Tag Archives: listening

Monday’s Link Roundup.

Monday's Link Roundup

In today’s Monday’s Link Roundup, be sure to read So Many Snapshots, So Few Voices Saved. It speaks eloquently to why personal historians do the work they do.  And for a feast for the eyes,  don’t miss A Typographic Tour of New York City at Night.

  • What Good Is Listening Anyway? “I’ve observed that good listeners set themselves apart with a few key habits. These behaviors come naturally to some, but they can be practiced or developed by anyone. Here are a few tips to consider:”
  • Life Lessons from the Newtown Obituaries. “For adults, obits are about what they did. But for children, they’re about who they were. It’s about their spirit, that nebulous thing we sense when we’re around people we love and enjoy. As a result, the obituaries for the children of Newtown could end up less of a reminder of how they died than a lesson on how to live… I’m asking my fellow adults to reconsider how you’d like to be remembered, and then start living that way in small ways, every day. Live so that your obituary reads less like a résumé and more like a tribute to someone who will be dearly missed.” [Thanks to Pat McNees of Writers and Editors for alerting me to this item.]
  • So Many Snapshots, So Few Voices Saved. “I remember the regret I felt after my mom died, years ago, that we had no recording of her voice on tape. And yet when my dad died in 2008 — same thing. Plenty of photographs, but no record of the sound of his voice. I’m glad to have the photos, but I miss the immediacy of those voices, the way that even a recorded voice captures the movement of time and the resonance of the body with extraordinary intimacy.”
  • A Typographic Tour of New York City at Night. “In 2008, photographer duo James and Karla Murray took us on a breathtaking tour of New York’s disappearing face in their stunning visual archive of mom-and-pop storefront signage — a bittersweet project eight years in the making, documenting shops more than half of which are now gone. This season, they’re back with New York Nights (UK; public library) — a striking, lavish street-level tour of New York City’s typographic neon mesmerism, revealed through the illuminated storefronts of some of the city’s most revered bars, diners, speakeasies, theaters, and other epicenters of public life.”
  • I was writing my life story, but left myself out of the picture. “A few months ago I started taking a night-school course called True to Life: Writing Your Own Story…I decided I was going to learn to write what I thought was my life story. With Beth as our teacher, however, something more than just writing happened in class.”
  • Don’t Burn Your Books—Print Is Here to Stay. “Lovers of ink and paper, take heart. Reports of the death of the printed book may be exaggerated. Ever since Amazon introduced its popular Kindle e-reader five years ago, pundits have assumed that the future of book publishing is digital…Half a decade into the e-book revolution, though, the prognosis for traditional books is suddenly looking brighter. Hardcover books are displaying surprising resiliency. The growth in e-book sales is slowing markedly. And purchases of e-readers are actually shrinking, as consumers opt instead for multipurpose tablets. It may be that e-books, rather than replacing printed books, will ultimately serve a role more like that of audio books—a complement to traditional reading, not a substitute.”

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

More gems in this Monday’s Link Roundup. As someone who lived and worked in Ghana for two years, I was drawn to this article, In Africa, the Art of Listening.  I highly recommend it. Another story that touches close to home is Mourning in a Digital Age. How do we find new mourning rituals in a world that is increasingly secular? And for those of you looking for online time tracking, take a serious look at Paymo. I did and was impressed.

  • The 10 Most Expensive Books in the World. “To help you brush up on your knowledge of the very old and very valuable, we’ve compiled a list of the ten most expensive books ever sold — no white gloves necessary. Click through for an overview, and then head upstairs to check your attics for any forgotten dusty tomes — you could be a millionaire and not even know it.”
  • Supreme Court rules Congress can re-copyright public domain works. “Congress may take books, musical compositions and other works out of the public domain, where they can be freely used and adapted, and grant them copyright status again, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. In a 6-2 ruling, the court ruled that just because material enters the public domain, it is not “territory that works may never exit.”
  • How Film Was Made: A Kodak Nostalgia Moment. “Before pixels there were silver halide crystals, and before memory cards, film. Little yellow boxes cluttered the lives of photographers everywhere, and the Eastman Kodak Company was virtually synonymous with photography…To indulge this nostalgia–and perhaps learn something new about an old technology–we offer a fascinating 1958 documentary from Kodak entitled How Film is Made.”
  • Paymo.  “I thought you might like to know about a software package that has really changed the way we keep track of our time and bill our clients. I have no affiliation whatsoever with this company, but it has made such a difference in our organizational habits that I think it would be great for other personal historians…Before Paymo, … trying to keep track of how we spent our time was a nightmare…Now we have a Paymo widget on our desktop computer (Mac and PC), in which we can click on the project we are working on, hit the Start button, and go…The report functionality is amazing – you can look at your data from almost any conceivable angle and get a clear picture of how you are spending your time and how much money you are making.” [Thanks to Alison Armstrong Taylor of pictures and stories for suggesting this item.]
  • The story of the self. “Our ability to remember forms the basis of who we are and is a psychological trick that fascinates cognitive scientists. But how reliable are our memories?”
  • In Africa, the Art of Listening. “What differentiates us from animals is the fact that we can listen to other people’s dreams, fears, joys, sorrows, desires and defeats — and they in turn can listen to ours. Many people make the mistake of confusing information with knowledge. They are not the same thing. Knowledge involves the interpretation of information. Knowledge involves listening. So if I am right that we are storytelling creatures, and as long as we permit ourselves to be quiet for a while now and then, the eternal narrative will continue.” [Thanks to April Bell of Tree of Life Legacies  for alerting me to this item.]
  • Mourning in a Digital Age. “Grieving has been largely guided by religious communities, … Today, with religiosity in decline, families dispersed and the pace of life feeling quickened, these elaborate, carefully staged mourning rituals are less and less common. Old customs no longer apply, yet new ones have yet to materialize.”

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

Lots of “goodies” in this Monday’s Link Roundup. For a visual treat to start your week, be sure to look at The art of bookplates – in pictures. And if you’ve wondered how to publish an e-book on Amazon on Barnes & Noble, check out Dummies guide to publishing an ebook on Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.

  • HyperCities: Every Past is a Place. “We love cities, maps and urban storytelling. So we’re all over HyperCities — a digital research and educational platform for exploring the layered histories of cities and public spaces, based on the idea that “every past is a place.”
  • The art of bookplates – in pictures. “A bookplate, or ex libris, is a small print for pasting inside the cover of a book, to express ownership. By the late 19th century, bookplates had developed into a highly imaginative form of miniature art. The British Museum’s new book showcases some of the many plates in their extensive collection. Browse through some of the best here.”
  • Letters to/from the Old Country. “…casts a spotlight on correspondence collections written between Canada and Ukraine. With a primary interest in those that have a Saskatchewan connection, Letters to/from the Old Country is unique in that, for the first time, research is being conducted on transatlantic letter-writing by Ukrainian Canadians and their kin in Ukraine.” [Thanks to Ruth Zaryski Jackson of Memoir Writer's World for alerting me to this item.]
  • The Ragged Edge of Silence: The Art of Listening. “In 1971, after the devastating 800,000-gallon oil spill in the San Francisco Bay, John Francis, then a young man, pledged to never ride a motorized vehicle again. Two years later, he added voluntary silence to his vow, spending 17 years in silence as he walked the world and became known as The Planetwalker.”
  • Last Typewriter Factory in the World Shuts Its Doors. “Now that Godrej and Boyce, the last company left in the world still manufacturing the devices, has closed its doors, when typewriters make their way to landfills, there won’t be any new ones to replace them.”

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How to Listen with Your Eyes.

An eye can threaten like a loaded and levelled gun, or it can insult like hissing or kicking; or, in its altered mood, by beams of kindness, it can make the heart dance for joy. … One of the most wonderful things in nature is a glance of the eye; it transcends speech; it is the bodily symbol of identity.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I had the pleasure of moderating a documentary film presentation and panel discussion at the 16th Annual Association of Personal Historians conference.

The session featured the screening of  Ted Grant: The Art of Observation followed by a Q&A with the audience, the film’s subject Ted Grant, and writer, co-producer, and co-director Heather Mac Andrew.

Ted Grant is the  dean of Canadian photojournalists whose career spans over five decades. In the documentary I was struck by an observation Ted made, “We hear with our ears but we listen with our eyes.”

Ted’s comment got me thinking. As personal historians, the root of our work is the interview. When we’re interviewing then, how do we listen, as Ted says, with our eyes?

When we’re engaged in an interview, it’s not just the words we’re listening to but also the subtext. It’s the eyes that give us clues to what’s behind the words. Our subject may express happiness and contentment but the eyes are sad. We may hear kindness and openness  but the eyes are angry and narrowed.  If we’re doing our job well, we need to check out this dissonance with our interviewee. By listening with our eyes we unearth a richer more authentic story.

If our interviewees are speaking volumes with their eyes, what are we conveying to them through our eyes? I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of talking to someone who appears to be listening. They’re facing us,  their head is nodding appropriately, they’re making sounds of acknowledgment, and yet something tells us they aren’t there with us. What’s going on? A clue is in the eyes. They’re unfocused and distant. Now ask yourself this, “When  interviewing someone who isn’t particularly interesting, what are your eyes conveying?”  If I’m honest with myself, more than likely my eyes are saying, “Dan’s not here.”

There are other examples. If we’re feeling nervous about a particular interview or anxious about a family matter,  our eyes will reflect our internal state. Pretending that all is well will send mixed signals.  Our failure to get a good interview may in part be a result of the conflicting messages we’re conveying to our interview subjects.

Our ability to draw out the best from our clients depends so much on our ability to listen deeply. Thank you Ted Grant for reminding us that as  interviewers  we do indeed hear with our  ears but listen with our eyes.

***You might be interested  in a previous article I wrote in a similar vein  How to Listen With Your Third Ear.***

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

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.


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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Want To Do A Better Job of Listening?

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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The Life Story Quote of The Week


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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No One Dies Wishing They Had More Shoes.

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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Get Up And Go Talk to Somebody!


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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