Notebooks, diaries, journals

Source: have started many a January with a fresh diary, intent on getting my deep thoughts and the minutiae of my life onto paper. I usually last about three weeks. I’ve tried gratitude journals, sentence-a-day journals, free-flow writing, and the best I seem to be able to do is a purse notebook with measurements, business cards, calculations, menu plans and other really unimportant-in-the-long-term but important in the short (like, what size furnace filters we use, or the three things i need to pick up next time at at Home Depot.)  Many would just use scraps of paper for this kind of stuff, but I prefer keep it all bound and, you know, easy to find.

For list making and other kinds of basic notebook content, I’ve turned mainly to technology, namely my smartphone.

  • The Shopi app is fantastic for managing shopping lists and you can share it with someone else in real time. While I’m the main user, when Z goes to the LCBO, or grocer, or hardware store, he can quickly check the app to see what we need.
  • For keeping a record of daily stuff that I might otherwise consign to a diary-type journal, I use the Momento app which grabs all your posts to social media and puts them into one place, plus lets you add your own private posts. You can also get it to prompt you with reminders to diarize at specific times of the day (see “Gratitude” above.) So it’s kinda cool.

I really admire people who keep diaries for years, but I have accepted the fact that I’m not one of them. There are a couple of other note taking things that I’m experimenting with at the moment.

Travel diary

Every time we travel, I try to keep a diary. A couple of years ago, we went to Istanbul. Before we left, I made this funky sewn notebook that I intended to fill with memories. While there, I used a spiral notebook to remember what we did each day and collected ephemera that would go into the notebook.

It never got done. I think I managed to do one or two days of post-trip scrapping and it got pushed aside as real life intervened.

This year, I decided to try something different. We were in France for two weeks, and I took a little pouch with a glue stick and archival double-sided tape, scissors, various fineline markers, and a moleskine blank page diary. This didn’t take up very much space in my luggage. I kept receipts, business cards, and picked up postcards, newspapers, and brochures from the places we visited/dined at/drank at. Each day, I sat at a table and put everything into my notebook in words and pictures. I got behind a couple of days from time to time, but it was still fresh enough for me to be able to get down what was important. I intentionally made it suitable for public reading and we now have a great memory of our trip.

Here are a few shots of my journal.

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For my next trip, I’d like to experiment with a small, very portable printer that I can connect wirelessly to my smartphone and that would print 2×3 shots that I could add to the journal. I’ve been looking at a couple online (Fujifilm Instax and Polaroid ZIP) but haven’t actually seen a demo.

Thought journal

I recently read a post by Jessica Handler, a writing teacher, in Assay. Called My Favorite Essay to Teach: On Keeping A Notebook, she refers to an piece written by Joan Didion back in 1966. You can read it here [PDF].

Her notebooks contain scraps of dialog, observations, and none of it is necessarily true.

Didion talks about the contents of her notebook thus:

Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point. […] It is a difficult point to admit. We are brought up in the ethic that others, any others, all others, are by definition more interesting than ourselves; taught to be diffident, just this side of self-effacing. [….] But our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable “I.” We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensees; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.

I have started keeping a similar type of journal, although it’s mainly quotes from books and interesting words. But it’s small and very portable and I keep it with me and/or whatever books I’m reading at the moment. I also use it to make notes about conversations, teevee shows or other media besides books, and connections that occur to me. (My binge on HBO’s Six Feet Under is giving me a lot of food for thought and connections to other stuff in my life.) I’m only a few weeks into this one, but so far it’s working well. It’s a no pressure place. I’m never behind.

Finally, here’s a terrific compendium of various types of journals that I stumbled across the other day. Oberon Design, a maker of gorgeous notebooks, bags, and other accessories, has a section on their website called All About Journalling. If you’ve ever thought about this practice but failed at the obvious types, maybe one of these would appeal.

One last note: I’m thinking of taking my travel journal concept daily, as in everyday life. I plan to use the Hobonichi Techo Planner. Thin, bleed-free paper, purse-proof, lots of space. They were sold out within a day but I’m on the notification list.

Do you keep a journal? What kind? Please share in the comments.


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