Farewell. Adieu. Adiós. 告别. Auf Wiedersehen. Addio. Nрощание. さようなら.


7-year-old Dan on Spring Island, BC, his childhood home.

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.  ~  from the musical  “Annie”

I have agonized over this day for some time. I’ve never liked goodbyes. But  they’re an inescapable part of our lives.

To all my readers and in particular my nearly 400 subscribers, I want to say how much I’ve appreciated your comments and support. I’ve always felt your presence as I worked away on my blog.  I feel badly that I must now tell you that this is my last post.

I’ll keep this blog alive for another year so that you’ll still be able to access archived material.  I just won’t be adding anything new.

I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.  This June marks my blog’s 5th year with   321,643 visitors , 704 posts, and 1,496 comments.

Why am I wrapping it up now? Several reasons. The most important of which is that I’ve pretty well said everything that I’ve wanted to say about personal histories. Increasingly, I’ve felt it harder to generate articles that had substance. I prefer to end on a high note rather than keep churning out stuff that is of little value.

As I rapidly approach my seventh decade, I  want to focus my energies. In this regard, I will continue to mentor and support the Victoria Hospice Life Stories program I founded over five years ago. And in the Fall,  I’ll begin writing a Hospice Life Stories training manual that can be used by other hospices that wish to establish a similar program. I’ll also carry on my weekly volunteer hospice shift. It’s work I find deeply satisfying.

I haven’t lost my interest in personal histories but now my focus will be primarily related to life stories in a palliative care context. I’ll continue my membership in the Association of Personal Historians. It’s a great organization. If you’re serious about being a personal historian, and haven’t yet done so, I urge you to join.

At the beginning of the year I wrote about my intentions for 2013. One of those was to create more spaciousness in my life. More space will allow me to pursue my creative interests in poetry and photography.

In addition, I want to have more time for contemplation and study with my Buddhist community at the Buddhist Insight Meditation Centre of Victoria. As a practitioner for the past 15 years, I feel drawn to apply more effort to my spiritual path. A repository for my creativity and my occasional Buddhist musings is my newly created blog, anicca.

It’s been fun writing for you and  a privilege to share some of the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years.

These words from Gordon Bok’s song Hearth and Fire express my wishes for you.

My love upon the path you tread
And upon your wanderings, peace.



Top photo:  Dan Curtis personal collection                                                                 Bottom photo:  Robb North

How to Set Up a Video Personal History Business.

video interview

Are you thinking of setting up a video personal history business?  A reader of mine is doing just that and asked for some advice. What I’ve learned over the past 30 years as a documentary filmmaker and personal historian might be of some value. So here goes:


1. Decide how much of the total production and post production you’re going to take on. Are you going to operate the camera and do the interviews? Or will these be separate functions?I do both and it works but it takes confidence in both your camera and interviewing skills.

Who will edit your raw footage? If you’re going to do the editing, it’ll require editing software and sufficient computer power to do the job. If you’ve never edited video before, it’s a very steep learning curve.

2. Talk to other video personal historians who’ve been in the business for a few years. Most personal historians are happy to provide advice to newcomers. And each will have a slightly different perspective. You can find video personal historians by going to the Association of Personal Historians website and clicking on the “Find a Personal Historian” button.

3. Determine the range of products you’re going to offer. A full video life story with photos, music, graphics, and archival footage is expensive. Not everyone will be able to afford  this. What can you offer that’s less expensive? In my case I offer straight unedited interviews. These can be done quickly and because of this are relatively inexpensive.

4. Do have a sample of your work. Clients want to know that you’re capable of excellent work.  Put a sample on your website or have a video clip available for screening when visiting a client.

5. Purchase the minimum amount of equipment necessary. Camera, sound, lighting, and editing equipment is expensive. I’ve shot major television series for the National Film Board of Canada, using only one prosumer camcorder, one light, two lavalier microphones, and a tripod. And I’ve continued using the same modest kit for my personal history business.

The reality is that you don’t know if you’re going to be successful or for that matter even enjoy the work.  By starting small you minimize your financial risk. Down the road, if business is good and you love what you’re doing, you can always upgrade your equipment


1. Don’t buy overly expensive equipment. This advice follows on the last point above. You can get a quite decent professional camcorder for under $3,000. Take a look at the Canon XF100. For a single light you can get something under $600. Check out the Lowel Blender.

Good sound is important so the  exception to my buy  “cheap” rule is don’t skimp on mics. I’ve been very happy with my Tram TR50 mics which are priced at $310 at B&H. If you want to save some bucks on a tripod and lighting stand,  see what you can find on craigslist or Ebay.

2. Don’t forget to account for equipment depreciation. Unfortunately, your camcorder will be outdated the moment you leave the store. Chances are that within three years you’ll be looking at the need to purchase a new model. That’s why you want to build an “equipment rental” fee into your client’s project costs . This can can go toward the replacement of old equipment.

3. Don’t let clients screen their video until the final cut stage. Most clients aren’t familiar with the editing process. If they see a rough cut, they’ll be alarmed and  make  suggestions, some of which will not be useful.

By showing them a fine cut, your clients will have a good sense of the video’s content and flow. And if concerns arise, you’ll still be able to make some editing changes without too much grief.

That’s it. Any further advice from experienced videographers out there?

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Photo Credit: 2create

The Best of Monday’s Links Roundup Videos.

Monday's Link Roundup

If you didn’t catch these gems in previous Monday’s Link Roundup posts, now’s your chance to see what you missed.

  • A Brief History of Film Title Sequence Design in 2 Minutes. “In his graduation project, an absolutely brilliant motion graphics gem, Dutch designer and animator Jurjen Versteeg examines the history of the title sequence through an imagined documentary about the designers who revolutionized this creative medium.”
  • The Power of Simple Words.[Video] “Long, fancy words designed to show off your intelligence and vocabulary are all very well, but they aren’t always the best words. In this short, playful video Terin Izil explains why simple, punchy language is often the clearest way to convey a message.”
  • Noah St. John’s ‘The Last Mile’ [Video] “This is the first of series of stories from a new partnership between The Huffington Post and NPR’s new hit storytelling program, “Snap Judgment,” hosted by Glynn Washington. And it’s a good one.” [Thanks to Sally Goldin of  Tell Me A Story for alerting me to this item.]
  • The clues to a great story. [TED talk] “Filmmaker Andrew Stanton (“Toy Story,” “WALL-E”) shares what he knows about storytelling — starting at the end and working back to the beginning.”
  • The Old Man and the Sea Animated. “In 1999, Aleksandr Petrov won the Academy Award for Short Film (among other awards) for a film that follows the plot line of Ernest Hemingway’s classic novella, The Old Man and the Sea (1952). As noted here, Petrov’s technique involves painting pastels on glass, and he and his son painted a total of 29,000 images in total.”

Encore! 50 Fantastic Life Story Quotations!

For an inspirational lift or a grace note in your promotional materials you can’t beat a good quotation. Over the years I’ve  amassed a collection of quotes that relate to life stories and I’m pleased to share them with you here.  I’ve assembled the first fifteen on this page. For the remaining thirty-five be sure to click on the link at the bottom . Enjoy!…Read more.

I Need Your Advice: Part Two.

thank you

Thank you! What a wonderful response to last weeks post, I Need Your Advice.  My appreciation to all of you who gave your thoughtful reasons for my recording my life story.

Your reasons boil down to these five:

  • It’s an opportunity for reflection, insights, and renewal.
  • Friends and colleagues want to know the person behind the blog.
  • My life’s been interesting and it should be documented.
  • My personal view of the events that have shaped my past are part of our collective oral history.
  • I’ll be more empathetic of my clients as they work through their life story.

As great as these are, it was an e-mail response from Bruce Summers, a fellow member of the Association of Personal Historians,  that moved me the most. I was reminded again of the power of storytelling. And how stories can be far more effective than facts and arguments in touching our hearts.

I asked Bruce for permission to reprint his story. He kindly agreed.

Do yourself a favor and read this lovely reminiscence and its convincing argument for the need to record our life stories.


Joe & Helen

by Bruce Summers

Growing up I lived next to Joe and Helen Sitler. They were an older couple with no children. Joe had no brothers and sisters and he was the end of the Sitler line. We loved Helen. She was like a third grandmother to us. Joe was a bit gruff.  He would not let us play in his yard, especially when he was mowing. He was afraid that the lawn tractor might throw a stone and hit me or one of my three brothers. In middle school I shared a bit of Joe’s story in an article I wrote for the school magazine. People thought I made it up, notably the parts about what I had learned from Joe.

Later when Joe was very ill and nearing death, my older brother and I went over and helped Helen move him.  He was skin and bones.  Helen needed help so she could give him a sponge bath and change his linens. Joe died soon after. This was my first encounter with the death of a friend and a neighbor. Even though he was a bit gruff, he was Helen’s husband and because of this he was a special man. They used to love to go to the City and dance to the music of the Big Bands when they came to town. He was born in the 19th century and had lived a full life and retired before I knew him. Most importantly he captured Helen’s heart and had been a good husband. I missed Joe and 40 years later still treasure my memories of him.

Another eight or so years later after I graduated from college, I had the privilege of house sitting in Joe and Helen Sitler’s  house. This was after she herself had grown older, more feeble and hard of hearing and needed to be in a nursing home. Her hearing aids did not really work well and it was hard to talk with her, hard to share with her how important she and Joe had been as our older grandparent-like neighbors, too late to tell her that I felt a little bad for stealing some of the grapes each year that Joe grew on his grape arbor just five feet from the border of our yard. I wished too late that I knew more about Joe and Helen who had no descendants and no relatives that we knew. They were our neighbors. They were our friends and they shared part of our lives growing up.

As I sat in their living room and slept in a bed in one of their bedrooms, cooked my meals at their table, wrote newspaper stories on my typewriter at their dining table, as I explored their home, the time capsule that they had lived in, I wondered about their lives. I remembered that Joe never let Helen turn on the electric lights. They used candles and were very frugal. She canned vegetables and fruits. The jars were in the basement in the back room on a built-in shelf made just for that purpose.

I finally left that house to join the Peace Corps. I visited Helen to say goodbye, realizing that I would likely never see her again. When she died, I asked my parents to purchase an old high-backed Walnut Chair from their living room. It was the one I sat in to watch TV or to write letters to my future wife late at night. I wanted to have a piece of their story since I was never going to have any written history.

I am left with memories of Helen and Joe – my good and my gruff neighbors. They have no descendants. They are the last of their line but are not yet forgotten forty years after they both had died.

Perhaps you will or will not decide to write your story – a bit of a legacy to the rest of us and to friends and colleagues, many of us very virtual and little known to you. I enjoy your blog posts. I very much enjoy the stories you tell and I admire your work and your background. You never know for sure who will read, who will remember, who will retell or share your story. It might mean a great deal to many of us to know a bit more about the man behind the camera and the man behind the blog. Good luck with your decision.


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Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks

Monday’s Link Roundup.

Monday's Link Roundup

Happy Victoria Day to my Canadian compatriots.  For those of you who have the day off, what better way to idle a few hours away than immerse yourself in my Monday’s Link Roundup. ;-)

  • Oral history and hearing loss. “I rarely consider the basics of oral history collection and production, the act of sharing someone’s story with a wider audience. That is one of several reasons I so enjoyed Brad Rakerd’s contribution to Oral History Review issue on Oral History in the Digital Age, “On Making Oral Histories More Accessible to Persons with Hearing Loss.” In his piece, Rakerd discusses the obstacles people with hearing loss or other limitations on speech understanding face when engaging with oral history, and offers several recommendations to allow scholars to make their material more accessible. Mad with the power of the OUPblog post, I contacted Rakerd to prod him for more information.”
  • How to Write a Simple Business Plan. “Simple is always best. So with this in mind, here’s our guide to writing a business plan that won’t make potential investors want to tear their hair out in confusion.”
  • The Stories That Only Artists Can Tell. “…it seems to me that artists talk about different things when describing themselves than do their biographers and commentators. Biographers focus almost exclusively on the artwork, who taught and influenced the artist, changes in the artist’s work, an estimation of the artist’s work. Who the artist knew and spent time with, as well as notable events in the artist’s life, are detailed to the degree that they explain the evolution of the artwork.”
  • Walking Across America: Advice for a Young Man. “It’s rare we take the time to listen to hour-long radio stories anymore, but I hope you’ll listen to this one, maybe twice. It’s an epic journey, a coming of age story, and a portrait of this country–big-hearted, wild, innocent, and wise…Andrew Forsthoefel, a first-time radio producer, who set out at age 23 to walk across America, East to West, 4000 miles, with a sign on him that said, “Walking to Listen.” Eventually, he showed up here in Woods Hole.Andrew didn’t intend to make a radio story–he just wanted to listen to people. You’ll hear in Andrew’s interviews his quality of attention. He is a magnet for stories and for the desire to connect.”
  • The Einstein Principle: Accomplish More By Doing Less. “Einstein’s push for general relativity highlights an important reality about accomplishment. We are most productive when we focus on a very small number of projects on which we can devote a large amount of attention.”
  • Why You Should Give A $*%! About Words That Offend. [NPR Interview] “If you said the “s” word in the ninth century, you probably wouldn’t have shocked or offended anyone. Back then, the “s” word was just the everyday word that was used to refer to excrement. That’s one of many surprising, foul-mouthed facts Melissa Mohr reveals in her new book, Holy S- – -: A Brief History of Swearing. Though the curse words themselves change over time, the category remains constant — we always have a set of words that are off-limits. “We need some category of swear words,” Mohr says. “[These] words really fulfill a function that people have found necessary for thousands of years.”

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