Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year's Resolution: Eat That Elephant!

By Liz Adair

This is my Year of the Family History. I have one cubic yard of letters that I have been carrying around for about forty years. Luckily I have moved several times in those forty years, and as the letters surfaced, the sheer bulk reminded me again that I needed to do something with them.

I have every letter I ever wrote my mother and every letter I wrote to my mother-in-law. My goal this year is to transcribe the letters and 'publish' them for the family. First, though, I'll use editorial license and take out all the whining. Then I will burn them all. Well, maybe not, but it will be a great temptation. Who wants to be remembered as a whiner?

I also have letters my mother wrote to me. I have already transcribed and published her letters from Afghanistan (see www.lettersfromafghanistan.com ), but there are lots more. Then, there are the letters from my husband. We wrote for the year I was away at college before he went on his mission, and we corresponded weekly while he was in England as a missionary. Two years ago my daughter and grandson helped me transcribe and publish those letters for the family.

I have been trying to get the oomph to sit down and categorize the letters: From Mother, To Mother, From Grandmother, To Grandmother, From...you get the idea. Then, within that category, they need to be put into chronological order. I get tired just thinking about it. However, today I had an epiphany: I don't need to sort them at all! I shall simply take the first one in the first box and transcribe it, naming the file according to a protocol with date and to/from. Later, when I'm ready to publish, it will be easy to sort either by date or by recipient or writer, and then I can gather whichever ones I want to include in a particular publication into a larger file.

When I finish a letter, I'll put it in a "Transcribed" box and take another one from the waiting cubic yard--it doesn't matter who wrote it or when or to whom it was addressed, since the sorting will be done later. Every day I will back up my work with a copy in some remote location that will survive a fire or flood.

So, I'll eat the elephant a bite at a time. I'll savor a toe here, an ear there; I'll nibble the trunk and then the leg; I'll take a bite out of the rump and chew it with lip-smacking enjoyment because, though it's tough and stringy, I'm getting it down. I won't carry the metaphor any further, because it has to do with regurgitation as I sort and publish, and that's grosser than contemplating what chewing on raw elephant would be like.

But, you get the idea. I'm on it. This is the year of the family history elephant. Dinner, anyone?

1 comment:

Cecily Markland said...

I'm impressed with your ability to think outside the box of letters and around the traditional methods for organizing your family history. Isn't it wonderful to hit upon an idea that will save time and that also frees up your creative juices so you can move forward? I'm reminded of the paper sorting I was doing last night and wondering how many things in my own life could be simplified and approached from a different perspective. Thanks for your inspiration and example. I can't wait to read some of the letters!