Category Archives: Inspiration

Attention Personal Historians! Don’t Miss These Movies!

Get out the popcorn, turn down the lights, and settle back for a feast of  “personal history” films.  These movies vary in quality but are all worth viewing. They address issues that we have an interest in as personal historians. I must admit my two favorites are Big Fish by American director Tim Burton and The Barbarian Invasions by Canadian director Denys Arcand.

If you have some favorites that aren’t on my list,  let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

Must Read After My Death. (2008) “While raising a family of four in 1960s Connecticut, Allis and Charley tried to repair their marriage by turning to therapy, the consequences of which are revealed in a bombshell collection of audio diaries, left to the children after Allis’s death. For filmmaker Morgan Dews, what began as a simple documentary about his grandmother becomes a shocking portrait of one American family, as well as a detailed rendering of a bygone era.”  ~ Netflix

51 Birch Street. (2006) “Married 54 years, Mike and Mina Block were the picture of if not wedded bliss then at least rock-solid stability — or so thought their son, documentary filmmaker Doug Block. But when his mother dies unexpectedly and his father swiftly marries his former secretary, Doug suddenly realizes there was more to his parents’ union than met his eye. Turning his lens on his own family, he discovers much he never knew about the people who raised him.” ~ Netflix

Uncle Nino. (2005)  “An elderly Italian peasant who barely speaks English, Uncle Nino (Pierrino Mascarino) travels to America to reconnect with nephew Robert (Joe Mantegna) and his family (played by Anne Archer, Gina Mantegna and Trevor Morgan). Trouble is, nobody communicates because they’re too busy leading hectic, disconnected lives. It’s up to wise Uncle Nino to bring them together and teach them what’s important in life: each other. Robert Shallcross directed. ” ~ Netflix

The Notebook. (2004) “Two young lovers (Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams) are torn apart by war and class differences in the 1940s in this adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’s best-selling novel. Their story is told by a man (James Garner) who, years later, reads from a notebook while he visits a woman in a nursing home (Gena Rowlands). Nick Cassavetes directs this heart-tugging romance about the sacrifices people will make to hang on to their one true love.”  ~ Netflix

The Final Cut. (2004) “Robin Williams stars in this futuristic tale as Alan Hakman, a “cutter” who edits people’s digital memories into compositions fit for viewing at their funerals — but things change when he finds his own childhood memory in the databank of a client. This thriller also stars Mira Sorvino as Hakman’s girlfriend and Jim Caviezel as a former cutter who is in search of a corporate bigwig’s incriminating footage.” ~ Netflix

Big Fish. (2003) “In this Tim Burton fantasy based on the novel by Daniel Wallace, William Bloom (Billy Crudup) tries to learn more about his dying father, Edward, by piecing together disparate facts from a lifetime of fantastical tales and legends of epic proportions.”  ~ Netflix

The Barbarian Invasions. (2003) “When 50-something divorcé Rémy (Rémy Girard) is hospitalized for terminal cancer, his estranged son, Sébastien (Stéphane Rousseau), returns home to make amends in this Oscar-winning sequel to Denys Arcand’s Decline of the American Empire. As Sébastien steers through the moldering health care system to bring comfort to his father, he finds common ground with Rémy as he learns about the man through friends and lovers from his complicated past.” ~ Netflix

Iris. (2001) “Iris Murdoch (Judi Dench and Kate Winslet, in Oscar-nominated roles) was l’enfant terrible of the literary world in early 1950s Britain — a live wire who thumbed her nose at conformity via a voracious and scandalous sexual appetite. In this snippet of her life, an aging Murdoch (Dench) faces the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and the loss of memories about her younger self (Winslet). Jim Broadbent won the Oscar for his portrayal of her husband.” ~ Netflix

In the Arms of Strangers. (2000) “Filmmaker Mark Jonathan Harris’s Oscar-winning documentary tells the story of an underground railroad — the Kindertransport — that saved the lives of more than 10,000 Jewish children at the dawn of World War II. Through interviews and archival footage, the survivors movingly recount being taken from their families and sent to live with strangers in the relative safety of England. Judi Dench narrates.” ~ Netflix

After Life. (1999) “At a way station somewhere between heaven and earth, the newly dead are greeted by guides. Over the next three days, they will help the dead sift through their  memories to find the one defining moment of their lives. The chosen moment will be re-created on film and taken with them when the dead pass on to heaven. This grave, beautifully crafted film reveals the surprising and ambiguous consequences of human recollection.” ~ Netflix

Nobody’s Business. (1996) “Director Alan Berliner takes on his reclusive father as the reluctant subject of this family documentary. Through interviews with his father, mother, sister, and other family members, Berliner examines his father’s personality, family dynamics, and history.” ~ Library Media Project.

My Life. (1993) “Advertising executive Michael Keaton has it all: a beautiful, pregnant wife (Nicole Kidman), a great job, a stately house … and three months to live. Tears are jerked in this affecting drama as Keaton tries to make up for lost time and come to terms with the inevitable end of his life. Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost) makes his directing debut here.” ~ Netflix

Defending Your Life. (1991) “After Daniel Miller (Albert Brooks) crashes his BMW convertible into a bus, he’s transported to “Judgment City,” where he meets the love of his life, Julia (Meryl Steep). Unfortunately, Daniel needs to defend his life on Earth before he can ascend to heaven with Julia. He frantically attempts to explain the positive things he’s accomplished, but soon realizes that Julia may be too good for him.” ~ Netflix

On Golden Pond. (1981) “An aging couple Ethel and Norman Thayer (“Ethel Thayer, I almost didn’t marry you cause it sounded like a lisp.”), who spend each summer at their home on Golden Pond. They are visited by daughter Chelsea with her fiancé, where they drop off his rebellious son. The story explores the relationship, among other things the relationship that she had with her father growing up, as well as what can happen to a couple in the later years of a long marriage.”  ~ The Internet Movie Database

I Never Sang for My Father.
(1970) “Hackman plays a New York professor who wants a change in his life, and plans to get married to his girlfriend and move to California. His mother understands his need to get away, but warns him that moving so far away could be hard on his father. Just before the wedding, the mother dies. Hackman’s sister (who has been disowned by their father for marrying a Jewish man) advises him to live his own life, and not let himself be controlled by their father.” ~ The Internet Movie Database

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I’m Celebrating!

This week marks an important anniversary for me. Drum roll, please!

Two years ago I launched this blog and wrote my first post. Since then I’ve written  310 articles and 41,365 viewers have visited the site. A big thank you to all of you who’ve dropped by. And a special thanks to those who’ve taken the time to leave a comment or two.

From the collection of articles, I’ve selected 15 of my favorites. These are not necessarily the ones that received the most attention from readers but they are the posts that I really like and I think deserve an encore. For those of you who haven’t seen these posts, I invite you to stop awhile and have a read.

Photo by Jule_Berlin

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Why Are You a Personal Historian?

I came across this Annie Dillard quote the other day: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” It got me thinking.

There are times when the humdrum of keeping a personal history business afloat and tending to clients’ concerns can leave me drained and questioning if this is how I want to spend my days. Why am I a personal historian?  I tell myself that I’m helping families record and preserve their stories as a legacy for future generations. And I’m documenting the oral history of a particular time and place.

These are OK answers but they don’t make my heart sing. They don’t make me rise above the day-to-day minutiae and say, “Yes! This is how I want to spend my days!”  So I dug a little deeper and I found where the gold lies.

I’m a personal historian because it aligns with four of my core values: independence, service, variety, and creativity. Let me explain. I enjoy the fact that I’m my own boss and can shape each day pretty much the way I want. I need to feel that what I do benefits others in a meaningful way. My work allows me to wear a variety of hats such as marketer, interviewer, writer, and designer.  As a bonus I get to meet an amazing cross-section of people. Lastly, I love to create things. At the end of the day I can point to something I’ve worked on and say, “This is what I made.”

When our work is aligned to our deepest values it has resonance and supports us. Sometimes I forget that in the day-to-day business of my work I need to remember where the gold lies.

Where does the gold lie for you? Why are you a personal historian?

Photo by Dan Curtis

20 Reasons Why You Need to Attend the 2010 APH Conference.

In a previous post, 10 Great Reasons to Visit Victoria, BC, I extolled the virtues of my home town as the location for this year’s Association of Personal Historians conference. I know that coming up with the cash to attend a conference can raise questions of getting value for your money. Let me be frank. You’d be hard pressed to find another professional conference that gives you as much “bang for your buck” as the APH conference. I speak from experience. If you’re in the business of being a professional personal historian, you owe it to yourself to attend this conference. If you still need more convincing, here are 20 reasons to head to Victoria this November:

  1. You’ll learn enough new insights, skills, and ideas to keep you fueled until next year’s conference.
  2. You’ll meet friendly, seasoned veterans who’ll be happy to share their knowledge and experience with you.
  3. You’ll have the chance to develop business partnerships with other personal historians.
  4. You’ll make new friendships that will help sustain you in your business over the years.
  5. You’ll enjoy the luxury of putting work aside for a few days.
  6. You’ll be stimulated by dynamic keynote presentations.
  7. You’ll find your “Tribe” and be energized by its members who have the same passion as you do for personal histories.
  8. You’ll be able to share your work and experience in a supportive environment.
  9. You’ll get to taste the delights of “Nanaimo Bars” and “Sidney Slices”. Yummy!
  10. You’ll get to meet APH members  from your region.
  11. You’ll be able to put a  a face to the “stars” who post regularly on the APH listserv.
  12. You’ll become part of a vibrant group and return home feeling less isolated and alone in your work.
  13. You’ll get to ask lots of questions.
  14. You’ll have fun exploring Victoria, one of the world’s top travel destinations.
  15. You’ll get to take in the  “bigger picture” of personal histories.
  16. You’ll have epiphanies.
  17. You’ll get to listen to and talk with experts that you’d not normally have a chance to meet.
  18. You’ll discover new solutions to old problems.
  19. You’ll have a chance to test out and refine your “elevator” speech because attendees will be asking you, “What do you do?”
  20. You’ll get to meet me! Just kidding. ;-) But seriously I’m looking forward to meeting many of you at the conference.

© Sebastian Kaulitzki |

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If You Don’t Like What I Charge, Too Bad!

Those of you who’ve been following my blog know that I periodically  have the need for a good “old-fashioned” rant. It’s kind of therapeutic. And I like to think that perhaps I voice some of the same frustrations that you experience. So hang on to your hat, here’s my latest!

I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t love the idea of a personal history, that is, until they find out how much it costs. Then I usually get looks of incredulity, shock, or disapproval. This is often followed by something like, “I’ll have to think about this and get back to you” or “I’m afraid that’s much more than we had planned”. In any respect, I usually never hear from them again. Now I don’t charge outrageous fees. For the most part, they fall within the range charged by other personal historians.

Why is it that as a professional I’m expected to work for “sweat shop” wages? No one for a minute would challenge the rates charged for legal or financial services. And the same people who question my fees  think nothing of spending thousands of dollars on renovating their kitchen or bathroom. What gives?

There was a time I used to cringe inwardly when the conversation with a potential client turned to money. Not any more! I know that I bring years of hard-earned experience to the table. I’ve won significant awards attesting to the quality of my work  and I have many satisfied clients.

Now, when it’s time to quote costs, I hold my head high. I look people in the eye and give it to them straight. No tugging at my forelock. No eyes cast downward. No stammering. And if they don’t like it, too bad. They can get cousin Harold to do the work. I’m sure he has a little digital video camera and won’t charge a cent!

Thank you and have a nice day. :-)

Photo by Patrick Hoesly

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Are You Doing a Good Job of Conveying the Value of Personal Histories?

The following article is reprinted with the kind permission of Stephanie Kadel Taras, Ph.D., of  TimePieces Personal Biographies.


I have a 1-year-old rescue puppy, part husky, that pulls so hard on the leash I’ve given up walking her in the neighborhood. My inability to train her right, and my already fragile wrists and elbows from typing too much, left me frustrated and sore. We’ve been going to a fenced dog park, so she can run off leash, but I’ve missed my regular loops around Ann Arbor, especially as spring has bloomed. At the dog park, I heard from other humans about a harness that prevents pulling with the leash clipped in front of the dog’s chest. I was dubious but desperate.

Yesterday, I found the harness at the pet store. It cost 27 dollars! For a few inches of nylon and plastic. I bought it anyway. I tried it this morning, and it’s a minor miracle. My dog stopped pulling instantly, and we had a wonderful, relaxed walk to see the tulips and flowering trees. It was worth 27 dollars. In fact it was  worth 50 dollars to me, but I probably wouldn’t have bought it for that without knowing its value first.

Now, even if I’m generous and estimate the company spends $5 per harness to produce, market, and distribute it, that’s a pretty amazing mark-up. But they understand the value of their product to the desperate dog-walker.

As I walked, I couldn’t help thinking of our work as personal historians and the treasure that we provide our clients. I saw it just last week when the adult daughter of an 83-year-old narrator was speechless after reading the draft of her mom’s book. She held her hand to her heart with tears running down her face, and then just reached out to hug me. Now THAT is value.

So if you’re thinking about what to price your services, after you go through all the necessary machinations of figuring out what you want to earn, what you have to charge, what it costs to produce, and so on, the most important question is: what is it worth to our customers? And are we doing a good enough job helping them realize that worth before they decide whether to buy or not? What will people pay for a minor miracle? If they are able to afford our services at all, they will probably pay a lot more than many of us think.

Photo by Francesco  Negri

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5 Steps to Playing a Bigger Game.

There’s a tendency for us to play small when we’re frightened by both recessionary times and shrinking bank accounts.  It’s natural to want to pull up the drawbridge and hunker down.  But if we’re not careful, we become habitual small thinkers and our dreams wither and die. What would it take for you to play a bigger game? Here are five steps that will get you to think big.

  1. Silence your Inner Gremlin. Our Gremlins are those critical inner voices that try to keep us firmly rooted in the status quo. As soon as you think about playing a bigger game, they start harassing you, “Who do you think you are? You don’t have enough experience to do that. What will people think? You’ll probably fail. ” You need to recognize your Gremlin voices and firmly tell them to “get lost”. If you need some help, I highly recommend the book Taming Your Gremlin.
  2. Step out of your comfort zone. We’re drawn to comfort and it can smother us. The truth is that nothing comes from playing it safe. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to playing a bigger game is not  stepping out of our comfort zone and taking risks.  It’s scary to do so. Ask yourself what’s the absolute worse thing that could happen to you? Now hold that scenario in your mind and ask yourself if you could handle this worse case? The chances are you’ll probably answer yes.
  3. Organize support. You’ll need to find people who share your dream. Your support group can be drawn from friends, colleagues, and personal coaches.They’ll be there to give you feedback, ask powerful questions, and help keep you focused on your vision.
  4. Ask yourself the right questions. In order to be clear about where you are and where you want to be, ask yourself:
    • How am I playing small?
    • What do I yearn for?
    • What’s holding me back?
    • What do I need to do to move forward?
  5. Take action. If you spend all your time reflecting, reading, and analyzing but never putting your plan into action, you’ll have failed. This is where your support group is invaluable. They can hold you accountable and keep you focused on your dream.

Image by Marie-Chantale  Turgeon

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12 Articles to Inspire and Energize You.

Since starting this blog some twenty months ago, I’ve written 270 articles. Many have to do with the practical side of being a personal historian. But what I need at times, and I suspect you do as well,  is something that inspires and energizes me. I looked back through my archives and pulled out twelve articles that you can  have on hand when you need a little time out to recharge your batteries.


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Finding Inspiration One Small Step at A Time.

Spring is in full flight here in Victoria and the daffodils are blooming in the little park across from my office. It reminded me of a true story I read some time ago about daffodils and one woman’s dedication. Some of you may know it. It’s an inspiring and wonderful parable about the importance of being committed, being persistent, and taking one small step at a time. If, like me, you sometimes get discouraged by your seeming lack of progress, take a moment and read The Daffodil Principle. It’ll give you inspiration.


The Daffodil Principle by Jaroldeen Edwards

Several times my daughter had telephoned to say, “Mother, you must come to see the daffodils before they are over.”

I wanted to go, but it was a two-hour drive from Laguna to Lake Arrowhead “I will come next Tuesday”, I promised a little reluctantly on her third call.

Next Tuesday dawned cold and rainy. Still, I had promised, and reluctantly I drove there. When I finally walked into Carolyn’s house I was welcomed by the joyful sounds of happy children. I delightedly hugged and greeted my grandchildren.

“Forget the daffodils, Carolyn! The road is invisible in these clouds and fog, and there is nothing in the world except you and the children that I want to see badly enough to drive another inch!”

My daughter smiled calmly and said, “We drive in this all the time, Mother.”

“Well, you won’t get me back on the road until it clears, and then I’m heading for home!” I assured her rather emphatically.

“Gee, Mom, I was hoping you’d take me over to the garage to pick up my car,” Julie said with a forlorn look in her eyes.

“How far will we have to drive?”

Smiling she answered, “Just a few blocks, I’ll drive … I’m used to this.”

After several minutes on the cold, foggy road, I had to ask “Where are we going? This isn’t the way to the garage!”

“We’re going to the garage the long way,” Carolyn smiled, “by way of the daffodils.”

“Carolyn,” I said sternly, “Please turn around.”

“It’s all right, Mother, I promise. You will never forgive yourself if you miss this experience.”

After about twenty minutes, we turned onto a small gravel road and I saw a small church. On the far side of the church, I saw a hand lettered sign with an arrow that read, “Daffodil Garden .”

We got out of the car, each took a child’s hand, and I followed Carolyn down the path. Then, as we turned a corner, I looked up and gasped. Before me lay the most glorious sight.

It looked as though someone had taken a great vat of gold and poured it over the mountain and its surrounding slopes. The flowers were planted in majestic, swirling patterns, great ribbons and swaths of deep orange, creamy white, lemon yellow, salmon pink, and saffron and butter yellow. Each different colored variety was planted in large groups so that it swirled and flowed like its own river with its own unique hue. There were five acres of flowers.

“Who did this?” I asked Carolyn. “Just one woman,” Carolyn answered. “She lives on the property. That’s her home.” Carolyn pointed to a well-kept A-frame house, small and modestly sitting in the midst of all that glory. We walked up to the house.

On the patio, we saw a poster. “Answers to the Questions I Know You Are Asking”, was the headline.

The first answer was a simple one. “50,000 bulbs,” it read.

The second answer was, “One at a time, by one woman. Two hands, two feet, and one brain.”

The third answer was, “Began in 1958.”

For me, that moment was a life-changing experience. I thought of this woman whom I had never met, who, more than forty years before, had begun, one bulb at a time, to bring her vision of beauty and joy to an obscure mountaintop. Planting one bulb at a time, year after year, this unknown woman had forever changed the world in which she lived. One day at a time, she had created something of extraordinary magnificence, beauty, and inspiration. The principle her daffodil garden taught is one of the greatest principles of celebration.

That is, learning to move toward our goals and desires one step at a time – often just one baby-step at time – and learning to love the doing, learning to use the accumulation of time. When we multiply tiny pieces of time with small increments of daily effort, we too will find we can accomplish magnificent things. We can change the world .

“It makes me sad in a way,” I admitted to Carolyn. “What might I have accomplished if I had thought of a wonderful goal thirty-five or forty years ago and had worked away at it ‘one bulb at a time’ through all those years? Just think what I might have been able to achieve!”

My daughter summed up the message of the day in her usual direct way. “Start tomorrow,” she said.

She was right. It’s so pointless to think of the lost hours of yesterdays. The way to make learning a lesson of celebration instead of a cause for regret is to only ask, “How can I put this to use today?”


Photo by Dan Curtis

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