I have been scribbling my thoughts, notes, lists and poems, appointments and sketches since grade school. Somewhere in an attic is a box of spiral notebooks containing every stupid thing I did in my youth, stories of boys I shouldn’t have dated, experiments in excess, self important embarrassments. My brother and I once had an agreement: if I was hit by a bus, my parents (and now, children) must never see the contents of those journals.
As I am not a linear thinker, (coughADDcough) I also have several bales of paper bits around my house with urgent things scribbled on them. I will find next to my toothbrush a sticky note that says IMPORTANT THURSDAY 2PM with no clue as to what was important, where I am supposed to be or which year this was written. My approach seems to be to scribble messages, contacts, ideas and urgencies on the back of a receipt or envelope, then fling them to the wind, where they will enter the tornado of paperwork, tax receipts and unpaid bills that is my life. Sometimes they turn up a sodden wad in the pocket of my laundered jeans. Sometimes I take it to the next level, and use a spiral notebook to organize my budget, home life, studio work flow, and then lose THE ENTIRE NOTEBOOK which is more efficient, really, than losing things one at a time.
Somewhere along the way, the concept of bullet journalling entered my world. It’s a method of consolidating all those paper bits into a single book that can actually be located on a regular basis. Maybe I saw it on facebook, pinterest, or somewhere out in the sea of social media that has replaced my journalling habit. Because I’ll confess: after all those years of having a favorite pen and an appreciation for good writing pages, I had chucked it all for a keyboard. My years of dear-diary journals had given way to wordy, self important announcements on facebook about plans for my tomato garden, the quality of my dinner, and other mundane accomplishments and fails. (With the miracle of modern technology, I had also mastered the art of asking Siri to remind me about appointments and things to do, and then failing to check my reminder list until items were long past irrelevant).
I looked up bullet journal lists, facebook groups, blogs and pins. Like any new phenomenon, it seemed to have a consumerist frenzy attached. Many of the participants seemed to start with a BUY ALL THE THINGS! approach, and discussions were awash in photos of the piles of washi tape purchased at a bargain price, the expensive journals apparently bound in Lithuanian Iguana Leather by monks who stitch in handmade pages one at a time. And of course, the pens. So that’s a little intimidating. I went directly to Dollar Tree and bought a stack of journals, took them to the studio and heartily applied mod podge and colorful paper detritus to the covers.
Then there were the photos of journallers’ sample pages. Apparently the method is attractive to scrapbookers, stampers and other paper craft fans who approached this with their practiced graphic-layout eye, shelves full of art supplies and maybe a little OCD. Looking at their pages, with seven fonts, three colors and a professional graph of symbols (water consumed, barometric pressure, menstrual cycle, items marked by level of urgency, all color coded with a box legend) gave me a familiar feeling: both awe and a little shame. It was like looking at those home decor magazines of glorious living spaces while sitting on my battered couch in a pile of laundry, among garage sale decor, with a “pop” of dirty dishes and an overflowing cat litter box providing the “focal point” of the environment.
But I began anyway. As a 50+ woman I have practice in letting go of unrealistic expectation. Healthy as I may strive to be, my bikini days are over (and good riddance.) So I adjusted my well calibrated giveashit meter, and set about bullet journalling.
Something about the fact that I had spent one entire dollar on my journal freed me from the fear of marking on that first white page. In fact, it quickly became clear that this entire book was going to be a rough draft. I tried some of the more interesting ideas I saw on line: a simple layout of this week on the left page, with an associated things-to-do list on the right. A gratitude page, a bucket list, an ideas-for-the-studio list, books to read, a schedule of upcoming classes. I grabbed the book when we planned a grocery store trip, when I met someone I was supposed to email, and the pages between the “titled” pages quickly filled with daily detritus. I tried putting sticky tabs on the pages I needed to find again, and made a table of contents with ONLY the things I wanted to find again. I made my own lists: “Things I didn’t fail at today”. “Healthy snacks the kids swear they will eat if I buy them”. I began to enjoy coloring in little boxes at the end of the day, reminding myself that my fitbit approved of my walking, I kept on my weight watchers path, I got the daily hug I determined I needed. Other things I decided were too fussy, not relevant, not the way my brain worked of needed major tweaking. I X’ed out those pages and moved on.
By the time I got to my second journal, I loved that I could start fresh, move only the lists and pages I liked into the new journal, stick the battered and scribbled rough draft on a shelf. I had a bunch of women over to the studio to decorate journal covers and compare notes. A few were so lovely I wondered how there could be time to DO the things on those beautiful, calligraphic lists, but others admitted to being a little overwhelmed. “I bought a gorgeous journal but I don’t want to ruin it.” Or “My handwriting is awful.” Or “I can’t make them as pretty as the ones on line.” So we had kind of a dare-to-be-mediocre encounter group session. Washi tape? Well, you can use it to cover up a false start, a horrible misspelling, or that week where you wrote WEDNESDAY twice. We became braver as we showed each other our scribbles and fails. I began to OWN my lack of giveashit as a valid option.
I am not completely immune to the call of the wallet on this. I have developed a fondness for a dot-grid page that feels nice under the fingertips and doesn’t bleed ink through to the other side. I have found a set of sharpie pens that say NO BLEED and they don’t create blobs and shadows on the back of the page. I found thin chapter paper-cover Moleskine journals on clearance that fit into my dayrunner, and I like the collaged up covers. But I felt the urge do “come out” in public as a bullet journaller who makes crooked lines, scribbles awkwardly, doodles when bored, and draws sketches of things that look like a grade schooler drew them (just because it helps me see and remember the thing, when my hand gets involved instead of my cell phone camera.)
If I had a legend of symbols to help others interpret my journal, it would look like this:
Blue ink : I found a blue pen.
[X] : finished this task
Crossed out: Screw this task.
Brown spot : Spilled my coffee
X-ed out page : Aint nobody got time for that.
Fancy, wiggly font : wrote this on a train, bumpy track.
In short, my bullet journal has made me more productive, less worried, less likely to go to bed at night feeling like I GOT NOTHING DONE, as my usual internal inventory only tracks my failed intentions and doesn’t give me credit for accomplishments. Like my life, it’s frugal and no frills, a little creative and messy, prettier on the outside, hard to figure out and crusted with clay at the edges. Like my house, if I think you are judgy, you’ll never get to see the inside.
If you want to begin bullet journalling, the one item I suggest you use for the process is an adjustable,self-calibrating giveashit meter.