“Writers are the custodians of memory, and that’s what you must become if you want to leave some kind of record of your life…”
July 2nd is the middle of the year. Half of the year is gone, half of the year is still to be.
One of the reasons I like keeping a logbook is that it makes time tangible. Turn the pages, and you can feel the days pass.
Sometimes you flip back through the pages and they feel wasted. But flip forward, and you still have plenty of blank pages to fill.
I realized last night as I finished yesterday’s logbook entry just how little time was left in the year. You can see DEC 1 on the calendar, but your brain doesn’t really register it the way the chunk and heft of the pages turned behind you does.
What to do with the rest of the calendar?
It’s tempting to call it a year and spend the rest of December in retrospection. It’s around this time every year that people start posting their “best of the year” reading lists (myself included) — as if anything you read in December doesn’t really count. This is a mistake, because every time I post a best of the reading year list before December 31st, I read a book or two that should’ve made the list, a book that gets lost in the cracks between my official lists. (Last year it was Will Oldham on Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Ian Svenonius’s Supernatural Strategies for Making A Rock and Roll Band. The year before, it was Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad and Howard Gossage’s The Book of Gossage.)
None of these books is now on my “best of” site, even though they should be.
What else am I missing by being prematurely retrospective? (I can’t remember which artist said it—maybe Hockney?—but having a “retrospective” makes it sound like you already died.)
There’s a section in Show Your Work! called “Don’t Quit Your Show” where I tell this little anecdote:
One time my coworker John Croslin and I came back from our lunch break and our building’s parking lot was completely full. We circled the sweltering lot with a few other cars for what seemed like ages, and just when we were about to give up, a spot opened and John pulled right in. As he shut off the car he said, “You gotta play till the ninth inning, man.”
Play ’til the ninth inning. That’s exactly what I was looking for. The year is a baseball game with twelve innings and I want to play until the last out.
So this year I’m pledging to not make my year-end list before the year’s end. I’ll be posting mine on January 1st, 2014. I’m also planning not to let up just because it’s December. I’ll still be checking all my boxes: meditating, making a blackout poem, writing, and reading every day. Because we might only have 30 days left, but a lot can happen in 30 days.
What will you do with yours?
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“Writers are the custodians of memory, and that’s what you must become if you want to leave some kind of record of your life…”— William Zinsser, “How To Write A Memoir”
We all know keeping a calendar of future events is important.
What about keeping a calendar of past events?
The best writing project I took on last year was what I call my logbook: a simple Moleskine daily planner in which I kept track of the little details of my day. Who, what, where types of details. Who I met, what I did, where I went, etc.
It’s not a diary or a journal. It’s a book of lists. The lists are simple facts.
Why not just keep a diary?
For one thing, I’m lazy. It’s easier to just list the events of the day than to craft them into a prose narrative. Any time I’ve tried to keep a journal, I ran out of steam pretty quick.
But more importantly, keeping a simple list of who/what/where means I write down events that seem mundane at the time, but later on help paint a better portrait of the day, or even become more significant over time. By “sticking to the facts” I don’t pre-judge what was important or what wasn’t, I just write it down.
Best of all, limiting each day to one page and breaking it down into a list instead of prose makes it easier for me to scan through it later, and get a real feel for the passing of time as I flip the pages.
From the Wikipedia entry for “logbook”:
A logbook was originally a book for recording readings from the log, and is used to determine the distance a ship traveled within a certain amount of time. The readings of the log have been recorded in equal times to give the distance traveled with respect to a given start position.
The distance the ship traveled. I like that.
(Below are a couple iPhone snapshots of example pages — these days aren’t significant, they’re just days with events benign enough to share with y’all.)