Lines of Understanding

Essay
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. 

Throwing Ink

Essay

I started my first journal in the spring of 1996. The inside front and back covers are filled with quotes about living in the moment, which is something I’ve been obsessed with most of my life. In 1996 I was so self conscious of my poor spelling and grammar that I wrote exclusively in poems. There are poems about love and teenage angst, but there is a particularly long one about complete despair that I now recognize as a cry for help. I had a couple of other notebooks in the late 90’s and into 2001 but only one has survived and much of that has been torn out because I never wanted to see that writing again. What is left is mostly poetry, though there are quotes, drawings and even some regular writing. It is also the first time I put into writing how important it was for me to keep writing and how I dreamed of being a writer, something I barely allowed myself to believe. The end of the book talks about goals and how I really feel about myself deep inside. I remember writing this while living in Boston just after college. The answers were all lies. I knew it then and I certainly know it now. It is important to tell the truth and sometimes that means you write things that you never want anyone to see, that perhaps you never want to see, but you just need to get it out. You can always rip it out later if need be. I write for myself but I also write for future generations and so I stick to the guidelines of, be honest, be real and show your vulnerability. 

In the early 2000’s I began carrying a pocket-sized spiral notebook that I would fill with quotes, poems, and anything else that needed to be written down. 

In 2005 I received my first Moleskin notebook, and promptly put undue pressure on myself. 

“This is the notebook of Hemingway and other famous artists; therefore, this book should only hold the best ideas and work. The poems should come out one and done,” I told myself. This only succeeded in stifling my dream of being a writer. After nearly three years of this undue pressure I put aside pocket notebooks for larger ones and began to sketch more and write less. 

My new sketching obsession led me to discover Urban Sketching and as I am apt to do with new interests I jumped in feet first. Deep down I was hoping it would make me happy. Of course, it didn’t, and I spent as much time comparing my sketches to other people’s and telling myself I was not good enough as I did actually sketching. In truth some of the pictures are really bad, but that is ok, it is all part of the process.  

Along the way I switched back to pocket-sized books and slowly began writing more. I have always loved the idea of combining my sketches with my words, I love the aesthetic of it. These particular notebooks (Handbook Journals) were great for trying this, but I soon concluded that even though these books fit in my pocket the thickness and the hard covers made them cumbersome to carry when also minding two small boys and all their accoutrements. 

At one point I tried to go paperless, but I am too much of a stationery nerd who loves the scratch of the fountain pen and the feel of the paper for that. Frustrated with the lack of writing, I decided an entirely new approach was what I needed to write daily. I picked up some softcover pocket Moleskins with the plan of filling a book for each month. This was moderately successful but in the end I abandoned the whole idea because it was too rigid and my daily writing continued to wax and wane for the next several years.

In 2015 I discovered Field Notes which are now my pocket notebook of choice. I also came up with the idea of making travel journals for the trips that we took. My first travel journal was filled mostly with writing, though there are some receipts and cutouts pasted in. These journals quickly evolved to include floor plans of the places we stayed, typography, cutouts and sketches, anything I thought would be relevant and fun. I desperately wanted to capture every detail, but the more I added, the more stringent my rules for filling the books became and the more time-consuming the books became. It all fell apart on a particularly adventurous trip we took to Utah in the spring 2018. My depression was fully leading the tango at the time and trying to keep up with the travel log did not help matters. I came home with a huge stack of brochures, receipts and the like and the pile sat untouched for months while I spiraled downward, the unfinished project of the journal only adding to my discontent. 

I gave up on travel journals after that and the next few trips were little more than notes of the days with perhaps a thumbnail sketch here and there. These synopses would prove to be a breakthrough in my journey to becoming an obsessive chronicler of life, but I would have to fail two more times before I would learn this lesson. 

More Next week.