All That I've Forgotten
If you follow me on Mastodon, then you know that in the last couple months or so I've fallen in love with bullet journaling. Hard. You also know that I sought bullet journaling when I started trying to unplug from screens in order to get my attention back. And if you don't follow me on Mastodon, well, you know these things now.
Before finally jumping on the hype train, I had looked into bullet journaling a few times over the last couple years. I had been intimidated and discouraged by the beautiful spreads I found during my research. And all I need is a little discourage.
Photo from the official Bullet Journal website
I recently went to my local public library and picked up The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll, the creator of the bullet journal. I was delighted to see that Carroll keeps his journal minimalist and focuses on functionality rather than aesthetics. After reading Carroll's book, the concept made sense to me. I now steal a few ideas from reddit here and there and change them to fit my needs.
So now I'm a bullet journaling fiend. I've branded myself an evangelist and started spreading the word, like that annoying cousin who suddenly wants to talk to about “the unique opportunity to get in at the ground level and invest in something revolutionary”.
Initially, I was interested in bullet journaling because I wanted to stay organized and productive. Calendars and to-do apps weren't cutting it for me. I imagine one explanation could be that spending too much time in front of screens was zapping my cognition. Another could be the argument that we better retain whatever we write by hand. The bullet journal, like meditating, requires us to slow down and be more intentional, and so in that way, I do consider bullet journaling a practice in mindfulness.
I later realized that the bullet journal is a great way to document things. You know, like what a journal is supposed to do. And so I wonder if I'll ever go back and look at my old journals and entries and reminisce and maybe even marvel at all that I've forgotten.
And so I'm now faced with a new existential regret—I wish I'd been journaling all this time.
I'm not a very sentimental person, and these days I try to look forward rather than backward in time. People's memories are unreliable at best, and specific memories slip away more if we never reflect on them.
I can think of a few specific times in my life I wish I'd been journaling.
Summer camp days
During college, I worked three summers as a counselor at a camp for kids with special needs. My first summer was the summer before my freshman year of college. Each week brought the opportunity to meet kids with a variety of daily challenges, including:
- Cognitive disabilities
- Spina bifida
- Cerebral palsy
- Sickle cell anemia
Looking back, I can easily recall some important life lessons I learned during my time at camp.
We all want so many of the same things.
I realized that regardless of their challenges, the campers wanted many of the same things that the counselors wanted, most notably to feel acceptance and as if they belong. And then I realized that you can extend that to nearly everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality, etc. We're usually better able to accept others when we're able to understand them, so having learned about this shared struggle has gone a long way in developing empathy.
The importance of a good team
So many managers say that their company's greatest asset is its people. When I hear this, I usually roll my eyes because the phrase has become such a cliche. But the saying is in fact true. My last summer at the camp, I was made head counselor, and things ran pretty damn smoothly. I wish I could take all the credit, but the truth is that the directors got incredibly lucky with their hiring that summer. They somehow put together a phenomenal team with unbelievable chemistry.
The teams my previous two summers were good, but the team from that third summer took the prize. Those other counselors made my job ridiculously easy, and that was when I learned that I want to work with the best people whenever I have the opportunity.
The value of shared experience
Soldiers who have fought side by side in the same wars have a bond that needs no explanation. Even if we can't imagine what the two have seen together, we can understand that it's unlike what most of us will ever experience. That's how I feel when I look back at my time at that summer camp. Those counselors and I have a unique shared experience. We have perspectives that don't need to be explained between us. And if another counselor gave a good effort for just one summer, that says a lot about his character.
I wish I'd kept a journal of this time in my life because I know I've forgotten some great stories and funny moments. And I'm sure I could find a few more valuable life lessons if I could flip through the pages again. I also think I could have gotten some great material for a memoir.
Ah, college, the greatest four (or seven) years that no one remembers. It's not as if I'm unable to remember my college experience due to a lack of sobriety—I can't remember because it seems so long ago now and my memory has gone down the crapper over the last few years.
College was my first experience away from home...until my stepdad moved to my college town before my sophomore year because he lost his job back home. It was a time in which I was struggling for independence while still holding onto a bit of a safety net. It was an era of increased responsibility, trying to find my future, and getting my heart broken a few times.
I wish I had kept a journal of this time so that I could go back and laugh at myself and what I thought constituted “problems” at the time.
My grief and recovery
My experiences with grief have been documented here and have become the foundation of this blog, so I won't go into too much detail. But I wish I had journaled during this period of my life for a couple reasons.
For one, it could have made things easier for me. Of course, that means that I would have had to find a way to open up, even if only to myself, and be honest with what I was feeling in order to let it flow out. Allowing myself to feel what I was going through was the basis of my struggle, but maybe the process would have been easier if I had already developed a journaling habit. There's no point in wondering too much about “what could have been”, but it is interesting to consider.
I also wonder what other bits of wisdom I let slip into the ether. What else could I learn about my grief if I had some raw text to reflect on? I suppose now I'll never know. I have to stick with the memories I have and see if I can dig up anything new going forward.
My memory sucks now and it's probably not going to get any better. But worst case scenario, at least I now have something else to reference.