Plan your future, record your past

One day while pedaling my bike home from the central library in Columbus, I noticed a statue with an inscription.

“Your life is a book and every day is a page, and one day that book will be read to you and you can’t deny it because you’ve written it.” - Elijah Pierce
You mean the organizer in my backpack written in a spiral notebook? That’s the one.

Long ago, before I started college, I remember a ritual that my family would perform slightly after midnight each New Year’s Eve. After watching the ball dropping in Times Square to ring in the New Year, we went through the house to replace all the old calendars. The cupboard was opened, where our past year, represented as numbered squares full of appointments scrawled in ballpoint ink and highlighted or underlined for emphasis, were pulled out. Our past, securely scotch-taped to the worn wooden paneling would be removed and thrown out and replaced with a new, blank calendar. We each repeated this small ritual in our rooms, discarding calendars opened to the month of December with new ones opened to January. Each of us saw the clean slate of a new month and New Year. Earlier in the evening, we would have had dinner out at a restaurant, taking a moment to discuss our New Year’s resolutions. They always seemed to be sound oddly familiar, focusing on goals for achievement at school, or re-dedications to pay closer attention to health or personal finances. It wasn’t until I realized that keeping a record of the past can be just as important as planning a future that I saw the irony of these rituals. A future worth planning is also worth recording. Like last year, this New Year won't see me throwing my calendar away. It’s getting stored with all the others. Seeing the repeated cycles of resolution helped me see that hindsight is far from 20/20. Like the uncertain future, my vision of the past also fades with distance. Philosophy aside, maintaining an accurate record of the past allows more accurate recall. In my pre-calendar years, if I were to be asked where I was on a certain date, I’d have no way of responding accurately. I don’t mean this in the legal sense, as in “where were you on the night of June 2, 2005” but instead “what did you do back then?” or “what was that day like?” Barring some shocking or especially memorable event, I wouldn’t have a clue. For unforgettable events, I’d even have trouble recalling the actual date that they occurred. A recorded and retained calendar solves this practical issue. If I wanted to know, for example, what was the phone number of that useful contact or their address, the details would escape me. What was that really great restaurant where your friends thought about going back to, but can't seem to locate now? What was the name of that great song or band you heard and can't seem to remember? Did you really mail that check last week? Where to? Has it really been two weeks since you asked the landlord to fix the dripping faucet? These were all mostly unanswerable questions. Only my fading and uncertain memories could offer their help. Now, my calendar is full of useful clues that I might need later. Like Elijah’s suggestion, each day is a page showing the hours and important activities. A checklist of items is written in, or checkboxes for time-critical items are placed at their appropriate times. Writing down the activities helped me accurately size the obligations that activities create. Each hour of the day has a line on the page. I’ve seen that whatever I can write in the space of a wide-ruled notebook line is probably the limit of what I can get done in an hour. In other words, an overcrowded reminder probably means an overcrowded hour.
|                                                           |
|                  6-18 Sat                                 |
|                                                           |
|   6  bike ride                   [ ] pay gas              |
|   7    . . .               [ ][ ][X] add 3x new cites     |
|   8    . . . / cleanup /                     [ ]          |
|   9     edit ch.1,5,8                        [ ]          |
|   10         . . .                           [ ]          |
|   11           . . .                                      |
|   12   lunch / [X]call landlord                           |
|   1   study Spanish                                       |
|   2      journaling                                       |
|   3     surf/ E2    /  wikipedia                          |
|   4     edit ch.1,5,8    [ ]add figs. 5-13                |
|   5      . . .          / walk & audiobook                |
|   6     dinner with friend@Benevolence                    |
|   7          . . . / shop Kroger                          |
|   8                   . . .  /                            |
|   9    gallery hop!!!                                     |
|   10                                                      |
|                                                           |
|                                                           |
|                                                           |
|  * online account #555 55 5555 user=go_bucks pw=woro25jv  |
|  * consolidate online better rate 4.525%     |
|  * Paul *family from Montana *GF=Betty *HPLC expert       |
|   *college=Oregon State U                                 |  
|  * Josie *ran Boston marathon 2002 *office 614.555.5555   |
|   *cell 614.555.5555 room 5F22                            |
|                                                           |
|                                                           |
|                                                           |
|                                                           |
Lower on the page are notes of what actually happened during the day, including events that are important enough to record but not memorable enough to retain in memory. Did I pay the gas bill? What is the name and background of that new coworker who I might not see again for six weeks? What is the username and password for that new online ordering site that I probably won’t use again for four months, and otherwise would require a lengthy set of phone calls and explanations to recover? In the back of my organizer, there is an address book full of all my useful contacts, physically printed out and pasted in from an electronic version that gets updated for each iteration of my otherwise handmade calendar. There is also a section for monthly goals, and lists of birthdays and anniversaries. Guarding against compulsive planning that might become an end in itself, I try to keep things simple. The basic goal of this organizer is to bring order and coherence to an otherwise chaotic schedule. I want the past that I record to as closely as possible match the future that I wanted. In the end I will be content to let the moments pass by. Just as no amount of preparation will ensure a future exactly matching my present plans, no level of scrutiny can maintain a total record of the past. This is just as well, since my focus is the relevant details that I will need later on, not a photographic recreation of the truly banal. The organizer serves as a tool to fill the moments as I would have them. Thanks Elijah.

See also ---

Visit Elijah

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