As a journalist, one of my favorite questions has always been "What keeps you up at night?" When posed to someone in a position of power, the answer can humanize the experience of governing, while exposing specific concerns that may still need our attention.
Beyond that, someone's honest answer to that question can open a discussion about either our shared concerns as a society or those issues and fears that make each of us unique.
But what, exactly, does the question mean?
Our Tenn Words project is only a couple weeks old, but the 324 responses we've already received are beginning to introduce us to the concept that such a question can be taken literally, figuratively or both.
I should point out that there are no right or wrong answers to the question. We don't want to influence anyone to answer a certain way and that's part of what makes this little social adventure so interesting.
But I have to confess I wasn't prepared for people to respond in a purely literal sense. When I ask someone "what keeps you up at night?", I'm asking them to tell me what concerns them, what weighs on their mind. It doesn't have to literally keep them awake at night, but it might.
Tenn Words' Brittany Crocker has been sifting through some of the answers and determined 12% of the respondents so far have interpreted the question literally. Among their responses:
"My excessively hot (sweaty) boyfriend sweating all over me"
"My tiny bladder"
"Waiting for the alarm to go off"
"The upstairs neighbors: Settle down already!"
Two women responded with "hot flashes", presumably referring to the condition that often accompanies menopause. Two others referred to their snoring husbands. Others identified loud cars and loud dogs as the source of their insomnia. And one person listed his fear of insomnia, a very real condition for those of us who truly have trouble sleeping at night.
Another refreshingly innocent interpretation came from an eight year-old girl:
"My fish tank light"
Finally, there was my personal favorite, just because I can imagine lying in bed, awake, listening to it:
"Donkey singing to the coyotes in the field behind us!"
If you haven't had the chance to register your response yet, you can do it online. You can keep track of the latest live responses on Instagram and we tweet a response a day on our Twitter feed. You can also see the traveling Tenn Words exhibit at the Oak Ridge Secret City Festival on Friday, June 12 and we'll be at the Kuumba Festival in Knoxville's Morningside Park on Saturday, June 27.