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Bullet Journal 2015-01

Bullet Journal 2015-01 (2015-present)

This post is part of a series on the various ways I've used pen and paper in my life. To learn more about it, check out the introduction, or view the "ink and paper brain" category for other posts.

I’ve said recently that my new journal has made me fall in love with pen and paper all over again. This is that journal. It’s a black hardbound medium Piccadilly notebook with graph paper, and it hardly ever leaves my side these days.

Why has it so quickly become such an important object to me? Well, in part because it’s such a versatile tool. Its dimensions are great for slipping in a messenger bag, so it’s quite portable, but it also gives me substantially more space than a pocket-sized notebook like NOTES or my second brain books. And thanks to Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journal method of notation, I’ve found it trivial to roll many of the functions I’d previously reserved for discrete notebooks—diarying, making to-do lists, capturing stray thoughts—all into one journal. It’s a book endowed with a considerable portion of my self.

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Bedtime Diary

Bedtime Diary (2013-2015)

This post is part of a series on the various ways I've used pen and paper in my life. To learn more about it, check out the introduction, or view the "ink and paper brain" category for other posts.

This one started at Powell’s. On one of my pilgrimages to the legendary bookstore, I noticed, among their journal offerings, a “five-year journal”. It contained 365 pages, each with five blank spaces stacked atop one another, the idea being that you wrote one small thing every day and could eventually look back on “this day in history” for five years of your life.

"IDEA: One sentence a day."

From my second brain notebook of the time. The quote at the top of the page is also somewhat relevant.

I liked the idea. Specifically, I liked the idea of keeping a more granular record of my life than my personal journals held, though I cared less about stacking five years atop each other. I shied away from buying the dedicated five-year journal, though, because a) I’m a verbose fucker and was thus skeptical of having text boxes of a predefined size, and b) it was, like, twenty bucks, and I could get a blank notebook for so much cheaper.

So I did. Eventually.

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The Ledger

The Ledger (2014-present)

This post is part of a series on the various ways I've used pen and paper in my life. To learn more about it, check out the introduction, or view the "ink and paper brain" category for other posts.

I already track my finances with a spreadsheet and with Mint, but last year, I began doing so another way: by noting my expenditures in a notebook. This little book cost maybe a dollar and is slightly damaged, and yet, it’s just the thing for keeping a running list of the money I’m spending.

In the last few months of doing this, I’ve noticed that it serves a slightly different purpose than my digital financial tools. My spreadsheet and Mint, they record data. I turn to them if I want information. Writing dollar amounts in my ledger, however, is primarily a personal act, not an informational one. By writing down each expense, I hold myself accountable to every dollar I spend. It also gives an at-a-glance view of my cash flow, sure, but that function is secondary. First and foremost, writing out my expenditures keeps my money, even my purchases on debit or credit, real.

Journal 4

Journal 4 (2013-present)

This post is part of a series on the various ways I've used pen and paper in my life. To learn more about it, check out the introduction, or view the "ink and paper brain" category for other posts.

Journal 4 doesn’t really have a name like the journals before it. When I started it, in the spring of my last year at Whitman, I felt no particular naming inspiration. That wasn’t as huge of a departure as it seems, though; after naming Exponents, I spent very little effort naming my subsequent journals, which were more or less handed to me with their titles already emblazoned across their covers. Journal 4 is a handsome folio of cocoa-colored leather with no name in sight, so I just opened it up and got to writing.

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Second Brain notebooks

Second Brain Notebooks (2012-2014)

This post is part of a series on the various ways I've used pen and paper in my life. To learn more about it, check out the introduction, or view the "ink and paper brain" category for other posts.

I have a really lousy memory for small things. It’s fitting, then, that when I had the idea for my “second brain”, an all-purpose notebook that I could carry with me everywhere to capture stray thoughts, I had completely and totally forgotten about NOTES from three years prior, despite the fact that the concept was nearly identical. I thought my notion was singularly novel, when in fact I had unknowingly plagiarized it from my own self.

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Birthday Letters

Birthday Letters (2012-present)

This post is part of a series on the various ways I've used pen and paper in my life. To learn more about it, check out the introduction, or view the "ink and paper brain" category for other posts.

The day I turned 20, on a whim, I wrote an email to myself one year in the future. I bemoaned present-day politics, laid out a sketchy set of hopes for my year to come, and scheduled the email for delivery, beginning a tradition I still keep today.

I went analog after the first one, but the idea is otherwise unchanged: each year on my birthday, I read past years’ letters to my future selves, then write one for the year to come, inevitably cracking at least one joke in the process about the grammatical difficulties of writing to oneself in the future. Then I seal it up and stow it away for another 365 days (give or take).

Although I record big events and milestones in my personal journal, these annual letters have grown to serve an important role for me. Each year, I get to reflect not only on the past year, but the years before it as well, and see how I’ve grown. At the same time, I record a snapshot of the present and consider my future. It’s a tradition of mindfulness that I deeply treasure.

Writing to myself has also helped me remember to treat myself with love, and it does so precisely because of the form of the letter. In my journal entries, I am telling stories or expressing myself for an empty audience—I’m not talking to anyone, not even myself. But letters are, by their very nature, social. When I write a letter to myself, I have to think of myself as I would any other person—I use the pronoun “you”, for instance. This structure curbs any impulse I might have to be excessively self-critical or mean, because I would never write such things in a friendly letter to another person.

I have to treat my (future) self with the dignity and respect I’d show any other friend I wrote to, and over five years, that has helped me immensely to build a loving relationship with myself.

Birthday Letters - Top View

School Notebooks

School Notebooks (2005-2013)

This post is part of a series on the various ways I've used pen and paper in my life. To learn more about it, check out the introduction, or view the "ink and paper brain" category for other posts.

I tried taking class notes digitally when I got my first laptop in high school. It seemed like the obvious solution; after all, I type much faster than I write by hand. Not only would my computer allow me to capture more information in a class, it would also make it easier to search through the notes I’d taken.

It was nowhere near the success I’d hoped. Being able to capture anything led me to try to capture everything without ever parsing its importance. What I was doing wasn’t notetaking, it was recording. Furthermore, the rigidity of the digital page was another hurdle; in my word processor, I couldn’t easily draw arrows or include quick figures like I would on paper. And, of course, typing did not engage my brain nearly in the same way as writing by hand. All of this combined meant that the information slipped from my brain like water off a duck’s back.

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The Hipster PDA (2009-2010)

This post is part of a series on the various ways I've used pen and paper in my life. To learn more about it, check out the introduction, or view the "ink and paper brain" category for other posts.

Digital tools strive for a frictionless ideal. Armed with modern technology’s hypermobility, connectivity, and sheer capability, we’re constantly designing and using tools that reduce the friction of our mental lives. When a thought crosses my mind at work, I can pick up my phone and speak to it, telling it to remind me when I’m home to pay my credit card bill, and when it detects that I’ve returned to my home address, it will deliver my note-to-self with a gentle buzz. By making “smart” devices, we reduce our own cognitive burden.

Taking A.P. Physics tests in high school, I longed for the simplicity of a frictionless world, but in the way one longs for magic powers, with the recognition that my wild fantasies would never be anything but fantasies. Friction may be frustrating when it adds three steps to your calculations, but it also serves a purpose; friction keeps our cars on the roads, our glasses perched on our noses. As Doug Lane indicates in a recent blog post, whether we’re talking about the physical world or the psychic one, a certain amount of friction is necessary to keep the system functioning. The trick is managing it.

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Stories

Stories (2009-2013)

This post is part of a series on the various ways I've used pen and paper in my life. To learn more about it, check out the introduction, or view the "ink and paper brain" category for other posts.

When I started Volume 3 of my personal journal, Stories, I was a high school senior mere weeks away from graduation. By the time I was finished, I’d lived in Japan for a year, ended the longest romantic relationship in my life to date (and started a new one), and done some serious soul-searching to determine who I was, what I wanted, and how to be better than the dick I’d been in high school. Volume 2, Change, represents a low point in my life, but I’m proud of Stories. Stories was me growing up.

The book itself was a present from my then-girlfriend. It’s covered in beautiful decoupage (her work), including pages from the Oresteia, lyrics to “The Times They Are a-Changin’”, and a snapshot of the iconic “Made in Oregon” sign in downtown Portland. All of my journals have reflected some aspect of my self in their appearance, but I don’t think any speaks more about who I am than Stories. It’s just me.

Made in Oregon

What a thoughtful touch.

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What's Your Story?

What’s Your Story? Vol. 1 (2009)

This post is part of a series on the various ways I've used pen and paper in my life. To learn more about it, check out the introduction, or view the "ink and paper brain" category for other posts.

Around the end of high school, I discovered the philosophy of humanism, and man, did I love it. Carpe diem! Be ashes, not dust! We’re all the heroes of our own stories! If there had been such a thing as a humanism fan club, I would have been its president and head cheerleader.

What’s Your Story? was a project from those days of hyper-enthusiastic humanism. The idea was to make a traveling journal that contained strangers’ stories—whatever people wanted to share. I’d write my own, then set the journal free in a coffee shop, casting it off into the wilds without any expectation of seeing it again.

I still like the idea, but as you can see, in six years, I still haven’t let it loose.

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