Monday, May 19, 2008

StoryCorps.

Lately a pattern has been developing during my Friday morning commute to work. I'm generally feeling fairly positive because the culmination of the week is drawing near, and I'm relaxed and attentive. At some point, usually toward the end of my drive, a series called StoryCorps comes on and I tune in closer. StoryCorps broadcasts recordings of interviews between loved ones. It's a relatively loose concept, and there are a lot of unexpected twists within the several-minute-long edited segments. Strangely enough, it is not unusual for these tales to draw a tear or two from my eyes. I'm not a particularly emotional person, but something about the strange mix of detachment and poignancy of this experience is tremendously affecting.

So sometimes I show up to work in the morning with red eyes. I don't know what my co-workers think of my deportment on Fridays. I try not to make any eye contact, and simply mutter distractedly if someone greets me. All of this is NPR's fault for producing such a great project. It's not as if they pioneered the concept of interviews with ordinary folks (see Stud Terkel). But the idea of outfitting a vintage Airstream Trailer, and parking it outside of our cities' public libraries for public use, was nearly brilliant. Of course there was never any guarantee that people would be willing to tell their intimate stories so openly. There was no way to tell how much skill they would demonstrate as story-tellers. And yet it's a tremendous success.

This nonprofit project got its kickoff in October of 2003 with a StoryBooth in New York's Grand Central Station. Within two short years they were able to acquire two MobileBooths, and they launched them from Washington DC. If you find one of these moving recording studios and choose to participate, you will receive a CD recording of your interview. In addition, a copy of the recording will be housed in the Library of Congress in perpetuity. The StoryCorps idea has really caught on, to the point where it has received a Peabody Award- the most prestigious honor in broadcast journalism. Last year they produced their first book-Listening is an Act of Love, and issued an audiobook as well.

Anyway, this week's clip was especially sad. It was an exchange between an old man and his son. The father described having once beaten his boy for refusing to wear a raincoat to a piano lesson. It was clear that this had not been a regular habit of the man, but rather that he had just had a particularly bad day. Still he reported never having been able to forgive himself for the incident. He had been carrying that guilt with him for almost 50 years. Of course he started weeping, as his son reassured him that he had been forgiven. The son even pointed out that everything good that he had ever done was influenced by the father. It was a remarkable opportunity for catharsis. and a great example of what can happen in a StoryCorps booth.

This tale was especially moving for me, as I have just started the process of fatherhood. I wonder if some day I will have a similar burden to carry around with me... something that my son will resent for years. Is this inevitable? My father used to beat the hell out of me regularly, to the point where I would explode in an upside-down blood fountain, and I've moved past that. I even remember one time... (EDITOR'S NOTE: OK, slow down there, bucko! I feel some responsibility to jump in here and expose Merge's complete misrepresentation of his relationship with his father. His Dad NEVER beat him, other than one occasion where Merge was slapped on the leg during a temper tantrum. The impact left a hand-print for about two-and-a-half minutes before fading into nothing. Of course Merge, in his self-indulgent willfulness proceeded to sulk for the next day in an attempt to make his father feel guilty. -DG) ...(libelous text omitted) and I never lost my affection for the 'old man'.

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5 Comments:

Blogger jefg99 said...

Wow, for a split second while reading that last paragraph I was really pissed, and wanted to beat the crap out of the writer for gross falsifications. :-) Thank goodness the editor stepped in.

9:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Still afraid of the old man. Well, that's the way it shoud be.

11:21 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

jefg,

I kinda thought you'd get a kick out of that.


anon,

That was funny.

8:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My worst experience was when my old man set me on fire and tossed me out a moving car for spilling a soda.

6:39 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

anon,

soda is expensive

8:18 PM  

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