Story and Why
"Your Life is Your Story" Blog Archives
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BIO President James McGrath Morris Advice for Biographers
June 28, 2013
It is good to see that the head of the Biographers International Organization (BIO),
James McGrath Morris, is doing well. And he has some sage words for
those working in the field of biographies, which can differ
significantly from personal history and memoir writing.
In a profile piece of ASJA Monthly (a publication for American journalists and authors) he mentions how BIO
came together, what are hot areas for biographers, common mistakes that
are made, the money issue and also touches on the academic
publishing/self publishing topic. You can read the article online here.
Saving My Library Card
June 25, 2013
got a new library card today. The old one was tattered and falling
apart and while I could still use the number to reserve books through
the online portal of Albuquerque's library system, I still wanted to
have an actual card.
While I was filling out the paperwork the librarian asked if I wanted
to save the card. I thought, no, but then she mentioned that people
were doing it for "baby books" and that caught my attention. Another
memento from your past. Objects can help us recall life experiences. My
old card is not old enough to be from my childhood, but it spurred the
idea of this blog entry.
Being in a library on a hot summer day also brought back memories.
Books are a gateway to the world's treasure trove of information and
(most especially) stories. I was happy to see kids in the library. Now
that I am working as a school teacher I am more motivated to promote
reading. Yes, summer time is time for getting outdoors and playing. But
it is also a great time for reading.
Saving a child's first library card can be an important reminder
of the value of reading, as well as for the importance of libraries.
Which, by the way, could be headed for the endangered species list. The
Internet is fabulous for finding information. And electronic readers
are convenient. But I would hate to see libraries disappear.
Unfortunately, more and more libraries are closing down. A search of
"saving libraries" revealed two sites dedicated to preserving the
library system: SaveLibraries.org and savethelibraries.com.
Perhaps you will decide to make a trip to your local library. Inside is
a world waiting, a world of ideas and imagination. And it is a resource
that (for now) continues to be a free community service. I'm glad it is
still available in my town.
Walking and Listening Across America
June 24, 2013
Lots of people like to walk. But it seems listening is in short supply.
Put them together and you have the amazing story of Andrew Forsthoefel,
a 23-year old man with a serious case of wanderlust and a desire to
In 2011 he had just graduated from college and wanted, as he put it,
"to do something that would both affect others in a positive way and
satisfy my own need to explore the worlds inside and outside of
myself." The result is he walked across America and recorded the
stories of people he met. This is a very unique oral history adventure
that has been turned into a radio project (visit transom.org) and Andrew also maintains his own site and blog (walkingtolisten.com). I understand he's now writing about his journey. What a fascinating piece of personal history.
Personal History Begins At Birth
June 21, 2013
I was reading a new blog post, Now It’s Really Personal: Saving Your Grandkids’ Stories, on the APH
site. Sue Hessel has just become a first time grandmother and is
enjoying all that comes with that blessed role. But she is also putting
her personal history skills to work with her new grandchild.
I have two grandchildren, so I took particular interest in her post.
Jacob is a 3-year old active boy who calls me "Pawkin". Sophia is 8
months of rolly-polly delight. She has very expressive eyes.
How soon should one begin preserving a life story? Sue believes every
baby should be issued a personal historian at birth. And she is
wasting no time in serving in that role as she been documenting young
Gaby's first weeks. She has already put together a series of short
books for various family members and has even started a blog, First Grandma On the Planet.
It might seem surprising and a bit overindulgent to be doing personal
history projects so soon into a life. But there are some great reasons
to do so. When we look back years later we might remember certain
personality quirks or special occasions. But let's face it, things get
fuzzy over time. Doing books and narratives to accompany pictures early
on helps you to recall just why that boy or girl was so funny,
creative, insightful or even moody.
These early life projects also help family members share their feelings
about the baby as she grows or what it was like for the parents when he
Every life is worth living to the fullest and all lives have an ongoing
story. Personal history begins at birth. I've been learning more about
this over the years and with my own grandchildren. This is a valuable
June 17, 2013
While most people were observing Father's Day yesterday, I thought I would pass along a memory sparked by an NPR report I heard Saturday morning. The radio story mentioned that every June 16 is National Fudge Day,
but the real "sweet spot" of the story was about Mackinac Island. Many
recognize this quaint island in Northern Michigan (between the state's
lower section and upper peninsula where the "Uppers, pronounced you-purrs, reside) as the modern day fudge capital.
Fudge is a wonderful chocolate-and-then-some confection we eat mainly
around the Christmas holidays, but on Mackinac Island there are more
than a dozen shops that make the fudge everyday, right there in front
of you. The aroma in the town is a mixture of delicious smells of fudge
and that of the many horse drawn carriages that are one of the main
forms of transportation on the island.
I lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for a few years. One of the
delightful weekend getaways my wife and two children took was to
Mackinac. We rode the ferry over. No cars are allowed on the island, so
you get around on foot, bikes, roller blades or the aforementioned
horse drawn carriages. We did all of that and had a really great and
memorable time. The kids were young then (seven and two) and it was fun
to share in their excitement over things like riding across the water
in the ferry, bouncing along in the carriage pulled by a flatulent
horse, and devouring some baked fresh fudge from one of the local
Hearing the radio story about National Fudge Day and Mackinac Island
brought back a flood of memories. I realize I haven't written about it
before, except in my journal. It is another reminder of the rich
treasure trove of memories we can turn into memoir worthy events.
Sharing vacation times can be a good way to generate family history
memories and get you started on telling your life story.
Ridin' That Train
June 14, 2013
It was a year ago that I was riding the rails, revisiting my past by
taking a train ride from Albuquerque to Kansas City. The Amtrak ride
was my chosen mode of transportation for a trip to the city where my
parents had retired and lived out their lives. I chose June so
that I could remember them (their anniversary is June 14 and my mother
passed on June 15) as well as make a short retreat and run a road race.
Everything coincided nicely for some much needed reflection and
The train ride brought back memories of a trip to KC from Albuquerque
when I was in my twenties. My parents paid the fare so they could get a
visit from their son and I had a bit of an adventure, riding the many
miles through a summer day and night. This time, some thirty years
later, I rode and did a lot of thinking and writing. And it was an apt
metaphor for personal history work.
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Salute to Dan Curtis
June 11, 2013
Over the years I have found many helpful resources for life story work by following Dan Curtis' Personal Historian blog.
I read with interest his postings. He writes with sincerity and
insight. He is encouraging and practical. He has constantly been a
source of good information for the field of personal history work.
Today I read Dan's final post
for his blog. I was caught off-guard by his pronouncement that this was
his last post for a blog that has maintained such excellent standards.
But as Dan put it, after five years, 704 posts and 321,643 visitors he
has written pretty much everything he felt was pertinent for the field.
Dan Curtis is not retiring and I am glad to hear it. He is going to
continue to mentor others in the Victoria Hospice Life Stories program
he founded. And he's going to spend more time devoted to his spiritual
path of contemplation and study with the Buddhist community he's been a
part of for the past 15 years.
While a part of me is saddened at the discontinuation of Dan's blog,
another part is quite admiring him. He's clearly a person who is
focused on what is important and takes priority. It takes courage and
conviction to make these kinds of decisions and to devote energy to the
most important things in our lives.
He will continue to be a part of the Association of Personal Historians
and I hope to be in communication with him from time to time. I've
often found good things for my blog thanks to reading his. It's
possible he's occasionally gained benefit from reading mine (he's been
kind enough to mention me in the past). While he won't be posting new
material he is going to keep his blog online for another year and will
also gather some of his material into e-books or e-pamphlets. I
recommend you visit his site. And all the best to you, Dan Curtis. Thanks for your many contributions.
30 Year Milestone for Huey Lewis and the News
June 9, 2013
been thirty years since the release of one of the biggest selling
albums of the 1980's. In 1983 Huey Lewis and the News really hit the
bigtime with their album, Sports. It sold ten million copies and spawned
four hits. Always a great live act, the News with Huey at the helm
toured steadily on the strength of this album. Huey Lewis, one of the
nicest guys in the business, was already over 30 when he and his group
amassed this great success. That probably helped him handle all that
fame brought his way.
I was a young program director at the time for a rock radio station in
Albuquerque, New Mexico (Rock 108 KFMG). As such, we had Huey come by
the station for an interview. I called my wife before he showed up to
see if she had any questions she wanted me to ask. She good-naturedly
suggested to ask if he wanted to go to dinner. Well, as it turned out,
I was able to take Huey and the entire band, along with some station
personnel, out to a nice restaurant and I brought Annette along. We had
a great time and the concert that night was an excellent show. All in
all, a very memorable evening.
CBS Sunday Morning
had a feature story and interview with Huey Lewis today. It was fun to
see how he's getting along and they mentioned that a 30th anniversary
of Sports was being released
with the band touring in support. After all these years it's apparent
he loves what he does. In fact, he said if he'd never had the big
success he'd still be happy playing harmonica with a band in
nightclubs. That's following your bliss.
Music and concerts have been a big part of my life. I find it easy to
reminisce about the subject and to write about it. In many ways the
music is a literal soundtrack to my life story. What about you? Are
there particular songs, albums and musical artists that are part of
your life and story? Make a list of those musicians, bands, concerts
and songs. It could be a gateway into your memoir.
Amazing Personal History Story From WWII Spitfire Film
June 3, 2013
The discovery of a 16mm film of a Spitfire crash landing in WWII led to
a short documentary and a reuniting with the pilot who knew he'd been
filmed but had never seen it.
Lt. Col. John Blyth was an American who flew reconnaissance missions
during World War II. It was very dangerous work. He flew alone and
unarmed and captured many pictures crucial over enemy territory in Europe. This was surely critical information and helpful to the Allies war strategy.
one of his missions his landing gear was jammed and could not be
lowered and he had to belly land on a grassy field. The flight surgeon
at his air base, Jim Savage, took 16mm footage of the landing, but
Blyth never saw it and lost touch after the war with the man. However,
William Lorton, a documentary film maker and the great newphew of Jim
Savage, discovered the footage and a picture of the pilot after his
dramatic landing. He used the information from the tail of his Spitfire
(PA 944), entered it into a Google search and remarkably found out
information about the crash and the pilot.
The kicker is when Lorton got a response from Blyth who accepted an
invitation to meet and be interviewed. Lorton took along Jason Savage,
the doctor's great grandson, and the rest of the story is just too
wonderful to spoil. Watch the video and see the magic of personal
history coming together in most wonderful way.
Watch it on YouTube