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Biting the Bullet

                       
by Vol-E

Journal, Diary, Notebook, Planner, Organizer...those are words that turn me on like "Fifty Shades of Gray" might to someone else. I've kept a diary since the age of 11 -- the lock-and-key type, where each page started with "Dear Diary." Soon enough, those little books just weren't cutting it. I escalated to composition books -- at one time, I had two of them duct-taped together, back to front, for continuity. They were not so much to enable me to record all the significant events. My mindset, in my teens and 20s, was entirely inwardly focused. Elvis and the Pope could have set up camp outside the front door, and I'd have made no note of it if I were embroiled in some inner crisis.

Shortly before my son was born, I made the decision to ditch every single diary I had. Many years, many pages. They're out in a landfill somewhere, I have no doubt, and that's exactly where they belong. All these years later, I have not regretted the decision to throw them away. They contributed very little to my life. Until Wally was about 5, the most "journaling" I did was maintaining a pocket calendar. Gradually, I stopped navel-gazing and started looking up and around, recording the events and moments that really mattered.

The narcissistic tendencies are still there. Word-processing has made that much easier. But the Internet has also enabled me to see how other people record, reflect and chronicle their lives, and it's easier to sort out all those options and create something useful.

I'm forgetful, absent-minded, and downright clueless at times. For years, my motto could have been "Gee...I never saw that coming!" Things, both big and small, blind-sided me all the time and left me reeling. It took forever to re-train my mind to adopt a future orientation.  To stop, mindfully assess the current moment, and then follow the invisible thread of logical consequence and decide which path I wanted to follow. I have nowhere near gotten the hang of it, to where it's second nature, but there's a much greater feeling of being in control of my life's events.

A big part of that process has been, not just using journals and planners, but learning how to use them properly. They're not just "brain dumps" -- though there is one kind of journal, called Morning Pages, that is designed specifically as just that. For some real in-depth navel gazing, you can try Proprioceptive Writing, in which you ask yourself on the page, "What did I mean by that?" A marvelous aid to self-discovery.

But when it comes to keeping track of tasks and appointments, ordinary Day-Runner type calendars can be dry and unimaginative, and seemingly leave it entirely up to you to be responsible for getting it all properly written down. I learned long ago that relying solely on digital planner apps isn't quite the solution I need, either. Surely, I thought, there has to be a system that provides a dialogue of sorts -- I tell it things, and it says "Yes, that's important. Let's hear more." The only problem is, therapists are expensive!

I recently discovered a fascinating new innovation called the Self Journal. I strongly recommend it. I downloaded and printed a "beta" version, used it for several days, and came within a hair of purchasing it (for about $30). I may still end up getting one within the next year -- I still have to watch my spending, and I hesitated just long enough to go out on YouTube, looking for rave reviews of the journal. The rave reviews are out there, believe me. You won't be sorry if you buy The Self Journal.

The only reason I haven't bought it yet is that, in my odyssey through YouTube, I ran across several posts that talked about yet another journaling tool. This one's called the Bullet Journal. I first encountered this right at the beginning of the year and tried to use it. One of my "pets" is what was once marketed as (and what I still call) a Fat Little Notebook. It's what it sounds like: small, square (about 4"x4"), spiral-bound, 400 ruled pages. I've been using mine for nearly a year, mostly just for very quick jottings, and especially passwords. Comes in very handy when you're far away from your home, your computer, your Dashlane app. So I jot 'em in the notebook, which I carry just about everywhere.

When I first heard about the Bullet Journal, I thought I could incorporate the format into my FLN. I got all excited, cutting out sheets of graph paper to paste in the notebook, and learning how to make a Spiraldex (don't ask; you don't need it). This went on for maybe a week, but the Bullet Journal needs more space than a 4x4 book. I abandoned Bullet Journaling ... only to take a second look at it just a few days ago while stumbling around YouTube. Seeing it demonstrated with a larger book suddenly made a lot of sense, and it looked like fun! Best of all, and here's the important part, you can make a Bullet Journal with nearly any kind of notebook. I probably could have adapted it to my FLN, but you need some indexing and uniform page formats toward the front of the book, and mine was already about halfway through.

Following are links to the two best beginner guides to Bullet Journals. It is true that you probably have to be a little bit obsessive to create this system, and if you explore it further, you'll see that for some users, it's the next iteration of scrapbooking. Notebooks can be turned into works of art and calligraphy, if that's your thing. And there are plenty of people out there who would raise one or both eyebrows and ask "But wait a minute...isn't this the 21st century? WHY would you want to take us back in time where we cut down trees and jot things in a paper book that could get lost, ruined or stolen?" There's no definitive answer to that question. But even if the Bullet Journal isn't for everyone, there's still a whole crowd of folks out there who are nodding their heads, acknowledging that mysterious hunger for pen on paper. Has anyone noticed the coloring book craze? It's not an accident - it taps into some kind of wiring in our brains. Digital just doesn't quite do it.  I find I remember things better; they make more sense, when they're hand-written. They seem more solid and more real. After it's all said and done, that's when I like to go digital. Take photos; squirrel it safely away in the cloud, where it doesn't take up a lot of space and can be retrieved across a multitude of years and devices.

With the Bullet Journal, you're creating your own, entirely from scratch, instead of trying to twist your own style and preferences to conform to someone else's in a pre-printed book. But never fear! Explore for just an hour after you get the basic method down, and you'll find websites all over creation that offer you downloadable templates to make the process easier and save time.

The two introductory guides I'm linking here are very reassuring to the non-artistic type. You can make a Bullet Journal as plain, basic, utilitarian and non-artsy as your heart desires, or you can go in quite the opposite direction and have your own little orgy on Pinterest. But it's a nice concept either way.

This gets you started.       This one helps you keep going.

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