Waste not, want more

No variations on a theme.

Strategic Plotting

I’m fairly convinced that I’m bad at chess and war games for the same reason that I’m bad at plot development. I cannot think ahead in that way, considering different contingencies, adjusting my plans in advance. I’m bad at debates for the same reason, unless it’s a topic in which I am confident – like the best route to ride to school. Some people, like people who are wicked at puzzles and the like, can slap down a strategy like a $2 mortgage payment. Me, it’s like trying to fork over a lung while still breathing. Because of this ineptitude, I need your help to prevent anybody whispering checkmate in my unsuspecting ear.

At issue for me today is a different kind of plotting, thankfully not my garden or my grave (which reminds me, I wrote my epitaph when I was 13: Rose’s toes over there and her nose this way goes). I mentioned in my last post that I intend to work in some time over the holidays to interview my mom and aunt for a writing project. My priority would be to talk to my aunt and get as much of that done as possible – she has seniority since she’s 81.

My aunt, Tia I’ll call her since that’s what I call her, is awesome and energetic and some sort of biological enigma. She’s also got great stories that weave into other stories and include unnecessary details about temperature, carpet colour, time of day, sale price. I feel relatively well equipped to handle her meanderings. She deals well with interruption. I think questions and other prompts will help. What I’m not so sure about is getting her to sign onto the project in the first place.

Don’t go thinking I’m about to go manipulating a senior into some sketchy exposé about how much she pays for garbage pick up. I don’t plan on getting her to do anything she doesn’t want to do. I don’t think Tia would be against this idea at all in principle. In fact, I think she’d be interested and pleased, and also recognize that it gives me an opportunity to learn more about my dad, her brother, too. But she’s a bit funny. She’s anxious by nature and this hasn’t improved in recent years. Further, it’ll be the Christmas season and she’s likely to be in Tia mode, with family arriving unannounced for a week or whisking her away or expecting to be fed or building her a new wall unit. Also, my mom suspects that if I give her any notice, she’s likely to obsessively stress and get herself into quite a tizzy. On the other hand, without notice, it seems a little presumptuous to show up at her house with a sleeping bag and the modern day equivalent of a tape recorder, make a pot of tea and say, “OK, Tia. I’m writing a book about your life. Now, you were born March of 1930, right?”

You may be wondering why I don’t just go with the flow and see how she reacts. I’d love to be all, “Universe, show me the way” about this. But my panic is as follows: at the risk of being dramatic, it’s hard to foresee a time in the next few years where I will be able to dedicate another week to this sort of thing. Tia lives 9 hours away, so occasional mini-sessions are not really an option. The phone I think would be a little bit atrocious, under the circumstances. I don’t want to take it for granted that Tia will be around for another gazillion years.

My mom, being the devious little monkey that she is, is tasked with telling Tia I’m planning to interview my mom and seeing how she reacts. I’m eagerly awaiting the report. In the meantime, I’m still trying to strategize, which is a little like paddling a kayak with one arm.

So I’m asking you dear savvy and sensitive readers, how do I approach this? And, seriously what is the modern equivalent to a tape recorder? I actually need to know.


November 16, 2011 - Posted by | Cycling, Portuguese-ness?, Writing | , , ,


  1. Digital recorder isn’t it? This is a fanTAStic idea and I wish I had done it before my grandparents passed away! I hope your Tia will be excited about the project and cooperate, what a wealth of information!
    I love stories that include details like carpet color and such things, because it makes their memory seem so much more real to the listener.
    Can’t wait to see how this project goes!

    Comment by Neeks | November 16, 2011 | Reply

    • Thanks so much for the support. I’m so glad to hear that you think it’s a good idea. I waver between “this is great because everyone has an interesting story” and “this is silly because everyone has an interesting story”. Her details also make her more hilarious, I’m glad you’d enjoy them.

      Comment by Rose | November 16, 2011 | Reply

  2. Yeah…my wife has a tiny digital recorder that would totally hide in a pocket or whereever….. I hope she cooperates so that covert eavesdropping will not be nescessary 🙂

    Comment by TheIdiotSpeaketh | November 16, 2011 | Reply

    • As do I! I hope that this digital item you speak of upload to a computer and cost less than a bodily organ? I’ve also heard “there’s an app for that” that will actually transcribe the recording also, which would of course require me to purchase something that employs “apps” rather than brain cells…

      Comment by Rose | November 16, 2011 | Reply

  3. I’m afraid I’m as bad at strategy as you are–if not worse. Sounds wise to me to have your mother inquire for you. How wonderful that she is willing to cooperate.

    What you need is a digital audio recorder. I got an Olympus WS-700M. It cost around $89 US. You want to be sure your recorder has a conference setting for your mic, so yu can set the recorder in a room and have it pick up all of the participating voices. Mine has 3 sensitivity settings–the least sensitivity for dictation, the most for recording groups. You will also want one that is compatible with Dragon software, which will automatically translate voice to text–essentially typing your transcripts for you. I also like mine as I can add memory cards for extra recording time. They look like memory cards for your camera.

    There’s probably more you should know, but this will get you started. I loved my recorder for talking with my mom and aunt while in PA. Let me know if you have any other questions. I’m excited for you, Rose!


    Comment by Kathryn McCullough | November 16, 2011 | Reply

    • Thank you for details! I really appreciate it. I’m a bit at a loss, not wanting to overspend and not wanting to go into technology meltdown by struggling with something unnecessarily. I’m curious about this dragon software business, and how it does with thick accents…I will do some searching.

      Comment by Rose | November 16, 2011 | Reply

  4. Yes, a digital audio recorder. Very handy! I used one for my MA interviews, but I didn’t know anything about any transcription software, so I gave myself tendonitis typing out every. single. word. 😦

    I have the same feelings you do about “interesting stories”. However, while I’m apt to discount the awesomeness of my own story (and potential book… and thus continue to sit on my ass not writing a book), I’m inclined to tell you to JUST WRITE YOUR BOOK ALREADY! It’ll be awesome, and at the very least, you’ll learn a lot about your own family and history. 🙂

    Comment by Dana | November 17, 2011 | Reply

    • Yes, in this case, I’ve gotten around that feeling a bit by thinking that the result will probably always be interesting to me, as I want to remember these things and potentially the quasi-extended family. So I could always self-publish and share! Thanks for your support!

      Comment by Rose | November 18, 2011 | Reply

  5. I hope your Gran will want to talk to you. My father, who is 87, can be got to talk, and also feels that the stories should be preserved. And if everyone has an interesting story, that makes your way of writing it more important. I hope it is delightful for you.

    Comment by Clare Flourish | November 18, 2011 | Reply

    • Your right about my writing – of course, it seems, you’re always right! Thank you.

      Comment by Rose | November 18, 2011 | Reply

  6. Just catching up with this post.
    My vote would be to have the conversations, tell her you are recording them so that you won’t forget. My mom is 81 and she has now gotten to the stage that she realizes that we want to know this stuff, and she enjoys telling about her life.
    You don’t have to talk about using it for a project until afterward. Maybe you could say something to the effect of “You know, this was so interesting, I loved the stories. Would you mind if I used some of these in my writing?” That way she won’t get nervous or upset, and can share as much as possible.

    Good luck. It sounds like a great project.

    Comment by chlost | November 20, 2011 | Reply

    • Hmm, now that’s strategy! How do you do it? I may just have to stop my mom from the original plot, which would give the whole thing away. I know Tia wouldn’t mind talking, if she didn’t have a chance to get focused on the agenda and I’d be happy to tell her honestly once we’re into it a bit more. Thanks so much!

      Comment by Rose | November 20, 2011 | Reply

  7. […] My plans to interview my mom and aunt were somewhat derailed. I move into the next phase of life earlier than originally thought, my aunt […]

    Pingback by Still Working on the End « Waste not, want more | January 3, 2012 | Reply

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