Interviewing My Grandma: February’s Challenge

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Another month, gone.

January just flew past, and my 30-day challenge to finish my book and start editing it didn’t exactly get accomplished.

I’m still much closer to finishing than I was at the beginning of the month—specifically with the story outline and getting a better idea of my main conflict and a great antagonistic idea popping into my head when I was casting my characters.

During February 2019, I'm interviewing my grandma about her long life. She's 93 this year and full of amazing stories I want to preserve for the future.

Wait, casting my characters?

Ever since I started writing the sources of this book back in junior high school, I’ve pictured certain actors playing certain parts. I used Airtable to organize my character list and spent some time on Google, trolling for pictures of actors I could see as my characters.

Not just any old picture would do; for instance, I have pictured David Wenham’s portrayal of Faramir as the basis for one of my characters for ages. And not just any old picture of Faramir. One where he’s smiling, like the picture here. 

Faramir, as a character, is conflicted, depressed, and a lot of the time in anguish, so I wanted pictures where he’s smiling and happy. Like at the end of the movies, or when he’s interacting with Eowyn.

I have also seen Hugh Jackman in another major character role in my book—in fact, he’s the only actor I’ve ever been able to picture for this role. So I had to find that perfect picture to represent who he is in the book.

I had a lot of fun casting my book, and now that I’ve got the character descriptions and goals/conflicts fleshed out, I was able to see where I’m missing a few things and where I can add more in.

It’s also easier, now, to visualize the events of the book as I write them and read back through them.

So it’s still an ongoing project, in that respect. I’ve got a few more words to write, some scenes to re-order, and then I can start self-editing.

But now it’s February.

And, as I’ve committed to attempting at least a year of 30-day challenges, it’s time for a new one.

(I’ll still be working on my book, though. Never fear.)

February’s challenge is actually far more personal than any of the others I’ve done.

Even more personal than writing 52,000 words for a book during November.

This month, I’m interviewing my grandma, soon to be 93, about her life.

This is a project I actually started back in 2015. I have a couple of recordings of interview sessions I had with her, but they took place in her old house with my aunt and my aunt’s dog present—and there were a lot of interruptions.

I bought some new equipment for this round.

Back in 2015 I bought a desktop USB microphone but found it difficult to use because as soon as I asked my grandma a question, she didn’t pause before launching into her answer. I didn’t have time to give her the microphone, so her answers are often harder to hear in Audacity than my own words.

In late January I bought a set of lapel microphones that plug into either my phone or my laptop and can pick up both speakers without needing to pass the mic.

I also bought an “octopus” tripod for my phone, so that for some of her stories I can capture it on video.

I’ve done this before at past holiday gatherings.

My grandma always stands up before we start eating at both Thanksgiving and Christmas and tells everyone present the history of our family traditions. She usually does this for the benefit of newcomers in our family; new partners or new friends coming into our home.

At Christmas 2018, I got a pretty good video of Grandma describing our Table Gift and Christmas Pie traditions. I wrote about those in more detail in this post on Medium.

The Preparation for Interviewing My Grandma

The preparation for this 30-day challenge was a little more involved than others.

I solicited questions from my family members. What would they want to know about her life? What hadn’t they asked her, but wanted to, and just never had the chance or the right moment?

Grandma’s turning 93 in just a few days, but she’s still sharp as ever and moving under her own power. Doesn’t even need a walker!

But she is starting to forget bits and pieces. Nothing serious like Alzheimers or dementia, but enough that it’s a good idea to interview her now before the chance has passed and we all wish we’d done more earlier.

I also got a really long list of questions to ask her from, of all people, my chiropractor. I’d asked him what things he would ask his mother if she were still alive, and it was like the floodgates opened. I had to scramble for my phone to start writing down all the questions he would have asked his mom, and while I was doing that another idea formed.

My intention going into this interview process wasn’t much more than to get it all down and, eventually, transcribe it.

During February 2019, I'm interviewing my grandma about her long life. She's 93 this year and full of amazing stories I want to preserve for the future.

But for what final form?

Podcast? Maybe. It wouldn’t be anything formal, nor as polished as many of the podcasts I currently listen to.

Grandma probably doesn’t even know what a podcast is—let alone why anyone would want to do something like that.

But as I hastily typed out questions in my chiropractor’s office, I thought: why not make it a biography?

Through interviewing my grandma, what central theme about her life will emerge? What big question could she answer, or insight could she give to her family, her descendants?

So that’s my thought moving forward.

The first set of interviews took place last weekend, and as the month progresses I’ll spend more time with her, taking advantage of technology to do the heavy lifting for me, and just spend hours talking with a truly astonishing woman whose story I’m so excited to learn more about.

Not every family has this privilege of long life and the opportunity to reach into the past.

Wish me luck.

8 thoughts on “Interviewing My Grandma: February’s Challenge”

  1. We have done this before for our family history projects. Asking questions from family members and taping them for their answers.

  2. I have wanted to do this with my mom., my parents were older and all my grandparents were dead by the time i came around so i wanted to do it to preserve it for my young children who she loves more than life itself. i am grappling with how to move forward with it bu this has inspired me to think it through and get started. I dont know how long i have with her again, thank you Colleen.

  3. Great idea. I would also recommend getting any info you can from her about her unique skills, such as recipes or crafts she makes. We have made recipe books from the favorites my mom made as I heard from other friends who lost that information when their parents passed on.

  4. I have a book of questions to ask your grandparents that I went through with my grandma years ago. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but it has definitely one of the most read books in our home! I am so happy to have this knowledge today now that she has passed.

  5. I was just talking to my mom yesterday about interviewing her and my grandmother. They’re immigrants and I don’t want to lose their stories so this post was very timely and inspiring. Thanks!

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