19 Apr 2023. My early April scanning binge peaked with capturing all of my husband's 70-or-so professional papers. The result of my labors didn't make much sense. 35 years of dense scientific methodologies. Then, I put the titles in chronological order.
Years as headings.
Now I could add notes about his geographical moves, his faculty appointments, the fellowships that took him around the world, etc. What else was happening during those years? Slowly, from the fog of academic verbiage, a life story emerged. An intellectual history.
And I fell in love with my husband all over.
This is the power of story: what happens next?
For the nonfiction biography Kitty's People, my most powerful tool was the timeline—OneNote pages where I put all events for every family member together under Year headings. Then I could throw in national events (wars, pandemics), local events (floods, weather), and the dates of Easter and Thanksgiving. (The lives of traditional families are definitely punctuated by holiday rituals!)
For fiction, of course, timelines are critical so that the author knows where all her characters are as they clash and separate, clash and separate. And as they all converge on the big climax.
Personal insights can also be gleaned from putting subtler life events in chronological order.
In 2003, exhausted from trying to change the world, I took early retirement to pursue the art life.
Once settled in my new life, I set out to portray my "final days" on the job in a screenplay that I could turn into a short animated video.
I wrote a timeline.
It was a searing tick-tock—when I felt an ego blow and when I acted like a brat (cause or effect?). Once I had my grumpy office-politics timeline completed, I added in the creative work I'd been doing as a hobby.
It was a revelation. Wherever my timeline showed a blow to my professional ambitions, it also showed me making a short video. It was the dawn of desktop filmmaking and animation. The learning curves were enormous, but I was producing little two-minute gems. A couple even won recognition.
Until then, I hadn't seen my video art as a response to falling out of love with my career. But there it was. On a timeline. A clear correlation. It made me feel good to see the disappointing balanced by the hopeful. It made me feel resilient.
I'd love to know your experience. Have you ever gained insights from a timeline?
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Books from Mad in Pursuit and Susan Barrett Price: KITTY'S PEOPLE: the Irish Family Saga about the Rise of a Generous Woman (2022)| HEADLONG: Over the Edge in Pakistan and China (2018) | THE SUDDEN SILENCE: A Tale of Suspense and Found Treasure (2015) | TRIBE OF THE BREAKAWAY BEADS: Book of Exits and Fresh Starts (2011) | PASSION AND PERIL ON THE SILK ROAD: A Thriller in Pakistan and China (2008). Available at Amazon.