Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Tomorrow I'm interviewing my mother at the StoryCorp booth that is at the Library of Congress for the next two weeks. As they describe it at http://storycorps.net, "StoryCorps is a national project to instruct and inspire people to record each others' stories in sound.... which we hope will become nothing less than an oral history of America." It's modeled "—in spirit and in scope—after the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the 1930s, through which oral-history interviews with everyday Americans across the country were recorded. These recordings remain the single most important collection of American voices gathered to date. We hope that StoryCorps will build and expand on that work, becoming a WPA for the 21st Century."
I have wanted to take Mommy K. to NYC to the permanent booth in Grand Central Station, but that would have been an ambitious undertaking. Now that its here, I quickly grabbed one of the last slots and requested her presence. But this also leaves me with 40 minutes to fill and not waste. In addition, I've heard from StoryCorp that since it is their first day, they are expecting a heavy media presence. All this, and I'm supposed to be asking meaningful, insightful questions of my mother—preferably ones that dig up wonderful stories from her past and/or pull at the collective heartstrings of America. So I'm a little stressed.
I've compiled a sample list of questions and e-mailed M.K. so that she can consider them. I want her to give it some thought and let me know what she's comfortable with. My motivation here is to genuinely learn the answers to some questions that I know I have asked over the years, but couldn't definitively answer if someone asked me today. In light of the "oral history" element, I tried to consider what experiences and descriptions characterize my impressions of her. Among other things, those include her military service, her career as a nurse, her work in death & dying, her strong family ties, her advocacy for mental illness, her progressive politics, her hunger for knowledge, and her compassion. There are also things in her (and my) life that are very personal but I think many Americans experience (though most of us don't talk about—especially not those as articulate as M.K.). This includes issues with fertility and dealing (often in quiet) with your sons sexuality. The question about religion below, for example, might lead her to discuss her marriage to a quietly practicing Catholic, and the issues they confronted with fertility and the opinions of the church.
1. Please tell me your name, your birthdate, our relationship, and where we are.
2. What were the experiences in your life that lead you to work so closely with death and dying?
3. How has religion influenced your life?
4. How has having a gay son affected your life over the past six years?
5. What brought you to serve in the U.S. military? What lessons did you learn from your service?
6. What are you proudest of in your life?
7. How has your life been different than what you'd imagined?
8. Is there anything you regret?
9. What mistake have you made that you hope I avoid?
10. What experiences in your life lead you to be a liberal/progressive?
11. Is there anything that you've never told me but want to tell me now?
12. Is there something about me that you've always wanted to know but have never asked?
13. How would you like to be remembered?
14. If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
15. What things still surprise you about yourself/your life?
16. Is there anything we didn't talk about that you would like to add?
So, what would you ask YOUR mother?
Will we have an opportunity to hear the interview, once it's finished?