When I was a kid I regularly asked my parents to buy a video camera so I could experiment with making home movies. I had many ideas for characters, scenes, angles and even edits I would do, just sure it would result in hours of entertainment for family and friends. I also suspect there was also a part of me that wanted to capture on tape the times when my dad had his energy and playfulness, knowing that his ongoing cancer treatments meant plenty of other times when he wouldn't.
The answer was always no — it was a relatively big expense back then and not a high priority, all things considered — and so I had to let go of my filmmaking ambitions. But I still loved recording things, and would combine multiple tape recorders to make complex mixes and edits of conversations, songs and the world happening around me.
That enjoyment of working with audio (and, later once I could afford my own equipment, video) recordings of real life has stayed with me, and it's one of my favorite media for storytelling. I've soaked in the practices and personalities of radio and broadcast programs, I've listened to and produced podcasts since they were a thing, I've produced, edited or done voiceover work for various audio programs over the years, and I've come to appreciate the deep connection, history and emotion that comes out in the work of oral history projects like StoryCorps. The words people choose, the ones they avoid, the pauses, the chuckles, the wavering and breaks, the highs and lows...they all reveal so much about us.
Today marks two years since my mom passed away from her own struggle with cancer. But it also marks three years since I got to do the audio interview of a lifetime, with my mom.
As 2017 came to a close we didn't know how much time we had left together, but I knew there might be fewer times in the months ahead when she'd be fully herself and able to sit for an extended conversation "on the record." I approached her about the possibility delicately, mindful that she typically eschewed exercises in public self-examination, so I was pleasantly surprised when she agreed to it by email, with only a little hesitation: "Interview is fine as time permits. Not sure exactly what you want to collect but I’ll do it. I might need a glass of wine."