Tag Archives: wisdom

Encore! Scrabble And Family Stories.

Scrabble 2

Image via Wikipedia

I read an essay, Lessons Beyond Words by Darren Yourk, on the Globe and Mail website.  It’s subtitled, While thrashing me at Scrabble, Grandma did more than expand my vocabulary. She shared our family’s story. Yourk’s piece is both humorous and touching. Here’s an excerpt… Read more.

Monday’s Link Roundup.

In this Monday’s Link Roundup I found PANTONE: A Color History of the 20th Century a reminder of the important role of color in our memories. The book looks gorgeous. It’s definitely on my Santa Claus list. Anyone want to play Santa? ;-)

  • The Terrible Word of the Year “Voltaire famously said that the Holy Roman Empire was “neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.” Yesterday, Oxford University Press announced that, for the first time, their U.S. and U.K. lexicographers (along with “editorial, marketing, and publicity staff”) had chosen a “global word of the year.”
  • On the Future of Books: A Discussion with Seth Godin. “The industry of publishing ideas has been undergoing a revolution for more than a decade, and where it’s headed is still an open question…Today I share a conversation I had with best-selling author, blogger and publisher Seth Godin on the future of books, publishing and blogging. It was fascinating.”
  • Nile Rodgers’ top 10 music books. “From Beethoven’s letters to Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, the musician chooses books that reveal the private lives behind the public melodies.”
  • 16 Ways to Leave a Legacy. “You’ve spent years digging up data and stories to breathe life into the grandparents and great-grandparents who’ve made your existence — and your children’s — possible. But what are you doing to ensure your family’s legacy will be around after you’re gone?”
  • PANTONE: A Color History of the 20th Century. “… longtime PANTONE scholars Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker explore 100 years of the evolution of color’s sociocultural footprint through over 200 works of art, advertisements, industrial design products, fashion trends, and other aesthetic ephemera, thoughtfully examined in the context of their respective epoch.”
  • EyeWitness to History.com. “Your ringside seat to history – from the Ancient World to the present. History through the eyes of those who lived it.” [Thanks to Mim Eisenberg of WordCraft for alerting me to this item.]
  • The Legacy Project. “The Legacy Project began in 2004, when I started collecting the practical advice for living of America’s elders. Using a number of different methods, my research team systematically gathered nearly 1500 responses to the question: “What are the most important lessons you have learned over the course of your life?”

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3 Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier About Being a Professional Personal Historian.

Want to avoid some pitfalls as a newcomer to the personal history business? Read on.

We  love our work. Right? But that doesn’t mean we  can’t be blindsided by some unsuspected snag. Looking back on my seven years in this work there are a number of things I wish I’d known earlier. Here are just three:

1. Some personal history clients can be darn right disagreeable.

It’s true and I have the scars to prove it.

For the most part, working with people on a personal history project is a satisfying experience. That’s why early on I was lulled into a dream-like  state, believing all my clients would be simply wonderful.  Wrong! One “client from hell” snapped  me out of my reverie.

What did I learn? I now make sure that I only work with clients that are a good fit and that I like.  In addition, I’m very clear from the outset about what I will or won’t do.  And I always make certain clients sign a contract.

2. Keeping up with changing technologies never stops.

A few years ago I invested several thousand dollars in the latest prosumer camcorder. It was a beauty. Now it’s  obsolete. It doesn’t shoot in HD and isn’t flash-based.  I’ll soon have to purchase a new camera which will also necessitate an upgrade of my editing software.

It’s not just keeping up with the latest equipment and software.  You’ve also got to budget for these upgrades. I’m embarrassed to admit that in this department I’ve been somewhat lax.

What’s the lesson?  Build into your production budget a rental fee for your equipment. Make sure that those fees go into a designated new equipment fund. And keep repeating to yourself: “This too will soon be obsolete.”

3. Working in an unregulated profession has it’s disadvantages.

There’s no certification or governing body for personal historians.   Some are experienced veterans and others are just starting out. Some charge nothing or very little while others charge thousands of dollars.  For potential clients this can be confusing. They may well ask why they should pay you a professional fee when someone down the street is offering a bargain basement deal?

What’s the answer?  I’ve learned not to sell myself short and not to be “nickel and dimed” to death. I sell myself on my years of experience as an award winning  documentary filmmaker.  I promise a professionally produced personal history that my clients will be thrilled with or they get their money back.   If they still prefer to go with “Joe”  down the street and are happy with a less qualified person and an inferior product, I’m not going to sweat it. Life’s too short.


So what are some of the pitfalls you’ve faced as a professional personal historian and what did you learn? Love to hear from you!

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Photo by iStockphoto

Monday’s Link Roundup.

Welcome to another issue of Monday’s Link Roundup. For those of you who are discovering this weekly roundup for the first time, a word of explanation. The links I select are those that I find personally entertaining, informative, amusing, thought provoking, and unusual. As well, they all have some connection to the realms of personal history, memoir, oral history, and biography. I hope you enjoy your visit here today.

  • How a Book is Made: AD 400 vs. 1947 vs. 1961 vs. 2011. “I love books, their past and their future. Yet, while ubiquitous and commodified, books and how they come to be remains an enigma for most of us. No longer. From Discovery comes this 5-minute microdocumentary on how books are made.”
  • Movellas democratises ebook publishing for Europe. “Movellas is bringing a popular Japanese concept for mobile partwork publishing to Europe. The publishing platform — which just won a Meffy for the Best Mobile Social Media Service — allows aspiring authors to write short novels chapter-by-chapter in a social and interactive environment.”
  • Selling My Mother’s Dresses. “Some of my favorite things — including the sundress I’m wearing today and the Winnie the Pooh car that Jay is pushing our daughter in — are from someone else’s life. I find no joy in shopping at regular stores anymore…I love trying to sniff out a memory from a bud vase or a favorite song from a case of L.P.’s. The stains and broken switches, the bend in the knee of an old pair of jeans. Sometimes I just want to look at how many Mason jars one person can collect and imagine what they might’ve held. It’s comforting to know that someone has breathed and laughed inside a sweater before me. That I am part of a continuum.” [Thanks to Mary M. Harrison of Morning Glory Memoirs for alerting me to this item.]
  • Helvetica: A documentary Film by Gary Hustwit. “Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which recently celebrated its 50th birthday in 2007) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives.”
  • World Wide Words. “The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or change their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least some part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, the background to words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.”
  • Schools, beware the e-book bandwagon. “..schools may want to pause before jumping on the e-book bandwagon. In a study last year at the University of Washington, a group of graduate students were given Kindles, and their use of the devices was monitored through diary entries and interviews. By the end of the school year, nearly two-thirds of the students had abandoned the Kindle or were using it only infrequently. Of those who continued to use the e-reader regularly, many had “switched to a different and usually less desirable reading technique,” researchers said.” [Thanks to Paula Stahel of Breath and Shadows Productions for alerting me to this item.]

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Encore! 10 Commandments for the Professional Personal Historian.

10 Commandments for the Professional Personal Historian. I’m not Moses or even a prophet for that matter. But I’ve been around for a while! As a freelancer for thirty years,  I’ve learned some key lessons that can be summed up in these ten commandments that I try my best to follow. Not always successfully!  For those of you starting out, these might provide a useful checklist. For the experienced among us, perhaps the commandments will be a  useful reminder of what we need to keep doing. What are your … Read More

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: Eight Lessons My Mom Taught Me About Marketing.

Eight Lessons My Mom Taught Me About Marketing. My mom is ninety-two and a wise woman. She never had much schooling but she earned her doctorate at the university of life. She has a homespun wisdom that on reflection has taught me some vital marketing lessons. Here they are:  1. Never leave home without being carefully groomed. My mom always leaves her home neatly dressed and with her hair  … Read More

Stop With The Productivity Pitches!

I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia. ~ Woody Allen

Google “personal productivity” and out gush 102,000 blogs and 2,440,000 articles.  Among them you can learn 15 Ways to Maximize Your Lunch Hour. Call me crazy but I like a quiet lunch followed by a nap. If I want to maximize anything, it’s a longer siesta! One productivity guru promises that you too can Live A Stress Free Life With Time Management. Really? If it were that easy, the sales of Ativan would plummet.

My beef with the cult of productivity is that it implies that through increased efficiency we’ll get more done, have more free time, and be happier.  It feeds on our desire to have it all. News Flash! Happiness can’t be achieved through productivity.

Don’t get me wrong. Productivity has its place as long as it doesn’t become an end in itself. Spending our days checking things off lists, getting things done, and measuring our progress won’t ultimately make us happier or our business more successful.

Here’s a modest proposal. Rather than being caught up in the productivity game, just give up! That’s right. Give up.

Let me illustrate with a personal example. Some years ago I decided to transition out of documentary filmmaking  and become a  life coach. I enrolled with the Coaches Training Institute and after a rigorous year graduated as a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach.  I worked hard for the first couple of years marketing, honing my skills, and building a small client base. One day it dawned on me that I really wasn’t happy spending my time on a telephone coaching clients. No amount of increased efficiency was going to change that fact. So I gave up coaching. It wasn’t easy but I needed to move on.  I’m glad I did.

Giving up means acceptance of things as they are. It means stopping the constant need to change things. As “crazy” as it sounds, giving up will ultimately make you happier and your work more joyful.

What can you give up? Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • give up being super productive
  • give up trying to be perfect
  • give up trying to be all things to all people
  • give up worrying about the competition
  • give up working 12 hour days
  • give up  working at happiness
  • give up all the “stuff” that’s useless
  • give up toxic acquaintances
  • give up trying to be #1
  • give up  the self-improvement merry-go-round

Woody Allen’s humorous take on speed-reading gets at the heart of an obsession with productivity.  In our drive for ever-increasing efficiency we rob ourselves of life’s very essence.

What do you think? What are you prepared to give up?

Photo by Phil Gilbert

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

Happy Valentine’s Day! No chocolates I’m afraid but there are some treats for you in this Monday’s Link Roundup. For something unique take a look at Reel Wisdom: Lessons From 40 Films in 7 Minutes. And for all of us who spend hours in front a computer I highly recommend How to Ergonomically Optimize Your Workspace.

  • How To Mourn. “The day after his mother Henriette died in 1977 the French semiotician Roland Barthes began jotting down notes about his grief on slips of paper. “I know now that my mourning will be chaotic,” he wrote eight days after her death. Thirty years after the author’s own death—Barthes was struck by a laundry van in 1980—and more than 40 after the publication of his seminal essay “The Death of the Author,” these notes have been collected and translated, by Richard Howard, and published in the United States as Mourning Diary.”
  • Organize Photos Like an Archivist: Level of Description. “Every year around the “Gotta Get Organized!” time of year, I give away one free information product that helps folks just like you organize photo collections. This year, I asked my email list subscribers and readers to tell me about their greatest information need. We narrowed it down to two choices, and “How to Organize Photos Like An Archivist” was the winner. The final product will be a downloadable PDF file, but I’m getting this party started by publishing Part 1 right here on the blog.” [Thanks to cj madigan founder of ShoeboxStories for alerting me to this item.]
  • How to Ergonomically Optimize Your Workspace. “We spend a lot of time sitting at our desks every day, and while it may not look like it, it can wreak havoc with our bodies. Here’s how to set up a healthy, ergonomic workspace to keep you comfortable and injury-free.”
  • Learn the Basics of Photoshop in Under 25 Minutes. “Photoshop is an incredibly powerful but also intimidating application. If you’ve wanted to start using Photoshop but didn’t know where to start, we’ll be teaching you the basics all week long.”
  • Letting Stories Breathe: A Socio-Narratology. “Stories accompany us through life from birth to death. But they do not merely entertain, inform, or distress us—they show us what counts as right or wrong and teach us who we are and who we can imagine being. Stories connect people, but they can also disconnect, creating boundaries between people and justifying violence. In Letting Stories Breathe, Arthur W. Frank grapples with this fundamental aspect of our lives, offering both a theory of how stories shape us and a useful method for analyzing them. Along the way he also tells stories: from folktales to research interviews to remembrances.” [Thanks to Elisabeth Pozzi-Thanner of Oral History Productions for alerting me to this item.]

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When Small Can Be Profound.

Not long ago I was asked to audio record some final words from a young mother who was dying from cancer.  I’ll call her Sonia to protect the family’s privacy. She was in her early thirties and she wanted to leave something for her only child, a five-year-old boy.

The day I met her, I asked what she would like to say to her little boy. It was not easy. The  anguish of her never seeing her son again made it hard for Sonia to say what was in her heart. But with patience and time we were able to record a few minutes  of her tender wishes and hopes for her boy.

I realized that we were not likely to get more. But a thought struck me. “What about bedtime stories?” I asked Sonia if she read to her boy and if he had some favorite stories. She smiled and nodded. “How would you like to select a couple and we could record you reading them?” She agreed and on my next visit, although she was weak, she softly read the stories that her son had enjoyed. That was the last thing we recorded. Not long after Sonia died.

In all we had recorded little more than half an hour. Not much really. But as I thought about her son and the wonderful gift his mother had left, I was deeply moved. It wasn’t a question of the amount we had recorded. It was that Sonia’s little boy would still be able to hear her comforting voice. And one day, as a man, he would be able to listen to those bedside stories and remember his mother,  a mother who died much too soon. Small can indeed be profound.

Photo by Gaël

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