Saturday, January 19, 2008

300 Words - My Mom's Turn

As promised, I interviewed my mother*. I didn't ask her permission or warn her. Maybe that's not fair, but I didn't want her to worry about it. I simply showed up at her house with my laptop, and said, "OK, it's your turn. Mom, I want to interview you." She was less than enthusiastic. But once she got to talking, memories-things she hadn't thought of in years, came to the surface and I typed as fast as I could. Thank God for my high school typing class. I can type without looking at the keys, and pretty fast too. From this experience, I would highly recommend doing this. And here are a few tips on how to do it.
  • Limit the time you'll spend interviewing. I spent only about twenty minutes and made that clear when we started.
  • Start with a question. It's overwhelming when you're trying to think of your entire life story in one sitting. Begin by asking about times that are framed by an event such as a grade level or a holiday. I asked my mother to tell me about kindergarten. I didn't know they didn't have kindergarten then, so we started with first grade instead.
  • Only ask questions pertinent to the clarity of the story. You may have a lot of questions while your loved one is talking but ask only the questiong that will help to clarify the specific story they are telling. Resist the temptation to go on "rabbit trails" that are actually a separate story.
  • End on a Positive Note. If the particular subject is not a happy memory, encourage your interviewee to then share a good memory. First grade was not a happy memory for my mother, so when we finished first grade, I had her also tell me about second grade, which was much happier (and made up for a nasty first grade teacher).
  • Have a Plan B. Not all memories are pleasant and some may be traumatic. Be prepared to change to a different question if your interviewee is uncomfortable sharing. Have a "Plan B" question that is very different from the first question. For example, if you first asked about kindergarten memories, your "Plan B" question might be, "What is the best Christmas present you received as a child?"
  • Plan for the Next Interview. Let the interviewee know what you'd like to talk about the next time you get together. And when you get home, reread what you've written; make sure that it all makes sense. Then jot down any additional questions you have.

*Remember, you can interview absolutely anyone.

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