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