"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Drop in the Bucket: A Look at my Done Journal

I hate to-do lists. There, I said it. For years I thought the only way to be productive was to make to-do lists and then cry silently for all the things left unfinished at the end of the day. I never got the same satisfaction as other people from crossing items off the list, because somehow everything I still had to do blotted out the any short lived feelings of accomplishment. Plus, I'm terrible at prioritizing. Something needed to change.

The idea of a "Done Journal" is not mine. It's been around for a while, and there are even some apps out there for it, the most popular being iDoneThis. (I haven't tried it, only heard of it) The concept itself is basically a retroactive to-do list, where you write down tasks you've completed rather than things you need to do. The thing that attracted me the most about this idea is that you actually have to do something in order to put it on the list. It sounds obvious, but it's actually extremely powerful. A to-do list is something you create for your future self. You don't get any pleasure out of it until you actually finish a task (or two, or three), and even then it is all too easy to get overwhelmed by the items still on your list. A done list, on the other hand, brings immediate satisfaction. You've just completed a task! You get to add that thing to all the other things you've done that day, that week, that year. You're a rock star!

Okay, so maybe it's weird to get excited over something as small as replying to e-mail, or running errands. But keeping a done list (and a done journal) gives you permission to feel good about yourself and your accomplishments, not matter how small they are. This is the main reason I love done lists, and why I now have a journal for them.

About the supplies: The notebook that became my done journal was part of a three pack set from Greenroom. Once I got to college I started using greenroom notebooks almost exclusively because I was so tired of the boring spiral notebooks they'd make us use in elementary and middle school. (I hold my stationary grudges for a long time, folks). Anyway, they are pretty durable, lightweight, and made out of recycled materials. Plus I find they are the perfect size for this purpose.

I began with categories. I wanted my journal to feel deliberate, creative, and thoughtful, rather than just a hap-hazard record of what I've done. If I can color code something, I always do it. By tagging each item with a different color, I can see at a quick glance what parts of my life I'm spending the most time on. Also, I needed an excuse to use my colorful pens.

Despite my gushing above, starting a done journal didn't magically make me a more productive person. There are still days when I feel crappy about not getting enough done, or I look back at my day and realize that I didn't accomplish anything important. I've noticed that I have to write down the date in the morning before I've finished anything or I don't have the motivation to start working until much later. The other thing that has been helpful is writing down my thoughts at the end of the day about what I accomplished, what I wish I'd done, or simply something that happened to me that day. It's a great way to de-stress and avoid feeling overwhelmed. Can your to-do list do that?

Lastly, the done journal does not completely obliterate the need for a to-do list. As much as I hate to admit it, I still use them to keep track of what I need to do. But since starting my done journal, to-do lists have become more of a tool for remembrance than motivation. The stress-free satisfaction that comes from adding an accomplishment to my done journal is what keeps me going day after day.

This post is the beginning of what I am hoping will become a long running series. Keeping a done journal is one of the items on my creative bucket list*, a compilation of all the creative stuff I want to make or learn about over the course of my lifetime. Each time I cross a new item off the list I'll write a post about it, complete with pictures, stories, and insight into what I've learned. Right now my unofficial goal is to complete one bucket list item every month, though some will take longer than others, and some are ongoing, like the done journal. So far my done journaling experience has been a positive one, and I hope this will inspire you to give it a try.

*At this point you're probably wondering how I can hate to-do lists, but have a 74 item bucket list. The reason is this: My bucket list is a pressure-free space. There is no one demanding I do any of the things on the list by a certain date. Thus I can chip away at it and not feel overwhelmed.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Everyday Magic

Sometimes I fall into a rut of thinking that I've seen all there is to see. I open a book hoping that it will make me feel something, but what I'm actually hoping for are the normal feelings, the quickening heart beat countered by the knowledge that it will work out in the end. And then something comes a long that completely cracks open my world view. It makes me feel something I didn't even know it was possible to feel. It makes me see the world just a little bit differently.

Last night I had one of the most intense movie-watching experiences of my life. My friend and I watched the latest Studio Ghibli film, The Tale of Princess Kaguya. This movie will lift you up and break your heart. It will will make you feel peaceful and anxious, bitter and and full of wonder. It made me cry big, ugly tears.

The film is based on a Japanese folk tale, and the animation style reflects its origins. The colors are subdued, and the figures are less defined than they are in other Ghibli films. It contains some of the most beautifully animated sequences I've ever seen. It baffles me why it didn't win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (and lost to Big Hero 6, for that matter).

A friend and I were talking recently about how we usually feel a stronger connection to books than we do to films. I think about my favorite books on a daily basis, but I rarely contemplate movies I watched a long time ago. I have a feeling this film will be different. I feel different for having seen it.

Before watching this film I was so used to stories making me feel the same way that I had begun to take them for granted. I was certainly not expecting to end up in a puddle of tears, or to still be thinking about Princess Kaguya when I woke up this morning. Sometimes it's hard to believe that the things I love - my favorite books, films, and poems - were created by another human being. They feel too much like a gift from the universe, sent to me right when I need it most. I think Charles de Lint said it best with this quote:

"I do believe in an everyday sort of magic - the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art, and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we're alone."

I'm not sure if what I've learned from Princess Kaguya has to do with the film itself or that I happened to see it at this point in time, but I do know that I'm not going to take stories for granted anymore. I've learned to always seek out the things that make you feel vulnerable, the things that lift you up and tear you down and ultimately change your perspective. This is the everyday magic, and it doesn't matter where you find it as long as you don't fall into the trap of forgetting that it's there.

ps. If you noticed that I didn't give you a film synopsis, it's because I went into this movie not knowing anything about it, and I really think it's better that way.