July, 17, 2017

Yours truly, StoryKeep

letters

Dear Readers,

We must tell you about Abby Shachat. When Abby was a kid at summer camp, her mom used to write letters to her. Abby loved her mom’s letters. Reading them made it feel like her mom was sitting right beside her. “She was a pretty ‘no nonsense’ kind of person,” Abby told me recently. “Her letters were great because she wrote as if she were talking to me. When I read them—as a kid and now as an adult—I get to hear her voice, which is really amazing.”

No matter how many emails fill your inbox, or how often your phone beeps with an incoming text message, chances are none of them compares to the magic of a handwritten letter. There’s just something special about them—how they capture the essence of the writer and convey a simple, profound message: “I’m thinking of you.”

Abby has come to appreciate her collection of summer-camp letters even more in the decades since her mother’s passing. “They’re one of the most precious things I have,” Abby said. Simply knowing that her mom touched the same paper gives them soul and depth. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have letters and journals in our family archives know that they’re among our most treasured heirlooms. That’s why it’s so important that they be shared in meaningful ways.

We work with handwritten documents all the time. Our book and film projects place a family’s handwritten pieces in the context of life stories, making them more poignant and accessible. After all, it’s much easier to open a book or watch a film than to sort through boxes of documents in the attic. Which means that someone like Abby can return to her loved one’s words—drawing strength, wisdom, and inspiration—whenever she likes.

We’re currently working with a woman named Susan in Manhattan to bring her dad’s World War II letters to life. The final product will be a coffee table book with scans of the original letters alongside easy-to-read transcriptions, as well as beautiful photographs from her dad’s time in the service. Soon, Susan will be able to hear her dad’s voice again and share the book with friends and family.

Late last year, the Connecticut Post wrote an article about our work with another storyteller, Phoebe Ford. We integrated Phoebe’s parents’ World War I diaries into a 30-minute film that features footage of Phoebe reading from her parents’ diaries, including the incredible story of how they first met. Click here to watch a clip from Phoebe’s film.

We hope you’re having a swell summer, be it at summer camp or somewhere else that pleases your soul!

Yours truly,

StoryKeep

P.S. Thanks to Abby for speaking with us about letter-writing! Abby is a friend of StoryKeep’s and the principal at AJS design/s, a wonderful architecture and design firm.

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June, 15, 2017

A Summer Book Recommendation for You

Touch by Maum

My magazine-editor friend occasionally sends me advanced copies of books she likes. Her latest offering was Touch by Courtney Maum, which has since been released. It’s been over a month since I finished it, and I’m still thinking about the main question it raises—whether in-person interaction will cease to be important.

The main character, Sloane, is a powerful, well-respected trend forecaster for fashion, lifestyle and tech companies. At the beginning of the book, she declares that “The world is overpopulated, and with unemployment, college costs, and food prices all on the rise, having children is an extravagant indulgence.” A major tech company hires her to lead their annual conference, a celebration of “the voluntarily childless” as a new target market.

Maum impressed me with her ability to imagine a future, 10 years from now, that’s just two or three steps ahead of our current reality, teetering between now and almost-now.

Not far into her contract, Sloane begins to sense indisputable signs of a movement against the hyper–use of technology. She predicts people will instead embrace compassion, empathy, and ‘in-personism’ again. Her newly realized predictions are now hopelessly out of sync with her employer’s mission. And to push things even further out of whack, she admits that her closest personal relationship is with her self-driving car…

(Sloan’s car is pretty cool! It has a sense of humor and asks her some rather heartfelt questions. Reading it, I thought about how cars fulfill our deepest desire to explore; they’re technology and humanness riveted together by steel.)

For the remainder of the book, we watch Sloane follow her instinct and blow up her life.

The books speaks to something the world needs and StoryKeep aims to offer: in-personism. We’re about affirming a person’s value, clarifying a person’s purpose, sharing a person’s impact, listening in-person, documenting in-person.

In person. We ache for it. And it’s not too late to create a future that values it, too.

(You can buy Touch at your local bookseller or order it on Amazon here.)

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May, 16, 2017

Got a Minute?

Jack Kornfield quote

The StoryKeep team was in Montreal earlier this month working on a film about an incredible woman named Ann. The film is about Ann’s most important relationships, as well as her amazing collections of paintings and clothing. We’re nearly done with the film, and coming to the end of the project feels a bit like the end of summer camp—bittersweet and sentimental.

On the day of the May shoot, which was devoted to Ann’s brother (such a fine fella, I tell ya!), Ann came to us with a quote from a book she was reading:

“The trouble is that you think you have time.”

Nearly a year ago, we were working with Ann on a different project, documenting the stories of a man named Angus. For decades, Angus took care of Ann’s family lodge in rural Canada, which had been passed down through five generations. His memories of her family and his own life stories were invaluable to her.

When Ann conceived of the project, we debated about when to film. We could shoot in January, when it would likely be snowy and cold, or in July, when it would be sunny. After considering the pros and cons, we went with the bolder choice: January.

Angus was admitted to the hospital before summer came and passed away some months later. Our film played on loop at his funeral. When it came time for the priest to speak, he said simply, “I didn’t know Angus, but after watching the film, I wished I would have met him. I can clearly see what a special man he was.”

After Ann read the quote, we all looked at each other. “Yep. The trouble is that you think you have time.”

Carpe Diem.

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April, 18, 2017

StoryKeep Invites You to Lunch

StoryKeep Lunch

Lunch is paramount at StoryKeep. Lunch, you say? Yes, lunch.

To me, lunch is a critical component to producing good work. Sharing a meal with the person or family we’re interviewing restores our energies. Perhaps more importantly, it gives us all a moment to reflect. We discuss what has been documented so far and what we want to capture after lunch. We often find ourselves swapping stories “off the record” over lunch, and in so doing, we build something bigger: trust.

I’m an avid cook, so maybe that’s why, in addition to lunches “on set,” I host quarterly dinners for the StoryKeep team. In the same way that families invite us into their homes to share their stories, I invite my cadre of film and book artists into my home to share a meal. We talk about what Storykeep projects we’ve been working on, why they matter to us, how we can improve, and what’s next. We raise a toast to the fact that we are immensely fortunate to do what we do – work that matters deeply and for so many reasons.

We look forward to sharing lunch with you sometime this year. Happy spring!

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January, 13, 2017

The Mystery of Our Family Photographs

On January 3rd, just a toe step into 2017, the New York Times Magazine ran an article by the English writer Geoff Dyer entitled, “The Mysteries of Our Family Snapshots.” The article was illustrated with a red, blue, and green-popping 1960s family photo. Mr. Dyer caught my attention with this sentence:

When my dad died five months later, I became both the only surviving person from the picture and the only person who might know anything about it.

He described precisely the predicament that spurs so many people to knock on StoryKeep’s door.

In that moment, I recalled sitting in a kitchen with a woman during our first client visit, and she blurted out, “I seriously have trouble sleeping at night, Jamie. I know it’s crazy, but I wake up thinking about these dusty boxes of photos. I’m the only one who knows anything about them.”

I’ve often wondered how it can be possible for something so amateur as a family snapshot to be so powerful. Take a look at some of your family photos – but not the professional ones in shiny frames. Root around for a shoebox filled with photos. Pull a few from the top. You’ll notice that they contain objects (your orange/brown sweater from high school), places (the pink dining room!) and moments (your fifth birthday party) so important to your inner being that merely looking at them stops time.

Family Photo from childhood

Dyer writes about his mom’s gesture in the photo: “My mum is covering up her right wrist with her left hand to hide a birthmark. She always did that. That gesture defined her.”

I believe it is the lack of curation, the relatively haphazard “snap,” of our family snapshots that provides some answers to our personal mysteries. In them, we see furniture, toys, old TV sets that were around in our childhood homes, people who stopped by, our parents and siblings in their “natural states.” This is why I adore family snapshots, why I take pleasure in weaving them into a family’s film. They remind you of what you forgot.

Adding these quiet mysteries of family photos to a professional film…oh, bless me. That’s like mixing and matching a sharp fashion piece with a vintage item. Such an outfit shows your personal style. It’s like serving a perfect martini alongside a stack of Triscuits. That’s just fun. That’s something you can dig into.

As we age, we appreciate family photos in new ways. Dyer notes what the poet George Oppen once said about aging: “What a strange thing to happen to a little boy.”

As you move into another year, your family photos will come with you. How can you expand and pass on their meaning?

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December, 23, 2016

Forbes choose StoryKeep Home – 12 Swanky Christmas Gifts, 2016

StoryKeep films home history

Looking for a last minute Christmas gift? Forbes put together a collection of “12 Swanky Christmas Gifts Too Rich for Santa.” StoryKeep comes just after La Terre Bleue Yves Klein by Lalique and before The Parking Club with this write up:

And now for something completely different—A Film Starring Your Home. Starting at $40,000, boutique New York production company StoryKeep creates broadcast-quality custom films and keepsakes—documenting your home’s unique story, history and relevance to your family. StoryKeep’s award-winning cinematographers travel on-location to chronicle your family’s unique personality (via in-depth interviews, digital video and photography shoots) and your estate’s special architectural heritage. There’s also an option to add a $20,000 museum-quality heirloom book (coffee table-style) that highlights your personal and residential genealogy for future generations to appreciate. Think of it as Biography, where your estate and family are co-stars. Prices range from $40,000 to $200,000, depending on your preferred package. www.storykeep.com

 

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December, 23, 2016

Why Stories Are Key To Childrearing



When I was nine years old, I learned about my biological father for the first time. Up to that point, I didn’t think much about where I came from or my family connections. As you can imagine, the news about my “real” dad shocked me. I spoke with my fourth grade teacher Ms. Bienvenue about the matter. I don’t remember the details of our conversation, but I do remember this: she validated my desire to know my own history.

Perhaps your backstory isn’t as dramatic as mine (or maybe it is in other ways!). Nevertheless, over the last couple of decades, I’ve transformed this once upsetting news into my life’s mission: documenting family stories. I’m sure you’ve told your child a story to impart a lesson – or your parents told you a few growing up. Humans tell stories. Stories captivate our imagination. Perhaps more importantly, stories are embedded with the values we want to pass on.

Stories seem to be the “sugar to help the medicine go down.”

Talking to your children soberly about values like tenacity, courage or forgiveness can be less effective than telling a story about a person they know who lived through a real situation. In fact, hearing and telling family stories can strengthen our own character, as people and as parents. Our family’s narrative has the power to motivate and support us in becoming the person we are aiming to be.

A few years ago, I interviewed a woman named Nina. One of my favorite stories of hers was about racing sports cars up mountain passes in Switzerland. “I loved the Maseratis!” She was a teenager at the time and was racing against a bunch of guys. As she recalled the memory, she laughed, threw her head back and looked younger than her 70-something years. What were her grandchildren going to learn when they heard her story? Don’t let people tell you what girls “should” and “shouldn’t” do. Be adventurous!

This past year, we conducted 52 interviews with friends and family of a respected couple, Richard and Brenda. Each person was invited to share stories to pay homage to them. The story I loved most came from the least likely source: a CPA for Rich’s company. He talked about coming to Rich upon noticing an unpaid bill. The bill had been submitted to the company two years prior. The CPA remarked that no one would remember and “maybe we just let it go?” Rich shook his head: “Call and see if it’s been paid. If it hasn’t, pay it. They did the work, pay them for their work.” What will his grandchildren take away when they hear this story? Be honest. Don’t cheat, even if you can get away with it.

Passing down family stories strengthens your child’s character (even if grandpa wasn’t the most stellar human being, there are lessons in there, too!) Ultimately, nothing is more valuable than teaching our children how to become good human beings. Stories help the medicine go down.

– Jamie Yuenger, StoryKeep Founder

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December, 8, 2016

Modern Luxury Manhattan features StoryKeep

modern-luxury-blog-image

Cosmic!”

That’s what we thought when we saw the cover of Modern Luxury‘s December 2016 issue.   Our cover girl Katie Holmes couldn’t have done a better job priming the pump. Holmes, the respected actress and model, makes her directorial debut this month with “All We Had“, a film centered around a mother’s struggle to make a better life for her daughter. StoryKeep was perfectly captured on page 28: A Gift of Legacy.

When we work with a family to create their documentary, they often want the film to center on their parents’ life stories. “I’d love for my mom to discusses her beginnings, her struggles, her career…”

“Make sure to ask my dad about  his parents and what it was like growing up.”

You can make your own directorial debut… your parents making a better life for you and your children is definitely a compelling story.

Modern Luxury Manhattan Dec 2016

 

 

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