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Hopeful for an organized 2019. Photo by the author

The holiday gifts are purchased and wrapped. Now is the time I buy one thing for myself to help me in the year ahead. I can spend hours in a single day looking and still not find it. I’m in search of something so perfect, so uniquely me that I will not know exactly what it looks like until I see it. In between holiday concerts year-end work and festivities, I go to the office supply aisle in every store in Flagstaff and run my hands over pages in beautiful…calendars.

The only paper calendar I’ve been able to keep beyond the month of February is the one on the kitchen wall filled with reminders of dentist appointments and birthdays. But every year, I think I will go back to being the kind of person who maps out her days in a two-page 5x8 format in a beloved Franklin Planner that almost never leaves her hands. I was this person a lifetime ago, when I lived in a big city doing what I thought were important things. Everyone had a planner encased in a faux-leather (or real leather if they were the boss) cover in the days before we got our Palm Pilots, then our Blackberrys, then our smart phones. Soon enough, I started keeping everything electronically, but I still dreamed of beautiful paper calendars and my fountain pens. I even continued buying small paper calendars that went mostly unused.

The calendar search this month has taken on a different kind of fervor than usual and I may have to blame a friend for this. I have been collecting images and how-to videos on bullet or “dot” calendars and journals, but they went ahead and actually made their journal and have been using it this past year. They showed me the layouts for a year-at-a-glance (cleanly sketched free-hand, by the way), and their daily doodles and stickers for priority tasks and trip-planning goals. The journal is beautiful and inspirational and flexible. Days are not already numbered: it’s up to the calendar owner to set up their own best time management system and task-tracking. Slowly, I started acquiring the trappings for building this kind of daily artifact—a blank notebook, some stickers and a dozen of my favorite pens. I even bought a how-to journal book. It’s like I’m preparing to be prepared—or planning to plan. I can feel it. Any day now, I’m going to make plans for 2019. On paper.

These annual December calendar acquisitions make me feel hopeful. A new year, a new, organized me. But like New Year’s resolutions and every other paper calendar I’ve had the past 10 years, I am afraid that this kind of writing and planning of daily-ness will be pushed aside as not a priority, or as something I don’t have enough time to do. After all, I did write a paper in college about how time management was a waste of time. My professor made us read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and write our final paper about time management; my response seemed like an anti-capitalist and punk thing to write. Anti-planning as a plan. Surprisingly, I wasn’t thrilled with my B-. I was definitely not as punk as I had hoped, still striving like Alex P. Keaton for better grades.

There is something to be said for documenting our days in whatever form the days, and the documentation, may take. For me, I want to give paper a try (again) and combine it with some kind of daily journaling. But if I try to compare my daily writing and journaling with the journals of Virginia Woolf or David Sedaris, or even the instructions for bullet journaling that I see on the internet, I will also feel like I’m failing at documenting life humorously or beautifully. How much of the day should I plan? How much of each day should I write? How many colored pencils will I need to illustrate my days? Can I illustrate my days? How much time will all of this take? Should I schedule time to work on my schedule? Will I be “calendaring” with my calendar?

The problem seems to be that, at some point (usually by the end of January), these paper calendars become inextricably linked to my self-worth. I put too much pressure on myself to have the kind of life worth documenting. I tell myself I should be able to flip through the pages in a calendar and point to the life-altering moments when something happened. I recognize this is the same kind of pressure I used to put on myself for those January resolutions—if I failed at achieving one, I was a failure overall. So much conventional wisdom now suggests that if we fail to do a task for a day (or several days), we simply need to start again. However, I know it is easier to go back to not eating potato chips than it is to stare at so many blank pages in a calendar and try to fill in the blanks.

Perhaps the best thing about this new kind of bullet calendar and journaling is that the days are not already established, leaving me free to “pencil in” the details after the event. In this way the calendar is less of a pre-planned obligation and more a friendly reminder of the details I might otherwise forget. And, honestly, what if I stop using the latest calendar in February? The calendar, with its undated days and blank pages will simply transform into another writing notebook for me. No one will know the true intention for this book other than me (and now, you). It’s not as though the Staples Police will come after me for not completing another perfectly good calendar. By the way, you won’t tell them, will you?

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Stacy Murison’s work has appeared in Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies (where she is a Contributing Editor), Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog, Hobart, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, River Teeth and The Rumpus among others. She holds an MA from Georgetown University and MFA in Creative Writing from Northern Arizona University where she now teaches composition.

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