Tag Archives: life story

Monday’s Link Roundup.

In this Monday’s Link Roundup you’re in for some chuckles with the video Hilarious and Surprising Predictions of the Future…From the 1960s! And for some vacation reading load up your eBook reader with selections from 20 Best Websites to Download Free EBooks.

  • 10 Ways to Beat Online Obscurity. “Listen, I’ve got some bad news for you. More than likely, no one knows who you are. And more than likely, they never will. How can I say that with such authority? Easy.”
  • 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.”
  • 1000 Lives In 100 Words. “… is here to remind us that our lives are important. It’s here to remind us that it’s not the years in your life; it’s the life in your years. Because we’ll all end up as 100 words someday. So let’s make each one count.”
  • 20 Best Websites To Download Free EBooks. “It would be nice if we’re able to download a free e-book and take it with us. That’s why we’ve again crawled deep into the Internet to compile this list of 20 places to download free e-books for your use.”
  • A Story for Every Purpose. “On the Internet, you will find no lack of efforts to collect and share stories, either on an ad hoc basis, or as a site’s raison d’etre. Following are a few that have caught my eye recently.”
  • NYTimes.com’s most looked-up words for 2011.“One of the cooler-but-lesser-known functions of NYTimes.com is its word “look up” feature: Double-click on any word in the text of an article — insouciance, say, or omertà — and a little question mark will pop up. Click the question mark, and you’ll get a definition of the highlighted word directly from the American Heritage Dictionary.”

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

In this Monday’s Link Roundup if you like to see how things are created, don’t miss How Illuminated Manuscripts Were Made. If you’re a fan of vintage neon signs, you’ll love  An Architect’s Quest to Document New York’s Neon Heritage. 

  • Is a Bookless Library Still a Library? “We’ve been hearing about it for years, but the bookless library has finally arrived, making a beachhead on college campuses. At Drexel University’s new Library Learning Terrace, which opened just last month, there is nary a bound volume, just rows of computers and plenty of seating offering access to the Philadelphia university’s 170 million electronic items.”
  • One word or two? “Frequently confused word lists abound, and a good list can be a copyeditor’s dear friend when a brain cramp sets in or a deadline looms … It struck me that copyeditors might find a quick list of these word pairs a handy tool to fight a sudden brain cramp.”
  • How Illuminated Manuscripts Were Made. “In this fascinating short documentary, part of The Getty Museum‘s excellent Making Art series on ArtBabble, we get to see the astounding patience and craftsmanship that went into the making of medieval illuminated manuscripts.”
  • The Me My Child Mustn’t Know. “Everyone has a past, and it’s a very personal decision to reveal — or not reveal — the more unsavory bits to our children. It’s possible for most people to smooth out the rough edges of their histories, to edit out indiscretions or sanitize their mistakes. After all, some things are none of our kids’ business, right?” [Thanks to Pat McNees of Writers and Editors for alerting me to this item.]
  • An Architect’s Quest to Document New York’s Neon Heritage. “Kirsten Hively is an architect with an unusual affection: not for buildings but kitschy neon signs, on storefronts and against windows. Hively scoured New York City for remnants of what was once abundant in the city, photographing them as part of her series Project Neon. So far, the architect has over 400 photos, as well as a modified Google Map with pins tacked to the signs’ locations.”
  •  Northern B.C. ghost town resurrected on Facebook. “Ramona Rose is raising a town from the dead. But she’s not an exorcist; she’s an archivist. The University of Northern B.C. head of archives and special collections runs a project to preserve what remains of a ghost town. Using Facebook, she’s been rebuilding Cassiar as a virtual community.”
  • 10 Life Lessons from Esquire’s “What I’ve Learned” Interviews. “Since 1998, Esquire magazine has conducted more than 300 interviews with artists, athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, musicians, politicians, scientists and writers. The series — called “What I’ve Learned” — provides a fascinating cross-section of the lives of prominent people. From Buzz Aldrin to Batman, the interview list reads like a Who’s Who of our era.”

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From the Archives: 8 Reasons Why Personal Historians Should Use Twitter.

8 Reasons Why Personal Historians Should Use Twitter. [A tip of the hat to Diane Haddad at Genealogy Insider for giving me the idea for this article.]

These days there’s a lot in the news about Twitter. Some of you might be tempted to dismiss it as a fad and of little value to you as a personal historian.  I’ve been using Twitter for awhile and see its potential.  Here are eight reasons why I think you should give it a try: Expand your network … Read More

How Old Letters and Recovered Memories Bring Satisfaction and Hope.

We lay aside letters never to read them again, and at last we destroy them out of discretion, and so disappears the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life, irrecoverable for ourselves and for others.

~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Last week I was doing some spring cleaning and came across a collection of letters I had written to my parents some forty-five years ago. At the time, I was a young man teaching in Ghana. After University I’d joined CUSO, a Canadian voluntary organization similar to the Peace Corps, and had been assigned to the West African country for two years. I’d asked my mother to keep these letters as a partial record of my experience.

Dan and the staff at Sefwi Wiawso Secondary School, Ghana

Last week was the first time I’d looked at them in over four decades. As I read through these tissue thin blue aerograms, covered in tightly composed script,  I was deeply affected.  My younger self was speaking to me across the years not only about his wonder at this new place and culture but also about his hopes and dreams.

I feel that I want a role in life where I can work to benefit those among us who are not so privileged. I have long given up the idea that I alone can solve world problems. But I do feel that I have something and that I can contribute a little to working out some of our problems.

In a powerful way I came to see that the life I had hoped for has been lived. The values I held then are still close to my heart. It gives me encouragement as I look ahead to the “third chapter” of my life. I suspect it will be  a time  every bit as challenging and eye-opening as my days in Ghana.  And I hope I’ll face the future with the same degree of passion, curiosity, dedication, and openness as that young man did all those years ago.

The letters also confirm how much detail and texture of our past is simply lost unless we have journals or letters to refresh our memory.  I was surprised at the events, people, and places that had faded from my mind.  In fact, it turns out that the Ghanaian secondary school compound where I lived and taught wasn’t exactly how I remembered it at all!

My letters home illustrate the great value that memorabilia play in unlocking the stories of our life. But not just the stories.  Those letters also helped me understand something of the person I am today.

Here are a few random thoughts:

  • Start a journal. It’s never too late. Begin recording the details of your life. One day you may want to write your life story and these journal entries will be invaluable.
  • Preserve old letters. Make sure that you keep your correspondence safely stored in acid free archival boxes.
  • Search for original documents. If you’ve been hired to produce a personal history or you’re doing your own, make sure to uncover any letters, journals, or photographs that will help trigger memories.
  • Use archival documents to reveal values and beliefs. While memorabilia can aid in triggering a recall of past events – go further. The stories that emerge from the past can provide powerful clues to the essence of a person and the things that person holds dear.

Photos from Dan Curtis collection

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From the Archives: How to Interview a “Challenging” Subject.

How to Interview A "Challenging" Subject. I’ve always found it relatively easy to interview someone who is outgoing and an extrovert. The challenge is  interviewing someone who is more withdrawn and tends to respond with one word or one sentence answers. It’s like pulling teeth to get their story. If it’s  an older person who is also hard of hearing and has poor vision, it can make the interview that much more difficult. So how do you interview a challenging subject? Here’s what I’ve learned … Read More

The #1 Secret to Creating an Engaging Video Life Story.

What makes a video biography memorable?  Is it the person being interviewed? Or is it the inclusion of archival photos and movies? Or could it be the clever use of audio and visual effects? All of these are significant but the most important factor – the #1 secret to a first rate video biography is good story telling.

Basically your video biography needs to have the same narrative structure  that goes into creating a good feature film – pacing, suspense, and character development.  It’s true that your production isn’t for broadcast and will only be seen by your client’s  family and friends. But that’s no excuse to make it boring!

Here are a few ways you can improve your story telling.

Launch your story with A compelling opening.

And I don’t mean flashy effects. That’s window dressing. A good feature film captivates you in the first few minutes of the story. Edit a clip from the main interview that establishes your subject’s character. It might be something that’s funny, heavy with portent, sad, or revealing.  Cut that into your opening. Later decide what visuals (e.g family photos, home movies, etc.) you might want to accompany this opening segment.

Keep the story moving.

It’s not enough to string together the chronology of a life.  You need to use  techniques that will give the narrative energy and create momentum. One  approach is  to shift the emotional tone. For example, after your subject has recounted a sad story fade to black and then come up on an account that’s happy. Or if your subject has been railing at the world, jump to a more tender story. Trust me it works.

Another way to keep the story moving is to create a jump in time. This can improve your storytelling immeasurably by eliminating material that’s lackluster. For example, the story of a woman who struggles to get an education during the Depression and eventually goes on to university is riveting. But her university years are less interesting. What’s really intriguing is how she gets her first job after graduating. So find a clip from her interview that can be used to jump directly to her first job. It might be something she says like, ” I had great fun at university but it was my first job that really tested me.”

Create suspense.

Suspense is the principal engine that  drives your story. Suspense is created by your audience asking and getting answers to such basic questions as, “What is the subject’s quest?  How does the subject resolve the challenges along the way? Will the subject reach a goal?  What happens when the dream is achieved or not achieved?”

Here’s the bad news. Unless you’ve asked these questions in your interviews you’ll likely have little to help you create suspense.

Keep your editing tight.

As  Sheila Curran Bernard, an  an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning writer, said, “In documentary, as in drama, you have to collapse real time into its essence.” Believe me, not everything your subject says is worth including in your video. Eliminate anything that doesn’t  support  your main story. For example, an anecdote about “Aunt Flo” might be interesting but unless it somehow illuminates some facet of your main subject, Aunt Flo should go! To give you some perspective on this, I shoot an average of six to seven hours of interview for a one-hour video biography.

Provide A Good Closing.

Your ending should provide a satisfying resolution to the central journey. It must be short and not introduce any new story lines.  The final scene can be in the form of a simple summary statement from your subject. Or it can be some end cards that bring the story up-to-date. Whatever you choose, don’t make the mistake of creating multiple endings.

Photo by Steev Hise

How to Use “Acknowledgement” to Build a Better Interview.

I find the use of “acknowledgment” in a personal history interview one way to build rapport with my interviewee.  It’s a particularly effective technique after you’ve been told a touching  story.

Imagine you’ve just listened to a charming recounting of a woman’s first dance date. She ends by saying, “Oh, it was so much fun!”  You could remark, “Yes, it sounds delightful.” But even better would be to  say something like:

I can sense that. When you described  picking out the blue dress you wore, your initial nervousness about how you looked, your handsome date, and the great music, I could see from the glow on your face that this was a very special event.  It’s wonderful that you still have such a vivid recollection of it.

By briefly summarizing what you heard and letting your subject know that you appreciate and understand her, you’re using “acknowledgment” and fostering trust.

But “acknowledgment” can do so much more.  This pause to acknowledge  your interviewee’s anecdote is also the perfect point to inject a more probing question.  For example , continuing with the illustration above, you could say:

It’s wonderful that you still have such a vivid recollection of itSo what do recall about your date that didn’t work out so well?

Your interviewee might have nothing to add. On the other hand your question might unlock a really interesting story.

If you feel there’s a need to move your interviewee along to another topic,  acknowledgment can provide a natural break. For example:

It’s wonderful that you still have such a vivid recollection of it. I’d like to turn our attention now to your family life when you were a teenager. I know you were an only child. What did you miss about not having siblings?

Acknowledging what you have just heard before changing course in the interview makes your interviewee feel listened to and recognized. And as a result the person is more willing to allow you to steer the interview in another direction.

Like any technique, you don’t want to overuse “acknowledgment”.  But I find it’s a valuable tool to have in my interview kit bag.

Photo by Jesse Garrison

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From the Archives: 12 Marketing Articles.

While I’m enjoying some time off, my mind is never far from marketing. Here’s a selection of some of my previous posts on the subject.

Monday’s Link Roundup.

This Monday’s Link Roundup has some creative ways to tell stories. There’s Levi Strauss & Co.’s EXPLORE which uses video vignettes to tell the story of Braddock, Pennsylvania. Facebook has launched Facebook Stories. My favorite link is RFID Tags used to attach stories to charity shop’s donated goods.

  • EXPLORE. “In 2010, Levi Strauss & Co. began a collaboration in Braddock, Pennsylvania, a broken town struggling to reinvent itself. As part of this collaboration, Levi Strauss & Co. invested in Braddock’s community center, public library, and urban farm. The result is a campaign that tells the story of the people of Braddock.”
  • Free Genealogy Books on The Internet Archive. “The Internet Archive, also known as “The Wayback Machine,” is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that was founded to build an Internet library. Its purposes include offering permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format.”
  • Facebook Stories. “Facebook will finally reach the impressive 500 million user milestone sometime this coming week. To celebrate, it’ll launch “Facebook Stories,” a visual memorial to all the ways the social network has changed people’s lives.”
  • Luxury Lit: A Book For $75,000. “For $75,000, you can buy a piece of Indian cricket star Sachin Tendulkar. Taschen contracted the Vatican’s book binder to put together SUMO because it was so large. Luxury publisher Kraken Opus mixed in a pint of Mr. Tendulkar’s blood with paper pulp to create the signature page for a book celebrating the renowned batsman’s career. The 10 limited-edition copies, which comes out in February, cost $75,000 each and have already sold out.”
  • Momma, Don’t Take My Kodachrome Away. “This week, Kodachrome went away. The last roll of Kodachrome film was developed at Dwayne’s Photo Service in Parsons, Kansas. We have witnessed an historic shift in technology.”

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

In this Monday’s Link Roundup, STORY in Photography is a fascinating look into the challenges of telling a story in a single photograph. And if you’re a nut about fonts, don’t miss Graphic Content | A Fount of Fonts.

  • 101 Best Genealogy Websites of 2010. “From state vital records and censuses to historical books and immigration data, this year’s 101 Best Websites list features tools that can bust your brick walls — but not your budget.”
  • STORY in Photography. “An understanding of the elements of story and how they can be incorporated into your images will make stronger images…Four aspects of storytelling come to mind as I consider the unique challenges of storytelling within the confines of a single photographic frame; themes that tie the image to our deeper, more universal human experience; conflict; mystery; and the relationships between the characters.”
  • Graphic Content | A Fount of Fonts.Tipoteca Italiana is a private foundation that was founded in 1995 to advance printing knowledge and preserve venerable printing technologies. Its founder, Silvio Antiga, a 65-year-old printer who owns a printing firm in the Veneto region, has collected more than 20 vintage presses and typesetting machines, along with hundreds of wood and metal type “fonts.” The smartly designed, modern museum includes a working print shop, which employs master craftsmen who hand-set type and pull proofs. It is open to the public — more than 8,000 people visit each year — and has become a mecca for designers and students from all over the world.” [Thanks to APH member Marcy Davis for alerting me to this item.]
  • U.S. public libraries: We lose them at our peril. “The U.S. is beginning an interesting experiment in democracy: We’re cutting public library funds, shrinking our public and school libraries, and in some places, shutting them altogether…The school libraries and public libraries in which we’ve invested decades and even centuries of resources will disappear unless we fight for them. Those in cities that haven’t preserved their libraries, those less fortunate and baffled by technology, and our children will be the first to suffer. But sooner or later, we’ll all feel the loss as one of the most effective levelers of privilege and avenues of reinvention — one of the great engines of democracy — begins to disappear.” [Thanks to cj madigan of Shoebox Stories for alerting me to this item.]
  • Step-by-Step Guide to Oral History. “Your stories and the stories of the people around you are unique, valuable treasures for your family and your community. You and your family members can preserve unwritten family history using oral history techniques…As a door into the world of oral history, these pages give basic suggestions for collecting and preserving the valuable oral treasures around you, to enrich you and future generations.”

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