Saturday, March 19, 2011

You want me to talk about myself for an hour?

Two days ago, I got to know a very interesting and accomplished couple in the course of making their video biography. Even though their children had gifted them the biography sessions 4 months ago, it took them so long to get their busy schedules in order - and to prepare themselves mentally for the task of sitting in front of a camera and talking about themselves for two hours. Their words, not mine. And yes, they did use the word 'task'! Of course they were very gracious and delightful, but I sensed a challenge as I set up my equipment. Not all interview subjects are forthcoming and it's harder still when they happen to be unconvinced of the worth of their stories.

To their credit, once the camera started rolling and the questions were posed, they did a great job. I sensed some reticence when talking about unpleasant memories associated with childhood and the people they remember from it, but that's understandable. After all, baring your heart to a complete stranger takes some trust, and I would probably be wary too in a similar situation. But together, we persevered and prevailed!

Before launching into their joint interview, it was time for a quick lunch break. And I was warned that it was my turn to be interviewed during the interlude! In the next 30 minutes, the roles were reversed and I was led down events in my own past so that my two brave and endearing subjects could get a better sense of the person grilling them. After waxing eloquent about my grandmother (yes, she came up!), growing up in a developing country, juggling family dynamics across three continents, and plans for my future, there was a lull of companionable silence. The line had been crossed. Perhaps I passed muster because I sensed that from clients, they had now become friends.

When we resumed recording for the part of their lives that they had spent together, raising a family, growing up, and growing old together, there was energy in the air. They were relaxed and animated at the same time. The conversation flowed easy, and they volunteered stories that I did not need to ask for. What was supposed to be a 20-minute conversation on video went a little beyond one hour. And when we parted ways, it was with a hug.

The most interesting observation that whole day was made by the elderly gentleman over lunch. He said (and I'm paraphrasing here!), it's a good thing our children sent you to do this because there sure wasn't any way I was going to sit down and talk about myself for an hour. But I'm glad we did this. I'm glad we did this.

Well, so am I.