The notebooks sit on a shelf in my office, mocking me.
They are brightly colored – orange, turquoise blue, red – and they are, for the most part, empty. I bought each of them in a moment of weakness, after seeing the words “bullet journal” or “daily schedule” or “personal record.” I saw ads for pages filled with sweetly drawn words of encouragement, carefully rendered in multi-hued pencils or pens. Whether the font is swirly or block printed or simply written out, it’s always in perfect handwriting that, especially as a lefty who leaves smears on every piece of paper, I have never been able to master.
Nevertheless, I imagined myself, curled up in my big comfy chair with dozens of pens and pencils of all colors at my disposal, creating lists of dreams and goals and accomplishments, calories eaten and phone calls made and gifts to buy, groceries needed or errands to run or perfect menus for small, intimate dinner parties that I would give for my friends, effortless and lovely.
I think what I really wanted was for my life on paper to look like an issue of Oprah Magazine.
It’s not enough to just live a good life anymore. Now we are encouraged to document it on a daily basis, embellishing with bright yellows and deep blues, with stickers and glitter and self-confidence boosting quotes – meant only for our eyes. What used to be called a diary, or a datebook, or, in its most basic form, a calendar, has now become an aspirational and demanding challenge for women (few men bullet journal, I’m certain), most of whom are already in a constant state of personal evaluation and frantic activity simply by being alive.
If you bullet journal, you can no longer just make a grocery list on a piece of paper. No, bullet journals require little tiny images to go along with each item on your list – a miniature egg, or carton of milk, or bunch of grapes – delicately colored in with carefully chosen hues.
Bullet journals require constant care. No day can be left unexamined, no accomplishment is too small to be noted. For me, a middle aged woman who has only a husband and 2 docile dogs to care for, bullet journaling appealed to my need to immortalize myself in any way possible – to make my days seem worthwhile. Writing essays about my life is one thing – cataloguing the contents of my closet or the books on my shelves, along with wearability ratings or readability scores (4 stars!) is quite another. It’s the minutiae that matters in bullet journals – the tedium of one’s day, the itemization of one’s life.
Reaching my mid-fifties has made me a bit concerned about all of the things I have forgotten. The little moments that made up each day when I was raising my children have disappeared in a mental kaleidescope of chores, parties, first days of school and last days of summer. Without those weekly, monthly and yearly milestones to mark time, now that my kids are grown, there are no photos for me to take of important events like there were for so many years, photos that allowed me to create a timeline of my and my family’s lives. So those notebooks, the orange and turquoise blue and red ones that mock me, were an attempt at marking the moments of these middle-aged days, both ordinary and extraordinary.
A few years back, I told my stepfather that I was going to take a photo of something ordinary every single day for a year, as a way to define that year in all of its regular-ness. I think it was January 4th when I told him this, and I had taken pictures of a car, my dog, and a newspaper so far.
He chuckled a little and said, “Why would anyone want to look at those photos?”
I thought about it, and realized he was right. Maybe if I were some kind of talented photographer (I am surely not), or a talented documentarian (I am definitely not), my daily photos would be interesting. I quickly gave up my lofty goals.
I kept calendars for years – one hanging on my refrigerator for everyone, and one in my planner just for me. They were both color coded – blue for my husband and me, red for my son, green for my daughter. When we were downsizing a few years ago, we needed to put a lot of our things in storage – things that we didn’t use regularly but wanted to keep anyway. I had piles of calendars, and I started to leaf through them, reading the entries on random days – “Hebrew school,” “softball game,” “football practice,” “dinner with friends.” After a few pages, I grew bored of my life, the words hardly meaning anything, even though, at the time, those games and lessons and events were my whole world. I stored them away for posterity, even though I realized that I don’t need a document to remind me of who I am and what I’ve done. Every moment of every day is inside of me, somewhere. They each add a bit to who I am.