Retrospect Returns

In December, the hearty crew that runs Retrospect crew decided to take a break. They had been true to their promise — creating, posting, and moderating a new writing prompt each week. After nearly seven years, hundreds of authors posted over 3,000 stories on the Retrospect web site. All these stories have remained the property of their authors, many of whom have written upwards of 200 tales each. Now, a new group of administrators have determined that Retrospect, with its invitation to think back and share forward is too precious to lose. They have studied at the feet of the site’s seasoned administrators and are ready to take over Retro’s gears and levers. So feel free to visit, browse through the memories, dreams, and reflections of Retro’s many authors, and — if you’re intrigued, log in or register and…start writing!

Best regards,

Charlie, Dana, Dave, and Jim
The Retrospect Administration Team


The Adventure Continues Again

We’re delighted that Charlie, Dana, Dave, and Jim felt so strongly about telling our stories that they’ve taken Retrospect under their wings, just as we did four years ago. We hope that writers old and new will be sharing memories here, and that the website will thrive and grow with the infusion of this new energy. We look forward to seeing the next phase in its evolution.

Suzy, Marian, Laurie, & Barb
Administrative Team 2019-2022

Going on Hiatus

As many of you know, Retrospect has been going through a difficult time this fall, with multiple tech challenges that even our stalwart programmers have had trouble fixing. Perhaps for that reason, or perhaps for other reasons, the number of stories on the last half-dozen prompts has been noticeably smaller than usual. After much consideration, we have decided to take a one-month hiatus in January and then re-evaluate.

The Upcoming Prompts currently visible on the website are the last ones we will be doing for a while. The final one, Retrospect Retrospective, will go live on December 31st and stay up for all of January, to give everyone time to write about favorite prompts and/or stories or how Retrospect has impacted your life. We hope you will do so.

Meanwhile, if you want to print or save your stories onto your computer, go to your profile and click the button labeled Print My Stories. Retrospect will compile up to ten of your stories onto a web page. Use your browser’s File > Print command to print them or save them in a PDF file. If you have more than ten, just repeat the process. See our help page for further details.

Feel free to submit comments via the Contact form if you would like to weigh in on the future of Retrospect.

RetroFlash is Here!

You may have heard of flash fiction, flash poetry, flash prose, flash nonfiction … they’re all part of an exciting form of “micro,” “sudden,” or “short-short” writing that’s brief, powerful, and most of all, fun. Forms vary from 6 words (our featured image!) to 100, 250, and so on. The popular Modern Love column of the New York Times even has a flash version called Tiny Love Stories … no more than 100 words.

Following their lead here on Retrospect, we’re launching our very own version … RetroFlash. Other than the 100-word limit, no rules. For example, contractions can count as one word or two. Your story can be something you’ve written about before, or something entirely new. It can be prose, or poetry. It can even be a list.

Our site makes it easy because it automatically tells you how many words you have as you write, unlike Word or other word processing programs where it takes a couple of steps to check the word count.

You might be surprised to discover how much you can say in 100 words! Every word counts, so choose your words carefully. You still want to tell a story we can relate to; you still want to inform us, move us, surprise us, or amuse us.

Even though we’re launching the feature this week with the Fads and Trends prompt, feel free to write a RetroFlash any time. When you do, add the note “RetroFlash” or “100 words” at the end of your story which will also make it searchable within our site.

That’s it … have fun, and we can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Suzy, Marian, Laurie and Barb

A New Lease on Life

Seneca quote about new beginnings

Dear Retrospecters,

We are excited to announce the re-launch of on March 1, 2019. It will be under new management, but still the same Retrospect you have come to know and love (we hope!) over the last several years.

All three of us have written stories for Retrospect. Suzy and Marian have been involved since the beta testing days, while Laurie joined us more recently. We all felt bereft when we learned that it would be shutting down. We decided that we wanted to keep Retrospect going, because of all the wonderful stories already gathered on the site, and all the new ones waiting to be written.

Now that we are starting up again after a two-month hiatus, we hope you will be inspired to write stories, read each other’s stories, and comment on stories. We think that what makes Retrospect so much better than our own blogs is sharing common experiences with others of our generation, and appreciating each other’s experiences through comments.

The first prompt will be, appropriately, New Beginnings, and we hope you will begin writing on that topic now. The stories will go live on Friday, March 1, which is also the date that new people can start signing up for the site. So, tell your friends.

The only difference you will notice is that new prompts will go live on Saturdays instead of Mondays. That way, we hope that people can enjoy reading and commenting on stories over the weekend, which may be a more relaxed time for those of us who are not yet retired.

Happy writing!
Suzy, Marian, and Laurie

The Adventure Continues

We’re thrilled and grateful that Suzy, Marian, and Laurie felt so strongly about telling our stories that they’ve taken under their wings. We’re confident that our labor of love will thrive and grow in their care, and we look forward to seeing this next phase in its evolution. See you on the site!  

John & Patti

In Retrospect: to Shut Down

Joan Didion on stories


They say all good things must come to an end and, sadly, that includes Retrospect Media, Inc. will cease operations as of December 31, 2018.

It has been our joy and privilege to host your stories—more than 900 of them—on But even beyond sharing these slices of our lives, it has been a marvel to see a true community develop here. Many of us have never met yet we actually care about each other. We know meaningful details of each other’s lives, families, and histories, and have vicariously experienced each other’s triumphs and sorrows.

Each time you have clicked Publish on a story, it’s taken courage to put yourself out there. The Internet is not always a friendly place to do that, and yet you’ve done it, time and again, because we all have a need to be heard. And each time you have responded to others’ stories with a Like or positive comment, you have validated that need. It’s been an honor to provide a safe place for you to do this, and for this community to grow.

Ever since our alpha site went live on September 4, 2015, has been a labor of love for us. Yet life has a way of telling us it’s time to move on. Many of the stories on this site recall the time when we felt like we had all the time in the world, but as baby boomers we no longer have that luxury, and in fact we never did. This will help us create space in our lives to fulfill our remaining goals and dreams.

We’ll keep the Retrospect website live until the end of February 2019 so that others can read the stories that are already here. However, we will not post new prompts or accept new stories after December 31, 2018.

We know your stories are precious. If you want to print or save them onto your computer, go to your profile and click the new button labeled Print My Stories. Retrospect will compile up to ten of your stories onto a web page. Use your browser’s File > Print command to print them or save them in a PDF file. If you have more than ten, just repeat the process. See our help page for further details.

We’re grateful to you, our readers and (especially) our writers, for sharing this journey with us. We hope the bonds we’ve forged here will live on, and encourage you to keep thinking back and sharing your stories forward. You can find—and potentially contribute—true personal stories in two of our favorite magazines, The Sun and Midcentury Modern. (The latter, like, is aimed at baby boomers.)

As we said on our About page, we are a storytelling species. It is through stories that we remember, learn, and make sense of our world and, ultimately, our lives.

Take care. We wish you long life, good health, and memorable stories.
John & Patti

Labor Day: Which Employers Do Baby Boomers Most Admire?

Baby boomers' most admired employers

Baby boomers’ most admired employers. Source: Morning Consult.

Which companies would you be proud to work for? Market research firm Morning Consult recently asked over 220,000 Americans that question, and the results can tell us a lot about how different generations view the world of work.

First, there was substantial overlap between baby boomers (born 1946–64) and other generations. Amazon, Walt Disney, Apple, Google, and Microsoft appeared among the top ten employers for all three demographics (boomers, Gen X, and millennials). Boomers ranked Amazon #1, while both the other generations ranked it #3. Google nabbed the top ranking for millennials and Gen Xers, while for boomers it was #7.

Where boomers differed was the inclusion of heavy industrial manufacturers in the list. Harley-Davidson, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and John Deere all made our top ten, and Caterpillar followed closely at #11. None of these companies made the millennials’ top 10, and only Harley and Deere cracked the Gen X list.

Analyzing the results, Morning Consult turned to University of Puget Sound researcher Leon Grunberg, who said that boomers are “more tied to the past” when industrial products made by Boeing and Caterpillar were bulwarks of the economy. He also noted that these companies represented a “social welfare” model, in which bigger manufacturers would hire workers for life and provide them with a decent standard of living. “You’d give lifelong loyalty to a company and in return you got security for your life.” He added that that social contract has disintegrated since the 1980s.

Commenting on the results, Inc.’s Geoffrey James said that such surveys are “more a measure of brand familiarity and product attractiveness rather than an informed desire to work for a certain company.” Men who chose Harley-Davidson, for example, were probably thinking about an “employee discount on a cool set of wheels rather than the company’s decade-long series of layoffs.”

Vote for your own most admired employer on our home page this week.

Retrospect Changed My Life

Suzy doing yoga in Mexico

Retrospect, the new, free website that helps baby boomers capture and pass on their stories, has attracted a vibrant and committed community of storytellers. We recently caught up with Suzy, a retired attorney from Sacramento, who told us why she has become a Retrospect fan and regular contributor.

Retrospect: Suzy, thanks for talking to us today. Why don’t you start by telling us a little about yourself?

Suzy: I was born and raised in New Jersey, went to Radcliffe College and the University of California, Davis, School of Law. I practiced law for 30 years in Sacramento, and then retired at age 55. I have a husband and three grown children.

Retrospect: The Internet is a big place. Why spend your time on Retrospect?

Suzy: As a baby boomer, now retired and an empty nester, I have lots of activities to fill my time, but none as rewarding as writing for Retrospect. Retrospect changed my life.

Retrospect: That’s high praise! How did it do that?

Suzy: One way is that it introduced me to a community of writers who have become valued friends. Another is that by writing every week I have become a better writer. A third is that it has inspired me to delve into many experiences from my past that I might never have remembered if it had not been for a Retrospect prompt.

Retrospect: Why do you want to tell your stories now?

Suzy: I feel that it is important for me to write down these memories, because even though my children are not interested now, I think they will be some day, and by then I may not remember, or may not even be around. I wish my parents and grandparents had had a place like this to share their memories.

Retrospect: What do you like about it?

Suzy: I have rediscovered the joy of writing for its own sake, which I had when I was a teenager, and then lost after years when I wrote because I had to, for college, graduate school, and a long professional career. Now I am excited to sit down and write a new story for Retrospect.

Retrospect: How does Retrospect inspire your writing?

Suzy: Being given a prompt every week gives me a focus to write about. Although people are also welcome to write on any topic they choose, I’m not creative enough to come up with my own topics. As I mentioned, the prompts they provide almost always trigger important memories for me.

Retrospect: What is your experience with the Retrospect community?

Suzy: Getting comments on my stories from the other writers at Retrospect is part of my incentive for writing. It is always so satisfying to read what they have to say about what I have written. On three different occasions, my story has led another author to write a story in response to mine, which is also extremely gratifying.

Retrospect: One story that particularly moved us was This Story is Not About Cooking, in which you reported that you shared some of your Retrospect stories with your mother in her final days. Of the stories you have posted on Retrospect, which is your favorite?

Suzy: Asking me which is my favorite story is like asking me which of my children is my favorite! I don’t think I can pick one. But if I had to choose a couple that would give people a taste of Retrospect, I would pick one I wrote about my grandparents (Those Were the Days, My Friend) and one about singing at Tanglewood when I was in college (To Sing in Perfect Harmony). I read both of those to my mother when she was ill, and she loved them, so of course that makes them special to me.

Our thanks to Suzy for sharing her experience, and for being a valued member of the Retrospect community.

What’s your story? Share it on Retrospect.

The Stinky Cow Principle

Stinky cow

Writer and memoirist Andy Raskin has been preaching the gospel of story to corporations for years. In a recent essay, he proposed a storytelling guideline, called the Stinky Cow Principle, that is equally applicable to personal stories on Retrospect.

He cites the example of a student in a storytelling workshop who, asked how he came to his profession, said simply, “I was trying to make it in the film business. But it wasn’t working out.” But when Andy asked him to describe the moment he knew it wasn’t working out, the student painted a verbal picture involving the Discovery Channel, a van, and a dead, putrid cow that brought the moment to life.

Andy suggests:

Tell incidents as scenes, not as summaries.

That’s good advice for all stories, not just corporate ones.

You can read Andy’s essay, and the student’s Stinky Cow story, on Medium. Write on!

Buy Andy’s memoir, The Ramen King and I, on Amazon

Write Your Way to Health and Happiness

Journal writing

What if there was a pill you could take—or better yet, an exercise you could do—that could make you healthier, feel happier, sleep better, and improve your memory? What if you only had to take or do it four times, for 20 minutes each, and the effects would last for months or even years?

The exercise is real—I’ll tell you about in a minute—but first let me tell you how it was discovered and validated scientifically. Back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, James W. Pennebaker, now a research psychologist at the University of Texas, was investigating traumatic experiences, which have long been associated with illness, depression, and even premature death. Pennebaker was intrigued by data showing that people who had experienced childhood trauma, but kept it secret, visited their physicians almost 40% more often that those who had confided in someone else.

Benefits of “expressive writing”

James W. Pennebaker

James W. Pennebaker

Pennebaker wondered whether writing about a trauma would be as beneficial as telling someone about it. In his first study of what he later called expressive writing, he brought 50 college students into his lab and asked them to write for 15 minutes on four consecutive days. What they wrote was up to them, but he asked them to explore their deepest thoughts and feelings about traumatic or stressful experiences in their lives. After each writing session, they could give what they wrote to the experimenters, keep it, or destroy it, as they chose.

Pennebaker was surprised by how seriously they took the assignment. The students wrote about truly horrible experiences, including divorce, rape, abuse, and suicide attempts. “Many students came out of their writing room in tears,” he reported. “Clearly, it was an emotionally trying experience for them. But they kept coming back. And, by the last day of the experiment, most reported that the experience had been profoundly important for them.”

With the subjects’ permission, the experimenters’ tracked their visits to physicians both before and after the study. Those in the expressive writing group made 43% fewer doctor visits for illness than those in a control group that wrote only about superficial topics.

Writing to HealThis was a revelation, and Pennebaker ended up devoting his professional career to exploring its ramifications. In study after study, he and his colleagues found that expressive writing had positive effects on health and wellbeing. Across ages, cultures, and social class, across many different measures, spending just short periods of time writing personal, expressive stories is beneficial. As Pennebaker reported in his 2004 book, Writing to Heal, the researchers have found that emotional writing is related to:

  • Enhanced immune function
  • Medical health indicators, such as better lung function among asthma patients, lower pain levels among arthritis sufferers, higher white blood cell counts among AIDS patients, less sleep disruption among cancer patients, and lower blood pressure in excessive drinkers
  • Happier feelings, less negativity, fewer depressive symptoms, and lower anxiety in the weeks and months after expressive writing (even though they report sadness and even tears immediately afterward)
  • Better grades in school and increases in working memory
  • High sociability, including talking and laughing more easily

In one study, middle-aged men who had just lost long-term, high-tech jobs were asked to write about their deepest emotions and thoughts about the layoffs. Eight months later, 52% of these men had found new jobs, compared with only 20% of a control group who had written about how they used their time. Interestingly, both groups went to the same number of job interviews, but the men who wrote were more likely to be offered the job.

If you’re thinking this works only for skilled writers, think again. The power of expressive writing transcends education and writing ability. “In some studies,” Pennebaker notes, “the participants had no conception of spelling or grammar. It made no difference. They still told compelling and powerful stories.”

In expressive writing, says Pennebaker, it’s important to be honest and open with yourself. Acknowledge both positive and negative emotions, and write as if no one else will ever see it. You can be literal about this, by destroying your writing afterwards or locking it away. Later, if you decide to share it, you can choose with whom and how. Finally, follow what he calls the flip-out rule: If you feel that you will flip out by writing about a particularly painful topic, write about something else.

Where to write your stories

Despite the benefits, it’s not easy to do expressive writing, and especially to do it regularly. The blank page can be intimidating. In today’s busy world, it’s hard to find the time, let alone the discipline, to sit down and write. And writing about traumas and setbacks can be at least temporarily depressing.

That’s why two colleagues and I created this free website——designed to help our fellow baby boomers tell our stories. Each week we post a prompt—a suggested topic designed to evoke memories and feelings. Typical prompts are “Grandparents,” “Camp,” and “The Ones We Miss.” We invite our community to write short, true stories in response to the prompt.

Of course, not every prompt will suggest a story to you, let alone a traumatic event. That’s fine. We designed Retrospect to make it easy to capture all of your stories, both triumphs and setbacks. If you don’t have a story to tell about a particular prompt, write about another topic, or skip that week.

One principle of expressive writing is to write for yourself only, being honest about your feelings. We support that, and you are welcome to keep your stories private, or to share them only with family and friends. When appropriate, however, we encourage you to share them with the whole community, who are also sharing stories on the same prompt. That’s where the magic happens. Together, all the stories on the site form a mosaic of our shared experiences.

You’ll find the community friendly and supportive. We set community standards and take them seriously. We designed to feel like you’ve joined a lively dinner party of old friends and amiable strangers, where amid tasty food and flowing wine the conversation turns to young love or old TV shows or lessons learned, and everyone chimes in with their best story.

On, writing skill or style isn’t required. What matters is telling your story authentically as it happened to you, in your own words and in your own voice. All of us can do that.

Retrospect members report great personal satisfaction in telling our stories on the site, amplified by positive feedback you get from friends, family, and the community. (One even told us, “Retrospect changed my life!”) But our stories are also a priceless gift we can give to our children and grandchildren. If that seems unlikely, imagine if today you somehow received a booklet of stories from your grandparents, relating key moments and experiences from their lives. What a treasure that would be.

Give expressive writing a try! Go to our home page and see how others are compiling their own memories, experiences, and wisdom. Then just sign up and start writing! (Click Get Started for an easy, quick guide to telling your stories on

John Unger Zussman is a PhD psychologist, a creative and corporate storyteller, and a co-founder of Retrospect Media. Special thanks to James W. Pennebaker for conducting the revelatory and important research summarized here.

Cross-posted on Medium.