Being Joe Mell: A reflection on Speed Dating with History

by Kiley Goyette

Students of the Working Class Public History class reflected on their experiences of representing oral histories of Pointe-Saint-Charles which are part of the archive at the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling.

Speed dating with history

I chose an argyle sweater that day. Maybe I would have worn it anyway—it’s comfortable, warm, and easy to move in ways the theatre exercises might demand of me. But I chose it because Joe Mell wore a similar sweater on the day of his interview. I thought about what Steven had said, about the ethics of how we choose to represent a person. Would I be mocking Joe Mell, by wearing this sweater? I was a bit concerned it would be interpreted this way, but my reasons for choosing the sweater was more to use it as a touchstone. What could I possibly understand of Joe Mell from that interview? What common ground did we have? Maybe in wearing ‘his’ sweater, adopting his posture, speaking at his pace would help me see the world from Joe Mell’s perspective.

I found many people seemed rushed when delivering their story. There seemed to be an intent to “cover it all” in the limited time we had. Many began with their date of birth. My approach was to imagine Joe Mell in this situation. I doubted he would prepare a succinct synopsis for 90 seconds or even think about the highlights of his life. In the interview, Joe managed to rarely talk about himself. He spoke of his parents, his siblings, the organizations he worked with, but rarely to his own ideas, often deflecting questions about himself. I don’t know what he would do in a speed-dating situation, but I think he would want the other person to feel comfortable, and would be very candid. So I didn’t prepare a “speech” but instead tried to find a path through everything I knew about him in the moment. I imagined it as a conversation, for example, when I would ask the other person if they knew Leo’s Boys before talking about my brother—I mean, Joe’s brother– Leo. In the interview Joe also told many jokes, and based on the comments from his partner this was known part of his personality. I failed to incorporate jokes into the speed dating, but it would have been a great feat! I never met another Joe Mell, but I hope someone succeeded in representing this side of him.

by Kiley Goyette