July, 16, 2015

The Man Who Changed Everything

People ask me all the time, “How did you come up with the idea for StoryKeep?”.

“Lou.”

They usually lean in and repeat it as a question.

“Lou?”

Lou Zandoli is an ornery guy. His parents were from Italy. When he finds himself at his son and daughter-in-law’s house in Brooklyn, New York, he peels cups and cups of fresh garlic and puts the unclothed cloves in Ball jars that he stashes in their freezer. He’s got a gold grill (yes, a teeth grill!). And he is the man who changed everything for me.

LouStillWhen I met Lou, I had gone to school at the Salt Institute for documentary radio production (think This American Life, Studio 360, human interest stories). Following that, I had landed a much envied internship at WNYC, an NPR affiliate in New York City. I was later hired as an Assistant Producer. But, after spending obscene amounts of money on radio school and supporting a radio career dream, I realized I was unhappy. The whole radio station, journalism thing wasn’t doing it for me.

Around that time, a dear friend of mine named Nicole and I went out for lunch. Afterward, as I was pulling over to drop her at her door, she asked me whether I would entertain the idea of recording her father-in-law’s life story, Lou’s story. She wanted to capture his fascinating history so her children could appreciate what he had lived through and done with his life. “He’s got a memory like a steel-trap,” she said.

The idea felt like warm jelly in my chest.

We came to a mutual sum. I started within a week’s time.

I conducted nine or ten interviews with Lou. He told me about the Depression. He told me about his childhood in Queens, New York. He told me about his military career. He told me grand tales about the Mohawks Athletic Club. He recalled his two children’s births, and later on, his present work in China.

I think it was the third recording session when it hit me. Something called out to me.

“This is your life’s work.”

It was the telling, the listening, the collecting, the archiving, the sharing, the heirloom-making. It all made sense to me, and everything in my body said, “Now is the time.”

That was in March of 2010. By April of 2011, I had founded StoryKeep.

That is the story of StoryKeep. At least the beginning.

 

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