A gift to the future

And a place to practice the 'art of noticing.'

I have been writing a journal for about twenty years. It has become an integral part of my daily routine. But from time to time, I get frustrated with what I am recording in my journal. I want journals to be emphatic, insightful, and wholesome. Instead, they are a record of my frustrations, rants, and days happenings.

From time to time, I have been introducing different ways to make them interesting. I have tried different things over the years - bullet journaling, micro-journaling, gratitude journaling, questions, stream of consciousness writing, and even sketching. But my fallback is always an account of my day, which reads like a Hansard.

For a while now, I have been looking a way to incorporate the ‘art of noticing’ in my diary writing. Rob Walker, the writer of the book Art of Noticing and a newsletter of the same name, makes a case that there is a connection between noticing, attention, and caring and observation that we often end up “noticing” or “paying attention to” things we really don’t care about. These distractions are forced on us through screens and social networks, or billboards.

A diary is a perfect place to record things you really care about. It is worthwhile to ask:

  • Am I paying attention to what I should pay attention to?

  • Am I noticing what I want to notice?

As I was turning this over when I come across Lynda Barry’s book Syllabus. Barry is a cartoonist, author, and professor of interdisciplinary creativity, whose recent books encourage people to believe in their inherent artistic abilities.

Syllabus is based on a workshop Barry teaches called “Writing the Unthinkable.” The main course requirement is keeping a notebook—and not just any kind. Each day’s hand-written entry must contain these items:

  1. a list of seven things you did

  2. a list of seven things you saw

  3. something you heard someone say, and

  4. a sketch of one item from the “saw” list.

Don’t even think about skipping the sketching step.

Barry believes, “If it’s all just drawing, it’s too quiet; if it’s all just writing, it’s too lonely. So, it’s about the two coming together.”

This fits perfectly with what I was looking for. I am not interested in starting yet another journal, but I can easily incorporate these in my current journal and routine.

Even before I try, I fell in love with this approach. I like its clarity, its variety in making the process of record-keeping fun.

To cream it off, Barry explains that if you journal this way for a while, you’ll start to “notice what you notice.” And, sure enough, within a week, I have become more alert to what I see and what I hear.

I have also started sketching unusual things. Things that I didn’t think of sketching before. Just like a pair of gloves that my husband leaves on the stairs after his morning walks or an old pedestal fan that is standing in the lobby waiting for summer to arrive.

These everyday things are a record of my life. To these, I can add occasional quotations, poems, to-do lists, ideas for projects, list of weekly and monthly goals.

I believe the diaries and journals are gifts to future generations. They should reflect every aspect of our lives, not just our rants and daily happenings. And if we can make them interesting somehow, our great-grandchildren might brag about us in their school project.

Here are the links to this week’s articles on Medium.

What Is Frustrating You Right Now

Are Self-published Authors, Authors?

Gallipoli — The Futility Of War


That’s it from me this week.

Take care.

Neera Mahajan

If you enjoyed this letter, you click here to get it every week.