Is it just me, or has journaling gone off the rails?
Journals these days are somehow simultaneously beautiful and militant. In the bullet journals splashed all over Pinterest, people not only track minutiae such as daily weather, exercise, and water intake, but they sketch pretty drawings of mini water glasses that they fill in with blue each time they drink. Inspirational quotes about “getting shit done” abound. Daily planners have evolved beyond simple monthly calendars and are now Passion Planners, Life Planners, Focus Planners. Each one runs for $25 to $50, and some are over $100.
Take the SELF Journal, which costs around $30. Here’s their promotional video. (Worth a watch, I promise.)
According to the video, the creators “researched the most successful, high-performing people in the world” to differentiate outstanding performers from the average person. So the journal will help you to recover from a serious case of averageness and “reach your goals quicker than you ever thought possible.”
Here’s where, for me, it gets creepy. Each day in the SELF Journal is broken down into 30-minute increments that start at 6 a.m. and end at 9 p.m. This allows “you to optimize your day from sunrise to sunset.”
Optimize my day? Am I a robot? If I started planning my day at 6 a.m., there would be a whole lot of z’s written in those first two hours.
Here’s the thing. I almost bought this journal. Then I realized I thought it was batshit crazy. There is a section for happiness tracking. Happiness. Tracking. What in tarnation is going on here?
I’m not even trying to pick on the SELF Journal. They’re all similar. And obsessive journals are a symptom of a widespread sickness: Our demand for constant productivity. We expect ourselves, our co-workers, our spouses, and our children to continually produce. For me, rather than take an evening off for a bubble bath and a nice book, I find myself reading a self-help book and scribbling down notes. Or researching homemade pasta recipes so I can finally use that damn pasta maker I bought 5 years ago and stop feeling like a failure. When Joe hops on his computer to play games, I will wonder why he isn’t cleaning the bathroom.
Recently, I told Joe I think I forgot how to rest. I was only half kidding.
What worries me more than our need for never-ending productivity is that we expect perfect output at all times. We want an Instagram-worthy creative process. The SELF Journal calls its back pages “freedom pages” which are meant for jotting down thoughts or ideas, but the sample they show in the video contains only flawless drawings. In this world, there is no room for messiness.
Is freedom allowed only at the end, in the hidden spaces no one sees?
Full disclosure: I started a bullet journal last month. But mine is a majorly scaled-down version that works well for me. A lot of the rules were too strict and stifling for my taste, so I took the ones I liked and abandoned the rest. I don’t draw. I don’t cover up mistakes. I don’t track my happiness. The only focus on achievement is in the realistic goals I set for myself, and when I don’t reach them, I try again the next day. And I love it. It’s a fully personalized journal that I am creating as I go. None of it is made to be shared on social media, although I will share a few photos so you can see how average I am.
I am here to make a case for the messy journal. I’m sure options like the SELF Journal are a great tool for some. But for me, I have no interest in becoming an optimized human. I want to be flawed, messy, spontaneous. My grad school mentors’ writing notebooks were falling apart and filled with sticky notes, scratch paper, and napkins covered in ideas. Their pages were a launchpad for creativity; they exuded joy. And that’s all I want from my own journal.
In fact, that’s all I want from life—joy, spontaneity, and hard work. All of these journals are missing this connection.
Then again, maybe these aren’t things a company can sell.
Until next time,