Tom Hanks and Typewriters?

This morning’s CBS Sunday Morning broadcast included a story of Tom Hanks and one of his favorite artifacts to collect…typewriters. Who knew? https://www.cbsnews.com/news/tom-hanks-uncommon-type/

As one of my favorite actors, Hanks has always played his characters on film as if he were really them. This is the first interview I’ve seen that brings out what I feel is the essence of who he is as a regular person. Here are three reasons why:

  1. Mementos and personal artifacts we’ve collected over the years are part of our stories. Hanks explains why he loves typewriters in an emotional way that involves your senses. He even ties this into the book he is about to release, Uncommon Type. His description of each typewriter, “Each typewriter has sort of a personality”, makes me see his personality in each machine. Each of us has an artifact, a memento in our lives that describe the essence of who we are. This interview makes me look around to find the memento in my home that describes me.
  2. He reveals a part of his childhood that I never knew. By the time he was ten years old, both his parents had been married three times and he lived in ten different houses. His attitude of that period of time: “I thought it was a cool adventure. I was confused a lot about why it happened…In some ways it’s like I’m going back and looking at those times, for me and my siblings, and trying to put context into the confusion.” How does that change a young boy? What effect does that have on his future? Hanks explains it with a sense of calm and curiosity.
  3. His comment at the end, “If I see enough stories that are around and start asking enough questions about where it would go, then, yea, I hope to write more.” He’s always looking for more. His next adventure in writing is unknown, but he keeps asking questions. I can relate.

As my first book is due to be published at the end of this month (stay tuned), I, too, hope to keep “asking enough questions” and to write more. Thank you, Tom Hanks. You and your typewriters are an inspiration.

The Life Story Not Recorded

“I wish I would have known you (x number of) years ago when my grandmother (or grandfather) was still alive. She had the best stories and once she got going telling those stories, you couldn’t get her to stop!” My next comment is typically, “Did you record those stories while she was still alive?” Invariably, the answer is, “No.”

Mother-daughter photo

What is lost by not recording the stories? Only you can answer the emotional response to that question. But based on over a decade of recording the life stories of many individuals, couples and siblings for their families, I can give you the logical main reasons. Lost are:

  1. Many stories you’ve never heard before.
  2. The audible sound of their voice.
  3. The physical movements and body language as they expressed themselves in many scenarios.
  4. The facts that connect you to this loved one. Facts that you never knew or ever dreamed existed.

I could list many more, but I think you get the picture.

The next question is, “Why weren’t the stories ever recorded?” Whether you consider the answer that question reasons or excuses makes no difference. The answers are so varied…and so sad.

The good news is that you now have the opportunity to not make that same mistake again. You have the opportunity to record the life stories of a friend or loved one now. This article is written as a guide to help you do just that. I will post helpful hints on how to record those stories in future blog posts.

These blog posts will combine some of the training that I received in the 1990s preparing to interview Holocaust survivors for Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation (now the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education) with the practical experience I’ve enjoyed interviewing hundreds of people since starting LifeStories Alive in 2005.

My hope is that the posts serve as a guide that gives you the basics to take the plunge and capture the life stories of someone you love. Even though you may have never interviewed someone before in anything that resembles this method or reason, you will not regret it. Why? I know that you will feel, as I do every time I finish a LifeStories Alive interview, that goose bump-causing rush when they finish answering the last question you ask them, and they sigh that familiar sigh knowing that their stories are now recorded for generations to come. You, then, can feel the satisfaction of knowing that you were the one, not anyone else, who gave their lives more meaning and helped them fulfill the goal of passing along their legacy.

Enjoy the process. Have fun. And thanks for keeping those life stories alive!

Why Do We Tell Stories?

As one who helps people tell their stories (on video), I particularly enjoyed this week’s episode of KUT Radio’s “Two Guys on Your Head” with Dr. Art Markman​ and Dr. Bob Duke.  “We need stories in order to make sense of things” is one of the things they explain. Please listen & enjoy! http://kut.org/post/why-do-we-tell-stories

One of their points is that stories help us connect and make sense of the many bits of information in our brains. This is nothing new and most people agree with it (as I do). But if this is widely accepted as fact, then why are so many people hesitant to tell the stories of their own lives?

I have always thought the main reason is that our society teaches us that if we talk about ourselves, we are bragging…and that’s a very bad thing to do! Yet, we learn so much from the stories of others. Valuable life lessons are learned often from strangers who are not related or whom we previously didn’t care much about. In my work at LifeStories Alive, I have had my clients (usually the children of the interviewees) tell me of the exciting and valuable lessons they’ve learned from their loved ones, just by listening to their life’s stories.

So I ask for your help in answering the above question, “Why are so many people hesitant to tell the stories of their own lives?” Your ideas, thoughts and input in the Leave a Reply section below will be much appreciated.

Two Guys on Your Head

 

Kind Words Go a Long Way

Kind words can go a long way. Yesterday, I was having a “so-so” day until late in the evening when a client of mine, Spencer Hayes (name given with permission) http://www.oxfordcommercial.com/our-people/spencer-hayes/, wrote a very kind note regarding the work I did for his family. My entire attitude changed to become more uplifting and positive. Here is his note:

“LifeStories Alive partnered with my family to bring us the greatest gift we could ever have: my parents sharing their stories so that their legacy will continue for many generations.

Mike O’Krent is a uniquely gifted documentarian. But moreover he is an exemplary human being who connects with people on a deep level, and brings out of them the essence of who they are.  The ability to capture all that on video for posterity is rare, and we have been blessed as a family to own the product of his talent.”

I encourage all of you to do as I will now; share a few kind words to someone – to the next person who comes to mind. It’s not hard, won’t take long, and will make you feel good. Thanks, Spencer, for making my day!

I Thought I Would Learn About Classical Music…

I thought I would learn about classical music, but ended up learning about life. This is my conclusion after listening to yet another great TED Talk. This one is by Benjamin Zander. To prove to you how little I knew about classical music, I didn’t know who the hell Benjamin Zander is! I do now. Since 1979, Benjamin Zander has been the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic.

What impressed me most about this talk is how he used a lesson in classical music appreciation (and, by the way, I now appreciate classical music) and turned it into, at the very end, a lesson in life. I will not tell you what he says at the end. It is worth watching this all the way through. I will only tell you this: It reinforces the power of a well-told story…a well-told life story!

Please take the time to watch this: http://tinyurl.com/ntqr4 on and then let me know what you think.

Ben_Zander

Oh Sweet Lorraine

Sometimes it just all comes together. You have one of those days like mine has been today. It started out with a meeting with a new group of friends whom I admire greatly. In our discussion this morning, many were reflecting on the memory of a young friend who died last week. They spoke so highly of him and the stories of his life. The message we all gathered was to not let a day go by without telling  your friends and family that you love them.

Then I received an email this afternoon with this incredible video attached: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDi4hBWsvkY. Without spoiling the story, I’ll tell you it’s about the love a 96-year-old man named Fred has for his wife. In fact, he wrote a song about her called Oh Sweet Lorraine. Based on my experiences this morning and watching this video this afternoon, I encourage you to do the following: 1) Watch the video; 2) Buy the song; 3) Tell someone today that you love them. Don’t wait! In fact do it now … right now.

And remember to do it every day. And when you tell that person you love them, think of Fred … and sweet Lorraine.

An Answer to the Tough Question, “Why Record Their Life Stories?”

Over the years of recording people’s life stories, I will ask my clients, who are usually the children of the interviewee(s), “Why do you want to record their life stories?” While the answers I have heard may vary, the root of the answers usually incorporate a common theme. That common theme is as tough to grasp as the question itself: the realization of their mortality.

We all know we are, some day, going to die. Our society has taught us that discussing this, even just thinking about it, is a frightening thing to do. And when we think of it happening to someone we love, emotion kicks in and then we really don’t want to talk or think about it. But when considering the mortality of a loved one, one of the risks of giving in to the fear of not addressing it is that one of the most important legacies they could leave behind, their stories, will be lost forever.

As with most of our fears that we finally address, confronting the fear and dealing with it leaves us in a state of gratitude for the lessons we learn from the experience. I continually hear from my clients after they’ve viewed the LifeStory we recorded of their loved one, tremendous joy in not only hearing the stories, but knowing that they are preserved forever.

The good news is that, while I’d love to help you record the stories, you don’t need a professional to record the stories of your loved ones. You can do it yourself. The next blog post will give you helpful hints on how to do it yourself.

In the meantime, think of the collective hugs you get when you answer the tough question, “Why record their life stories?”

mother hugs

 

 

End of Life Lesson Learned Today

Just two days ago at around noon I received an email from my friend, Kristi Curry, who has a wonderful business called Survivorship Now http://survivorshipnow.com/. A friend of hers in Katy, Texas named Ben wrote to her saying that his church buddy, Dan (age 49), was just given bad news about his cancer and was advised to call in hospice care immediately. Ben called Kristi to ask for her professional advice to help Dan’s wife organize her life for what was to come. He also said he wanted to videotape Dan’s stories so his two kids would know him better when they grew older. Ben asked Kristi for advise on what questions to ask and how to ask them. That’s when Kristi referred me.

I connected with Ben yesterday via email, then by phone. Ben explained that Dan didn’t have any funds to afford a professional LifeStory and that he was going to do it pro-bono. I don’t know why it happened, but something inside me said I have to do it. I told Ben that I could be there (two and a half hours away) the following morning by 10:30 to conduct the interview, as long as Ben filmed it.

When we arrived at Dan’s home this morning, we were greeted by Dan’s beautiful and gracious wife, Marcina. We set up the camera in Dan’s bedroom and tried to get as much as we could of an interview, but unfortunately, due to the medications he was on, could not record much. What we did record, however, showed what a loving, caring father and husband he was. Rather than coming home without much of anything for Dan’s family, I asked Marcina if she wouldn’t mind being interviewed…to capture Dan’s LifeStories through the stories of his loving wife. She agreed and we filmed about two hours of her smiles, tears and love for her husband. She showed unbelievable bravery and unselfish caring for her husband who was too ill to express his story himself.

By 1:00 PM, we left her home with hugs and well wishes to her for strength during the tough journey ahead that she faced. I arrive back home at around 4:00 PM, exhausted, but glad I had accomplished what I had that day. An hour later Ben called. He said he called to thank me, to be sure I got home okay, and…after a long pause…to tell me someone from his church called an hour ago to say that Dan had just died.

At first I was in a bit of shock. Yesterday, Dan was a total stranger to me. And now, after only knowing he and his wife for a few hours, I feel like an integral part of their lives. The lesson I’ve believe I learned from today’s experience is to share your stories with the ones you love often, to celebrate life at every opportunity you get, and to give unselfishly whenever you can. Had I thought, “It’s been a long week, I’m too tired to drive all the way to Katy early on a Saturday morning, conduct this unpaid interview, then drive all the way back,” I would not have met Dan and his wife. And I am a better man now…because of them.

Thank you Kristi, Ben, Marcina, and especially Dan. May you rest in eternal peace.

The Love a Father has for His Daughter

Before my daughter, Alyssa, was born (more than 25 years ago), I dreamed about what it would be like to have a daughter. My dreams came true in October, 1986 and my life has not been the same since. I can now verify what I heard all those years before she came into my life…about what the love a father has for his daughter is all about.

As I write this, I am sitting at a table across from Alyssa, in one of my favorite coffee shops in Austin, Monkey Nest Organic Coffee & Bakery http://www.monkeynestcoffee.com/ . She is half-way through her program at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston (Doctor of Physical Therapy) and is in town for her spring break. Here’s a pic I snapped with my iPhone: 

As we talked, I found my mind flashing back through many memorable times in our lives together. Many stories over these 25 years make me smile. Here’s one that I love: One of our first “dates” (just the two of us) was when I took her to see Disney’s The Little Mermaid at the movie theater. She was about three or four years old. She had her own seat next to me, eating popcorn that we shared and enjoying her very own drink. Soon after the movie began, she asked to sit on my lap. I glady obliged and we enjoyed the rest of the movie together this way. Shortly after she sat on my lap, the scene with Ursula, the evil sea witch with a body of an octopus, came on screen:

Alyssa immediately and completely turned around, faced the back of the theater, hugged my neck ever-so-tightly, and whispered in my ear, “Dally, I think I want to go home now!” She couldn’t see the tear and smile on my face as I hugged her said, “The witch will be gone soon, Pumpkin. I’ll let you know when it’s okay to turn around.” She survived the rest of the movie and to this day, the two of us look back on that date as a favorite memory.

So today, as I sit across from this young woman who is studying to be “Dr. O’Krent”, I smile that same smile and have a similar tear in my eye as I know, deep in my heart, how much I love my daughter.

“Rescuing a Single Life” – Tom, Judy, and The Homeless Coach

“Whoever rescues a single life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world.” This is a quote from the Talmud, also mentioned in the movie Schindler’s List http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108052/. I have had the honor to have met two people who have done such an act of selfless compassion. The first is Tom Baum, founder of The Homeless Coach, a live, interactive social networking approach to reverse homelessness http://www.homelesscoach.org/. Tom has combined his experience and success in the high-tech industry with his huge heart for the plight of the homeless population in Austin and the world. The Homeless Coach’s mission is to reverse homelessness “a single life” at a time.

The second person is Judy Knotts. Judy has developed a mentoring relationship with Kim, the first graduate of the Homeless Coach program. While Judy’s background and experience in private education gives her enough knowledge to help Kim, her involvement goes way beyond logical giving and enters into heartfelt compassion for another people.

Tom mentioned to me that he was scheduled to interview Kim when the StoryCorps http://storycorps.org/ mobile recording booth came to Austin last month. I asked if I could volunteer to interview her instead. I knew a bit about Kim’s story before, but this interview opened my eyes regarding how a life can be transformed from familial abuse, to 22 years on the streets, to coming clean and sober, to earning her associates degree in Medical Billing and Coding from an accredited university, to now studying for a full Bachelor’s degree in Health Care.

In a recent email, Judy writes (to both Tom and I), “Mike you are great on the tape, terrific voice, amazing articulation, and inspired questions. I have heard the CD 3 times since getting it on Saturday. Kim was with me in my car when we began to listen. When I got to the part where she described being beaten, I had to turn it off for a time. It was just too painful. Kim said, “Do you now know why I call  you Mama?”  I get it now. She has never called me anything else. Funny to hear her call me Judy on the CD. There were other things I didn’t know about her. There is value in having someone a bit removed and also experienced conduct the interviews. Kim astounded me with her insights and I told her. She said, ”My speaking is still not good.” We are working on this, hard to change a life time of grammar errors! Amazing men, you two! Proud to know you!”

I am flattered by Judy’s kind words, but more honored to be associated with two people as incredible as Tom and Judy. I hope all of you can some day know a Tom and Judy of your own, so you can personally witness, as I have, how someone can “…rescue a single life.”