Some Key Concepts
personal history, change, historical context
This activity encourages us to think about our personal histories. What are some of the points of change in our lives? What has influenced us along the way? To prepare for this activity, find as large a piece of paper as you can (18×24 is good) and gather a variety of markers and/or colored pencils.
Is the map of your life journey more of a river, or a road map?
Mapping Your Life Journey
1. Put your birthdate in one corner of your paper. Put today’s date in the opposite corner.
2. Take a moment to think of some major influences, places, people, and events in your life. Jot down a list if you’d like to.
3. How did you get from where you were born through all those people, places, and events to where you are today? If you think about it as a journey, does it feel more like a road trip to you or like a voyage down a river? Each offers ways to frame your life’s journey, and whether it’s a series of roads or a river, it’s a sure bet that it has not been a straight line. There can be twists and turns in both roads and rivers, congested passages and wide, empty, easy traveling stretches, rapids, roadblocks, detours, portage, side roads, tributaries, dead ends and new beginnings. Sometimes we set out to go one way and find that we choose, or are compelled to choose, or stumble into a different route altogether.
4. Now that your thoughts are warmed up, draw the basic shape of your journey: the route from your birthdate to where you are today. Does it meander? Zig zag? Have slow curves in it or abrupt changes or a combination? Label the major influences and events on your map. Show as much detail as you can about the quality of the journey. If you’ve chosen a road map, are there sections that are 6-lane highways and others that are like dirt roads? Are there potholes along the way? If you’ve chosen a river, are there rocks under the water? Broad expanses where the waves are gentle? You can draw pictures and symbols, too, to convey information. Are there areas where your journey took you through woods? Farmlands? Cities?
Spend about fifteen to twenty minutes filling in details as they occur to you using either words to label or symbols/images to illustrate, or a combination.
5. Choose one place on your map to focus on: whichever place draws your attention right at this moment. If you’ve got room on your paper, you can draw an “exploded view” of it there; you can also take a new sheet of paper to work on. Add more details through words and pictures to this part of your life.
a. Use the phrase “It was a time when…” to begin sentences to create a list of images and memories: Complete as many sentences as you can that come easily to you to describe the time.
b. Jot down any song lyrics that you associate with this time in your life.
c. Jot down any quotes or lines you remember, whether from movies, books, or things people said.
d. Label the details of this part of your map. For example, if your original map has “children” on it, this could be the place to jot down their names, birthdays, ages, nicknames.
e. Add any other details that you are remembering about this time in your life: people, places, events, etc.
Spend about fifteen minutes filling in as many details as you can remember as they occur to you.
- How does your life story center in/reflect your family life?
- How does it take you into the world beyond your family of origin?
- Does your life story intersect with major historical events or eras in significant ways?
You can find out more about what was going on in the world, the context of your memories, by using any year and search terms such as “timeline” or “popular music” or “major news events.”
Project Suggestions and Ways to Practice
- Look over the detail of your map and circle or star the words, phrases, images, or other items that jump out at you right in this moment. Write a story, poem, song lyric, or essay that begins with something you circled.
- Do this activity in a group of friends or in a classroom. Briefly share highlights from everyone’s maps (each person should choose what, if anything, they want to share; it is okay to pass on sharing).
- Choose something from your map that you would like to share on the ECHO Timeline. Stop by The LAVA Center at 324 Main in Greenfield on 1st or 3rd Thursdays in September, October, or November 2021, between 5 and 8 pm to add your timeline item, or email Lindy@echogreenfield.org with the information and we’ll add it.