Tag Archives: life event

Modern culture of the ‘milestone’ limits power of life writing

When I inform people I write about my life in an academic context, they typically reply, “Really? I could never do that. I’m not that exciting.”

It’s disheartening to me. Life writing, for one, has profound benefits, including self-discovery, self-awareness and reflection. Furthermore, that reply reveals a disturbing trend in the culture of defining milestones.

Now I’ve never climbed a mountain. I’ve never experienced a tragedy (thankfully). I’ve never gotten married or even dated anyone. And yet, I have much to write about my life.

Recently, I opened a credit card under my name. I adopted a plant (named Lorenzo). That reply to my question, however, practically eliminates the potential for growth and learning inherent in every life event. The rigidity in the definition of the modern ‘life event’ worries me.

With the ever-popular celeb memoir supplying the grandeur of multi-million-dollar weddings, crumbling public relationships, athletic fame and more, personal milestones feel minute, even unimportant.

Facebook likewise complicates the ‘life event.’ I wrote the following excerpt in a fall 2013 mini-memoir about my identity, and it feels more applicable than ever, particularly as I enter the post-graduate era of ‘Facebook-official’ engagements and marriages.

* * *

Now, a timeline is more than a notion in my mind. More than a guide from one experience to the next. More than a frame of mind, a valiant attempt to comprehend and organize the awkward in my life. Now, a timeline is clickable, likable and alarmingly, deleteable, thanks to Facebook. No longer an entirely individual or private concept, the timeline is public proof of milestones hit — and missed.

Likewise, a blog functions as a type of organizational record that eases the disorder inherent in life, where I can decide which moments to include and exclude, highlight and downplay. Plus, with a quick, clickable tag or category, my world somehow feels more defined, more manageable. The uncertainty I loathe is compressed in a neat, maybe even alliterative tag of one to three words.

* * *

In the tradition of life writing, I can’t provide an astute ‘conclusion.’

Moving forward in my goal to comprehend the ‘life event,’ I merely pledge to abandon the concept of an established ‘milestone.’

I am not behind. I am not ahead. I’m learning not to depend on the cultural definition of the ‘right time.’ It’ll never be the ‘right time.’ It’ll always be my time, though.

While I won’t add an engagement or marriage to my Facebook timeline in the near future like many of my classmates, I’m keeping my plant, Lorenzo, alive. And for me, that’s a pretty big deal.

Meet Lorenzo, my plant.

Meet Lorenzo, my plant.

Milestone commemoration a source of unanswered questions

My collegiate plunge into life writing produced an unexpected but welcome habit: unremitting reflection. Add in a life-changing trip abroad and an academic year defined by change and fear, and well, I have a lot on which to reflect.

All that fodder for lingering led me to think about the modern commemoration of the life landmark — a peculiar moment defined at once by the individual and the culture.

With a quick click on Facebook, for example, one can take a brief tour through each important “life event,” decided by the profile owner. And that’s where I begin to feel particularly unmoored: the ownership of life events.

Though I immediately placed my January 2014 trip to Turkey in the “high impact” category in my life, I worry adding it to an arbitrary “timeline” could trivialize the power and tangibility of it. If I type it into an electronic timeline, it’s available for a few hundred “friends” to imagine, conceptualize and ultimately, define for me. But I’m probably overthinking it.

Additionally, I’m baffled by the ownership of memory in relation to the tangibility of it — the tickets, the souvenirs and the leftover Turkish lira in my back pocket. They traveled from one retailer to another, one gutter to another, one pocket to another, one continent to another and finally, wound up in an Arabic-decorated trinket box in America’s Heartland. Yet, do I really own those mementos?

I can’t help but wonder if a traveler before me experienced a more poignant moment with them. But in the box they’ll remain, harboring my memory — and undoubtedly, many more I’ll never know.

Finally, I worry about my ability and more broadly, my generation’s ability, to comprehend the gravity of life’s milestones and memories. With the ability available to “delete” a “life event,” with an album requiring a click rather than a week of paper-cutting (and a paper cut or two, given my lack of crafting grace), are we missing valuable opportunities to linger on life experiences? Have we made memory commemoration too easy, too quick and frankly, too public, for it to impact us in a lasting and meaningful way?

Well, I’m going to try to find out. I plan to create a tangible project from my Turkey experience (with the guidance of my creative younger sister, of course). And no, I don’t mean adding a bad clip-art flower or “xoxo” to a photo and placing it in a glittery photo frame.

Whatever the project, I hope I’ll find a new kind of reflective experience and maybe, an epiphany the Facebook “timeline” and “like” could never provide. And maybe, I’ll even avoid the dreaded crafting paper cut.