idiot! But no. That title fell to me. I cringed with embarrassment and growing nervousness in a paltzy little CBC studio in Toronto, staring mournfully of a large photo of Peter Gzowksi, who was turning over in his grave every time I opened my mouth. Peter! Remember the good old days, when I was young and childless and knew how to talk! The cramped padded quarters of the little radio box did not help, of course. 

I felt like a prisoner. Or a mad woman. No, more a prisoner, like my dear Teza from The Lizard Cage. No wonder all the evil regimes use sleep deprivation as a form of torture. It works so well! There I was in my tiny soundproof box, being cruelly interogated after many many many sleepless teething crying baby nights. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! No! No! No! No! I cannot put together a sentence to save my life!”

“Then die! Die of embarrassment, you twittering Canadian fraud! What do you know about the Helsinki Accord!?” IIsabel actually formulated a question for me referring to the Helsinki Accord, which I’ve heard of, OF COURSE—but was it politics or an Olympic Committee Resolution? Politics, duh. She was kind and let me know what the hell the Helsinki Accord referred to before handing it over to me. But rest assured, I still answered poorly.

It was mortifying. And oddly fascinating, too. Because it was the first time that my self as a writer and my self as a mother met face to face at eleven o’clock in the morning after a night of very little sleep and a lot of crying baby. There they were, the articulate and impassioned writer/intellectual/woman of the world and the sleep-deprived, particularly concerned, infant-centred, breasts-full-of-milk mother. Once the interview started, it was obvious that the mother had remained in the studio (dazed and unable to explain her presence there) while the articulate writer had fled home to bed, keen to get a few hard-earned hours of sleep.

 Ah, the split self! Therein lies the problem, you may say. Join those selves, do not disconnect the two worlds, reason and emotion, this and that, us and them. (Yeah, whatever. Try to explain that to the listeners of BBC . . . Should I have started to tell them about my infant son’s drooling howls? Who knows, maybe I did. Maybe I talked at length about breastfeeding, and what that might mean to the Burmese generals . . . I’ve wiped much of what I’ve said from my mind.)

Disconnected worlds was one of the themes of the interview. How to end the polarization between the Burmese democracy movement and the reigning military power of Burma? Thant Myint U and I talked about how there needs to be a shift somehow--a complex problem that a small number of dissidents are trying to grapple with. But I fear that both of us sounded almost like apologists for the military government. I quoted verbatim the words of a dissident colleague,“Burmese people must accept that the generals are their generals, the military is their military . . .” but in the mouth of a white woman living safely (if sleeplessly) in Canada, those words sound 1) naïve 2) insulting 3) _________ fill in the blank with an expletive. Of course, I forgot to mention that a Burmese person had spoken those words.

Oh well. What can I say? It’s weeks later now and my cringe has lifted. A little humility is a good thing. I’ve had a few good nights of sleep and am feeling cocky and capable of rubbing twenty words together to offer up a cogent thought. The problem is not writing—I can always write, even when retarded with exhaustion. But I often do not have the same command of vocabulary as I used to have when SPEAKING. Some women have said they weren’t really able to talk in the same way until they had finished breast-feeding—that the love and relaxant hormones (oxytocin and a bunch of others that are too long to spell) do something to a woman’s brain. Or is it just months of sleep deprivation?

I’ll have a chance to test it all out tonight: I have to give a 45 minute talk to the Heliconian Book Club. Fabulous. But, as I was saying, I’ve slept. I am talking to myself right now just to prove that I can talk. How I actually sound is another story altogether. I will let you know . . .