During his retirement, my Dad, Jacob Schlitt, sat at the computer and wrote his story. Most of these took the form of short memoirs. A typical day in the late-aughts would see him setting up at his desk after breakfast, and completing a draft by lunch. My dad shared many of his memoirs with family, sending pieces to his adult children and his R.O.L. ("Reading Out Loud") extended family, as well as in Brookline Adult Education's "Telling Your Story" class.
My dad hoped eventually to edit his autobiographical writings into a single memoir, perhaps even produce a printed volume. (The numbers he added to some of his stories attest to his attempts to impose order on the work.) But those hundreds of short pieces, written over a period of more than twenty years, aren’t easily wrestled into a single coherent narrative: The contents of different memoirs overlap and repeat. Anecdotes are told multiple times across multiple memoirs. And some of the stories, some of the memories -- they change shape over the years and across tellings.
In 2017, with his 90th birthday approaching, I offered to help my dad with his project. I was working as an archivist at the time, and I said that there were ways to tell his story, other than as a published memoir. I wanted to provide access to all of his work online, fully searchable, on a website. The sprawl of the project, its almost-multivocality -- it was a feature, not a bug. And a website would offer new ways of reading, exploring, sifting and remixing the material. He agreed, less convinced of the value of a digital archive than excited to use the eventual site's search tools to help him organize the stories.
I named the project Tsirlson, after the penname that Jacob's mother Celia, Tsirl, asked him to use, were he to become a writer. Generous contributions from friends and family enabled me to hire a project archivist, Kara Flynn, who in the summer of 2017 inventoried and organized my dad's files and helped develop a a project workflow. But the pace of progress faltered: I ran up against the limitations of my own digital archiving skills, and my father's health deteriorated. Jacob Schlitt died in 2018. I put the project aside. And in the years since, waves of life and loss kept me from returning to it.
On December 18, 2022, the 95th anniversary of Jake Schlitt's birth, we'll be hosting a virtual Reading Out Loud. Four generations of the R.O.L. gang will be in attendance. I've used this deadline to motivate a return to work on the site (now on Omeka -- I've learning a thing or two about CMS platforms in the intervening years). Tsirlson is still very much a work in progress, and I welcome folks' feedback. Heartfelt thanks to all for their patience and support.
Note: Although Jacob Schlitt consented to have the complete corpus of his writing published online, some of the essays are clearly written for a public audience while others are more personal in nature. The texts on this website are unchanged and unexpurgated. They contain names and personal details. If you want to limit access to any essays making direct reference to you/your family, please contact me.
Thank you for making this project possible through your financial support:
Alex and Bernice (z"l) Roth; Becky Joseph; Bette Roth; Brian Betancourt; Deidre Waxman; Emily Gerber; Emma Morgenstern; Harvey Bock; Helaine Alon; Joel, Nancy and Logan Schulman; Jon Rauch; Lewis Schlitt; Liora Halperin; Lisa Rosenfeld and Alan Lobovits; Liz Stevenson; Mae R. Tupa; Martha Schlitt; Merle Glee Snyder; Michael Katz & Linda Gritz; Michael Rosenbaum & Julie Arnow; Niki Diller; Robert & Rose Epstein; Ruth Schulman; Sophie Rosenbaum and Mike Strom; The Squires-Kastens; Sue Fendrick; Todd Goldstein; Zoe Rosenbaum and Carolina Ventura.
Credits: Site by David Schlitt. Special thanks to Kara Flynn, Project Archivist.