Writing things down
the Ideal Self looks on in and says:
There are a few intersecting online communities I lurk around that revolve around writing things down:
- notebook fans, r/notebooks (“I can stop buying them whenever I want.”)
- plain text enjoyers (“Clearly the solution is to write a parser.”)
- “productivity” communities (“look at my Notion/Org Mode/Obsidian/… setup!” / unixporn for people with jobs)
- the Bullet Journal community (Plug in your own snarky comment for this one)
Why I want to do it
I want to write things down, I really do. I want to keep a diary, and todo lists, and kanban boards. Why? Any of the communities above would be happy to give you a laundry list of reasons to write things down, but there are two in particular that resonate with me.
The first: I want to get things out of my brain. I’ve always been a forgetful person, so, I rode the productivity tool carousel.
A few times, something actually worked for a bit. My best streak was keeping weekly Bullet Journal-like to-do lists throughout the last year of high school, as I was preparing for university entrance exams.
That brings me to the second reason I want to write things down: keeping a log. Having a record of things you did and thought seems useful in theory. Yet, I threw out the lovely little book I kept my to-dos in, and I don’t really miss them. I feel like I should be upset about not having it, and that does bother me, but I’m not bothered by the book itself. Why is that?
Looking upon my own works and despairing
I want to write things down quickly. I want to take notes in lectures without having to splice them with textbooks later. I want to write down an appointment before I forget, or an idea before I free-associate away from it.
But I can’t bring myself to commit anything to paper. I can’t just take notes, I have to write myself a textbook. If I write down an idea, I can’t pull away without preparing a design document. Yet every sentence of such tomes would be subject to the same fear, and the result is pages half-reserved (read: empty).
This leads to a conflict between the two motivations for writing things down.
ijo nasa li pona e mi
I’ve been keeping a journal for around a year now. I write in it pretty infrequently, but it’s still helpful and I managed to actually finish a (admittedly very thin) notebook for once!
The unique thing is that I write most of my entries in Toki Pona. I’ve heard of people using it in this way, and I gave it a try. It was initially just the novelty of the language that motivated me to keep going, but I was surprised to actually enjoy reading these back after a few months.
The trick is that the simplicity of the language (combined with my lack of actual conversation experience) means that my entries don’t have a voice, that mix of word choice, syntax, and many other things that identify a particular author. They don’t have the trace of yesterday-me’s self image, which today-me finds repugnant.
Am I genuinely going to write about cringing at my past self? Right now? This is repugnant already! Pressing through…
That’s really it — there is a stark difference between words for the public eye and words for myself, and I can’t get myself to write the second on paper. Paper seems like another person.
It dawns on me after writing (aha!) that I can’t write things that identify me — that when I write something for the public eye, I edit it down and remove any trace of myself I spot. That doesn’t seem healthy…
I think what that makes me is self-conscious, but that sounds too positive to be right. Why wouldn’t you want to be conscious of yourself? At the same time, I don’t want so spend time thinking of ways to pity myself.
Maybe this is something I’ll just get over. Then writing this post down would be pretty pointless…
But I wouldn’t care!
There is a secret third reason why I want to write things down: notebooks and text editors are fun. ↩︎