We’ve been fascinated by the variety of responses to the 2008 Your Life Line directive, and the different ways in which writers have described life events that are significant to them.
Some writers who have contributed to this directive have listed key life events chronologically, and in very neutral terms. Events such as the birth of a child, death of a parent are understated, and it can be difficult to understand how the writer feels about these, requiring a very close reading of the text. This has prompted huge discussions amongst the research team about neutral language use, the context of an individual’s writing, and how evocative very subtle changes in language and terminology can be. Writing, that at a first glance can appear to be a relatively neutral list, can have the capacity to move the reader through its brevity and subtle changes in tone, register and content.
Other writers have written full-blown autobiographies, detailing their feelings about events, everyone involved, giving us insights into the weft and texture of their lives. We thought these would be much easier to analyse. But, as we have started to analyse these we became aware of ourselves as readers, and aware that the writer has produced this writing at one timepoint – 2008 – with hindsight. It has made us wonder whether the writer felt differently at the time that these events were happening?
Writer M388, a female writer who responded to this directive at the age of 77 sums up some of the difficulties of writing a life, and picking out significant events:
As I think about the key events of my life, I wonder if age has a marked effect on perceptions. I think there are fewer ‘key events’ I’d list now then perhaps 20 years ago. Things/events that mattered great deal at the time have merged with other things since to take a less important role in my life line.
This is a point that our transcribers made when they were transcribing the handwritten scripts into electronic documents. They felt that the significant life-events that younger writers were describing were not the same of those as middle-aged and older writers.
We intend to look at some of the earlier writing of some writers who have been writing for the archive for a long-time, and compare these to their more recent writing, to test M388’s thoughts on age and what constitutes a significant life-event.