Another exercise suggested in Bill Roorbach’s Writing Life Stories has to do with timelines. The idea is that you create timelines for various years in your life. He suggests jotting notes in a box for each month of the year you are digging into. I took a slightly different approach that suits my super-organized way of doing everything. I used Excel. On each row, I entered the date in one cell, then a description of some event in another cell. This way I’d never run out of room in any given boxes for a period of my life, and I can just keep adding to it as I find time to work on it, periodically resorting the list in chronological order. I then went through a lot of files I keep. The two that were most interesting were my old taxes and my medical records folder.
My timeline file has only 57 events in it so far, but by going through my old taxes (I had copies of every year from age 17 on), I was able to reconstruct the jobs I had when I was younger. I’ve had a lot of jobs, which I will talk about in another post – but my timeline showed me just how many jobs I had during the few year stretch immediately out of high school – from factories to dive restaurants to department stores. It was fascinating to look back at how little money I made, and how often I changed jobs. I also moved a lot. There were three years where I filed taxes in more than one state because I was moving around so much.
The medical records were eye-opening, too. Since I live far from home, I must have requested copies of my records from the local hospital where I had a few surgeries and other health encounters that landed me in the ER. If you can get your hands on copies of your medical records, you should. Not only for practical reasons, but to read what these people actually wrote about you. It’s really interesting to read about the actual procedures in medical terminology, and the opinions the doctors have of how you presented to them. I will find something to share one of these days, but to get back to the point of sharing my first experience with the timelines exercise, it really did do a lot to jar my memory of different events. I’m kicking around the idea of writing a piece just based on the medical mishaps of my youth. I recommend the timelines exercise to anyone that wants to take a different angle on remembering their past.