Lines of Understanding

Part 1: Throwing Ink

With two amazing trips planed for 2019, one to Hawaii with my side of the family and one to Alaska with Erin’s side of the family, I concluded that not only did I need to make a travel log, I needed a special book for each trip. I bought two 5×5 Handbook journals with grand visions of combining all of the travel log ideas I’d done before into one amazing book. This would be my best travel log yet. I put so much pressure on myself that the Hawaii book turned out to be the least detailed travel log I’ve done to date, barely filling a quarter of the seventy-five pages. Crestfallen and berating myself for not capturing the trip as I had wanted to, I hastily finished the book before we left for Alaska, vowing to capture this trip as I had wanted to capture Hawaii.  I managed to letter the title page and make one very rough sketch before I let it all go and returned to the words. It was day one of the trip. 

Normally on trips I leave my journal (time capsule) at home, but this time I had brought it along. I put the sketch book aside, and I began to document the trip directly into my time capsule. Soon I was behind on writing daily, but instead of berating myself, I resolved to continue on as best I could and to write down notes throughout the day, as well as a synopsis of the day, in my notebook. Nothing was too mundane, no conversation too short. I wrote not only about the things that we did and saw but the employees that I talked to. I asked them their stories. Instead of collecting brochures, receipts and business cards I simply took notes. It was freeing, and I captured far more about the trip and the people than I ever had before. 

After we returned home I was still catching up on the entries from the trip so I continued to write a synopsis each morning about the previous day, a practice I continue today that has allowed me to be consistent in my journaling. 

Over time I added, to my time capsules, lettering to my entries and at the end of each month a timeline recap. In the spring of 2020 I discovered nature journaling and began taking photos with my phone of the changing world and then using them as reference to sketch directly into my time capsule adding color with colored pencils. I would use the sketchbooks for watercolor sketches that I would then paste into the time capsule.  

My chronicling of life is constantly evolving and I have drawn from many different journaling techniques over the years, pulling out the things that work best for me and ignoring the ones that did not.  I have gone from completely disorganized to over-complicated and still-disorganized to the spot that works best for me and what I am trying to accomplish. I have learned that numbering your pages and labeling everything are two of the most important things I can do to stay organized. I have symbols to put next to entries and a reference system so that I can find an idea in the proper notebook when I want to look something up or write an essay. I use a program called Evernote to keep an idea index of essays, quotes, poems, and many other things as well as a PDF copy of each notebook and time capsule. 

Over the years this process has taught me about myself not only through the words I’ve written but also through the trial and error of finding the proper flow for chronicling life in daily writing. Most important it has helped me to understand what really matters. 

Keeping Up With It All

Essay, The Charlotte News

Even with the myriad of organizational apps, books, classes and articles available today, trying to lead an organized life can be a challenge. Throw in a child or two and it becomes nearly impossible to get a handle on it all. It has taken me much of the last five and a half years to figure out that mixing digital and paper is the best way for me to not lose my mind and plunge the household into utter chaos.

I’ve tried more than once to go paperless, with disastrous results. I’ve tried just using paper, but that too was equally disastrous as I am forever forgetting where I put my list. Several times I have come up with a system of organization that is so convoluted and complicated that by the next morning I have forgotten how it works. Now I carry a pocket-sized notebook with me to jot things down and then later I will put them into a program called Evernote, which for an organizing nerd like me is the greatest program in the world. I take the same approach with the weekly shopping list: first I scribble the list out as I figure out what the menu is for the week, and then I put it into Evernote in the order that I walk around the store. In contrast our weekly menu goes on a magnetic chalkboard on the side of our fridge so that I can remember what I am supposed to cook each night.

We have always had a family calendar; given my wife’s less than predictable schedule at her past job, and to some extent in her current job, it is simply a must. We rely on an electronic calendar that syncs across all of our devices, and a month view white board calendar hangs in our hallway. The problem with the calendar comes when one of us puts something in the electronic calendar but not the whiteboard or vice-versa. The real problem though is that I think my memory is better than it is and that I know what is scheduled on any given day and thus I am forever double booking the family or myself and then having to figure out how to rearrange the schedule. It has happened so many times you would think that I would have learned to just look at the calendar when making plans, but I have not.

The boys’ toys seem to always to be strewn from one end of the play room to the other and often spill out into the rest of the house. I’ve found Legos in our bed and stuffed animals in the sink. There always seems to be more toys than containers to hold them, which for someone who likes everything to be in its place whether it be a box bag, shelf, cubby, file, or pile can cause a wee bit of anxiety. To solve this little anxiety-inducing issue I went to the dollar store and bought them out of plastic shoeboxes, and then I spent the better part of an afternoon taking a picture of the toys, printing out the picture and taping it to the shoebox for each group. The idea was that the boys could find the toys they were looking for and also put them back. I have discovered that they certainly can find the toys they want, but then they seem unable to put them back before moving on to something else and then it is the end of the day and everyone, including me, is melting down, so I determine it is easier to do it myself after they go to bed. More often than not, I just close the playroom door and pretend it doesn’t look like it has been ransacked by thieves.

Cleaning has also posed a bit of a problem over the years. It is not that I don’t like to clean, I rather enjoy it, but trying to fit it into the day on a regular basis was something that eluded me until this past winter when I discovered that by setting up daily and weekly rhythms I could get a whole lot more done. In the simplest of terms you do a little bit of cleaning each day and by the end of the week you have gotten to the entire house clean and nothing, you hope, has gotten too out of hand. This works great until you lose your rhythm or summer comes and then you just want to be outside basking in the sun.

By far, though, the most important thing about organization that I have learned over the years, and with a fair amount of therapy, is that you have to let everything go. The house is not clean. Not a big deal. Toys not put away, that’s ok. If you let the organization and the cleaning rule your life, then someday you’re going to look up and realize that you missed out on a golden opportunity to be reminded what it is like to be a kid again, and you’ll be heartbroken.

There are days I need to heed my own advice.