Not many people in my family know that I am doing this project. I safely post this statement to the internet, knowing that that most of them don’t speak English. Writing about my great-grandmother’s life, and that of her daughters, apparently isn’t flattering for the pre-Facebook generation. While we revel in sharing every thought with world around us, instead, their lives were built around secrets, hidden emotions, and keeping dirty laundry safely locked away in a dark closet.
At first, I thought this was a characteristic of the culture in Southern Italy, however I’ve come to realise its a generational trait.
A few weeks ago, I decided I’d like to have a go at writing other peoples’ stories, and not just my family’s. So I rang up a friend, actually more of an acquaintance, who’s life had peaked my curiosity. She is in her late 70’s (possibly early 80’s), and was part of the team that restored Windsor Castle after the fire of 1992. In her youth, she was a set designer in London’s thriving theatre scene. As a child, she had first hand experience of the blitz in WWII, when her house was bombed.
When I called her up asking if I could write her story, she politely said, ‘Oh no, that is not for me. I am not interested.’ I was so surprised! Surely she should be flattered that someone had taken an interest in her life and wanted to write about it. There was no commercial purpose behind writing it (yet anyways), but she was still not interested.
Then when I asked if she wanted to go for coffee, as I was still curious about her life, and she hesitated (this reaction is precisely the reason why I have chosen to do my research incognito, but that’s another story). I had to reassure her I would not write about her, and that it was simply to have a friendly chat.
I guess the previous generation does not have our narcissistic need to share every thought, feeling, and desire with others, or the internet. Its not about geography, or culture. They are simply not yearning to tell thier story – even though exponentially more interesting than the biography of some 20 year old celebrity.
While I was a bit disappointed, I found it dignified and refreshing.