at a glance: how not to think about a life
Last year I started using my planner to record my daily life, what I did, who I was with, and how I felt. I made a daily habit of coming to my planner every night and recording these details. I did this because I wanted to start journaling and reflecting on my life. But really in feeling compelled to keep this habit, I wanted to justify my life and be able to create whole picture of my life to be able to point to and say, this is a real life. At the time and often since then, I wasn’t feeling like I was living a real life, though I am unclear on what was missing. I figured having this detailed archive would allow me to more clearly see what I had and what I wanted. Once this archive was complete, I took these pages and using the design system I had created through living and recording everyday, designed a book. I obscured names and places, left out information to draw out patterns and created this piece about how I don’t want to think about my life.
Last winter a series of big changes forced me to really look at myself and see what I am and what my life is. I moved into a new apartment, having ended a big relationship and at the same time, my feelings towards my work, especially my work shifted hard, and I felt more resentment and detachment towards my work. Things that previously defined parts of myself changed rapidly and I thought the practice of recording the details of my days would help me to define myself again.
I know that I explore and understand myself through writing and creating lists and maps and notes. It felt appropriate to mark my life along the literal and conceptual grid of a planner, that grid representing days which add up to time and then a life. A grid is also a structure which brings me great comfort, a sustainable system on which to hang the events of my life. The piece that was missing here is context and reflection, looking back and sitting with myself to see how I feel and why. I’m certainly not making what in retrospect feels like obvious connections between events and my general feelings at the time, which feels like a missed opportunity because I’m always wondering what it felt like to exist in a previous time in my life, thinking what I thought then, not knowing what I know now.
In trying to map my life alongside the to-do lists, plans, and appointments as marked in my planner, this also became a record of work feelings, about how it felt to be at my day job but especially my attempts to impose some control over myself and build in some discipline to my days and weeks that would allow me to “get things done.” Being in a day job as an arts administrator and having many creative side projects that I wish I could dedicate more time and energy to, I’ve always wrestled with productivity and making good use of my time. I wanted some visible record of accomplishments and things I’d done, because I felt like if I could make them more apparent, I could really make it feel like I was living the life I wanted to have, like I was advancing the work I wanted to do, like I was creative and contributing and had a place in the world.
But by making those things so visible, I put a lot of expectations on myself about what I wanted to accomplish and the right amount of time and energy I should be spending. I treated myself terribly when I didn’t meet those expectations. I felt disconnected from the truths of my life, the very things I was hoping to surface. I didn’t finish out the year recording every day. The months of September through November really brought this anxiety to a head in a way that really forced me to take a big break from structure and doing until recently. I was overwhelmed with my bad feelings about myself and placing all of my value on what I could do for others through my work and the ways that people perceived me because of my work. I had a conversation about this with one of my best friends in November where she asked me if I could take a break on my side projects and this way of being, which was shocking to me because I felt like I had all these expectations on my that I couldn’t pull back on. It was jarring to hear my own reaction and it made me realize that these expectations are self-imposed. That there are people that only do their job and see friends and read books and eat lunch and that’s enough and that I don’t have to justify my existence through work or even doing enough of all the other things, like friends and books and lunch. It made me realize I have to do some work with myself to understand all the conditions that have put me in this place where I think I have to do all this and feel so tied to structure and rules and expectations.
I’ve come to almost resent this project as a representation of the unkindness I put on myself and I feel sad for my recent past self, regretting all the times I made myself feel badly about being enough. I wanted to acknowledge my accomplishments more but I’d put so much pressure on myself to do and be more that I couldn’t actually appreciate myself and what I’d done. I am always trying to get more control over myself and have more clarity to the point where I conflate these things. I’m always making rules for myself trying to impose some structure, thinking that if I got into some routine of making and thinking and doing or accomplished something special, that that’s what my life would be, and it would be good and worthwhile, instead of trusting how I feel.
I am a very organized person. I like making lists to process my thoughts and I like using calendars to thinking about where I’ve been and where I’m going. I’m trying to grow in a direction where I’m comfortable not justifying my life to myself and others and saything truly that my life is my own, which means taking responsibility for myself and doing what I know makes me feel like a person but also, I am responsible for my own survival and happiness and not to bind myself into a structure that doesn’t serve me, missing out on my own freedom.
I’d like to share a moment from the book Priestdaddy but Patricia Lockwood, where her husband is leaving her at home to write for the day, alone in their own place after claustophic months of living with their parents. He’s asking her to remember to take care of herself, as if recalling some list of rules they’ve made for themselves on how to do so. The final point she recites is, “I am the only living zoo animal currently living who has the key to my own cage. Open it and go outside.”