One of us spoke the unspoken in mid-November—the idea that it was time to move on from MyRetrospect.com—and the idea floated in the air like a sagging birthday balloon. This is how we make some of our tough decisions: We pick a tentative course of action and live with it for a week or two, looking at it, weighing it, trying it on. Neither of us spoke about it much, but it hung there, not going away.
We’ve all known since we were little kids that there is magic in storytelling—in finding out what happens next.
We had high hopes when we founded Retrospect Media, Inc. back in 2014. We dreamed of a site where hundreds, then thousands of baby boomers could capture and share their memories and life stories. We dreamed of compiling the first-ever first-person history of a whole generation. We dreamed of becoming a hub for boomers to form a community, to connect, to rediscover our activism, to support each other as we aged. We dreamed of a site that would, through subscriptions, sponsorships, and a boomer marketplace, support itself, and us, and more.
None of those dreams came to pass, but another did. Instead of a mass audience, Retrospect attracted a small but passionate band of storytellers. You bonded, formed a community, and became important in each others’ lives. That was apparently what Retrospect wanted to be, and we embraced the role of facilitating that community.
To inform our decision, we tracked the amount of time we spent on Retrospect (among other tasks) over a week. On one typical day, we had asked a Retrospect author for permission to post a chapter of one of their published books as the featured story for an upcoming prompt. She agreed, and we spent time uploading it from the book, choosing the right featured image, and making it look good on the site. The chapter was a beautiful, self-contained story on its own, and we practically rubbed our hands together like a diabolical Bond villain in anticipation of sharing it with others.
That same day, another Retrospect writer posted a story on the current prompt. There wasn’t anything particularly special about it, but it just had the right combination of suspense, humor, insight, and closure that made us grin when we came to the end. The author is not a professional writer and would probably not have written this (or any) story were it not for Retrospect. We looked at each other and thought, we helped this lovely story come into being. We’re story wranglers.
Story wrangling has been our calling over the last four years. We’ve loved the work: designing the site, testing it, trying new features. We loved crafting prompts and selecting images to evoke the most cogent memories and experiences. We loved creating our weekly newsletter and promoting prompts and stories on social media. We loved learning about search engine optimization and Google Analytics and renting mailing lists to send promotional postcards. And most of all, we loved reading your stories, with their humor, pathos, poignancy, triumphs, and heartbreaks—the deeds and misdeeds of real people trying to make their way in the world, all of us trying to cobble together a life we can enjoy and be proud of even as it overtakes us. We’ve all known since we were little kids that there is magic in storytelling—in learning how others experience the world, what we share and how we differ, and in finding out what happens next. Did we really want to give that up?
A few days later, a friend was diagnosed with a nasty life-threatening cancer. It was just the latest reminder that our time on this planet is limited, and if there are goals we want to accomplish or experiences we want to have, we’d better get to them. In the end, this is what crystallized our decision.
Much as we’ve loved story wrangling, it’s not the only role we want to fulfill in our remaining years. Story telling, for example. (That novel is not going write itself.) Music making. Retrospect was a labor of love, but it was still labor. It’s time to open up space in our lives for new goals and new roles. It’s time to move on to the next phase of our lives.
There are many people we want to thank before we go. We’re grateful to Susan, our co-founder, who shared this venture with us from the start until just a year ago. We couldn’t have created or maintained the site without the help of Arthur, Gunny, and Angela at Firespike LLC, our web development and marketing partners, who built the site, made changes as requested, fought off intruders, and fixed bugs with unceasing good humor—and even contributed their own stories. We’re indebted to Peter, Janey, and Ashwin from WilmerHale for providing legal help and advice under their innovative QuickStart program. We thank Marc, our advisor, who generously shared his expertise and experience while we all shared champagne and pizza. And mostly we thank you, our readers and storytellers, for sharing more than 900 stories with us and each other, and for making Retrospect a ride we will never forget.
May all your endings be happy. Well, that’s not realistic. Instead, we wish you long life, memorable stories, and friends and family to tell them to. Farewell.
John & Patti Zussman are co-founders of Retrospect Media, Inc.
I wrote only a few times, but writing was good for me. I wrote about religion and friends. Now I regret not writing more often. For years when we lived in California, I wrote daily in a journal. I’m going to start that again tomorrow. Thank you for your inspiration.
For four years I wrote plays with a group of friends I met at Burning Coal Theater in Raleigh. There were about 16 of us in the play and screen writing classes, we took there; four of us stayed together until late 2017 when I had knee surgery, Irene started producing plays, Witold began translating his father’s books about WWII from Polish to English, and Linda started planning he daughter’s wedding among other things. Linda and I kept writing and reading each other’s play until I broke my ankle and couldn’t drive. I’m planning to turn my Retrospect memory of singing with Diane and her family into a 10-minute play.
I regret that I did not know you better in California. But I was a different person then: I wasn’t very happy there a large part of the time. This southern girl often felt out of place. There were good times, but rarely time to be with just the two of you. You were always welcoming. I was shy, and often insecure because I could not sing on your and Simon’s level. For years, Simon’s family members kept me on edge until Christine and I became good friends. I had an ally.
Occasionally I will write something that I would like to send you for your reaction and suggestions, if that will be okay. Not very often. I won’t be a nuisance. for several weeks I will be working on my second sketchbook for the Brooklyn Art Library. I have one there from last year. Go to the Brooklyn Art Library and type in my name in the space for that, and you can see the one there. The new one will be there this summer. They keep the book and digitize it.
Love to both of you,
Thanks so much, Ginger. We understand; you left because you needed to get back to where you felt at home. Thank you for your stories and comments. We’re always glad to read what you write.
Thank you for this explanation of your thought process. Your decision makes sense for you, but it still breaks my heart. You have given me a great and life-changing gift for the past three years. Wish you didn’t have to go.
Dear Story Wranglers: you got the best from a lot of us and we really appreciate the community you created for us.
I read some wonderful essays, learned to write better, shared a lot of personal stories with the world and made some good friends along the way. Who could ask for anything more?
I’ll miss your prompts. They evoked dormant memories, instigated conversations with siblings and offspring, enticed me to take pen to paper on several occasions, led to one posted story, and gave me the why-the-hell-not to submit an article to an alumnae publication. THANK YOU for being a creative spark in my life!
I admire your vision, energy, and enthusiasm in creating and maintaining Retrospect. Plus, I got to read a bunch of great stories.
Best of luck to you in the next chapter,
Nine hundred stories! Now that’s an accomplishment. I just had a vision of you guys as story genies, coaxing memory, craft, and expression out of us, the sleeping citizens of the Baby Boom. Or perhaps you served as story doctors, visiting the bedsides of what Betsy P calls ‘fever dream[er]s, the fever dreams of recollection and reflection. Or, no, wait! Maybe you guys are the enlightened ones from Plato’s cave allegory, returning to enlighten the grotto’s sleeping residents.
Okay, enough. Thanks for creating such a warm and supportive sea in which to swim. I urge us to collectively find some simple method to stay in touch, a list serv or even a dreaded FB page.
You’re the best!
I only wrote a handful of stories (3), but the one that grew into more than I could imagine was on the prompt “Those We Miss.” Writing about my mother’s brother, my Uncle Tom during World War II, who served in the all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and in publishing his picture, connected me with the executive director of the Topaz Museum in Delta, Utah. My Uncle Tom’s family (my mother included) were interned at Topaz during the war. The museum profiled his bravery and actions in the permanent exhibit that opened in 2017, They googled his name and my story on Retrospect came up. They contacted me for a photo for the exhibit and I attended the grand opening in July of last year.
Many of the Retrospect prompts were so intriguing–I wanted to write more, but alas, no time. I felt deeply rewarded and satisfied with reading others’ stories, glimpses into lives lived, joys and sorrows, thoughts unraveled and rewrapped, and insightful memories that capture the moments of our generation. I am sad to see this winding down, but the efforts at writing short stories and capture memories for my family, are what I plan to continue doing in the future.
Good luck Team Retrospect! Keep in touch!
Wendy, what a wonderful story! The fact that your Retrospect story made it possible for you to participate in this tribute to your brother warms our hearts. So glad you’re planning to continue to write and capture your memories.
Thank you all for your kind words and warm thoughts. We’re proud to have created a sanctuary where you could capture memories, share stories, and find community. We’re grateful for your participation and support. Happy trails—and happy storytelling. (Or as one member might put it: Write on!)
I joined Retrospect in late 2019 and so never knew you, Patti and John, but I owe you many thanx for founding this wonderful site!
You’re welcome, Dana, on behalf of my co-founders Patti and Susan as well as myself. We’re glad you found Retrospect and have already shared so many great stories. It was a labor of love and passion, and we’re always delighted when others come to love and be passionate about telling their stories and bonding with other storytellers. We’re also grateful to the Gang of Four you saluted in your own recent story, who took the reins and have so successfully expanded Retrospect’s reach. All best.