My son and I were in the toy aisle at Wal-Mart today.
Okay, so mistakes were made (never enter the toy aisle at Wal-Mart with your kid — better yet, never enter the toy aisle at ANY store with your kid — better still, never enter Wal-Mart) but it led to this interesting tidbit:
Me: Hey, bud, you like this one? Looks like he does magic.
Sprout: Magic isn’t real, daddy.
Me: Oh, really? It’s not?
Sprout: Well (he prefaces all his profundities with “well”), magic tricks are real, but real magic isn’t real.
Me: (the militant skeptic, hoping that this, right here, standing in the toy aisle, is the end of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and all manner of insufferable BS that parents pretend at for the “benefit” of their kids, but not wanting to come on too strong) oh, really?
Sprout: Yeah. Nobody has real magic.
Me: I see. Well — do you think the Easter Bunny is magic?
Sprout: Well, he only brings eggs filled with candy. That’s not magic.
So, you know. His skeptical instincts are apparently well-formed but still developing.
None of which kept me (a staunch atheist) and my wife (a wobbly atheist) from taking the kids to a local church for an Easter Egg Hunt (what gets capitalized there, really? Easter is the holiday, but Easter Eggs are specific things, and Hunts for Easter Eggs are certainly specific things too, though eggs and hunts are not typically specific things, and sometimes I hate the the fact that I taught English). This was not a purely cynical exercise, mind you. We were invited by one of my wife’s co-workers who, I think, thinks she can “snap us out of it.” And because we apparently think these kinds of things are good for the kids to take part in — as a cultural phenomenon, if not as a religious one — we went.
At said hunt, the organizers were dropping eggs from a helicopter, which is a thing that’s become more of a thing in recent years at your bigger Easter events. Of course, this is all flash without substance — it doesn’t change the intrinsic sugar-frenzy of the kids scrambling to get all the eggs before their peers, it just hypes them up and instills a good, solid bloodlust beforehand. But at this particular event (which was the first helo-drop), all the bugs had not yet been ironed out. So the helicopter circled the field once or twice, with the anticipation building, landed nearby to collect the eggs, then descended and dropped (apparently) thousands of eggs in a single spot on the field.
Thanks to all the rigmarole with the helicopter, the waiting for the “hunt” to begin (and the field in question was a literal soccer field, so it was less “hunt” and more “frenzied Thunderdome for all the clearly visible eggs in the grass”) took over an hour. Which resulted in a lot of cranky toddlers, frustrated parents, and at least one seriously sunburned bald atheist.
Which left my wife and I wondering why we went through it all.
Believe it or not, it’s a thing I wasn’t doing before. But the more I read about productivity and best practices and the habits of “successful” people (and especially writers!), the more I came across it. So I took it up, opened a blank notebook, and started a habit.
But because I’m me, on some level I fear that I’m doing it wrong, or at least not doing it optimally. And because it’s the 21st century, I turn immediately to Dr. Google to allay my fears and correct my faults. And what’s the first thing I see when I google “journaling”?
This is a term I’ve heard before without actually learning anything about it, and it sounds simply procedural. Journal in bullets! Something something guns! Usually I journal longhand, letting the drivel spill out however it comes, which is usually either in short, choppy machine-gun sentences, or in longer, rambling passages. But bullet journaling? Well, that sounds like just bullet points in a list — rather than mucking about with all those articles and properly conjugated verbs and appropriately undangled modifiers, you just list your thoughts. Okay, far out — that’s all I need to get started! So I try a day like that — and I run dry in about thirty seconds. What gives? On a normal day, I can free-write for an hour if I’m not careful. But when I simply list the thoughts without exploring them, I run out of thoughts quicker than a soda machine at fat camp. So I go googling again.
And … oh. OH.
Bullet journaling, it turns out, is less about writing and more about listing. It’s not so much about exploring your thoughts, it’s just about decluttering your head by putting on paper everything you need to get through in the day. With maybe a motivational quote attached. It’s making a to-do list. Setting reminders. Notes-to-self. Less stroll-through-your-headspace, more inventory-your-tornado-wracked-warehouse.
Uh, okay, but that’s not “journaling,” is it?
But it’s worse still. Bullet journaling isn’t just a practice, it’s a product. In fact, Bulletjournal.com has an array of notebooks ready for you to purchase, not to mention an app, and — coming soon — a book!
I don’t know about you, but the moment I hear somebody saying that their practice will change my life and make me a better person, oh and by the way, buy our fancy stuff to do it properly — well, that reeks ever so slightly of bovine defecation. The best practices in life are the ones you can start doing now, meaning right now, without any special apparatus, without any practice first, without watching any instructional videos. Drink some water, for example. Take a few minutes to just breathe. Get up and walk around a little bit. If “journaling” requires me to slap down $18.95 for a proprietary journal or invest in colored pencils or notecards lined off at laser-accurate increments, then that’s a thing I won’t be doing.
I say that not as a knock on Bullet Journal — the products or the practice. I’m sure that if I were a different type of person, I might even nurse a fetish for such things (apparently Pinterest and Instagram are lousy with people fawning all over each other’s immaculately designed to-do lists, which … okay, I guess?). But that, to me, ain’t journaling. It’s to-do listing.
So Bullet Journal, you are not for me.
For me, the journal is less about a stately declaration to myself of Things I Must Do Today. That — and the Bullet Journal MO, it seems (and again, I didn’t exactly research in depth, so, you know, grains of salt and all) — implies urgency and pressure. Which is sort of the antithesis, to me, of the whole idea of journaling. Journaling, I think, is about writing without rules, without goals, and (perhaps most importantly), without an audience. It doesn’t replace any of my daily writing, rather, it sets the tone for that writing. The journal is a clearing of the throat before I step up to the microphone. A deep-knee bend before approaching the starting line. A rev of the engine before I slam it into gear. It’s a little brain-dump to decrapify my head of all the garbage I don’t want to think about, and to crystallize my thinking about the things I do want to think about.
Here’s how I’m doing it so far:
I take five minutes every morning (and occasionally visit it on the weekend as well) just to jot down some thoughts. What makes it in is whatever’s front-of-mind: muses on the current project, nerves and apprehensions about the day, rants about the idiot that blocked me in while I was dropping my kid off at day care. Usually a reflection on the morning’s workout, since that’s usually fresh in my brain. It’s even more free-form and less coherent than what I post on the blarg, which may tell you something about the state of it. Coincidentally, it almost always clocks in at about a single side of one page. Or maybe it’s not a coincidence. Designers are cagey.
I don’t use an eraser at all, I don’t go back for misspellings, and I try to keep the pencil moving for the full five minutes. And once the five minutes are up, I stop! (I actually wrote out “I STOPS” and conjured in my head a grumpy Gollum hunched over a desk with a pencil and now I’m giggling inwardly, you’re welcome.) I finish the sentence I’m writing, close the book, and don’t think about it again until the next morning.
And, you know, it’s nice. I can’t tell if it’s actually helping my process or adding productivity to my day, at this point, but it’s nice to have a little ritual, since I don’t drink coffee or take the morning paper or anything thoughtful and meditative like that. I mean, I run, and there’s that, but that’s not every day. And as far as the free-form writing goes, there’s something about putting pencil to paper that isn’t quite approximated by any amount of typing in any form. The skritch, skritch of a pencil (mechanical pencils only, DON’T GET ME STARTED) creating words is its own kind of soothing. And the fact that it’s for my eyes only is comforting as well — I have even allowed myself a few unintended sentence fragments and misplaced modifiers (gasp!).
It comes out looking like this:
Notice the total lack of anything like a pretty color, the discounted-for-the-season 25-cent composition book, the handwriting that would put a doctor’s prescription pad to shame.
THAT’S a journal.
What’s yours look like? (And, if you’re a practitioner of Bullet Journaling — what am I missing?)
What is it like to be a house cat? We will probably never know, any more than we can know what it’s like to be a bat, or a beetle, or an elephant. Yet for whatever reason, some of us allow them to live in our homes with us, as if this isn’t a disruption in the natural order of things.
Cats are not meant to live indoors. They cannot be controlled or tamed or broken. Every cat has an insatiable need to run and hunt and play and do things it can never fully experience in your living room, no matter how many dangly toys or how much catnip you keep on hand.
Every cat is a Walter Mitty in its own mind.
And my cats live in an action movie.
Let me paint a picture for you:
Every night, they go off into exile. (The cats have a habit of jumping on the bed and pawing or licking my wife’s face, which wakes her up, so … nope.) They do not like it in exile. So they wait.
They know not exactly when their keepers will return, but they know we will come just before the sun. So they bide their time and gather their strength, until that critical moment, when — through the walls — they hear my feet hit the floor.
They know my pattern. They know what I must do when I first rise. I will leave the bedroom, go to the kitchen for a glass of water, collect the clothes by the stairs, head downstairs to the bathroom, then suit up for the day. All this I will do alone. All this, I will do while groggy and disoriented.
This is their moment.
They position themselves strategically: behind furniture, around corners, under chairs.
The door opens.
And as I pass, they dart into my path, weaving around my plodding feet like rebel speeders through the legs of an imperial AT-AT. They know that if they time it just right, they can do the unthinkable: they can bring me down. (Bonus points, apparently, if they get me going down the stairs — this is their favorite place to attack.)
They didn’t get me this morning.
But the Empire cannot keep them down forever.
So they will pretend to be my friends again until tomorrow morning, when they attack again.
In case you were wondering, here’s what it takes to (in no particular order):
cause a truly diabolical racket when I hit the wrong light switch at 5:30 in the morning
cause a cardiac event in a thirty-something dad upon the aforementioned racket
immediately disable a newish appliance that was perfectly functional five seconds ago
induce stress sweats on and off throughout the day in the same dad at the thought of having to repair, rewire, and/or replace said appliance
cause same dad to invent previously unconceived-of words to approximate his thoughts on the matter at large
yep, to cause all that, and a fair bit of heartburn in mom besides, it takes fifty-eight cents.
You probably didn’t know such a wide array of “benefits” could be had for such dirt-cheap prices. I certainly didn’t. But that’s only because as a more-or-less reasonable human, I never thought of using a garbage disposal to dispose of unwanted coin.
This is just one ignorance your young children will be only too happy to cure you of. (I know, I know. Don’t end with a preposition. What’s the old joke? “Fine … only too happy to cure you of, A-HOLE?”)
Coins actually fit rather nicely into a garbage disposal, as it turns out. The aural experience, though, is where it gets really exciting. They make a delightful little plinking sound as they slide down the drain. They make a sound like the end of the universe when you turn the disposal on. And then dad makes sounds like he’s dying as he fishes them out again, withdrawing his hands again and again crusted with gelatinous, vomit-inducing food waste.
Luckily, this problem, like so many household problems, is solved with a few minutes on Google and a willingness to get really unspeakably dirty. (I don’t even want to look at my hands, even hours later, for fear I’ll actually be able to see the microbes. Hand soap is great for the stuff that lives in the light, but for the gunk down in the drain, lurking in the pipes… antibacterial is not enough.)
So there’s that.
I found myself almost asking “who did this,” but when you’re a parent and you find yourself asking questions like “who put a handful of coins in the garbage disposal” or “who smeared cake frosting on the dog” or “who stacked every Lego in the house on my pillow”, you’ve already lost the fight. You just fix it and move on, lest you risk losing your mind listening to the denials.
Sidenote: Not sure how long I can continue to call this series “Toddler Life” with a straight face, given sprout #1 is six and sprout #2 will soon be four. But I am certain the series will continue, no matter the name.
After a really productive, really invigorating session editing the novel today, I turned around and left my reading material at work.
Today was rough. We were up way too late (hooray SUPERCELL STORMS), long day at work. All I wanted was to kick back and read a little. I don’t even read every night. But I really wanted to read tonight.
I NEEDED IT.
I know exactly where I left it. I can picture it, clearly, on my desk. Perched atop a small pile of ungraded papers. Jauntily turned at a thirty degree angle, for ease of picking up and chucking in my bag.