Where Do You Start?

Linell Joyce has done the irreplaceable work of preserving more than 500 letters of her correspondence with a beloved grandmother, during years that Lin and her career-CIA husband Bill lived on assignment In Vienna, Jordan, Ivory Coast, Thailand, Cyprus, and England. She’s sorted the letters chronologically into binders along with pertinent photos and memorabilia. 

Linell Joyce preserved more than 500 letters.

Linell Joyce preserved more than 500 letters.

Now Lin has hired Retelling to help her tell the story of their lives lived in many interesting places, and of the relationship with her grandmother that grounded and enriched Lin’s journey.

But where do we begin? How do you get your arms around 500 letters?

First we’ve honed in on Lin’s purpose, as described above. Next we decided upon an organizing structure: an introduction, a chapter about her growing up (living with her grandmother), a chapter for each foreign assignment, and a summary. She wants it to be interesting reading, not wax on and grow boring, so for each country she had to choose the best of the best stories and photographs, and the most pertinent letter excerpts. From “much” we titrated out the best. The signature memories.

Lin brings the subjective, the memories, the love for her children and grandchildren for whom she wants to leave a legacy from an adventurous, sometimes dangerous life. I bring the objective, the sense of when a chapter is “full enough,” the recognition that some photos are not of publishing quality. I will bring the shears.

What a luxury it’s for Lin to have an excuse to take the time to remember the past and execute a plan to pare down those memories to the gold! She spread it all out and came away with something lasting, rather than a big mess on the kitchen table. That is the reward of a personal history project.

Copyright © 2013 by Mary Beth Lagerborg