Frank was a really difficult gift. I was initially interested in him because of his Skid Row art project. What kind of person makes multiple trips from Cape Cod to Los Angeles to paint the homeless? But the story took a different direction when, at the suggestion of teaching assistant Mary Helen Montgomery, I asked Frank about his works in progress. He briefly mentioned a writing project about someone he’d once known. I shared that information in class, and Rob zeroed in on it. “Something tells me there’s some kind of friction there,” he said. “Move toward that.”
My interview with Frank lasted about five hours. He spoke willingly about his writing, even though at times it made him very uncomfortable. His pauses, verbal stumbles, and asides largely had to be cut from the interview for time. In the unedited tape, you can hear him struggling to articulate his thoughts and keep his emotions in check. In addition to his writing, we covered the events leading up to his manuscript, his opinions on the purpose of art, and his socioeconomic status. I wanted all this other information. I thought it might give me a sense of Frank’s motivations. But the more we talked, the more confused I became. Frank breathed contradictions. To date, he’s the most complicated person I’ve interviewed for any project — or at least, the one most willing to reveal his many selves. Driving from his home back to Woods Hole, my head hurt from trying to make sense of who he is.
In the next class meeting, I pretty much word vomited everything that was running through my mind. Rob later told me that he worried about my ability to find a story in all the information. My problem was that I was trying to reconcile all of Frank’s contradictions. I wanted one seamless narrative about Frank The Person. Naïve, sure, but I was married to the idea I didn’t have to compartmentalize him.
Eventually, after numerous edits and helpful notes from Rob and Mary Helen, I was able to drill down through the mess of information to the version of Frank that appears in the story. Presenting an all-encompassing version of Frank would have been an impossible task. I had to figure out which complications to hint at in the piece and which to let go entirely because they were extraneous. The process of omission made me uncomfortable, but the feedback I got with each edit helped me to appreciate that a simplified storyline doesn’t mean denying a character his complexity.
* Photo of Frank Chike Anigbo taken by Elizabeth Nakano on April 13, 2016, at the painter’s studio in Barnstable, MA.
Elizabeth’s Sonic ID
I snagged this sonic while wandering around the Hyannis docks talking to fishermen. My previous four attempts at sonic gathering had failed miserably. People were really stiff around me. So that day, I decided to try something new: I eased up on Reporter Elizabeth and let more of my personality show. It worked. I got four sonic gems that day.