Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It's The Mom And Dad Show

I recently interviewed my mom and dad for a project I'm working on and it was...weird.

The first interview with Mom went well. It was midday, we'd had a nice lunch, we were full of fun energy, and I had lots of patience for the fact that she wouldn't look at the camera or even answer my questions.

For example:

Me: Ok, to start, say your name and your age.
Mom: (In Korean, when I expressly told her we should do it in English) Oh, if only we had done this interview a few days ago, I could say I'm still in my 50s, but now I have to say I'm ...60?
Me: Uh ha ha, yeah, well. 60's great. Let's go.
Mom: (Still in Korean) Ok (laughing). Are you taping this?
Me: Yeah, Mom, it's recording.
Mom: (Laughing spasm) (In Korean) Oh my! Have you been recording all this time?
Me: Yes. Just say your name now, Mom.
Mom: (She says her name, mutters that she is 60 years of age, then looks at me). Daesuh? ("Is that enough?")

Well, no, Mom. Not "daesuh." In case you didn't notice, five minutes was spent in a weird vortex wherein we didn't do or say anything real. I mean, I'd like to point out that I already know your name. Therefore, your saying your name is not enough, you know, for my research. Research is the thing where I learn stuff.

Dad, by contrast, the overwhelmingly more taciturn half of the duo, became positively loquacious. I loved that he became impersonal, just jumping right in with no nerves to make him weird and laughy and chatty (don't think he's actually capable of the latter two). When asked about his children, he would respond to me by saying, "My children..." as if I wasn't one of them. Loved it!

Who knew he would be good at answering questions? Well, actually, I kinda knew. Still, when the tape was at 45 minutes and I told him that I'd finished with my questions for the day, I was surprised by how he responded when I asked whether he had anything to add. He proceeded to launch into a soliloquy for a wall-to-wall 15 minutes. 15 minutes! Like, the reason why we stopped was that the tape ran out. This from a man who putts his words, i.e. the fewer the better.

I know that when I transcribe, I'll see that an hour's worth of his slow speaking can be condensed into a few paragraphs. Dad talks like his words need to line up at customs before making their way out of his mouth. Usually, his baggage silently revolves at the claim inside his mind, forever.

My second interview with Mom did NOT go as well as the first. We were tired. She constantly repeated, "Daesuh?" because it was late, not because of her almost-charming nervous energy. She yawned more than she spoke. I was already cranky that day and had little patience. Then I asked her a question that involved me and ugh, it got kinda ugly.

I must say at this point that this whole doc project is WAY more personal than I'm comfortable with, but it has evolved. I'm actually grateful for the opportunity to interview my parents, who can answer questions in a formalized setting but otherwise don't want to let me into stories of their past, i.e. like normal people might as members of the same four-person family who have shared their lives for like, ever.

Plus, the logistics of this doc project have been VERY frustrating and I feel stymied, director/producer-wise. I don't want that outside stuff to bleed into the way I feel about the interactions between me, Mom and Dad.

However, my last bit of patience was exhausted when, after asking Mom to define her idea of "success," I asked for her opinion on whether I am "successful." She answered exactly as I asked her to - honestly (in case it isn't obvious, her answer was "No").

It was the next day, a Sunday spent stewing, when I realized - I still have lots of anger! The kind of anger that should remain locked in adolescent diaries forever! The kind that you shouldn't drag into adulthood because it's just not a good look. But if I'm being honest, it's there, an anger that I suspect generations of Koreans just kind of screamed into waterfalls or worked out while putting zillions of pots of cabbage into the ground or rationalized away to be respectful of elders.

Then it hit me: Am I just asking for it? What am I doing? It seemed possible that I was asking a bunch of stupid questions simply to pick a fight with my family and then RECORD it for everyone to see. I'm not the smartest bulb but even I know that no one needs an earnest, old-people, no-make-up, Korean family battle royale, a sadly pedestrian version of a VH1 show minus the hair extensions. I know nobody needs that - you don't have to tell me it's a wasted effort and a doc that nobody wants to see.

Well, the next day I called my mom...to continue the argument with a pithy missive on my stupid, crackling cordless phone (hate my dumb phone).

And the day after that...I called to apologize.

She laughed and apologized, too. And in my family, apologies are a big deal. That's what's great about my mom - her stinging response to my question has a flip side. She can be insensitive, but it's that same glib manner that means she never holds grudges and is easy to laugh.

So I guess I'm back "on" with how I feel about this project. I dunno. I just want to cobble together some semblance of being "done" with my work before I take off for the other side of Planet Earth next week...


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