Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Third Year Reflections

It’s now been almost exactly three years ago that Save Their Story, Inc. was launched and it’s rather poignant for me to reflect on all of the families I’ve met and the interviews my associates and I have conducted since that time. We’re so fortunate that they place their trust in us as they share the stories that are important to them. And the gift I receive in turn from their trust is truly enriching.

In addition to the history I have learned through hearing about their experiences as well as the significance that chance occurrences played in many of their lives, I also come away with a very positive sense of family. The obvious reason for this is that families that are in conflict with one another do not seek us out to preserve their stories because perhaps they’d rather forget than remember those experiences. But I am encouraged by the interviews of clients where accounts of serious family strife are told with an emphasis on the lesson learned of not repeating the pattern once they were adults with families of their own. These are lessons they instill in their own children just by the power of their example. And I can’t think of a better legacy they give to their children than breaking that pattern of dysfunction.

--Bridget Poizner

Friday, December 4, 2009

Personal History Videos: A Sampling

Excerpts from Video Biographies that 'Save Their Story' has created for families across the country.

Note: If you don't have Quick Time player, copy and paste this link to your navigation bar to be redirected to YouTube:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Recording Family Stories: Let the kids do all the asking.

Children ask a lot of questions.

"Is the Tooth Fairy related to Santa Claus?"
"Is your hair really white under the black, like Mom says it is?"
"Can we return the baby in exchange for a puppy?"
"Can we have Thanksgiving everyday?"

And questions are paramount for a Video Biography interview.

So... put two and two together and this holiday season, try a fun experiment. Gather all the children in the family and have them 'interview' the Grandparents on video! It will be entertaining... and educational. Not only will the children gain a sense of accomplishment being in charge of the whole project, but they will also learn more about the elders in the family. And not just the 'boring' stuff! No, it's their opportunity to discover that Grandma and Grandpa were once 'real' people just like them... to hear their crazy adventures and experiments, and to establish their own special bond with their Grandparents.

The best part is that you'll have that candid video to cherish for years to come. Even after the children grow up and have children of their own. Even after Grandma and Grandpa begin to forget parts of their own stories. Even after your memories of the event begin to get blurry... the video shall stand witness to a fun afternoon of getting to 'know' each other better.

"Why haven't we done this earlier?" Just be prepared for that one!


Friday, November 20, 2009

Check out our new video

We are making some changes to our web site and this new sample is the first one. Take a look:

--Bridget Poizner

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Recording Family Stories: "Fine... I'll do it... someday!"

That's what one gentleman said to me at the end of my presentation on preserving family history and the need to do it NOW. I wasn't sure if he was being funny or sincere - so I confirmed my suspicions by raising my eyebrows, laughing and wagging my finger at him simultaneously.

"Some day?" I exclaimed. This after I had just spoken for 30 minutes on the need to seize the day by its horns!

"Oh. Well, yes, I mean someday soon," he beamed back to me, slightly nervous now.

A part of me wanted to sit him down and repeat everything I had just said to a larger audience. It wasn't about generating business because if it was, I wouldn't have devoted my talk to informing the general public on how they could create Video Biographies themselves - without having to rely on an outsider.

No. It was because I see it so often. Until someone falls ill, or ages overnight, or starts to lose their memory... or worse... until it's absolutely impossible to ignore the fact that we are not going to live forever, people rarely think much about leaving a legacy that is more interactive and meaningful than mere objects or money.

Yet what is it that we treasure the most? The memories. The stories. The sense of who a person was when he / she was still alive and in their prime. We treasure the opportunity to feel like we once knew them, even if they lived two generations ago. The chance to understand where our journey began and how we happen to be where we are today. It is the sense of continuity that we value - the sense of belonging and creation and nurturing.

Why then do we put it off for 'someday'? 'Later'? 'Soon'? 'Tomorrow'? All of which so easily become 'too late'.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

I Lost a Client Today

My posts are usually brief but usually fairly thought out before I even begin to type them up but this one is an impulse composition. I just received a phone call from a woman who had hired me to interview her parents and other members of her family about a year ago. She envisioned an extensive project and due to her hard work [and mine], a 3-part saga about her family was created. It was completed in March and she and I were both very pleased with how it turned out. I was so touched with the interviews of her parents. They shared stories that illustrated not only their strengths but their weaknesses as well. I also interviewed her adult sons with the topics focusing again on stories of their grandparents. These accounts were told with humor and a bit of teasing but above all with a deep senses of love and fondness for them.

Her phone call was to tell me that her father, who had been ill for some time, had died peacefully earlier today. She was asking if I could make a tribute for the memorial service using a few selections from the interview which I told her I would be happy to do. This is not the first client I have lost and oftentimes I interview people who have terminal illnesses but that doesn't make it any easier when one of them dies. While there is always a sadness when one of them passes, I am always comforted by the thought that because of their interview, not only will their stories endure, but their laugh, gestures, and the twinkle in their eye will be able to be witnessed by their great great grandchildren.

I remember giving a presentation last spring to a group showing ways they could preserve family history as a do-it-yourself project. I gave resources and examples in many ways--not just video. But I am partial and think video is such a powerful medium. This was confirmed at the end of my talk when a woman raised her hand and made a comment urging the group to have a video created. It turned out that her husband had passed away the year before and she had no record of his voice. So when I receive calls such as the one I received today, in spite of the sad thoughts, I can't help but think that at least the families I work with don't have that sorrow.

--Bridget Poizner

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Video Biographies - Recording Family Stories

Okay... so... here's the list of the people I met with last weekend for the first time ever -

1). Great-Aunt
2). Great-Aunt's husband
3). Great-Aunt's daughter
4). Great-Aunt's daughter's daughters
5). 15 other friends of Great-Aunt

It was fun! Mind you, there was potential for things to go awry - there always is when you meet someone for the first time, but this was family and I am glad to report, it felt like it!

I have heard of and known of Great-Aunt T my whole life. And all of it was good. But none of it really gave me any insight into what her life must have been 50 years ago when she first moved to this country as a new bride... and how she's seen things evolve since then. Her family and herself included.

So I was determined to get her talking when we met. As a professional Video Biographer, I would have been ashamed of myself if I hadn't made the effort... practiced what I preach and so on! And it was so simple.

She was delighted that I cared enough to find out more about her. Her husband was bursting with stories about how tough it was to initially get passage to this new country... she was full of tales of how bewildering it was to find the right pulses in the grocery store... and from such humble stories, they progressed to more complex ones... piecing together the incredible story of a family, who moved across continents in the hope of a better life. For themselves and their unborn children. And how they succeeded, one milestone at a time.

I really enjoyed the conversation... and through learning more about them, I found out so much more about the world at that time. History. Society. Economy. Community.

In case you didn't already know, October is 'Family History Month'... and it really as simple as my experience with the Great-Aunt sounds. Just clear your throat and ask a question... any question... you'll wonder at the stories that follow. And you'll wonder why you never thought to ask before.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Helping to document lives and life stories.

'Save Their Story' (Austin) was a proud sponsor of the AGE Caregivers Conference - 'Striking a Balance'. The annual event was held in Austin in September 2009... and attended by 135 people. Judging by the smiles of these ladies, it was a thoroughly enjoyable event. Seen here is Aditi Worcester, at the 'Save Their Story' (Austin) booth... with her neighbor from 'Hands of Angels'.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Video Biographies: 'You need to find someone with a big ego...'

... That's how my recent business meeting with two elderly (and very helpful, might I add) gentlemen in Austin ended. After half-an-hour's worth of talking about the Video Biography business and the need to preserve family history, if that's what someone takes away from it, why then, I'm in trouble!

The distress must have shown in my half-frozen smile. After a few seconds of silence that stretched themselves very thin, I cleared my throat awkwardly and asked the gentleman if he really thought recording life stories was a vain enterprise. What followed was a lively conversation and a few retractments - 'he hadn't quite meant it that way' - but it was interesting to come face-to-face with such a school of thought where sharing one's life experiences and memories could be perceived as a sign of vanity... a egotistic person's indulgence.

I didn't try to 'convert' him - and to his credit, he didn't try to convert me either. But I have a few questions and I'd like to pose them to you, O discerning reader, who might have more wisdom and sensibility than me in many areas!

1). Have you / Do you plan to take any steps to document your life stories and experiences for posterity?

2). Or would you rather leave it to the genealogical zeal of future generations to dig up whatever they are able to from census records, and community archives and government files?

3). Would you attempt to capture the essence of your life in your own voice, in your own way... whether it's a Video Biography, or an oral recording or even written memoirs? And would you encourage those who are important to you to do the same?

4). Or would you rather someone else fill in the blanks with whatever little (or much) they are able to scavenge about you years from now?

5). Is there really vanity involved in trying to create a record of your life for future generations... to help them better understand their collective journey thus far? To help provide roots in the past and an understanding for the future?

6). Would you really much rather hope someone 'gifted' you the opportunity to create a Video Biography - instead of actively getting it done yourself?

I realize this blog post is more a list of questions but I would be happy to hear your answers - either through the comments section on this blog or we could communicate via email. You can reach me at

Because isn't this what it's really about... creating a lively discussion about life? And what we have learned from it.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

When an Old Person Dies, A Library Burns Down

This is a famous saying that rings true to me every time I learn of the passing of one of my older clients. And I find it especially applicable to World War II veterans. Last night I saw the documentary, "Bedford, The Town They Left Behind" which is about a small town in Virginia which lost 19 in the D-Day Invasion. It was a poignant portrayal of how the town dealt with such a devastating loss. The interviews of the survivors reminded me of the many World War II veterans I have interviewed. Their stories were modestly told but the events they spoke of affected the lives of millions and were things they were still coming to terms with 65 years later. Their accounts also show important it is to get the stories of these men preserved for the sake of both history and their families. Three of those interviewed in the film had passed away before it was even released.
--Bridget Poizner

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Remembering my Grandmother's stories... and her life.

On the topmost rung of the bookshelf in my room are two silver cranes. On my last visit home, my mother wrapped them in two shoe bags and put them in my suitcase, insisting in that sweet way of hers that I carry back to Austin a memento of my paternal Grandmother - Dadima. Now it has been close to 20 years since Dadima passed away so I was a little puzzled as to why they were finding their way to my luggage now but I've learned not to question the wisdom behind anything my mother says.

Since January of this year, I have looked at those two cranes every morning when I get up and every night when I'm lying in bed, reading a book. And myriad other times during the day too. And it doesn't happen every time I look at them but there have been several occasions when a glance their way makes me travel back in time to my childhood... when these cranes sat on the carved wooden table in my grandparents home in a small suburb near New Delhi, India. It was small enough that the plot of land next to them... where there should have been neighbors... was home to a herd of buffaloes and the family of four that tended to them from their makeshift hut. And it was the milk of these buffaloes that was sold to every house in the lane and that was the bane of my growing up years. You see, I decided very young that buffalo milk was not exactly one of my favorite things. And oh the tricks I came up with just to get out of drinking that mandatory glass of warm milk at my grandparents home.

Sometimes a turn of my head towards the silver cranes makes me picture the monthly 'Kitty Parties' my grandmother hosted in the drawing room, where all the ladies in the neighborhood, aged 50 and above, would gather together and play Bingo... dressed to the nines as if it were a wedding they were attending instead.

There used to be a silver elephant too, on an adjoining table back then... its trumpet raised as if it were sounding an alarm. It sat next to the gramophone that I had never heard being used.

The cranes make me think of countless festivals I had spent in Dadima's home... oiling the cotton wicks so that they would shine bright when we lined the boundary wall to the house with sparkling diyas for Diwali. Or the makeshift temple in Dadima's room where we all gathered to sing holy songs with Dadima leading the brigade, and where I sat crouched towards the back, laughing silently at how none of the grown ups in my family could ever quite carry a tune.

The silver cranes make me remember so much that I thought I had forgotten. That I never realized I knew about my Grandmother. You see, I had been 8 when she died and the only recollections I thought I had of her were based on the pictures that I had seen framed on the wall of my parents home, or that sat on my father's bedside table. I had forgotten that I knew her once... and that I had memories of her that were my own. That just needed a little prodding to make themselves apparent to me again.

The silver cranes are my grandmother's Video Biography... or the best things I have close to it of her.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Life stories yes... but even neighborhoods have a history.

Last week, I got to know a neighbor better. She happens to be the editor of my neighborhood newsletter, and when she heard about what I do, she suggested writing an article about it. I was pleased as punch, needless to say. So we talked some more. Then she asked if I would be interested in creating a short film about our neighborhood.

This took me by surprise. I love our neighborhood and it's charming and quaint but beyond that? I was about to explain to her that it was the stories people had to share that interested me most... when she went on to say that there was one man in particular who put in a lot of time and effort to make it what it is today.

"Ah, so it's a film about the gentleman and not so much the neighborhood?" I asked.

"He is the neighborhood."

This was intriguing. I was very interested to meet with this man and get him talking. But it was not meant to be as he had passed away a few years ago.

My neighbor continued, "There are a lot of people who live in this neighborhood who either knew him personally or knew of him - and I know they would welcome an opportunity to talk about how he touched their lives. Plus, we could speak with his family who still live in the same house."

This was starting to sound interesting... a lot like the Tribute Videos that I create when families wish to honor a loved one on special occasions like their Anniversary, Birthday, Christmas, Mother's Day or Father's Day and so on.

So I returned home and googled him. To my surprise, there was a lot about him. I also found out that the pretty patch of green by the creek near our house was started by him... this made it personal!

"Alright, I'll do it." I announced to the neighborhood committee at their next meeting.

Right then and there, a committee member turned to me with a gleam in his eye and started narrating anecdotes with the gentleman we would be honoring with the video. When he finished, another member started... and then a third person started without even waiting for the second to finish.

But hold on, I wanted to exclaim! I don't even have my camera yet... this meeting was just to crystalize the details.

But there was no stopping them.

"Oh you could call him at any hour of the day or night and he'd listen."
"He always did what he said he would."
"He kept an open-door policy..."
"He came to my grand-daughter's christening."
"We used to share drinks every weekend."

The stories that were pouring out were personal and the people sharing them were visibly happy to have an opportunity to finally share them... and acknowledge the man who hitherto had been valued only in their minds.

What a wonderful thing it will be for his family to see this video! And realize what a lasting influence he was and continues to be for people even today.

And what a fun way for people who had never heard of him before (like me!) to find out about him and his contribution to our neighborhood and lives.

The video is still a work in progress but the gentleman in question is already weaving his magic... getting the whole neighborhood to come together for this labor of love!


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Get the family talking! 60 minutes of a magical transformation...

I recently had the opportunity of listening to Dr Jerald Winakur, Geriatric Physician and Author, share his experience being a caregiver to his elderly parents. I'm not really an avid fan of attending talks and presentations in general, but there were a few things that Dr Winakur spoke about that touched a chord. Because they were personal. And because of the stories he shared about his family... which reminded me of my own. As they probably did for the other 150 people in the room.

His mother was nearly blind in her old age, he said, and his father's mind had been claimed by Dementia and Alzheimer's. (If I get any of the facts wrong, I apologize... but the gist is that in their old age, his parents became very different people from who they were when he was growing up.) This is a tough transition for anyone to cope with... and there wasn't a dry eye in the room full of 'regular' people who at some stage in their life, have found themselves stepping into the role of caregiver to a spouse, parent, relative or friend.

What was remarkable about the presentation was that Dr Winakur had everyone's undivided attention and emotional involvement. And by the end of his talk, people were lauding him and members of his family as if they had known them their entire life. Whereas the truth is that just an hour earlier, nobody in the room even knew what his parents' names were or what they wore on their wedding day or what they had done on their 60th anniversary. But at the end of the 60 minutes, everyone knew all that and more. They knew they had shared a loving life together. That underneath the ravages of old age, they were still young at heart. And that they were like their own parents or relatives... they were like any other family.

How did he achieve this?

He achieved it with stories. And he achieved it with photographs. His entire presentation - and indeed his book - is about his experience of being the son of his father. A father who had Dementia. And a son who is a doctor.

In the telling of his story, it is hard to say what he achieved on a personal level. Was it the relief of 'understanding'? Was it redemption? Was it to assuage the guilt that accompanies all children looking after their parents? Was it relief that in hindsight he had been a good son to a wonderful set of parents? Was it to leave behind a realistic picture of his father to his children and their children... who had never known him before Dementia? Was it a tribute to a man he truly loved? Maybe it was all this. Maybe it was none of this.

In the act of 'listening', what was it that the members of the audience achieved? Reassurance that they were not alone in what they were feeling and experiencing? Hope that there will be good days along with the bad? A sense of community? Solidarity? Support?

Whatever it was, the stories drew everyone together. Suddenly the room was abuzz with portraits of relatives and loved ones.

'I remember...'
'She used to love to...'
'One day, he turned to me...'
'I'll miss the way she...'

Everyone was talking. And sharing. And crying. And laughing. It was a relief to realize that they remembered so much. There was a desperate need to share it. To pass on the memories. To heal and to exorcise.

That is the power of stories. And if someone hadn't opened the floodgates, those stories would have withered away unspoken. The people in the stories would have faded away unacknowledged. And nobody in the room would have turned to their neighbor to smile, or squeeze their hand or just nod in understanding. It would have continued to be a room full of strangers.

What a waste of an hour that would have been.

And what a waste of a lifetime of stories it is when no one else gets to hear them.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Documenting family stories...The unassuming archivist in us all.

Human curiosity is such a wonderful thing. What do you think? (Sorry, I couldn't resist throwing that in there!)

In the last few weeks, I've met with several remarkable people, who without quite realizing it, have been doing a great job in preserving family history.

Take, for example, the lady I met with yesterday. I knew I was going to walk across the room and make her my friend the minute I saw her. There were about 20 of us at the meeting for the upcoming Austin Groups for the Elderly (AGE) conference in Austin. (In case you're interested, it's on Saturday, September 12, at the Norris Conference Center in Austin - and it's Free!). Anyway, when the lady walked in, it was impossible to miss the air of grace that entered the room along with her. When we finally did get chatting, we sparked instantly - despite the 30-years age difference!

She went on to tell me a story about the over-filled closets in her mother's room. They were bursting at the seams with photographs collected over a lifetime... and not just hers! They were in color. Black and White. Polaroid. Negatives. Big. Small. Frayed edges. Yellowing paper. All sorts of photographs, telling the stories of people she had known, lost, and still remembered. It was a shrine. A treasure trove. A mess.

No one was allowed near them for fear of losing / tearing / losing any of the contents of the closets. Till one day, my new friend realized that her mother was not growing any younger - and as for herself, she still had no idea who the people in those photographs were. Thus followed one of the best decisions of her life - she insisted... and I mean insisted!... that her mother write the names of the people behind each picture. The suggestion wasn't met with much enthusiasm initially but once she got started, her mother seemed transformed as she relived the memories while labeling and documenting the people in the pictures and their stories.

It wasn't until a few years later when her mother's memory started to fail that my new friend truly realized the value of the project she had assigned to her mother. There were too many pictures in those closets and her mother wasn't quite able to label them all... but because of the ones that she had, the family now has something with which they can piece the dots together.

Another gentleman whom I interviewed a while back, gave me a guided tour of his house and we made a rather long stop at the study, which was again filled with pictures, but this time, they were all on CD. The gentleman confided in me that he had scanned up to 15,000 pictures from his family and ancestors' lives... and transferred them on to CDs so that technology won't leave behind his memories and history. There were still several thousand more pictures to go... but I could tell they were in safe hands.

Yet another new acquaintance (we're email pals!) - Jerrie Hurd has made stories her life's passion - and if you read her blog, you'll see what I mean ( Her blog is a tribute to the power that stories hold over each of our lives. And it's interesting to see how individual stories come together to provide a cohesive reflection of community history over the years.

If you find that you're the keeper of your family's stories, then my question to you is this - What are you doing to preserve those stories?

What are you doing in order to add yours to the collection?

And have you thought about how you are going to pass these on to future generations?

Because a Video Biography might just be what you need to create.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Keep Those Home Movies Safe!

Last month, I met with a client who wanted me to incorporate some of her home videos into an interview I did of her grandmother. They are still on VHS video cassettes and she was dismayed to see that the quality of one of the tapes had deteriorated. The video was very dark and some parts were completely black. If you haven't converted your home videos to DVD yet, I strongly urge you to do so. To be on the safe side, I would try and find a place that's a small operation where you don't have to worry about shipping the tapes and where they convert them on site rather than mailing them to a company. Ask them specifically their procedure.

You can also get a fairly inexpensive DVD/VHS recorder that will let you convert them yourself. That's what I did except for some super 8 movies that were even older which I had done professionally and for those I requested same day service to put my mind at ease about them possibly getting lost.

While you're having them done, it's a good idea to have two made so you'll have a backup you can store in a different location.

--Bridget Poizner

Sunday, August 30, 2009

More Chance Encounters

In earlier posts, I commented about how chance encounters have affected my life and the lives of others. I had two random encounters earlier in the week that I'd like to think may influence their actions in a positive way. On Friday, I was flying back from the east coast after conducting a couple of interviews. When I went through security at Newark airport, my camera bag was selected for additional screening. This did not surprise me because it often happens if I forget to remove the shotgun microphone and place it in the bin. For obvious reasons, its shape often is something the screener wants to check out a little more closely. But this time, I had removed both it and the video camera and had them already in a bin. The agent seemed intent on finding something in particular because she was rummaging through the bag rather intently. I asked her if there was a problem and she commented that the x-ray revealed several 9-volt batteries. I explained to her that I used them for both my lapel microphones as well as my wireless ones. She then started glancing over some papers that I also had in the bag including brochures about my company. I then explained that I created video biographies for families. She then remarked that she bet I had heard a lot of interesting stories and I agreed and shared a short one I had just heard in my last interview--with no names of course to protect my client's privacy. She then asked me if she could keep one of the brochures because she thought it would be a great idea to have her mother interviewed.

The next random encounter was with a woman who sat next to me on the plane. An hour into the flight, I had my laptop open and was editing an interview and when I took a break she remarked that she had been peeking at what I was doing and was curious. After I explained to her what I did, she became very animated because she was coordinating a party in honor of her father-in-law who was turning 100 in November and thought this would be the perfect gift to him from his family. After a few minutes of conversation, she revealed that her mother-in-law was also still living and was 98! The little bit of background she gave me made me aware that their interviews would be historic as well as very interesting. We shared contact information and her last remark to me as I departed from the plane was that she was so glad she had sat next to me because she had never heard of a service like this and considering the age of her in-laws, it was time to seize the day.

So two chance encounters will hopefully generate the saving of family stories that would otherwise have eventually faded away and I LOVE THAT!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Unlocking family memories... The golden prison in the shape of a teardrop.

Seeing how my last few posts have been centered around sad themes of loss and grief, I'm going to chug along and keep that ball rolling! But be not afraid, o brave reader, this one is not a tear-jerker. Though bad things do happen to good people - let that be my disclaimer!

This one is about my other grandmother... not Nani, whom we have read about so much by now... but Dadima, my father's mother. She passed away when I was at that age when all you remember about a person is her smile or the scent of the coconut oil in her hair or her white chiffon saris or her big spectacles. You know, the abstract things. Like the gold chain she wore around her neck, which looked like small, sturdy golden staple pins strung together from end to end. And in the center of this pretty chain, was a pendant. A pendant that took the form of a teardrop shaped prison - with bars made of pure gold. Its sole inmate was a perfect creamy pearl. It was exquisite. And I lost it.

When Dadima died, I was still so young that no one bothered to confide in me the workings of a will. All I knew was that for some strange reason, she left me the chain and the pendant. I was in such a quandry, though I can hardly confess to even knowing the word at the time. I had recently read 'Little Women' for the 20th time and it seemed to me like a sign from God that I must be 'Amy'. She had a turquoise ring which was gifted to her by a crotchety old aunt, and all she wanted to do was wear it the whole time, even though it was two sizes too big. I faced no such problem - what with chains being one-size-fits-all. But I couldn't decide if I should store it safely in a well-armored bank locker, or if I should wear it all the time... 'with the pendant close to my heart', justified my vain mind. Quite obviously, vanity won.

And so it came to be that I wore it all the time. I worried that frequent showers might wear down the sheen of the pearl but I am happy to report that it did not keep me away from them. I resolved to bequeath it to my first born daughter with a note explaining the journey of the chain thus far. I tucked it inside my school uniform shirt because we weren't allowed to wear accessories of any kind. And I fancied that I just had to have been Dadima's favorite grandchild if she left the chain to me.

Then, of course, I lost it.

My family was moving from one house to another - and we were doing all our packing on our own. And somewhere between 'organizing' my 9-year-old life and deconstructing my soon-to-be former room, the chain and pearl pendant were lost forever. I can only imagine the new occupants of my room one day finding them hidden underneath the carpet or behind the bookshelf or stuck in between the shelves in the closet... and to them it would only be a chain and a pendant.

Whereas for me, it has become how I remember my grandmother.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Third person objectivity... and yet one should 'Never talk to strangers?'

I met somebody on a recent visit to New York, who when she heard that I create Video Biographies of 'ordinary' people had a very innocent question to ask.

"Why would I ask you to interview my father when you've never met him and don't know a thing about him?"

Point taken. And that's a good question, you have got to admit!

But that apparent 'handicap' is what especially works in my favor. Because I had never met her father, I would not assume certain things about him. I would not pre-determine what the important stages in his life were and my questions would not be crafted with the baggage of that assumption. I would not decide on my own what I wanted him to talk most about - or seek answers to questions about him that had dogged me an entire lifetime. My interview of him would not sub-consciously become about me. Instead, I would begin at the beginning, with a blank slate... with the objectivity that only a third-person can carry.

Of course, the interview would not be conducted in ignorance - without any background information to him! Nope, the way it would work is that by the time it was the day of the actual interview, we would have spoken a few times... giving him the opportunity to become comfortable with a). me and b). the idea of talking about his life in a question-answer style conversation on video. And most often than not, when we finally did sit down for the interview, it would feel like the most natural thing in the world... to talk about one's life with an 'absolute stranger'! There would be a need to fill in the blanks, supply the details, and make an effort to remember... so that the conversation is easily accessible to anyone who watches it (read future generations), instead of being an inside secret between two people in the know in the present.


Monday, August 24, 2009

'After I'm gone...' The keeper of our family's stories unearths a new one.

It's odd how routine things have the ability to become meaningful.

If you've been following this blog, you might recollect that a couple of months ago I wrote about the sadness that accompanies loss. In this case, the loss of my grandfather - Nanaji. This loss was shared by many people. His children. Grandchildren. Great-grandchildren. Sisters. Cousins. Random people he crossed paths with along the journey of his life. And of course, his wife. My Nani.

In the wake of being forced to say goodbye to someone, there are a lot of routine things that need to be done. The closet has to be rearranged. Clothes have to be put away. The dressing table has to be cleared of half the things... no one to use the shaving cream anymore. You know, the things we all ponder about, hoping that we will never be called on to do so. Unfortunately this time, when the bottle stopped spinning, it pointed straight at Nani. Thankfully, she had a lot of help.

When it was all over, it was time to live again. Or at least, to learn to live without one half of you... the half that made the last 57 years so rich and fruitful.

It was on one of the routine days that followed that it happened. Nani found a routine-looking (albeit old and dusty) diary amongst some of the other routine things that all the 'rearranging' had conjured up from under the mattress, behind the art frame, in ancient trunks with heavy bolts... from amongst the gatherings of a lifetime, my Nani found a secret. She found my grandfather's romantic side, hidden away in the pages of a diary.

Dated 1944, a year after their marriage, the pages of this diary are well-populated. What's in them, I do not know. I haven't read them. I just picture my Nani slowly reading to herself the mind and thoughts of the young, 30-something man she had married... such an anomaly to the 89-year-old husband she had just said goodbye to. What did she find in those pages? Youth? Early romance? Ambition of a self-made man? Hopes of a new husband? Worries of a man about to start a family?

I have a feeling I may never get to read that diary. And what is more, I might not want to. Some things are meant to be sacred. All I know is that when she was done reading it, this is what Nani had to say -

"I never knew he loved me so much.'

Oh she knew alright. We all did. But I understand what she was trying to articulate. My grandfather was a man of few words. Quiet, dignified, proud and successful. He was old-school. And he was kind and gentle. But not the sort who would say, 'I love you' often. The fact that he kept a diary in itself was an eye-opener to us all. And to find a mention of herself in almost every page within that diary was another for my Nani. To know a man an entire lifetime and then to find that you're still learning things about him after he's gone... nice things. Romantic things. True things.

What must that feel like?


My Own Chance Encounter

Thinking about the last post I made, I realize a chance encounter was important in my own life as well. Meeting my husband was in large part due to a conversation I had when I was a freshman in college waiting in my dorm's lunch line. I started having a conversation with a girl I hardly knew and she was telling me about a place she was going to live for her sophomore year that was an off-campus student co-op (a place where the students all pitched in to maintain the property as well as cook the meals). I had always thought that for my sophomore year, I would continue to live at a dorm on campus but her description intrigued me and right after lunch I did some investigating. To make a VERY long story short, I did end up living at the co-op and two weeks after I moved in, I met one of my neighbors who lived down the hall. We became good friends and later started dating. Just this past week, we celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary. I can't help but think that if I hadn't had that conversation with someone I hardly knew that day long ago, my life would have been very different.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Magic of Chance Encounters

When I look back at the interviews I have conducted the last couple of years, I am often struck by the impact a chance encounter can have on a person's life. Often it can start someone on the road to a serious relationship which is what I witnessed with several of my clients. With their permission, I'd like to relate the experiences of two of them.

One of them told me that he met his wife by asking her for a match for his cigarette while walking on a beach in a town he was visiting. I guess it was a rare case in which smoking ended up affecting someone's life in an advantageous way. The other man had just returned home from serving as a pilot in World War II and was walking down the street in his town when he noticed a girl he had gone to high school with years before who was waiting at a bus stop and he stopped to say hello. Both men ended up having long happy marriages as a result of being in a certain place at a certain time. It's fun to think how a minor action they took brought forth such blessed results. --Bridget Poizner

Friday, August 7, 2009

Sci-Fi, I would like you to meet real life.

I was reminded of something close to home while watching the series finale of 'Battlestar Galactica'... even if the finale failed to make sense or failed to explain anything about the lives of its characters or failed to furnish a decent conclusion. Wait, do I sound a wee bit disgruntled? You must be imagining it.

Anyway, for those who are reading this blog post and not familiar with the show, all you need to know is this... humanity is faced with a very real threat of extinction. The only survivors of a nuclear blast are some 50,000 odd people scattered across space in battleships, and the real war is against the machines, who want revenge on their maker: the humans.

As with any war, lives are lost in trying to preserve the most of what is left. And within the main battleship, there is a corridor of walls. These walls start to overflow with pictures. Pictures of friends and families lost. Pictures alongside offerings of flowers and prayer beads. The walls transform into something powerful. They become a place for memories. For reflection. Prayer. They become a space for solace. And when it seems like the end is near, everyone's last thoughts are to rush to this space and salvage all that is remaining of the past. All the pictures, faces, smiles... those moments in time are claimed once more by the people left behind, now faced with the threat of death themselves. Because the pictures are all that is left of the past. And to lose them would be to truly be alone.

It reminded me of something I experienced when I first moved to the country. My husband and I arrived at LAX, and drove down to San Diego... on the same night that the fires started. This was a few years ago... and I have since realized that the fires seem to be a yearly occurrence... not that that predictability makes it alright. We reached home safe and sound... and the next day, started the cycle of phone calls to everyone that he knew in the city, just to make sure they were alright. One of his friends, 9 months pregnant and ready to pop, could see the fires approaching the hill she lived on from her backyard. She did not know where her doctor was because he had been evacuated from his home. And then she got the call saying it was their turn to evacuate their house... the fires just seemed too close for comfort. Later, I asked her what she grabbed when she left the house.

'Picture albums,' she answered. 'They were the one irreplaceable thing we had. All our childhood pictures, our wedding pictures, family pictures, the whole lot. And the parrot, of course."

She had a parrot.

She also grabbed her video camera and started filming the house. The spaces that she had filled up with her husband... the world they had created together. The baby's room they had painted themselves and decorated with matching colors.

And then she closed the door behind her.

The good news is that the fires didn't burn her house down. They kept their distance.
She eventually found her doctor, and they had to induce labor... but a wonderful baby boy entered the world in the midst of all this chaos... and both mother and father moved him to the room they had made for him. The pictures were restored to their rightful place at home. Life moved on as life does.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The journey of the Photo Album.

This one is about the most well-documented childhood of all time.

No, not mine. Though there is a picture album or two just dedicated to birthday parties, vacations, class pictures, school plays... one set each for my sister and me. You can trace the evolution of our lives through diaper days, poofy dresses with bows in our hair, awkward adolescence and the unfortunate fashion of the 80's, which spilled over to the 90's. And then somewhere down the line, the stock of pictures dwindle. Who is to say what happened to the bratty looking girls post-18? We must have stopped being cute, for one thing. And well, we grew up, for another. And there will always be time in the future to catch up on the lost years... and fill in the gaps between now and then. Right?


Well, coming back to the most well-documented childhood of all time. That would be my niece's. Oh wait, did I not mention that after growing up, my sister got married, moved to a different country, started a new life and then subsequently had a baby. My bad. See, all that information would have followed naturally had anyone kept the picture albums going... but now it's only a spurt of random pictures after another. Like a hiccup.

Anyway, Baby A is cute. And the center of everyone's eye. Everyone in the family that is. My sister took a picture on her cellphone of her 'taking a walk' in her stroller and sent it to me within seconds. I oohed and aahed, and showed off my niece to anyone around me. There are Flickr photo albums galore of that little girl. There are home videos being made as we speak. And she Skypes every weekend with grandma and grandpa across the world. All this before she can crawl.

Now, there were cameras when I was growing up. Sure. First there were black and white pictures that popped out of them. Then color. Then nothing - cos it all went digital. Then well, they came up with digital photo frames. And just the other day, at the mall, I saw a digital photo wallet thingy... replacing the old photo in the wallet trick with a whole album of the extended family. Up to a few hundred pictures, if I am not mistaken.

The pictures from my parents honeymoon days are mostly black and white. They had color back then but a lot of black and white too. They were small in size too... like a polaroid. And the edges were frilly-like.

My favorite picture is of my mother in Kashmir. It's black and white... though everything looks rather white because of the snow. She's wearing an oversized, black trenchcoat sort of thing... and smiling, well, half-smiling into the camera. Or rather at my father, who was taking the picture. It had been so cold that day that the guide who was taking my parents on a tour of the city offered his jacket to my mother to keep her warm. This demonstrated two things to me.
A). Locals don't feel cold. And
B). Chivalry wasn't dead 25 years ago.

But it's my favorite picture. Whether it's because of the story behind it, or because it was taken in a place I haven't been to, or because it was a snapshot of my parents, young and in love... I don't know.

My parents tell me that when they were growing up, taking pictures was an event. One you made appointments for, dressed up, and posed for, with your eyes deliberately looking elsewhere... for the effect of seriousness perhaps? Or gravity?

There are trunks of pictures in my grandparents home. Trunks. Some of people I have never met... who lived and died before me. Those are very few. Others are of people who have always been old, ever since I can remember. Looking at their pictures - when their hair is still dark and they have movie-star-like hairstyles is fascinating.

Taking pictures is not an event in Baby A's life. All she needs to do is smile and the flash goes off. I wouldn't be surprised if there are DVDs sold of her first few steps... she is THAT cute. And well, that's okay. This is how she will remember her childhood when she grows up. Just as I remember mine. Everyone needs props to facilitate 'remembering'. Pictures... and videos... will be ours.

Or videos with pictures. This is about Video Biographies, right? :)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I like testimonials!

I couldn't resist posting this on the blog. Out of modesty, I removed the bit about how 'sweet' I am... but I have a feeling that plan just backfired!


My parents remarked on how much they enjoyed working
with you.

Thank you for all of the kind attention you have
given them. This has been a very wonderful experience
for them and I look forward to seeing the final "version".
We have been wanting to do this for quite some time,
so I was thrilled to learn of your company.

I will surely recommend you to anyone I know who might
want to do the same thing.

V R, San Antonio

Yay for happy endings! This interview was one of the best I've done so far - you could see the couple was still clearly in love after 57 years... their stories were happy stories!

Tongue-tied and full of stories.

Earlier this week, I interviewed an elderly gentleman. Prior to the day of the interview, there was a lot of email correspondence and calls put in between his wife and me... his wife being the one who commissioned the Video Biography in the first place.

Her main cause of worry was that her husband would not stop talking once he got started. And she feared that that would make it extremely tricky for me to steer the conversation from one topic to the other. Now that's valuable insight to have on your subject - and it allowed for me to customize my questions to his life yes, but also to his personality. And I approached the day with grit of steel and a determination to have a fruitful interview no matter what.

What I hadn't been told was that the husband had had a series of small strokes in the not so distant past, and this had left his memory quite jagged... and by his own admission, in a state of affairs he wouldn't have chosen for himself. Nonetheless, he was bursting with stories to share. Before the camera went on, he took me on a tour of the house... and we paused at walls with little bits of history hanging from them, and an office that looked like a treasure trove of memorabilia accumulated over decades of a life well spent. It spanned across generations, continents, countries, dictatorships, monarchy, democracy... it was like getting an insider's view into a history text-book. And he had lived through a lot of it - and knew of ancestors who had lived through even more.

This is going to be a great interview, I thought to myself.

But when he was seated comfortably in his favorite chair in the corner of the living room he always claimed for his own... and I had him nicely framed in my camera... something changed. He became guarded. And not very forthcoming with information. I wondered where the man who talked too much was hiding! In past experience I've had some people who take a while to warm up to being interviewed on camera... so I persisted and in his defense, he tried to answer the questions as best he could. But I was yet unable to capture a true reflection of his personality.

When the first tape got over, I paused the interview in order to load a new tape. In this brief 5-minute interruption, the gentleman got extremely chatty. He started to tell me stories of his grandparents from his childhood - stories that he hadn't shared when I had interviewed him about them. So without announcing that we were now recording the conversation, I pressed the red button - and lo and behold, I managed to get a lot of stories out of him - as well as a feel of the person he is by asking about his viewpoint on several world events.

Of course the time came when this subterfuge had to come to an end and I had to revert to drawing his attention to the camera - instantly, he transformed into a grave man.

But in those few moments, we achieved something that would make it all worthwhile.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


The following incident is one of my most distinctive memories from childhood, involving one of my favorite grandpas - and you'll see for yourself how he earned that status for himself in just a bit. Growing up, there seemed to be an awful lot of grandpas going around. Grandmas too, but this one is about Grandpa K. In India, family is really close-knit and it doesn't matter if you're the brother of a grandparent or the cousin of an Aunt to whom you're related only by marriage... it's all family and you call them by the names applicable to them. We have names for every possible computation of 'relativity' that you could think of.

Grandpa K was the real brother of my real grandmother - Grandma M, my father's mother.

Grandpa K was a lawyer and it is a universal fact that if that's your profession, no matter where you live, you make enough money to be happy. And so he was. As was his wife. They were so happy, that it made them semi-progressive... his wife was the only grandma I knew in my large family who would drink her booze, enjoy it and ask for more. Not that that made her an alcoholic or anything. Of course, everyone knew and at weddings and other social gatherings, glasses covered with white napkin around them would make their way mysteriously into her hands... the logic being that if the glass is covered and you can't see through, you really couldn't be sure what she was drinking. But everyone knew. Even I did. And I was only 6.

Anyway, to return to Grandpa K, he had a peculiar habit. And before I was incorporated into the ritual, I thought he might just be evil and sadistic based on all that I could make out of it.

He would line up all the young ones, based on seniority, and then walk down the line giving everyone a loud whack on the face. And then he'd chortle. I knew one day my turn would come and I tried to keep my distance from him as long I could help it. But sure enough, on one of our visits to his house, when the only kids in the vicinity were my elder sister and me, it became rather hard to turn invisible.

'Aha,' he said, sighting us.

'Tee hee,' giggled my sister, who was usually too dignified to be caught giggling.

'Frown', thought I.

'I know exactly what you both are here for,' went on Grandpa K, smiling beatifically. And then he lined us up... even though it was just the two of us. Then he muttered something that sounded like black magic and down came his right hand on my sister's cheek... and she squealed with laughter. And placed her hand over her cheek - because it had to smart, right?

Then Grandpa K moved over to me. Muttered the unintelligible stuff again while I braced myself for what must obviously be a right of passage into adulthood where pain must become equivalent to pleasure. Down came his right hand on my cheek... I closed my eyes in anticipation and winced. His hand landed on my cheek and I could feel something knobby on the point of contact. Great, he has warts to add to the humiliation!

But wait, the stuff is moving... and of my own volition, I find that my hand has moved under his hand and is now cupped around... candy!


That was his thing apparently. He had a jar full of colored candy, different flavor, sparkly wrapping... the promise of endless delight. He'd hide a handful in his pocket, and reload the ammunition after every 'slap' he placed on our young, innocent faces. The slaps were nothing more than a pat on the cheek - but he'd add sound effects which made it seem like they were forceful and must hurt beyond doubt.

Oh the things grown ups do to win the gratitude of young children!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Looking backwards can only do so much.

I recently wrote about the need to look at the present when it comes to Genealogy.
(For the complete posting, please visit:

Too often when it comes to preserving family history, our instinct is to focus on the stories of our ancestors... my question today is, 'What about you?' What about your story and the people you have touched in the journey you call your life?

One day, you will be on someone's family tree and what a valuable legacy it would be for them to have more than your face and date of birth to know you by.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009



Sunday, July 19, 2009

Meeting the 'one'.

The love story is a big part of the Video Biographies I have been fortunate to create for people thus far. Not by design though. It is one topic nobody is shy to talk about and one that needs the least amount of prodding on my part.

And they all make me go, 'Awww'.

'The photographer at the wedding took something like a 100 pictures. When we got back from our honeymoon, he called to say that none of them came out! So there we were... one week after the wedding, gathering everyone we could to come to our pretend wedding at the church once again just so that we could get the pictures. And you'll notice there are no flowers, no maids of honor because no one was available, and my dad had just had his tooth removed so he wasn't really smiling as he walked me down the aisle... it was heartbreaking at the time. But we can laugh now.'

'You know in those days, weddings weren't as elaborate as they are now. My mother made my wedding dress.'

'Well, the first time L saw me was through the peephole of her apartment. I was a friend of her brother's and he thought we should meet. She, on the other hand, expected a writer to be tougher, sadder, weirder, long-haired... something like that. It was quite a disappointment for her, I learned later, to find regular, normal-looking me!'

'We were in Elementary School together.'

'I've been married 54 years. One wife.'

'I had a rule. I wasn't going to ask someone to marry me unless I'd lived with them for 6 months. So at the end of the 6 months, I made dinner and waited for her to come home. And then I got down on one knee... and she said, 'Oh no!' We're still married.'

Friday, July 17, 2009

Guilty as charged.

I've recently been ambushed by a horde of articles with a similar theme.

'If you could call back one ancestor - just one - from the past, who would it be and what would you talk about?'

'If you realized this was going to be the last conversation you'd ever have with the person in front of you, what would you choose to say? And leave unsaid.'

'If you could leave a letter for the future grandchildren you will never meet, what would information about yourself would you include in it?'

'If there is one episode in your life that you wish you would have done differently, how would you do it again?'

Apart from guilting me into the admission that I would be utterly useless in situations like these that require quick wit and the wisdom that probably comes with years of inner reflection, I realized another profound truth. I realized that I am a procrastinator... and well, while I'm at it, so is everyone else in the entire world. There could be a few exceptions and I don't mean to offend any hearts, but it's the truth and that's what the universe was conspiring to tell me by sending these morbid articles one by one into my inbox. So don't blame me. Blame the universe.

Having neatly deflected all responsibility for that rash statement, let me now elaborate on my train of thought. If it wasn't for the sense of complacency that 'things' never happen to us but to other people... that there will be a 'right' time that will announce itself to us for all the things that we plan to do but never get down to doing... that life wouldn't be so unfair as to abruptly end, leaving so many things incomplete, including our own stories that often times piggyback on the stories of the people who surround us... why, if it wasn't for all this cotton fluff in my head, I would have known all the answers to the questions asked in those silly articles.

Q). Which ancestor would I call back?
None, thank you very much. Don't want to have to go through heartbreak twice and say good bye all over again.

Q). Last conversation and what I would say?
I would tell the person all that I have learned from their example.

Q). Letter to the grandkids?
I'll tell them I traveled halfway across the world to be able to marry the man I love - and that the rest of the family back home cried watching the ceremony webcast from the County Clerk's office. Of course, by then 'webcast' must sound antiquated to them so I would have to include a footnote explaining the technicalities involved.

Q). One episode I would do over?
None... my life is what it is because of all that I have done in the past. And I'm very happy with the way it's turned out. There will always be regrets and I'm okay with that.

I don't want to sound smug-alive though. I wish I could do so many things. I wish I could be at home right now - to hold my mother's hand as my father gets some stuff done to him in the hospital. I wish I could tell them how perfect as parents they are. I might have hinted otherwise many times while growing up and have since told them how I have amended that viewpoint... but still, it never hurts to say it again. I wish I could push 'Record' on the video camera just this minute and get them chatting about the past... when they were real people and individuals in their right and not just my 'parents'. I wish I could compensate for their absence and instead turn the spotlight on to my husband's parents - who are in the next room - and get them talking. But I know it's difficult to spill the details of one's life to someone you already know. Which explains why a fellow Video Biographer is actually choosing to hire me to interview her husband - instead of doing it herself. And well, there are a lot of things that I wish I had done earlier... and I feel that's probably true with everyone.

Something always needs to happen... an ultimatum needs to be made... to spur us into action. To give us that final push before we actually commit to doing something we realize needs to be done. Should be done. In fact, should have been done a long time ago. I've been fortunate to meet a lot of nice people in the course of documenting personal and family histories... but sadly, it has more often than not taken a trigger to prompt that move. Whether it's an illness or memory loss, that 'warning' never fails to propel us into taking the first step. And well, it doesn't need to be that way.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Goodbyes are tough.

Saying goodbye is never easy. Especially when it's forever. Try doing it long distance though - and it gets a whole lot more complicated. To place this post in context, I woke up one morning a few weeks ago to find myself forced to do all of the above for my grandfather. With the added heartbreak of feeling that even after a lifetime of knowing him, I never made the effort of getting to know him. I was just too much in awe of him to actually sit down and crack a joke or swap work stories or ask him how his day at court was... the little things. The big things.

So I forced myself to remember all that I could of him. To assuage the guilt perhaps? 

I remembered that the first thing he did every morning he got up was walk to the front garden and pick a white flower for my grandmother to put in her hair. I remembered that every time he knew we were visiting, he would drag a cane chair out to the patio and sit waiting for us to drive in through the gates. I remembered that when it got too hot in the sweltering summers, he would help us all drag our folding beds out into the verandah - so that we could sleep under the stars, soothed by a slow breeze. When we were growing up, he would make sure my cousin brothers learned the poetic language of Urdu from him in his room every evening... a romantic thread that still exists in their lives. I remember combing his hair with the new hairbrush my mother gifted him one day - and remember feeling at that time that this was a moment I would remember forever. It was the closest I had ever gotten to him. I remember the smile in his eyes when my parents drove over to his house to show them their first 'big' car. I remember the walks he used to take around the house. I remember how in recent years he became too feeble to even walk. Someone had to carry him in their arms. Of course he was frustrated. 

I found I remembered more memories than I knew I had. That I had a better sense of who he was than I knew. It isn't just the actions that he did that I remember... instead there is a clearer understanding of the person he was and why he chose to do the things that he did. And for that I am grateful. 

Monday, June 29, 2009

My sister - the guinea pig (or life stories from different life stages.)

I've suddenly been visited by an idea. The principal character of the experiment this idea entails is my sister but she doesn't need to know it yet. Not till August at least.

But let's you and me discuss it.

People are different at different stages of their life. My sister, seven years older and way cooler than I am, always mothered me when we were growing up. When I entered college, her agenda became to introduce me to myriad ways of having fun. She took me on fun trips, made me scooter down a windy hill in Switzerland, took me bowling in Pune, and funded my ticket to make my first trip to USA possible... the usual stuff. When she got married, she unwittingly prepared me for the upcoming phenomenon of altered shopping patterns... so that when I got married, it was with the knowledge that I was saying goodbye to the days when shopping for just clothes felt supremely satisfying. Instead, it was with the complete awareness that from now to forever in the future, shopping for home accessories would be my first joy. When she was pregnant, I was with her in the delivery room... easily convinced to never attempt having children. And when she brought her daughter into this world, I knew I couldn't wait to have my own.

I've seen my sister change over the years. Perhaps the better word would be - evolve. She's 34 - but that hasn't stopped her from accumulating a horde of stories in her lifetime. How interesting it would be, then, to create her Video Biography now when she remembers the stories from 'now'... and again, maybe in 10 years... and another in another 10 years... till however long she'll let me. And sit back one day, when we're old and rickety, and watch a person grow. Hear the stories she has to tell. And remark on how the lessons learned change... or remain constant, who knows?

People sometimes ask me when the right time is to create one's own Video Biography. My answer? It doesn't need to only be for one's parents. Or grandparents. It can start with one's own self. It could start at a wedding. Or a graduation dinner. Or when becoming parents for the first time. Retirement parties, memorials, golden anniversaries... yes, there will be a time for those too. Because those are important moments in our lives. But so are these... the right nows.

Watch this space for updates.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

'My life is an open book'

One of the more fun groups I have had the opportunity of first sitting in on... then participating... and now joining... is the Story Circle group. I'm told you can find one in a good many countries across the world... and if you can't find it, well, please go ahead and create it.

What it is is a group of ladies coming together once a month to write about what they know best... their lives. The prompts differ from month-to-month, but the stories that come out... well, they can make you tear up, laugh, shake your head in dismay or just sit back and smile.

The group that I attend is a wonderful mix of ladies - an assortment of cultural backgrounds and age - and the one thing that strikes us all is how universal family is. For in all our stories, there is some commonality... and everyone has felt the other's emotion at some point in their own lives. Sickness - everyone goes through it. Parenting - the children are different, but the experiences have the same roots. Childhood - it could have been spent in different parts of the world but hey, it's a common language we all understand.

For some people it's therapeutic. For other it's healing. It doesn't matter how you choose to label it... you leave with a sense of comprehension. A flash of insight. This is my life. This is who I am.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The 'I'm not full of myself' syndrome...

A while back, I made it known to friends and clients that I would be traveling to San Diego on a work-cum-leisure trip in July (7th to the 21st to be precise). The main goal is to spend time with my husband's family and escape the brutal Austin heat. But when someone I know requested I create her husband's Video Biography during this trip, I agreed and decided to extend that offer to anyone else who might have relatives / friends in San Diego - minus any travel charges of course!

Well, it turns out that someone did. Paul* had always thought his grandfather had led a full life... and though he knew the highlights, he wanted to get to know him better. He lived close enough to his grandfather, so it would be safe to surmise that he had had years and years of opportunity to acquaint himself with the person his grandfather was. But unfortunately that was not the case. They met at birthdays, anniversaries, family reunions and occasionally over dinner... and the conversation inevitably revolved around how the day had been, what game was playing on TV, girlfriend trouble, aches and pains... in the midst of all the high drama of daily life, who had time to reminisce about the past? I can't say I blame them... I've been guilty of exactly the same thing in the past.

But this was not going to continue any longer. After discussing it with the rest of the family, Paul decided to commission a Video Biography of his grandfather... Enter 'Save Their Story'. It was a wonderful gesture on his part and as Paul was about to open the door to his grandfather's home to tell him the news, he couldn't help but feel excited. Men aren't always good with words, and Paul regarded this as just the right way to convey to his grandfather how much he loved and valued him.

Needless to say, Paul was surprised when his grandfather declined to get interviewed for the purpose of the Video Biography. His reasons were -
a). He was too old to be 'prattling' about his life like a little child.
b). You can put your money to better use.
c). Who would want to hear an old man go on?
d). Would this be shown on TV?

Even after Paul clarified to him that the Video Biography would be copyrighted in his name and that it wouldn't make his way to the television or even cinema halls, grandfather was reticent. Paul pointed out that it wasn't expensive, especially not with the whole family chipping in. And as far as who would want to hear an old man go on, well, he did. So did his cousins. And their parents. And well, most everyone who knew him.

But no go. More doubts popped up in grandfather's mind.
'I don't know how to be in front of a video camera.'
'I'll tell you my stories. Then you tell them to your children. Problem solved.'
'It's vain to keep on talking about yourself.'

When it became very apparent that his grandfather was determined not to go ahead with it, I advised Paul that he drop the idea... at least for now. You couldn't force the man! What ended up happening though is that we're talking about a 'Tribute Interview' Video Biography to be created for his grandfather instead. Come July, the entire Johnson* family - extended and immediate - hope to get together and create a Video about Paul's grandfather, pieced together from their various perspectives and stories of him through the years. Paul already knows what stories he wants to share, his little niece is going to be interviewed alongside the little wooden push-cart that grandfather made for her, and the grown-ups are already stocking up on boxes and boxes of Kleenex because they have a feeling this is going to be an emotional one. Hopefully the Video will be ready in time for grandfather's 75th birthday that's not that far away.

Maybe that will make him change his mind.

*Names have been changed to respect their privacy.

Friday, June 19, 2009

When 3 hours can seem like a lifetime...

One of the challenges in creating a Video Biography is to try and capture the essence of a lifetime in say, an hour or two... or as the case was on Tuesday, even three.

My interview with the Wallers* earlier this week was to do just that. To get them to share with me a slice of their life as it used to be when they were growing up... so that I could help them document that world; a world that now belongs only in their memory. But they remembered more than that. They remembered a time that belonged to their own parents (born in the 1890s) - whether they learned of this world from stories or shared memories or from looking at old pictures, who is to say? But tumbling out came tales of one-room schools, horse-drawn wagons, and a period in world history when 'fried chicken was not like it is today, with all sorts of crumbs on it'.

We talked about the world, yes... and marveled at automobiles, vacuum cleaners, the internet, and proms held at big hotels with the most glorious dresses to choose from at the stores. We talked about all that. But we also spoke about their own private universe as well... first crushes, first jobs, college, marriage, the Air Force, parenting, grandparenting... great-grandparenting.

And I learned a lot. I learned that Grandpas, under their tough and solid exterior have marshmallow hearts. Grandmas can go back to college to get their degrees at the same time as their children. Children can know their parents an entire lifetime - and still think that Air-Force-Dad actually used to fly to Japan during WW II to get back a pineapple for his favorite 'princess'. I learned, or shall I say re-learned, that we might know people for a lifetime and yet not know a whole lot about the kind of person they are... or used to be... or how they got to be one thing after being quite another.

And no doubt their children and grandchildren... and who knows how many generations after... will learn a lot about them through this interview. My only regret is that I'm going to have to be the one to reveal the pineapple coverup.

* Names have been changed to respect their privacy