On a whim inspired by matroyshka dolls and Growing Old: A Journey of Self-Discovery by Danielle Quinodoz, I decided to make a sketch of my “layers.” I found a tabloid-sized sheet of blank newsprint, picked up a pencil, and within about five minutes this graphic emerged showing my life from beginning to now. For the purposes of sharing and further embellishing, I redrew it with color for the boundaries. It’s still rough, as you can see by the orange blotch in the core that didn’t work out quite as hoped. But that’s okay. This is a source of inspiration and insight, not destined for the living room wall.I was surprised as could be to see it. I’ve thought for ages about a chronological map of stages of my life. I like this one ever so much better. It’s organic and representative. As Quinodoz points out, I hold all those previous layers within me, but redefine them and cover them with new growth as I go.
When I began, I had no sense of direction. I thought I might be making a graph of roles I play. This emerged on its own. I will still work with the role idea later, as creativity further instructs.
I especially value this form, because within the layers I have space to write thoughts about that era. Here I’ve included rudimentary memories of threads of activity and my emotions and state of mind at the time. The layer boundaries are especially bold and jagged for times of great turmoil and upheaval. My world shifted on its axis at these points. The colors aren’t significant. Note that the boundaries are uneven – like the rings in an actual tree. They serve to organize memory clusters to clarify my sense of them and provide inspiration when I write.
Perhaps I’ll develop this further, but for now it’s a super-rich source of writing prompts, and it basically comprises a life-long memoir-at-a-glance, at least for me. Those cryptic notes won’t mean a lot to anyone else.
It does show chronology, because the rings expand year-by-year. I didn’t put dates on the ring boundaries, but I could. I could do a lot of things. So can you, if you give this a try. I suggest using even larger paper so you have more room to take your time and make more notes. I predict that you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the patterns and insights.
Write now: Find a huge sheet of paper or piece of posterboard and make your own cross-section. You might sketch it roughly in pencil first, then move to the full-size sheet. Add detail and make it rich. Then write about each layer.