Most of us spend time daily separated from our friends and families. The front line of defense against the coronavirus (medical professionals, first responders, security, military, food providers, and more) work nearly every day and come home to a restricted lifestyle away from the norms of just a month ago.
I speak monthly (on the average), write books (a few done and a few more in progress), and independently publish books. I gave a webinar a week ago to a group of editors wanting to know more about becoming independent publishers. I provided insights into the things that need to be done to a manuscript to make it a book.
As I listen to raindrops hitting my office roof and windows (not enough of that this year), I think about the opportunities today to capture memories from parents or grandparents. We have the technology to record via audio or video the answers to questions about their lives.
I titled my father’s eulogy, “Like Tears in the Rain.” Our memories are like tears in the rain. Once we pass, there is no archive of those memories anymore. Yes, a few might be captured in writing or on video, but the majority are gone – forever.
A few of us want to leave a written or video legacy for our grandkids and great-grandkids – in writing or in video. Most of us think it is probably too expensive. What is not expensive is to think about the questions you want to ask and write them down. It is better to have a plan to ask questions than to ramble.
Our elders have unique knowledge and wisdom from the times they lived through. Most of us are aware of the history from our own lives only. Yes, a few of us can tell you details of WWII, Man’s first step on the moon, President Kennedy being shot, and more. However, they come from other peoples’ opinions and writings of those events.
Most of us didn’t live them. There is a difference. If you never went to the bathroom in an outhouse in the winter, how can you identify with that experience? We have a temporary toilet paper shortage today. What toilet paper was used in an outhouse?
Let me propose a proposition for you. Compile a list of must-know answers to questions that you want to know about your parents or grandparents. Work on it for more than a few days. I would suggest at least forty questions. Take the best twenty and make that a conversation with the person you want to answer those questions.
The conversation can be done by phone and recorded, or by video conferencing. The video can be recorded. The recordings can be transcribed into a manuscript or video edited to a final product (DVD or cloud storage, for example). Your parents may have their own thoughts that they want to share. A month from now you may have captured those memories that won’t be like tears in the rain.
Where do you start? Here are some suggestions for topics to develop a conversation. Make the questions an open-ended question. You don’t want a Yes or No answer. You want details from their perspective.
Family history, nicknames, places you lived, schools your attended, likes and dislikes about many things, favorite teachers or friends or places, what did you do for fun, what chores did you not like, favorite toys or movies or pets, jobs you had, where did you spend money, influencers on you for the life you chose, first car, first boyfriend/girlfriend, first dance, first vacation, first home, oldest memory, dreams that you remember, how do you handle stress, what makes you happy, best time (decade) of your life and why, major differences between today and when you were a kid, technologies changes over your life, and more.
The objective is to get a person to talk about themselves and their experiences and their memories. It is not meant to be a two-way conversation – other than asking for clarification. It might seem appropriate to add your personal perspective periodically throughout the conversation, but you are in the ‘listen only’ mode for this project.
Career decisions play a lot in a person’s life. Why did they choose a job or profession? What constraints prevented them from pursuing their dreams. Who helped them clarify decisions? Why did you join the military? The military has many questions (the who, what, where, when, and why are a good place to start). Careers in industry, public service, education, sales, etc. offer many more questions that need answers. It should take at least a week to determine the forty questions that demand answers.
There is nothing magical about forty questions or one week. The objective is to have a plan. The next objective is to execute that plan. Sometimes it is best to give a person notice and a list of questions. Sometimes it is better to do it ad hoc. You know what is best.
What if your list is over a hundred questions? I suggest that you limit your questions to the basic twenty or forty. The question may have many bullets under it that become the clarity for that question. For example, “Where did you live?” is a good question. The bullets under it might include – why did you move, what difficulties did you experience, did you know anyone where you moved to, who helped you the most to accommodate to your new location, what did you really like about it (or not like).
The details are in the bullets to the questions. It keeps you focused on a path to ask questions. You don’t want to go down a road of just questions. One question lead to another, but you want the right continuity when going from one aspect of a person’s life to another.
What is the worst-case scenario? You might have to do this several times. Time might prevent you from getting through all twenty questions and multiple bullets for each one. I suggest no more than 90 minutes for any session. That leaves you time to digest what was said and you can always return to a question or bullet for more information.
Audio recordings can be turned into written manuscripts by a company called Rev.com. I have no association with that company. I do use them for audio transcription. There are several free ‘voice to text’ applications available, but there is sometimes a problem with the transcription being grammatically correct (spelling, punctuation, etc.). Rev.com uses a human to listen to your recording and they get the manuscript back to you within 24 hours most times.
You can always schedule several sessions and continue well beyond the first twenty questions. Is it important to you? Will your parents and grandparents be around long enough for you to capture this information. With coronavirus risks in our lives today, and the house arrest that most of us are under, this might be a good time to capture memories that won’t become like tears in the rain.
Live Longer & Enjoy Life! – Red O’Laughlin