Have you ever heard of StoryCorps?
If you listen to Morning Edition on your local NPR station a lot then your answer is most likely yes.
If not, StoryCorps is an oral history project - one of the largest of its kind - inviting people to visit one of their permanent booths or one of their traveling Silverstream trailers to record stories and interviews with loved ones. Stories that are then preserved on CD for participants as well as archived in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
"We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, strengthen and build the connections between people, teach the value of listening, and weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that every life matters."
Kinda like blogging...except the interviews sometimes get heard on the radio.
I had the distinct pleasure of recording an interview with Blind Betsy when one of the Silverstream trailers passed through Laramie, WY in 20081. It was a lot of fun! And I learned things about my mom - particularly as it pertains to her blindness as well as her father and mother - I'd never known.
Perhaps you're thinking something like this sounds boring or unimportant. Consider this...I never knew my grandparents - maternal or paternal. Granted, I met my mother's father one time when I was 12. He was grumpy and in pain most of the time and, as such, wasn't much in the mood to get to know a squirrely pre-teen girl. So I can't really count that encounter as "knowing" him.
Not long before I was born though, a few months before my paternal grandmother, Granny, died, my parents recorded a homemade StoryCorps-type interview with both Granny and her sister, my Great-Aunt Lue, who I would know and love with all my little girl heart. The interviewers were my parents, of course, in addition to my three older siblings.
That recording, even though I hadn't gotten to participate, is a cherished possession of mine. Better than snapshots, I could hear Granny's voice talking about what it was like to grow up on a dairy farm, to teach in a one-room school house, what it was like to raise children during the Great Depression. It made me feel closer to her. I couldn't know her in life but I could get to know her through other means than just 2-D photographs and stories relayed by other people.
In 2008, StoryCorps created a new national "holiday", the National Day of Listening, that falls the Friday after Thanksgiving each year. It is a holiday created to encourage family and friends to talk to one another, to listen to each other, to record homemade interviews and stories of their life experiences via any means they might have - computers, tape recorders, iPads, video.
I think this is pretty freaking cool.
This year, StoryCorps is encouraging folks to thank a favorite teacher. Not only are they encouraging home recordings but they are asking people to interact with the project via Facebook, Twitter, and their own Wall of Listening - to tell the project staff about why a favorite teacher is so special to the contributor.
"By listening closely to one another, we can help illuminate the true character of this nation reminding us all just how precious each day can be and how great it is to be alive."
Doesn't that sound way more important than shopping?
1: Hmmm...I really ought to duplicate that CD for all my siblings sometime soon.