When I tell people I’m a Memory Collector, they often smile. I think it’s because their mind is triggered, there’s a curiosity of “what does this mean”. Storytelling and Memory Collecting go hand in hand so perhaps hearing this triggers the memory of a story they carry around. When you’re a Memory Collector, you get the privilege of hearing precious stories. Sometimes they are amazing stories, sometimes they are regular old day-to-day stories but from a different time, a different perspective. It is a fantastic opportunity, experience and honour.
My dad has always been a great storyteller, sharing memories of growing up in rural Nova Scotia. Hearing these stories over the years inspired me to begin collecting those memories. Together we embarked on a journey that not only preserved his memories but also started me down the road of becoming a Graphic Journalist and Memory Collector. This image of his book is from the days when I did everything by hand. Rather quaint.
Since we live in different parts of the country we did our interviews by telephone. Removing the visual distraction of being across the table helped keep us on track and on topic. When we set a time to talk we didn’t get distracted. Over the years I’ve done many interviews by telephone, recording the conversation and then using a great service called Speechpad to get it transcribed. I talked about this in a previous blog post.
The experience of collecting memories is pretty darned close to magic. In order to really get that magical feeling you have to be fully and completely present. When I’m collecting stories, I am not having a conversation. A definition of conversation is “the informal exchange of ideas by spoken word”. The key there is exchange. When you’re a Memory Collector, there is no exchange. It’s all about listening. I must create the space for the magic to happen.
When a person fully has the opportunity to travel down memory lane without interruption, without someone else’s story coming through, every time you create that space you get the magic.
Once you have experienced that magic, it’s addicting. You want more. More stories, more travels beyond now, before now. You dive fully into someone’s world. Once I had experienced this with my dad, I was hooked. I wanted to hear more memories.
I have heard stories of incredible cycling adventures, of being a bomb squad specialist, of the struggles of immigration, of a gold medal pursuit, of being crowned Captain cotton candy, and stories of overcoming adversity. Stories that make your head shake, stories that inspire, ordinary stories. All these memories that are now preserved for future generations. We have a number of great stories featured in our personal stories portfolio. Here is one example.
I was listening recently to the CBC show Spark and heard a conversation with a fellow who is fascinated with the memory of cities. He has recordings from protests and gatherings around the world and has analyzed what they represented in terms of the type of people involved and the emotions. Another amazing example of collecting memories.
It’s an honour to have someone open up and share their life story with you. People often aren’t sure where to start. We’ve developed a couple of free downloads of our 17 Magic questions from the early years of life and 21 Magic questions from the young adult years. These are just a few of the hundreds of questions that we use when helping someone tell their life story.
Often we don’t need to ask many questions. In my experience once you create the space and open environment for people to tell their story, the memories come flooding out. It’s like a dam breaks free and the stories start flowing.
I encourage you to take the time to collect some memories. People take a lot of photos but these images are short on details. Memory collecting is all about the details. I know you’ve got some important memories waiting to be shared. Don’t be shy. We can help.