The Accidental Personal Historian

I’ve had three careers. Each was an accident.

In the1970s I worked a humdrum job for a power plant construction firm. After writing an unsolicited report on how to improve document workflow I became publications manager. It was a super opportunity, but by 1982 I needed greater challenges. “Why not work for yourself?” asked my husband. I knew nothing about being in business but it sounded better than working for someone else.

Talk about timing. IBM had just introduced the PC; the technology consulting firm I started lasted 21 years.

In 2003, my husband died. It was time for a new life, a new career. I’d recently caught up with a childhood friend. “I bet you became a writer,” she said. I’d always written—mostly just for me, mostly in times of stress—and I’d always loved it. Why had her assumption brought me to tears?

I joined a writers group and started learning the ropes. Soon I was writing for an online travel blog that went belly-up without paying me and for a monthly newspaper that provided encouragement and a small stipend. The assignments I loved the most told stories.

In 2004 I was doing research at the library when a woman at the adjoining microfilm reader showed me how to thread the machine.
My benefactor was Teena Cahill, a psychologist in town to give a keynote speech. “What do you do?” she asked.

“I’m a writer,” I replied, though the words still sounded foreign.

“I’m a writer, too,” said Teena. “I’m writing a book but can’t find the right editor. I’m so frustrated.”

“I can edit your book.” Where did that come from? I didn’t even know the topic, but it felt right.

“Okay,” said Teena. “Come to my talk tomorrow and we’ll discuss the specifics.” We now laugh at our impetuousness.

The next afternoon I read of the near death of Teena’s husband and how their entire family adapted to support his recovery. I couldn’t wait to get started. It was only later, when I found APH, that I realized I’d become a personal historian.

Teena’s book was published in 2007. The same year I married a man who’s as enthusiastic about the field as I am and whose expertise in photo restoration merges perfectly with my writing skills. Together we’ve helped many clients tell their stories, some for publication, most for the enjoyment of family and friends.

I love this work. It took three accidental careers to get here, but I now can answer my childhood friend with conviction.
“Yes, I became a writer.”

Susan Owens
Tales for Telling

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One Response to The Accidental Personal Historian

  1. Annie Payne says:

    Hello Susan,

    I enjoyed this blog immensely, feeling that I had travelled a similar journey myself. My second husband, John, has amazing technical skills and love ‘tinkering’ with all of the tasks that I loathe as a personal historian – inserting text boxes, enhancing photos, formatting etc. I revel in the people contact of interviewing and writing the story ot teaching the class. Just as well!

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