A to Z April Challenge

During the month of April I will be doing a different spin on my memoir posts. It starts with a song. Each song will be followed by a brief essay that is evoked or inspired by that song. You might want to click on the YouTube link to hear the song as you read the piece I've written. Or you can listen to the song lyrics first and then read. Whichever way you choose, I mostly hope you'll read and leave a comment with your thoughts about my post. Thank you for visiting and please follow the blog if you are not doing so already.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Your Story Here: guest Jane Shafron

        Back in December I ran across a fascinating story in the Los Angeles Times about my guest today.  After doing some research I found Your Story Here, the website of Jane Lehmann-Shafron.  I contacted Jane and she consented to visit us at Wrote By Rote:


Video Memoir: The Life That Got Away


This is the cover of a video memoir I never made for my Nana, Alice McJannet.

In my video memoir work, I sometimes think of my grandma.  I think of her especially now, in election season, because she was mad about politics.  She couldn't get enough of it – endlessly watching the candidates perform on her creaky old TV.  She was definitely crazy about politics, and it nearly made her crazy. 

Whenever the guy from the other party came on TV, she scowled, put her hands over her ears and looked away.  I saw her do that many times when I visited her at the nursing home she lived in - called “Jindalee” - just up the street from my folks. (I'm pretty sure she also did the “la la la can't hear you thing” thing as well – but I'm not 100% sure.)

Nana died a long time ago now, and she never knew the way my life turned out.  But she has been an inspiration, and a kind of perennial reproach, for my life's work. 

I make video memoirs for a living, you see - personal and family history documentaries detailing and celebrating the lives of (mostly older) Americans.  I have made hundreds of video memoirs now, won awards at film festivals, been featured in “Woman's World” and “Success” magazines, and even had a story about me and my work in the “LA Times”.  I have helped make hundreds of families happier, and more secure, by telling the life story of their loved ones.

But I never told the story of my Nana. 

I never made a video memoir of her Alice McJannet's life, as I have for so many others.  I never spent time getting to know her story, never researched her genealogy, never scanned and restored all her old photos.  And I never interviewed her nor edited her story into a fully realized personal history on video. I was too young, too busy, didn't know how, thought she had more time, didn't know about the technology.  All the usual reasons.

Here's a picture of Nana and me taken just before she died.  She had been in a wheel chair for years, ever since she lost one of her legs to amputation. But she never complained.  She had been a nurse and still had that “let's-get-on-with-it” optimism that so many good nurses have.

Dad would go up every Friday and collect her from Jindalee, scooping her up in his old farm-laborer's arms, and drive her down to our house where she would spend the whole weekend. Nana and I would always cook together, and I still have the recipes I wrote out – in my 9 year old hand – from the dishes we cooked together. Her lemon flavored cupcakes – we called them “little cakes” – were my favorite and they still are. Now I still make them with my own three boys.

My husband tells me I should be a little easier on myself.  The technology was nowhere then where it is now. I don't think we even had a video camera back then (when did they come in I wonder?). I certainly know that there were no video editing machines available – well, there were my husband says, but they cost $100,000 or more. 

But if I couldn't make a video memoir, I could at least have made an audio tape of an interview.  And I could have helped her write a life story...

Nana was never going to write her own memoir of course.  And I see this a lot in my business and have written about it in my blog.  I call it “The Problem of the Reluctant Subject”.  Some subjects, especially those who grew up in the Depression years, are just too darned modest to think that people want to hear their stories!  Vanity can play a part – none of us are as young (or as fetching) as we used to be.  And poverty, which we as the audience do not judge by, can still be somewhat shameful for the subject.  Add to which, a lot of older folks these days are just too busy doing other things!

No, if Nana's story was ever going to be told, it was going to have to be told by someone else.

I feel sad now that I didn't get to make Nana's video memoir. But I feel glad that I can help other people record their Nana’s stories.  My Nana Alice McJannet remains my inspiration, and a gentle voice in my ear encouraging me to continue my work.  And I thank Arlee Bird for allowing me to share just a little bit about her.

My PhotoJane Shafron is a video biographer who co-founded Your Story Here LLC Video Memoir, a video production company that specializes in preserving personal and family history. Based in Orange County CA, her award-winning films have been screened in festivals in the United States and Canada. Jane is on the Board of Directors of the Association of Personal Historians. She regularly writes to her blog Video Biography Central and can be contacted on 949-742-2755 or through her website.





         Thank you, Jane, for taking the time to visit us and tell your story.  And what an inspirational story it is.  I encourage readers to check out Jane's website Your Story Here.  It's packed with interesting information that I think you will enjoy.  Also visit Jane's blog Video Biography Central which again provides some great information for memoirists.


          Next week on Wrote By Wrote we'll hear a call to write from 25 year old Dana Sitar.  She has approached the art of memoir in a unique way.






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15 comments:

Richard said...

A most interesting concept.

Carole Anne Carr said...

What a lovely thing to do, she must have been a fascinating woman.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

A most interesting and excellent penned post. Thank you.

Yvonne.

susan said...

Fascinating - if only we could turn back the clock and ask those questions of our family members and get their personal responses. I am sure your grandmother would have loved being videod but as you say the technology wasn't there then so you must not blame yourself in any way.

Dee Ready said...

Dear Jane,
Like you, I so wish I'd asked my mom and dad to share with me their stories. That never happened and now they are both gone. They were married in 1928 and as you mentioned in your posting, they were reticent to share stories of those days of the Depression. What a wonderful generation they were. Both of my parents blessed my life in so many ways. Thank you for reminding me of this.

Peace.

Hold my hand: a social worker's blog said...

Oh, what a precious lady Ms. Alice was! Thank you for sharing this lovely story.

Doris

Mary Aalgaard, Play off the Page said...

Cool story. It's important to capture someone's story in whatever form we have available. You did this with your words.

Elisabeth Hirsch said...

What an awesome idea! This is so neat ;)

Empty Nest Insider said...

Jane, this is such a touching story. Something tells me that your grandmother knew how much you admired her. Thanks for inspiring me to tell my mother how much I appreciate her.

Lee, thanks for hosting Jane. Julie

Jean said...

we are a family of storytellers, from each side of my family. I have heard all of our stories. I have devotedly repeated them to my 5 sons and to my husband. We have added our own present stories to the recipe, with makes for a rich life as we move forward. There is nothing wrong with celebrating the past and treasuring your memories, and I am SO glad that there are people like you who can facilitate this in such a wonderful way for those who can't necessarily tap into their past as lovingly or as easily as others. I have made my sister an entire charm bracelet of family sayings in little glass soldered framed "bubbles", with crystals and pearls and pictures from the past. When I see her wear it, I see our family on her wrist and my heart soars!
You are a very valuable person. Your grandmother knows this, I know. Hope you don't mind my saying that.
jean

Ann Best said...

I connect with you, Jane, on this. I almost did videos back in 1996; but I did put together many life stories in book form (using Pagemaker) with pictures and text, the first one about my mother and her life with my father (she died at age 97 in 2003). Fortunately, I got her before her memory left her, though she had family photos and journals in her files, and ancestral stories that went back many generations. I'm so glad I got it done. Like you with your Nana, I would have regretted it if I didn't.

What an awesome way to make a living! Especially "older" people have amazing stories, each one unique.

Thank you, lee, for hosting Jane!
Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror & Other Memoirs

Angela Ackerman said...

Boy this post sure made me think of my own grandmother. She passed away almost a year ago, and I was lucky to have her in my life for a long time. I sure miss her.

At her memorial, someone made a video memoir. I learned things about her youth that I didn't know, and I felt so blessed to discover more about her in this way.

I think it's great what you do!
Angela

Arlee Bird said...

My thanks to Jane for visiting Wrote By Rote with her very interesting story.

Thank you to all who left a comment on this post.

Lee

SherryE said...

What a really nice thing to do! She must've been a special lady.

Susan Kane said...

I love your enthusiasm for capturing the specialness of one's life. Most people don't realize the importance of documenting the family, until they are gone.