With a busy litigation practice, a wife, two kids, two cats, and a side business, I don't have much room for other ventures. My spare time is mostly consumed with children, and my only alone time is the occasional golf round and daily train commute to the office. I was not looking for another project. This project found me.
We had several family members over for Christmas dinner in 2015. This always leads to conversation about family history and people who are no longer with us. My 96-year old grandfather John was taking the train downtown to meet me for lunch the following week, and I decided to bring my video camera to work and interview him about his life. To help make this idea a reality, I blurted it out to the family. Just saying something out loud to others makes it real, right? However, some doubts and anxieties floated around in my head: Would he agree to participate? Would he let me videotape the interview? What should I ask? Should I defer this project to someone else in the family? I shut those voices down. I'm an attorney after all, I've been taking depositions the last 13 years!
The morning of Grandpa John's visit, I spent the train ride downtown scribbling questions in a notepad. Candidly, my notes were all over the place, jumping from subject matter to subject matter, with no transition. My only objective was to have some Q&A with Grandpa, ask him about things I didn't already know, and somehow share the video with the extended family. I met Grandpa at the station, I showed him my office, and we went to lunch. As the bill arrived, I swallowed hard and revealed my scheme. I asked Grandpa if I could interview him... with a video camera... and share it with the family. Grandpa seemed flattered. He's always asking about me and my life, and seldom volunteers information about himself.
We went up to my office, I told my assistant to hold any calls, and shut the door. I didn't own a tripod, so I set my video camera on my desk. Grandpa sat across the desk, and the camera pointed at his chest. I used a stack of pleading papers to elevate the camera a couple inches. Martin Scorsese I was not. I fired off my questions, and Grandpa was totally open. He shared everything, although he was a little blindsided by the process, as he did not have time to mentally prepare in advance. We had to cut it short at 30 minutes so he could catch his train home. I had no idea what to do with the footage.
The next day, after thinking over his answers, Grandpa said he wanted to start all over. He wanted to cover a lot more subject matter, and I wanted a chance to start fresh and to be more organized and methodical in my questioning, like when I take a deposition (minus the hostility of litigation, of course). This time I wrote a more formal, chronological outline, divided by subject matter. I wasn't even thinking about DVD chapters then, I just wanted it to flow. I figured it would be better to interview Grandpa in the comfort of his home, instead of my office surrounded by litigation debris.
We covered a lot of material, from growing up in the 1920s, losing his parents at a young age, training as a bomber pilot in WWII, his ascension in the lumber industry, family, marriages and life lessons. Grandpa even had me return for a third session. He clearly took the project seriously. I shared the experience on social media and it generated a very positive response. People said they should do this, they wish they did it when they had the chance, etc. One night while driving home, it spontaneously occurred to me that this is a service I could offer to the public. The idea hit me in a millisecond, and I physically startled. I spent the evening sketching out ideas and the next couple months putting the infrastructure in place.
It goes to show that the best ideas come when we aren't looking for them.
About the Blog
Here I write about the evolution of this project, the act of preserving life stories and personal development. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.