Zettelkasten Forum

Creating a Personal History in your Zettelkasten

I have been working on a Zettelkasten for about 2.5 years. One of my purposes in starting a ZK was to capture brief memories or "snapshots" of my past, with a focus partly on what happened and partly on how I felt (at the time) or feel (now) about that event. I don't pursue this in any organized way, either in relation to time or theme. I simply deal with memories as they arise, prompted by a discussion with a friend or family member, or from looking at a photo. The order is thus random. But I hoped that as I gathered a large number of brief memories and connected them together, they would form a somewhat coherent personal history that was also intimately tied to other zettels, such as those expressing personal values and beliefs.

This is now coming to fruition, although there is still a long way to go. After a while, I created one of my few structure notes to deal with this topic (of a personal history) and then that became complex enough to become a "super-structure note" or "hub", in I think @Will 's terminology, (I only have have 2 hub notes).

For example, today, when looking through some personal files, I came across a tribute (of sorts) to my father, that I wrote 14 years ago for his memorial service. I had honestly forgotten about it, but it proved to be a treasure trove of memories of my father and of thoughts about getting old and dying (much closer in my own life now). I ended up creating 2 zettels to deal with these two themes. There could actually be more, shorter, more "atomic" notes, but then that would destroy the feeling of the memories, so I have elected to leave them longer (about 1500 words each; typically my zettels are 100 to 300 words).

I thought I'd share this simply to express that there are many purposes to which we can put our ZK and not all of them have to be related to current work or research, and not all of them have to be "driven". It's nice for some purposes to be played out over time, at a more relaxed pace, following their own random schedule.

Here is an example of a zettel that deals with both personal memories and values. It's not exactly a personal memory - many of those are just that - too personal to share. I include this one because it is relatively short and not too personal, just to give a flavour of what I am talking about.

202009202142 Good Conversation

09-20-2020 09:42 PM
tags: #Life-PS #Friendship #Hope #Hearken #Self-Awareness #Understanding #List #Personal_memories

In writing a previous post (see [[202009122357]] How I met my wife), I started thinking about what constitutes a "good conversation". What is so fascinating that we can forget ourselves, overcome our shyness and other social communication hangups, and really connect with another person?

To start, perhaps it is finding we are both passionate to talk about some common ground or common experiences. But that is just the beginning. As the conversation progresses, we find an intellectual and emotional engagement that is exciting and alluring. This can include ideas that:

  1. Complement our way of thinking and perhaps authenticate past experiences and conclusions.
  2. Challenge our way of thinking and open up new perspectives on past experiences and thinking or open up entirely new ways of thinking.
  3. Nurture our sense of self or being.
  4. Increase our feeling of interconnectedness and belonging.
  5. Open or expand our minds and hearts.
  6. Refresh and renew the way we see our world and our life.

One aspect of accomplishing this is to "lay hold" of and understand what the other person is saying.

Good conversations allow us to cover a large range of topics and to be intellectually stimulating and stimulated. Jan and I saw an excellent movie that highlights this kind of interaction when we were young marrieds. It was produced in 1981 and called "My Dinner with Andre", directed by Louis Malle and with only two actors - Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn.

(As a side trivia note, Wallace Shawn is the same guy who played the brainy Corsican who battles wits with Wesley in "The Princess Bride").

internal links:
[[202009122357]] How I met Janette (my wife)
[[202008261455]] Laying hold upon a person's words
[[202007121717]] Understanding what someone is saying to us
[[202006281613]] What is the meaning of "our hearts"?
external links:
"Scientists Say Your 'Mind' Isn’t Confined to Your Brain, or Even Your Body" https://getpocket.com/explore/item/scientists-say-your-mind-isn-t-confined-to-your-brain-or-even-your-body?utm_source=pocket-newtab
"My Dinner with Andre" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Dinner_with_Andre and https://www.amazon.com/My-Dinner-Andre-Gregory/dp/B004CURZCA


  • There could actually be more, shorter, more "atomic" notes, but then that would destroy the feeling of the memories, so I have elected to leave them longer (about 1500 words each; typically my zettels are 100 to 300 words).

    Shorter ≠ Atomic. You could say that the atom is your complete experience which could make your atoms even thousands of words long. :)

    I'd recommend to choose a structure for the structure note that is a fitting tool for your goal: You could design a timeline at which you attach all your memories.

    An additional recommendation is to make it as explicit as possible which part of the note makes use of the reference. Like this it is not certain to me and therefore possibly to you neither how each reference is connected to the content of the note.

    I personally like to put the reference at the end of the sentences if the reference connects to the sentence as a whole. So this:

    In writing a previous post (see [[202009122357]] How I met my wife), I started thinking about what constitutes a "good conversation".

    would turn into this

    In writing a previous post, I started thinking about what constitutes a "good conversation". See How I met my wife [[202009122357]])

    In your special use case, you could create a link to follow at the bottom with the same nice conversational contextualisation. Then it might connect to your general tone of writing and allows for a nice wonder wandering.

    "Nice" is deliberately chosen since you as a person are nice and the experience you can (and want?) create with those notes are nice. I, myself, use a completely different style (which would entail more formalities even with such notes).

    I am a Zettler

  • Thanks, @Sascha Good idea, to use a timeline in the structure note. Right now, it is loosely organized into themes - Ancestors, From my Youth, Relationships, Immediate Family, Extended Family, University, Hobbies, and Work. The timeline has some appeal to it; I could use a specific set of tags to cover the themes mentioned.

  • Ah, an additional idea is to borrow from the toolbox of fiction authors. Why not use narration techniques if you create a narration? :)

    I am a Zettler

  • Beautiful and interesting topic. Thanks for sharing!

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