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Journal

The Journal

When Did That Happen?: A Solstice Retrospective

That's me in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, USA in the winter of 1986

That's me in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, USA in the winter of 1986

My partner and I have been together for 9 months now and - as you often do in a new relationship - we've been telling each other stories from our lives: the places we lived, the people we knew, the significant (and sometimes completely ridiculous) moments of our history.

This is one of my favorite parts of being in a relationship: sharing stories, reflecting on who we've been, and getting new perspectives on the past - all by looking through the lens of time. We paint a picture of the person we used to be - and share the reasons why we ended up here, now, together.

One of the major problems with my own personal history is that I've moved about 15 times (not exaggerating) in the last 14 years. I've lived in 3 different countries, 4 different American states, and 10 different cities. Add in all the everyday events and changes that a human being experiences in their life, and my history can get pretty confusing.

Similarly, when my partner tells me stories of his own life, I sometimes forget details that he's already shared (were you in the UK that year? were you still in school?). We also grew up in different countries (I'm American, he's Greek), so I often need extra help remembering the cultural context in which those events happened.

So during one of our life-story sharing sessions last week, I had an idea. What if we could see each other's histories - all the significant places, people and events that have shaped who we are - in one big timeline? We could take an afternoon and create our own personal timelines - the who, what, where, and why of our lives so far. Then we could cuddle up together and share it with each other.

My suggestion for this was three-fold. First, I thought it would be a wonderful way to get to know the scope of each other's lives - to see the moments, people, places and ideas that we believe were significant in shaping who we've become. We'd already shared photographs from our pasts, but I personally understand (and remember) things much better if I see them written down with words (rather than just in images).

Second, I wanted to see the big picture of my own life. I'm currently in a whole new phase - one that is more grounded, happy and self-expressed than any other year of my life so far. I was curious what had led me here and I wanted to look back on how far I've come. With Winter Solstice around the corner and the conventional new year (2017) just a few weeks away, it seemed like perfect timing to do a mini-retrospective.

And third, I just really love playing with markers - and what a better excuse than a poster project with my sweetheart on a cold winter night?

So on Saturday night, we decided to clear our schedules and sit down together for an evening full of memories, music, and craft supplies.

crafting our history

We sat across from each other at my desk and lit some candles, burned a bay leaf to clear the air and ground ourselves, then drank from a communal cup of mastika as a way to connect before descending into our past. We'd already brainstormed about a few topics we wanted to cover, but decided we would take the next few hours to freestyle our way through creating our timelines.

Our timelines in progress...

Our timelines in progress...

We let our personal styles come out in our design: I chose one-word prompts and blocks of color; he chose color-coded phrases connected with lines and arrows. He added more paper when he ran out of room; I started over when I realized that I'd totally messed up the timing of some events. Willingly, we fell down the rabbit hole of history and emerged 6 hours later - shocked at how fast the time had passed.

Some of my favorite parts of the evening were: looking up from my own project to see him staring off into the distance - his mind searching for a memory - before adding it to his timeline; or hearing myself say "oh yeeeeaaaah" at a memory that resurfaced from my subconscious; or commiserating with him about how easy it was to confuse dates and misplace huge life events.

Human memory is notorious for making mistakes, missing links, and dropping important details. Sometimes this is intentional, sometimes it's subconscious. Several times we both needed to consult our computers - to look up a date or to verify a detail - but for the most part, we did everything by memory.

hindsight is twenty-twenty

We've not yet shared our timelines with each other, but doing the timeline helped put so much of my own personal history into perspective. Seeing everything laid out visually has helped me make some connections between chronological events, challenges, and personal revelations that have shaped me.

For example, the same year my immediate family experienced a crisis that made my home life a living hell for me (I will keep the details private), I also started my period, went on pointe in ballet, injured my knee, had to quit ballet (after it being at the center of my life for 7 years), was being mercilessly bullied at school, and (thankfully) discovered the life-saving music of Tori Amos (Precious Things, Icicle, and Caught a Light Sneeze...you know what I mean?).

All of those memories - separately - were significant for the development of my younger self (and the teenager and adult that I would later become). But seeing them all together visually - that they all happened in the same year - was a revelation. It put into context the excruciating emotional pain and confusion of the immediate years that followed. Having a bird's eye view helped me offer more compassion to my younger self. I mean, of course I was a mess: my body, my social life, my school life, my home life were all in flux or crisis.

That's just one example, but there are endless chains of events and stacked experiences that similarly opened doorways, pushed me forward or held me back. And because they're all laid out in this timeline, I'm seeing lots of clues about what I find significant, what inspires me, and what makes me lose my focus. For example, there's that huge blank white space from 2010 to 2013 with nothing in the "why" category (but a whole lot in the "what" and "who"). I see this as a warning: if I'm focused only on care-taking someone else, my personal growth gets sidetracked and my emotional life suffers.

Also, one of my "character flaws" is that I often think about chunks of time ("my college years" or "those years in Missouri") with an all-or-nothing mentality. I tend to forget the really great things that happen and often focus only on the painful memories. ("Those years were horrible" or "I made a huge mistake"). I also tend to downplay my own achievements and only see the ways that I didn't live up to my own expectations ("I completely screwed up" or "I totally failed").

But the timeline actually helped me remember the wonderful moments and incredible achievements that I had forgotten. I remembered some personal journeys and moments of joyful awakening. And I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the friendships that have sustained me through all of it.

And I realized something else that's even more important: I'm actually excited for my future. If it's anything like this colorful, rich and intense life that I have lived so far, then I would say it's going to at least be interesting - if not downright fabulous.

My finished timeline (with bits blurred out for privacy).

My finished timeline (with bits blurred out for privacy).

Your Free Guide to Crafting Your own Timeline

Are you interested in making your own timeline? I've created a free guide for you! You can download Crafting Your Timeline right here.

I would love to hear (and see!) what you discover! With Winter Solstice 2016 just around the corner, this is the perfect time of year to do a retrospective. Descend into the darkest night of the year, reflect on the past, and emerge with new insights. Blessed Winter Solstice, dear friends.