Monday, December 23, 2019

On the line-a-day journal

Sometimes I think it's the stuff you start on a whim and stick with that has the biggest impact on your life. For me those have included agreeing to go out with my boyfriend (turned into 11 years and counting), completing a 365-day creative project (made a daily card on January 1 and kept it up for 364 more days), and pursuing a career in the Middle East (wanted to start a new language in college and was intrigued by Arabic).

In October 2014, I came across this line-a-day journal (the battered one on the left) and thought it would be fun. Five years later, I've just recently finished my first journal (now onto the second!) and it has become one of my most treasured possessions. I wanted to share a few thoughts on documenting (almost) every day for five years along with some "secrets to success." Public journaling about my private journaling is about as navel-gazing as it gets so if you are reading this, thanks for indulging me.

The way mine is structured, you see everything you've written on that calendar date since you started the journal. So while I liked the daily journaling exercise for the first year, having years of entries to look back on made it so much richer as I kept going. It's honestly a bit overwhelming (though not in a bad way) to read through the old entries when I fill in a new one - so many memories are captured there. When I started in 2014, it was hard to imagine what life would be like in 2019. And now that I'm on the other side and working in a fresh new journal, it's crazy to think of all the life that will happen between now and 2024.

+ At the end of a day, it feels really important to make note of everything I did and accomplished, regardless of how monumental it actually is. It's as if I need to justify that it was a full and productive day. But two or three years later, I don't really care that I worked on a USAID budget and ate Chipotle - sometimes because that's just not very exciting and sometimes because I no longer remember the context that made those events meaningful. (Though sometimes boring stuff is more interesting later on than you'd expect.) I'm more interested in what I was thinking and feeling, even if it's just a random thought or insight. I try to remember that when I'm tempted to just write down the play-by-play of a day.

+ This is a journal for me, obviously, but for most of the last five years I've lived with my boyfriend and it is extra fun when I've jotted down a big milestone for him (like LSATs and Republican presidential primary debates) that I can share. There have definitely been times I've consulted the journal when we've been debating when some event went down!

+ Adapt as you go. I used to complete my entries before going to bed but lately have found that I'm too zonked - it's worked better for me to keep it on my desk and fill it out when I sit down to work, sometimes catching up on a few days at a time.

+ Something is better than nothing. In grad school, I fell out of the habit of filling in entries every day -- it felt overwhelming to sit down and summarize my whirling thoughts and full days into just a few lines, especially when there were problem sets to finish. I always reasoned I would go back when I had more energy - but I'm always surprised how quickly I forget the details of a day. Over the last few months I've made it my project to go back and fill in those entries, piecing things together based on photos and my planner. I'm moderately heartbroken that I can't remember more of my thoughts and feelings in addition to the events - but I'm glad to be noting down what I do remember before I forget more. And I'm glad that I never abandoned it even though I missed a bunch of entries.

+ I would have expected to draw a conclusion that every day matters - that whether the day was a fabulous wedding celebration or a humdrum workday, it still carries equal weight - just 24 hours.  The trend among scrapbookers is to capture everyday life, not just the Hallmark moments. But instead, I've found that some 24-hour periods "count" for more than others. Some days I could write pages and others I struggle to fill the six lines. And that's okay. Obviously it still matters tremendously to have a happy everyday life - but those exciting, top-of-the-world times make the daily grind worth it.

I've experimented with a couple other daily memory-keeping projects over the years. In 2015, I made a card every day as kind of a small-scale art journalling project. The daily cards weren't specifically intended to document my life, but looking back now they capture the year so evocatively. In 2016 and 2017, I did 1 Second Everyday and love the videos that resulted. (I ran out of steam on that project but would love to get back into it someday.) So the line-a-day journal has been my most consistent form of memory-keeping. I hope I keep it up for a long time - I can't imagine how cool it would be to have a whole shelf of these lined up at the end of my life.

Monday, December 16, 2019

28 favorite moments

I am way behind on blogging favorite moments, considering that I'm now 30 and these are from the year I was 28. So these span basically the 2017-2018 academic year. I love this method of documenting what makes each year special. Here goes!

Seeing the sun rise over the Erg Chebbi dunes in Morocco

Seeing the sun rise from Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in the High Atlas (after surviving the hike to the top!)

Eating lobster rolls over several great bottles of wine with my dad, Austin, and Austin's parents in the North End after moving to Cambridge

Dancing to Despacito and playing endless rounds of Secret Hitler in Denver 

Exchanging phone numbers with my first new grad school friend

Drinking pumpkin beers in the sunshine on the party flotilla on a lake in New Hampshire 

When Mashrou' Leila played Shim El-Yasmine as their second encore and something in my heart cracked open

Biking around Cambridge in the fall, feeling like a real-life Harvard student, knowing I would see my parents later that day, and thinking that life would never get better than this 

Winning at the Seeport negotiation and then celebrating/commiserating at Grendel's afterwards

Visiting a CSA farm with my Food and Agriculture class after my first math test in ten years (a statistics midterm) 

Watching a campy movie our professor was in at our cohort retreat, yelling at the TV, and teasing him about it afterwards

Wandering the Golden Temple in Amritsar in the morning and at night, surrounded by believers chanting and cleaning

Drinking beers and dancing on the bus on the way to the Taj Mahal

That first glimpse of the Taj Mahal on the way to the bathroom

Taking photos with the surliest mall Santa ever at a mall in Kolkata on an adventure to rat park

Genevieve remembering us when we went to Bad Saint over Christmas

Playing mafia around the campfire while staying overnight in Wadi Rum during a field study course in Jordan

Getting invited to a private roundtable on the Syrian crisis and feeling like I had begun to find my place at HKS

Nailing the last speech in Arts of Communication

Eating fried chicken and playing drinking games in Seoul

Getting chased by a horse on a hike in Jeju Island

Making fun of Sleep No More with my college girlfriends

Landing an internship offer and knowing I had a new adventure ahead (plus feeling a ton of relief after a stressful process)

Lounging by the pool all day with Austin in the dry Palm Springs heat

Watching the sunset and reading ghost stories from our cabin in Joshua Tree

Flying down dark Bangladeshi country roads on my first motorcycle ride

Eating cow brain at a baby-naming ceremony in Rajshahi and offering up a silent homage to Anthony Bourdain

Running for cover when a downpour hit while wandering around a hilly tea plantation in Srimangal
Favorite moments of previous years blogged here