Dan Curtis ~ Professional Personal Historian

Entries tagged as ‘listening’

Monday’s Link Roundup.

November 2, 2009 · Leave a Comment

Monday's Link Roundup

Our Link Roundup has a little Canadian seasoning this Monday. There’s a link to a Canadian magazine of shared family stories and memoirs. The other link leads to a story about 82 years of Canadian Immigration to the UK. The records are now online. And for those of you wanting to get some advice on social media and marketing, be sure to check out the free webinar on November 12th.

  • Canadian Stories. “… a folk magazine featuring family stories, personal experiences and memories of the past. It is written by “ordinary” Canadians sharing material that is extraordinary. Readers identify strongly with our stories and reach back into their own memory banks to find pleasure and strength in their own histories.”
  • How to Manage Your Brand in Social Media. “This free webinar  November 12, 2009 – 1:00 PM EST/10:00 AM PST will cover:
    • How to incorporate social media into your overall marketing strategy.
    • How to track and monitor your brand in social media.
    • How to attract more website visitors and leads from social media.
    • How to measure and evaluate the ROI of your social media marketing efforts.”

[Thanks to Bob Breakstone at Our Living Tree for alerting me to this item.]

  • What the Last Meal Taught Him. ” Memories are what Mr. Keller strives to create with all his food. And food memories are something he said he cherishes about his last years with his father. Especially that last meal.” [Thanks to Jose Diaz de Villegas at TellingLives.net for alerting me to this item.]
  • Oral history project aimed at NO’s Central City. “Central City is widely considered the most dangerous neighborhood in New Orleans…The folks at Mondo Bizarro, the street-wise producers of local theater and festivals, are trying to breathe new life, confidence and pride into the area using one of New Orleans’ most pervasive and powerful devices: storytelling.”
  • Records of 82 Years Of Canadian Immigration To The UK Now Online. “The UK Incoming Passenger Lists 1878-1960, detailing the travels of Canadian men and women who arrived in the UK during the twilight years of the British Empire, are available on Canada’s leading family history website Ancestry.ca. The collection contains records of more than 18 million immigrants and tourists who arrived on British shores throughout the 19th and 20th centuries before commercial flights became the norm. Among those listed are 2.6 million passengers who set sail from Canada’s shores.”
  • The National Day of Listening is November 27, 2009. “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.”

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9 Essential Articles on The Art of Interviewing.

June 30, 2009 · 4 Comments


One of the key aspects of recording someone’s life story is the need to be a good interviewer. That’s why I’ve written a number of articles on the art of interviewing over the past year. Here are nine  posts on the subject from the archives.

Nine essential articles on the art of interviewing.

Photo by Ross

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Categories: How to · Interviewing · Life stories · Personal historian · Questions · Resources · Tips
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Want To Do A Better Job of Listening?

June 19, 2009 · 2 Comments

empathic listening

So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it.

Jiddu Krishnamurti ~ (1895 – 1986) spiritual philosopher

At the heart of a good interview is your ability to be an active listener – to listen , as Krishnamurti notes, to the whole of what someone says, not to just the words. Here are seven things you can do that will help you do a better job of listening.


  • Non-verbal – an open relaxed body position, facing the person squarely, eye contact, nodding and appropriate emotional response, i.e. smiling, sad, or curious. Use of silence to give your subject time to think and reflect.
  • Verbal – “I see.” “Uh, huh.” “Okay.” “Yeah.” “Oh, really.”


  • Use open questions, How? What? Where? When? rather than closed questions that lead to yes or no responses. Example:  closed – “Did that affect you?”  Open – “How did that affect you?”
  • Stay away from “Why” questions which can make a person feel defensive.
  • Avoid an interrogating style and aim for a conversational tone that is calm and gentle.
  • Ask one question at a time and keep questions short and simple.

Suspending judgment

  • Refrain from verbal expressions of disapproval. Don’t use words such as “should”, “ought” or “must”.
  • Avoid non-verbal disapproval. Don’t grimace or shake your head or cast your eyes heavenward.
  • Don’t give opinions unless asked.


  • Leave your concerns outside the door and be fully present.
  • Focus on your subject and be alert to when your mind wanders. Gently bring it back to the “here and now”.


  • Express warmth and caring in a personal and appropriate way.
  • Don’t interrupt.


  • When you’re not clear about what your subject said, ask for clarification or paraphrase what they’ve said to be certain you’ve understood the person correctly.


  • Pulling together feelings, experiences, ideas and facts without adding any new ideas helps provide a sense of movement to the interview. It also demonstrates to your subject your ability to listen attentively to what has been said and as a result builds trust.

Photo by Caleb

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Categories: How to · Interviewing · Life stories · Personal historian · Questions · Tips
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The Life Story Quote of The Week

March 9, 2009 · Leave a Comment


It seems that the ancient Medicine Men understood that listening to another’s story somehow gives us the strength of example to carry on, as well as showing us aspects of ourselves we can’t easily see.  For listening to the stories of others – not to their precautions or personal commandments – is a kind of water that breaks the fever of our isolation.  If we listen closely enough, we are soothed into remembering our common name.

~ from The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo

In reading Mark Nepo’s quote I’m reminded once again that the act of listening to another’s story benefits not only the story teller but also me, the listener. One of the great benefits of story gathering is that we become more profoundly aware of our interconnectedness -  joined as we are by our common humanity.

Photo by Josh Schwartzman

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Categories: Life stories · Quotes
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No One Dies Wishing They Had More Shoes.

February 27, 2009 · Leave a Comment

peak-experienceNewsflash: Spending money on things will not make us as happy as spending on experiences. This is the conclusion of recent study conducted by Ryan Howell, an assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University. You can listen to Professor Howell in a 7 minute  interview here on NPR.  According to SFU’s February 7 press release, the study, “demonstrates that experiential purchases, such as a meal out or theater tickets, result in increased well-being because they satisfy higher order needs, specifically the need for social connectedness and vitality — a feeling of being alive.” Professor Howell explained in an interview,

Purchased experiences provide memory capital. We don’t tend to get bored of happy memories like we do with a material object…it’s not that material things don’t bring any happiness. It’s just that they don’t bring as much…You’re happy with a new television set. But you’re thrilled with a vacation.

This study got me thinking. It brought to mind some of the great experiences in my life – being a volunteer teacher in Ghana for two years, snorkeling over a coral reef in Tobago, meeting my partner 35 years ago and volunteering at Victoria Hospice every Tuesday morning.

I was particularly struck by the studies link between long term happiness and social connectedness. For me, this again speaks to the importance of  helping people record and preserve  their life stories. Whether we’re sitting down with a family member, friend or neighbor, we are not just collecting stories. We are connecting with people and in the process bringing a little happiness into the world.

What are some of your great life experiences?

Photo by Ben Tubby

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Categories: End of life · Interviewing · Life stories · Personal historian · Preservation
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Get Up And Go Talk to Somebody!

February 18, 2009 · 4 Comments


The latest issue of Utne magazine arrived in my mailbox yesterday and I was immediately drawn to an excerpt from a recently published book, The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the 21 st Century by Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz.  The authors write:

Americans in the 21st century devote more technology to staying connected than any society in history, yet somehow the devices fail us:  Studies show that we feel increasingly alone. Our lives are spent in a tug-of-war between conflicting desires – we want to stay connected, and we want to be free. We lurch back and forth, reaching for both….

The significance of this increased aloneness is amplified by a very different body of research. There is now a clear consensus among medical researchers that social connection has powerful effects on health. Socially connected people live longer, respond better to stress, have more robust immune systems, and do better at fighting a variety of specific illnesses.

The author’s insights reinforce the  importance of story gathering.  By sitting down with a parent or grandparent and recording their stories we begin, in our own way, to break down the isolation and loneliness that has become endemic in our society. Our electronic gadgets have their place, but they can never replace the meaningful connection that comes from sharing our tears and laughter with those we love. What’s more, being socially connected improves our health!  So put down your telephone, shut off your computer and go talk to somebody.

Photo by Don Brubacher

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Categories: Book reviews · Interviewing · Life stories · Writing
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The Life Story Quote of The Week

January 12, 2009 · Leave a Comment


The longer we listen to one another – with real attention – the more commonality we will find in all our lives. That is, if we are careful to exchange with one another life stories and not simply opinions.

Barbara Deming, (1917 – 1984) American feminist and advocate of nonviolent social change

We live in an age of opinions.  Everyone has an opinion about something. Is it just me, or do you find that annoying? That’s why I like this Barbara Deming quote. One of the rewards of helping  people  record and preserve their life stories is that you appreciate that we’re all interdependent.  We are connected by the great themes that bind us all – birth, love, illness, family, and loss. It’s our stories that count not our opinions.

Photo by ky_olsen

Categories: Life stories · Personal historian · Quotes
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National Day of Listening

November 19, 2008 · 2 Comments

storycorpsStoryCorps has declared November 28th to be the first annual National Day of Listening in the United States. The day after Thanksgiving they suggest that you:

…ask the people around you about their lives — it could be your grandmother, a teacher, or someone from the neighborhood. By listening to their stories, you will be telling them that they matter and they won’t ever be forgotten. It may be the most meaningful time you spend this year.

I think this is a terrific idea and urge you to participate. You can find out more about how you can become involved by clicking here.

Photo by Omar Bárcena

Categories: Life stories · Preservation
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The Life Story Quote of The Week

September 29, 2008 · Leave a Comment

Much of my work involves working with people at the end of their lives. I’ve become increasingly aware that my presence and listening to an individual’s life story can have a beneficial and healing aspect. The soul responds to our bearing witness even if all we do is sit quietly and listen. That’s why I found the following quote by Catherine de Hueck Doherty rang so true.

With the gift of listening comes the gift of healing.

If you have a favorite quote that relates to storytelling and life stories please send it along to me and I’d be happy to consider posting it in one of my “Quotes of The Week.”

Photo by Drew

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