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I received my first camera – a box Brownie – when I was about 8 years old. It didn’t take me long to go through a roll of film. I took pictures of anything that moved.

My father’s camera didn’t have a flashbulb (early 1960s). Instead, he would hold a T-shaped bar with three very large bulbs that could light a stadium. He had to take our pictures quickly, before we were blinded.

When my uncle decided to become a professional photographer, he asked me to sit for him so he’d have some shots for his portfolio. He suggested a nearby park. I said, “Fine,” but, was secretly mortified. I was in high school, and was afraid someone I knew might see me. Ah, teen angst.

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At the end of an event I recently attended, two gentlemen discussed their respective fountain pen collections.  I listened in as they conversed prices and types (cartridge, inkwell).  An image of my father using a fountain pen (and complaining of its leakage) surged out of my memory banks, quickly followed by Koko the Clown.

href=”https://biographer4you.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/koko.jpg”>Koko

Koko_2koko_3The cartoons were a creative combination of animation and live action.Although originally created during the silent movies, a later version was created for television in the early 1960s, and I remember avidly watching them, as they intrigued me to no end. (Trivia: Larry Story of “F Troop” fame supplied many of the voices.) Fountain pens are used by Presidents to sign important legal documents. Artists and writers benefit from the meeting of the literal flow of the ink and the metaphorical flow of the creative processes.

How would you describe the benefits of an ink pen over a ballpoint or gel pen?

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Legend has it that Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in only six words.   His response:  “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” 

Smith Magazine decided to tap into that creative exercise as to one’s life story, and produced a book of compiled six-word memoirs, entitled “Not Quite What I Was Planning.”  Examples of submissions:

404: Life could not be found.

 

Rode the hare instead of tortoise.

 

Found success, lost relatives, then friends.

 

Ignored instructions; still picking up pieces.

 

I still miss my big brother.

 

Took road less traveled. Skinned knees.

 

Always the last in from recess.

 

 

Submit your own six-word memoir here.

 

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Duplex Planet

Duplex Planet

If, for some reason, you’ve been out of the loop for the last couple of decades, I wanted to bring the wonderful “Duplex Planet” to your attention.  I bought this book about ten years ago, and share it whenever I get the chance.  It’s an example of why I enjoy the biography business.  You never know what someone is going to say.

As activity director of the Duplex Nursing Home, David Greenberg became friends with the residents.  He had the idea of asking common and wacky questions to the residents, from “How did you meet your wife?” to “Who was Frankenstein?” and record their responses.  Because it was a nursing home, the mental processes of the residents varied.  “… the names of their conditions of deterioration mattered little to me,” wrote Mr. Greenberg.  “What did matter was that this was someone still very much alive, very interested in conversing, in entertaining or being entertained, in connecting with someone else.”

 

Excerpts:

 

What’s the most valuable thing you ever lost?

 

Well, to me it was valuable.  It was a letter written to us extolling the virtues of my son from the Superintendent of Schools.  He said it could be used as a letter of recommendation anytime in his life.  It told that he was not only good scholastically, but he had good character as well.  I lost it somewhere. It fell out of my pocket.  To me it was valuable.

 

Herman Seftel

 

What can you tell me about the Beatles?

 

I don’t know nothin’ about the Beatles.  I can tell you more about the Salem Fire.  June 25th, 1914.  It burned seven days and seven nights.  We had doughnuts and coffee by the Salvation Army. I also wrote a book on the Salem Fire.  Worked with the Salem Public Works Department, fifteen years.

 

Walter Kieran

 

What’s the worst trouble you were ever in?

 

Probably I’ve been in plenty, but I don’t remember it.  My memory isn’t as good as it used to be.  Used-to-be.  How long ago is that, huh? 

 

Fergie Ferguson

 

Treat yourself to this insightful, humorous and poignant book of collected conversations of seasoned individuals.

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So, what?  Biographies are not just for “famous people.”  Every single person has an interesting story to share.  Everyone. 

Ask five people you know the same question and see what different responses you get.  For example:  “When you were a child, what was something you got away with?”

Share your results here.

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A fellow historian recently attended an aging conference in Switzerland, where she learned that, in Germany alone, there are over 10,000 residents over the age of 100.  One of them was quoted as saying, “I stopped worrying about my children when they entered rest homes.”

Who is your oldest relative?  What is his or her earliest memory that you find really interesting?

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“We are such spendthrifts with our lives,”  Mr. Newman once told a reporter.  “The trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster.  I’m not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out.”

Paul Newman

Paul Newman

Thank you, Paul, for sharing your time on the planet with us, and setting a high bar for others to aspire.

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