One of my favorite story ideas I came up with when I was freelance writing was a series of questions to ask an aging parent with the hope of learning more about their lives before they died or were to infirm to respond with fullness and clarity. The list of questions might surprise you with its candor and range of subjects—and no doubt people would have their own ideas for questions to add or subtract. The list might also get you thinking what you’d like to share with your children and other loved ones.
I sold the idea to Real Simple magazine, and, to my delight, they published it with almost all of my questions intact. (To my chagrin, they also had the wrong byline, crediting the story to another Eric. But even that had a happy ending, in that I took it as a sign that it was time to become an editor again.)
I heard one of my top-of-the-heap favorite writers, Michael Chabon, speak the other night at the New York Public Library, as part of his book tour to promote his new novel, Moonglow. Apparently, the book was inspired in part by listening to the sporadic but vivid reflections of an aging relative who was into dementia at the time. The library event was a conversation between Chabon and another great writer, Richard Price, and Chabon spoke eloquently about how important it was to speak to aging parents about their lives.
And of course I remembered my list.
I just check today and Real Simple still has it online. No byline, but if you read it, you might be able to hear my thought process between the lines.
Click HERE to read the list.
Eric Messinger, Editor