Recently I noticed that the word “original” has the word “origin” in it, which led me to think about the concept of “the originality of origin”—how no one person comes from exactly the same place in exactly the same way—and how very interested I am in my own and everyone else’s originality of origin.
I come to New York City via Los Angeles, which I came to via London, England, where I was born. As a kid in L.A., I spent a lot of time in my grandfather’s Oldsmobile being driven home from school on the 5 freeway, where I would frequently think about the story, which I knew from a very young age, of my grandfather Boris Shenkman, a Jewish Holocaust survivor from Riga, Latvia. I remember looking out at the sweltering traffic on the 5 under the big blue desert sky and looking back at my grandpa, and thinking about how strange it was that he was here, alive, and by extension, that I was here and alive. This early existential angst was a little too much for a young child to bear, but as an adult I can return to it and think: Really, what are the chances that I would be born? My parents come from such different worlds: my father, an Englishman from Cornwall, was raised by an aristocrat and an academic and came of age in 1960s England; my mother came to the U.S. in the ’70s with her two parents, both Holocaust survivors, by way of a little known country, and from a population within it that barely exists today.
As an oral historian, I think that the individual stories of our origins are truly unique and should never be taken for granted. How did we come to be? How did our families come to be? What national, international, racial, religious, sexual, ethnic, economic and political histories do our families reflect? As both an interviewer and a writer, these are the types of stories I’m seeking out: complicated stories that reflect our unique points of view.