Monthly Archives: November 2009

Monday’s Link Roundup.

As usual, this Monday’s link roundup is pretty eclectic.  For music buffs, check out MIT’s Oral History Project which looks at 100 years of music at MIT. For fans  of singer, songwriter Kathy Mattea,  don’t miss her interview with Graffiti Magazine about her latest album Coal. She talks about the importance of place and family in the writing of the songs. And for any of you thinking about using speech recognition software, you might be quite surprised by Jon Morrow’s 20-minute video. I certainly was.

  • Canadian Genealogy Centre. The Centre, under the auspices of Library and Archives Canada,  states that its mission and vision is:  “to facilitate the discovery of our roots and family histories as a basic part of our Canadian heritage. To encourage the use of genealogy and the resources available in libraries and archives as tools for life-long learning.”
  • Eyeless in Gaza. “Joe Sacco is one of the world’s leading exponents of the graphic novel form…writers often get called “unique”. But Sacco’s work truly is, combining as it does oral history, memoir and reportage with cartoons in a way that, when he started out, most people – himself included, at times – considered utterly preposterous.”
  • Music at MIT Oral History Project. “For over 100 years, music has been a vibrant part of MIT’s culture. This history covers a wide variety of genres, including orchestral, chamber, and choral musical groups, as well as jazz, musical theater, popular and world music…Through in-depth recorded audio interviews with current and retired MIT music faculty, staff, former students, and visiting artists, the Music at MIT Oral History Project is preserving this valuable legacy for the historical record.”
  • Kathy Mattea on coal and frog gigging. “The Grammy-winning West Virginia native talks to [Graffiti Magazine] about her new album, ‘Coal’… I’ve gone through music I had long since forgotten; I’ve discovered the roots to a lot of music I’ve been doing for a long time…I uncovered a lot of family stories; my own history. I mean it has been profound; really a life changing experience.”
  • Software helps share stories. “A team of researchers with the Montreal Life Stories project and the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling (COHDS) have been able to turn a wish list of possibilities into a software program capable of organizing, classifying and eventually sharing recordings of memories and experiences. Stories Matter is a free, adaptable software program capable of working with Macs or PCs.”
  • Does Speech Recognition Software Really Work? “One of my favorite posts from around the web last week came from our own Associate Editor Jon Morrow. He recorded a 20-minute video post for Problogger about how he works with speech recognition software to do all of his blogging.”

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The Year of Magical Thinking.

This past Saturday I attended the Canadian premiere of Joan Didion’s play The Year of Magical Thinking, based on her book by the same name. Both her book and play are extraordinary. The Chicago Sun-Times has said:

Unforgettable…Both personal and universal. She has given the reader an eloquent starting point in which to navigate through the wilderness of grief.

Didion’s work is a stark reminder of the frailty of life. In a heartbeat we can be  alone and bereft. And as she points out, this will happen to us all. I believe that personal historians are involved in important and soulful work. We make it possible to preserve the memories of those who will inevitably die. We create legacies that can be a part of the healing process for those left behind. Didion’s opening words to her book are achingly observant:

Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

If you haven’t read The Year of  Magical Thinking, I urge you to do so. If you have an opportunity to see the play, don’t miss it. If you haven’t yet started on your life story, begin today.

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What’s The Connection Between Reflexology and Life Stories?

I visited my local vitamin shop last week and ended up sampling a free, ten-minute reflexology treatment.  My feet felt wonderful. This got me thinking. Reflexologists and personal historians face the same marketing challenge. People have heard about us but don’t really know what we’re about.

Samples help people make purchasing decisions. So I plan to include some free samples as part of my personal history marketing repertoire in the new year. Here’s what I’ve decided to do. You can try out my plan for yourself or adapt it and see what happens. If you’ve other “sampling” ideas, why not share them  in the comment box below?

The plan. I’ll suggest to my neighborhood  book store that I’d like to spend a day offering interested patrons a free, ten-minute, digitally recorded life story interview. The interviews, I’ll explain, will be conducted in a quiet corner  and will not interfere with the normal flow of customers.

The execution. I’ll have  some  ten-minute topics to suggest to a willing patron such as: Who was the biggest influence in your life? What are some important  life lessons you’ve learned?  What’s your  favorite childhood memory?

After the interview, I’ll download the recording and burn a CD on the spot. I’ll tuck it into a protective sleeve or case and hand it to my interviewee, along with a brochure that outlines the benefits  and services I provide.  Prior to the sample sessions, I’ll burn a label on the CDs that includes a title, such as Memories and my name and contact information.

How will people find me? There are a couple of possibilities. I’ll encourage the bookstore staff to mention my free offer.  If space permits, I’ll set up a chair with a sign above me that reads. 

Preserving Memories Is An Act of Love. Get your free mini-memoir recorded here.

A footnote. Because the sample interview is a free offering, I want to keep my costs and time to a minimum. That’s why I’m planning to download and burn CDs on the spot. This ensures that at a later date I don’t have to deliver or mail out CDs. Besides, the interviewees will appreciate being able to take away their mini-memoir immediately.

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

It’s Monday and time for some “tasty” links.  One of my favorite picks this week is Slow: Life In A Tuscan Town. The book is a reminder of the  potential that photos have when put in the hands of a creative story teller. My thanks to APH colleague Marcy Davis for alerting me to this story.

  • Slow: Life In A Tuscan Town. “[Author Douglas Gayeton] came from a fast town, Los Angeles, to the slow village of Pistoia, Italy ten years ago and there he fell under the spell of “slow” living. He came to photograph the farmers, spent days with the mushroom hunters, and then, spent days putting together dozens of photographs (called flat film) into one photograph on which he wrote his notes, reminding himself of what he learned that day…There’s so much wisdom in this book from the people of Pistoia that makes us slow down and take stock in a way that we might not normally do in our fast food lives.”
  • ‘Notes Left Behind’ Inspired by 5-Year-Old. “Young Girl Left Notes for Her Family to Find as She Died of Cancer. After 5-year-old Elena Desserich was diagnosed with an inoperable kind of cancer, she managed to spread a message of hope and healing.”
  • Over 1.8 Million Native American Records Released on Footnote.com. “November 19, 2009 – Footnote.com announced today the release of their latest interactive collection of historical records: the Native American collection. Working together with the National Archives and Allen County Library, Footnote.com has created a unique collection that will help people discover new details about Native American history.”
  • RootsMagic Releases Free Genealogy and Family Tree Software. “SPRINGVILLE, Utah, Nov. 19 /PRNewswire/ — RootsMagic, Inc. announced the immediate availability of RootsMagic Essentials, free desktop genealogy software based on their award-winning RootsMagic 4 system. RootsMagic Essentials contains many core features found in its namesake that allow the public to easily start tracing their family trees.”
  • Editors Pick: Family Tree Legacies.Family Tree Magazine editor Allison Stacy and I talked about everything we’d want in one of those “record your family history” books, and Family Tree Legacies: Preserving Memories Throughout Time is the result. We’re a little biased, but we love how well-organized, versatile and pretty it is (and we think it would make a good Christmas or wedding gift).”
  • Nurturing the “Grand” in Grandchildren Over the Holidays. “There are at least 56 million grandparents in the country, with the U.S. Census Bureau reporting that more than 4.5 million children live with their grandparents. The report also indicates that African American grandparents are more likely to be their grandchildren’s primary caregivers compared to other ethnic groups.  First 5 California recognizes the important role African American grandparents play in the lives of young children. Below are helpful tips on how grandparents can support their grandchildren in their early years.  Read to your Grandchildren November is Child Literacy Month and a perfect time for grandparents to make reading a priority when spending time with their grandchildren.”
  • Voice of Witness. “… a non-profit book series that empowers those most closely affected by contemporary social injustice. Using oral history as a foundation, the series depicts human rights crises around the world through the stories of the men and women who experience them.”

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Saving Memories This Thanksgiving.

The American Thanksgiving is a week today, November 26th. This is a wonderful time to reflect on all that we are grateful for in our lives.  Last year I wrote an article, Are You Ready To Make Thanksgiving Memorable? You can read it by clicking here. I wrote about the holiday being an opportunity to record family thanksgiving memories.

In a similar vein, StoryCorps has launched the National Day of Listening on November 27th.  Here’s what they have to say.

On the day after Thanksgiving, set aside one hour to record a conversation with someone important to you. You can interview anyone you choose: an older relative, a friend, a teacher, or someone from the neighborhood.

You can preserve the interview using recording equipment readily available in most homes, such as cell phones, tape recorders, computers, or even pen and paper. Our free Do-It-Yourself Instruction Guide is easy to use and will prepare you and your interview partner to record a memorable conversation, no matter which recording method you choose.

You can get the  Do-It-Yourself Instruction Guide  here.  As well, StoryCorps has a Question Generator that provides a handy list of interview questions. If you want, you can even share your experience with StoryCorps when you’re finished. So what are you waiting for? Plan now to save some memories this Thanksgiving.

Photo by iStockphoto

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How to Get Mom or Dad to Tell a Life Story.

Sometimes I encounter an adult son or daughter who’s  had no success in convincing a parent to record a life story.

My experience has been that if people are really reluctant, it may be very hard to nudge them into documenting their lives. I hope these tips may be of help.

  • Don’t make it sound daunting. You don’t want to create the impression that your parents have to toil away writing down every detail of their lives from birth to the present. You might say something like, “Mom, you’ve told me some great stories over the years. I’d really like to capture some of them so that your grandchildren will know more about your life. It would be a wonderful gift for them.”
  • Explain that you’ll help. You can say something like, I can bring over a recorder and we could just sit and chat about some of your favorite memories. What do you think?”
  • Suggest some different approaches. As I explained in a previous post, there’s more than one way to tell a life story. You can do it chronologically or thematically. Or you can focus on major turning points.
  • Counter the myth. One of the favorite reasons for not documenting a life story is the one that goes, “Oh my life isn’t all that interesting.”  Sound familiar? Explain to your parent that you’re not looking for interesting. What you treasure are the stories that illuminate a different time. What you want to know is what it was like living before the advent of television, computers, supermarkets, and so on. What you value is the wisdom accumulated along the way – the life lessons. What you want to hear are the things  that made  mom or dad proud, happy, and sometimes sad.

In a previous post,  6 Reasons Why Writing Your Life Story Matters, you’ll find some other good arguments to help convince your parent to record a life story. Good luck!

Photo by protoflux

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

Monday's Link Roundup

Lots of good stuff in this Monday’s Link Roundup. For Anne Murry fans, there’s a glowing review of her recently published memoir We needed her. Don’t think you can tell a riveting story in a little over a minute?  Check out The Closet. And for those of you using LinkedIn, take a look at 10 Linkedin Tips for Professionals.

  • Talking Suitcases tell unique life stories. “[Susan]Armington explained that a Talking Suitcase is broadly defined as some sort of container for a diorama of handmade artworks. Those created by the women of the Korean Service Center reflect each woman’s life. “These are thoughtful, courageous, and sensitive women. As they worked, more and more memories came alive.” [Thanks to Linda Coffin at www.historycrafters.com for alerting me to this article.]
  • All of Me. “Anne Murray’s voice comes through in her autobiography with low-key, self-deprecating humour and surprising honesty.”
  • Photo Storytelling. “The holiday season is nearly upon us! It’s a time of year I associate with food, family and friends, but it’s also storytelling season…Memory is a funny thing. You can show an older relative the same picture year after year and get no new information. Then all of sudden someone else in the room starts talking about an event related to the image, and remembrances start pouring out of that older relative. It’s all about finding the right memory trigger.”
  • Danville resident used filmmaking to get the word out. “David Walker returned from military service in Iraq with countless memories and experiences — the kind that would stay with him for a lifetime. Fighting in a war is not something one easily talks about…[he]enrolled in English 497: Narrative, Oral History and New Media Technologies in the spring of 2009. The goal of the course was to help returning veterans become filmmakers by creating short documentaries about the experiences of the Iraq War. Dubbed “Back from Iraq: The Veterans’ Stories Project,” these films, along with student interviews, class footage, and course materials, are now available online at http://wpsu.org/backfromiraq.”
  • The Closet. “Never underestimate the power of a great story.”- a seventy-four second YouTube video by Canal+ [Thanks to Larry Lehmer at Passing It On for suggesting this piece.]
  • How to Be Happier: Stay Connected to Your Past. “A while back, my husband and I noticed a characteristic we shared – neither of us did a particularly good job of staying connected with our past. It was true of us as a couple, too, once we got married. In each stage of life, we’d have good friends, but when we moved to the next stage, we found it difficult to stay connected to the people to whom we’d earlier been close.”
  • 10 Linkedin Tips for Professionals. “Despite the hype over Twitter and Facebook, Linkedin offers the greatest opportunity for professionals to make connections that lead to business.”

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The “Mini Memoir” Contest!

mini bookAn exercise I particularly like to use in workshops is the six-word memoir. This is based on Smithmag.net and their popular six-word collections. For more information click here.

The idea is rumored to have started with Ernest Hemingway. He was challenged to write a six-word story and he wrote:

Baby shoes for sale, never worn.

I think the six-word memoir is a great way to get your creative writing juices flowing. Having trouble starting your life story? Why not write a six-word memoir and use it as the title for your book. Alternatively,  turn it into the introduction to your story. These mini memoirs can be intriguing and often call out for a fuller explanation.

To give you some inspiration, here are a few of the six-word gems from the participants in my recent Dawson Creek workshop.

  • Mom’s revenge, I am my mom!
  • Who said it couldn’t be done?
  • I’m aching, broken but I’m alive!
  • Work hard. Live well. Enjoy life.
  • Waiting to see what is next.
  • Daughter, sister, wife, mother,  grandma, wow!
  • Have motorcycle, will travel. I’m free!
  • Family is my Love and Joy.
  • Love it all. Not enough time.
  • Years happen. Still learning. Constantly amazed!
  • Investing in others now. Rewards coming.

Here’s mine: Learned much. Much more to learn.

What’s your six-word memoir? Jot it down in the comment box below. To encourage you, I’m offering a free 30 minute telephone consultation. You can ask me any burning questions you have about personal histories and I’ll do my best to answer them.

I’ll select a winning six-word memoir on Thursday, November 20th, at 7 pm PST. Good Luck!

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How to Get Started on Your Life Story.

thinkingIn a previous post I mentioned that I was traveling to Dawson Creek, British Columbia. I ran two life stories workshops there for the South Peace Hospice Palliative Care Society. One of the questions that came up frequently was  “How do I get started?” I thought that was an excellent question to address here. This is what I’d suggest.

Start by reading  some reference books.

There are many excellent self-help books on writing your life story. Here are three that I’d recommend.

“I have taught memoir courses from this book, so examined most others in the field of writing one’s own life story. This was the first, and I think, the best. The author makes the task manageable with “get started” topics that trigger memories, inspiring samples from her real-life writing classes, and helpful tips. Perfect if you have an elderly parent or grandparent who should record his/her life for family archives.. .or if you want to do it yourself.” ~ Reviewer: A reader, Chicago

“Aiming to prod the story out of the writer, writing consultant Spence has designed a book of questions and quotes that goes deeply into the hows and whys of the writer’s life. The questions are well written and divided by time period, from earliest memories of childhood to life as seen from the vantage point of old age. People will probably want to own and spend time with this book because the project it proposes will take longer than a three-week checkout.”  ~ From Library Journal

“Senior-education teacher Mary Borg…provides lively questions on family, career and friendships, designed to tease out memories.” ~ Review: New Choices Magazine

Choose a format that appeals to you.

There are many different ways to record your story. Here are three.

  • Chronological. Organize your writing by following the stages of your life from birth and childhood through to adolescence and adulthood.
  • Turning points. Write about those moments when your life took a turn such as the death of a parent, the birth of your first child, a life threatening illness, loss of a job, or retirement.
  • Thematic. You could write vignettes around themes such as the values you’ve lived by, life lessons learned, the most memorable person you’ve known, or your accomplishments.

Make a date with yourself.

After you’ve selected an approach, decide what time of the day, what days of the week, and how long you can devote to writing. Mark those days and times in your calendar and stick to them.

Start writing.

The trick here is just to write and keep writing until your time is up. Write the way you talk. Don’t worry about being perfect. Editing and polishing can come later.

None of the above.

You might want to try one of the online life story programs.  Check out my previous post Put your Life Stories on The Web. I listed ten sites that might be of help to you.

I hope these suggestions have been helpful. If you have other tips, I’d love to hear from you.

Photo by iStockphoto

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

Monday's Link Roundup

Better late than never! This Monday’s Roundup has some great ideas for family history gifts and holiday scrapbooking. You’ll also find some interesting memoir links, particularly the one from the Philadelphia Inquirer on Celebrating the memoir.

Celebrating the memoir – fiction’s day is done? “When browsing online or in a bookstore, one might easily conclude that every third person in the country is actively engaged in writing or reading a memoir.”

Ethnicity project reveals students’ shared traits across cultures. “The students were assigned to interview a family member to determine what traits characterize their family’s cultural heritage or ethnicity, and in the process to learn more about themselves.”

Holiday Scrapbooking, Writing, & Remembering. “When orange and yellow leaves begin swirling in funnel circles outside my windows and large pots of soup and stews and homemade bread ignite my taste buds, I begin thinking about holiday memories past and how I will inspire the new ones we will create this year.”

Love Hurts: Betrayal in Memoir. “When you write about your life in essay or memoir, you naturally lean toward things that have some emotional weight: the people, places and events in your life that have had enough heft to have left a mark. Often these things involve family members—whether siblings, mates, parents or children. This is where it can get sticky.”

Now’s the Time to Start on Family History Gifts. “We don’t mean to rush you into the winter holidays—it was just Halloween—but if you’re thinking of giving family history-related gifts this year, now’s the time to start. Many such gifts require prep work: For example, you’ll need to gather, scan, digitally touch up and label photos for a photo CD; start laying out an online photo book or calendar; or collect and transcribe family stories. Maybe you want to check another record or two before finalizing a compiled family history.”

Heinz® Ketchup and Josie Bissett Team Up To Grow 57,000 Wholesome Memories. “As American families turn to simpler pleasures this summer, Heinz® Ketchup and Josie Bissett are teaming up to encourage them to celebrate a priceless part of daily life: memorable moments. At HeinzWholesomeMemories.com, families are invited to share their personal photos and favorite memories, from backyard barbeques to baseball games to family traditions. For each story shared, Heinz will make a donation to the National Gardening Association (NGA), and 57 memories will be selected to win a Growing Wholesome Memories kit, filled with supplies for creating new memories at home. In keeping with the iconic Heinz “57,” the goal is to collect 57,000 inspiring memories.”

Passing on a recipe legacy. “A recipe for wonderful memories and fascinating stories begins with a hand-me-down cookbook.”

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