To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow
December 28, 2011 7:26 AM   Subscribe

I was given a five-year diary for Christmas. What sort of things should I be sure to keep track of over the next five years of my life?

I was given a five year journal for Christmas, which will let me make five-line entries for the next five years of my life (ages 25 to 30). I've never been a journal-keeper, but this seems like a fun experiment, and manageable too, since the space is limited to five lines a day.

Apart from the normal day-to-day entries, what sort of things should I keep track of for the second half of my twenties? For you journal-writers, do you read back over your old journals, and if so, what sort of thing do you enjoy seeing your past self put down, or what do you wish you'd kept better record of?
posted by sciapod to Writing & Language (26 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Five lines is awfully short. Maybe five things that take up one line each and that would give you an excellent picture of what was going on in your life and head at that time?

1. Best thing that happened that day
2. Worst thing that happened that day
3. Greatest hope for the next day
4. Greatest fear for the day
5. General mood at the time of writing
posted by 3FLryan at 7:32 AM on December 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

4. should be "next day"
posted by 3FLryan at 7:33 AM on December 28, 2011

When reading old journal entries, the things that matter most to me are what seem to be, at the time, insignificant events. I remember the big events, because of how they impacted my life. My two-year-old son falling asleep on a tractor on my parents' farm wasn't a life-changing event, but it was very sweet, and it might be something he'd want to read when he's older. I forgot it, and enjoyed remembering it when I found an old journal.

On preview: 3FLryan has a great idea regarding the next day.
posted by doyouknowwhoIam? at 7:35 AM on December 28, 2011

Your moods, and read back on them occasionally. When we get stuck in shitty moods for overly-long periods of time, it's sort of hard to notice until it's been way too long. If you keep track of them and look back on a regular basis, you can tell things like "wow, I've been angry/depressed/etc. for like a month now, what's up with that?" and then deal with it instead of going on being angry/depressed/etc.
posted by griphus at 7:37 AM on December 28, 2011

1. Best thing that happened that day
2. Worst thing that happened that day

I like this- a friend of mine called it "happy/crappy," and sometimes we'd do it at dinner. It helps keep the bad things in perspective. If it was me, I'd just do happy/crappy and then save the rest for anything else super-notable that happened that day, without getting too specific about what it 'has' to be. If you try to do too much, you might not keep it up.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:44 AM on December 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

I warn you, this is a labor-intensive, distracting task, even if it's just 5 lines. One is never obligated to make use of a gift. Perish the journal rack at B&N.

Having said that, I would only start if any of the following applies to you:

1. You are relatively famous. If so, a 5-year account would be meaningful to many, potentially.

2. You have absolutely no plans to run for any political office.

3. Reading material will be scarce.

4. This serves as the only way to preserve your ability to write, given your Gen Y existence.

5. You also received a set of elegant pens.

Good luck, and do not use cursive.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:46 AM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, my girlfriend seems to write about sex, arguments, traveling, and life changing events such as graduating, moving. She has been doing this for years, I'm a little bit jealous of her.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:47 AM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've found surprisingly meaningful insights in recording the mundane and functional. How much I run, what I eat, what places I visit (even just the post office or going to the movies) and other small moments all add up to mean something. Granted, I track these things with apps, not a paper diary, but I don't think it matters.
posted by anildash at 7:48 AM on December 28, 2011

Whatever you want! That's the beauty of a journal.

It could be anything from basic throwaways about what happened ("Jan. 1 - wow, major hangover. Blew off watching Rose Bowl Parade.") to a funny thing you heard someone say that day ("March 16: Nephew asked me, 'maybe all the people drinking green beer are pretending they're cows?'") to a random profound thought you had ("June 21 - No job is worth wasting a summer's day").

And what you write could indeed have an impact on the future, no matter how mundane it looks to you. My grandfather did this using a regular day planner, and it's become a fond family touchstone -- but our favorite thing is how he recorded the weather with a personally-invented shorthand (for instance, sometimes he wrote "NACITS", which stands for "not a cloud in the sky"; we all still sometimes describe a beautiful day as "nacits").
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:54 AM on December 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

My grandfather was a devoted diarist, but never recorded much that was overly personal. His entries were usually quite short - even when a child was born to the family! - and included a brief summary of the events of the day, total of money spent, cost of a various commodities, what the family ate, that sort of thing.

In some ways, that makes it not much of a diary. What did the man feel about welcoming a son into the world? We'll never know. In some ways, it seems like a real waste of 50 years of hardbound diaries. But it makes a very interesting chronicle of the family's history, and that lack of personal detail means that it feels a lot less intrusive or uncomfortable to read through it now.

So I guess one way to answer your question would be to ask what you are hoping this diary will become. Is it a tool for processing your feelings? An organizational tool? A record of events? Some combination of all of these?
posted by richyoung at 8:10 AM on December 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I worked at an auction house and in dealing antiques for years. I often came across old diaries (and letters) as part of Estates. 3FLryan's are very good and more personal compared to what I used to read, which were more about what people accomplished every day and even just the weather - as opposed to how they felt. If you're writing for only you, it's theraputic and a great exercise in writing well and briefly in an attempt to capture a day in five lines. That's a great reason on its own to do it.

That said, if you're writing for posterity, I found it most interesting in old diaries what historic events people experienced and what and when certain inventions appeared in their lives. If I received diaries of a certain age, one of the things I'd look to see what people wrote on Friday, November 22, 1963. It was amazing how TV watching used to be quite an event. Births and deaths were important, but not necessarily reasons to wax rhapsodic. So, maybe save a line for anything that's happening in the world that places you in the timeline.
posted by peagood at 8:19 AM on December 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

You could always follow John Maynard Keynes' example.
posted by jenkinsEar at 8:27 AM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Things I wish I had written in my journal for all those years of diary keeping (but didn't):

1. Each time I ran into someone somewhere unexpectedly.

2. First impressions of people.

3. Coincidences.

4. A couple things that I was grateful for that day.

5. Instances of people calling at the exact right moment, or just knowing to be there for me without a word--type of things.

6. More mentions of what happened that day in the world/news--things I assumed later I would always remember happened 'that day' (but when I go back to 'that day' there is no mention of big world event).

7. Illnesses/pain--I wish I had made mention of things back then that became worse things later (my back pain, for instance).

8. Less about me and more about the people in my life.

9. What I ate. I recently lost weight and needed to figure out if my metabolism had changed. I couldn't piece together what I might have eaten on an average day five years ago (calorie-wise, and believe me I looked through my old diaries to find this info). Also--I prefer not to weigh myself, but due to the above, I wish I had kept at least a yearly record of my weight in my diaries.

10. The birthdates/adopt dates of my pets (it's really easy to lose track of that information!).

11. This may sound strange--but I've often wished I knew when I found certain favorite websites and blogs--but, of course, I've kept no record of this.

12. The day that a friend or relative has died. I needed to remember when my grandmother died 14 years ago (I knew the dates of her wake and funeral but not the day she died).

13. What I wore (what did I wear on my first date with my current boyfriend? I have no idea).

14. When I started/stopped taking any given medicine/prescription.

15. Random ideas for inventions that pop into my head.

16. The book I'm currently reading (I'm sentimental about this and often wonder 'when was the first time I read that?', but maybe that's just me).
posted by marimeko at 8:36 AM on December 28, 2011 [10 favorites]

Ok Now I want one of those journals you linked to. I love keeping journals though I tend to put in random thoughts. The idea of tracking one thing a line is a great one if you need some form to help you think of things to write.

I'd pick maybe

1. What mood I feel about the day just been
2. Something that made me happy/smile/feel blessed (anything from I found $50 to I saw a cardinal on the bird feeder, just something that truly made you feel happy or blessed).
3. Quote or idea to think about.
4. Something loving my husband did (I need to be more attentive of his subtle ways of showing affection and this would be good discipline for me but would work for any partner or even cute thing my dog/cat did just a way of being more attentive of your loved ones).
5. Weather
6. How my garden was doing or not doing.
7. How I am doing on my goals or what my current goals are
8. Anything newsworthy that interested me

OK I've gone over 5 . .. I am going to need a bigger journal.
posted by wwax at 8:36 AM on December 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I worked at an auction house and in dealing antiques for years. I often came across old diaries (and letters) as part of Estates. 3FLryan's are very good and more personal compared to what I used to read, which were more about what people accomplished every day and even just the weather - as opposed to how they felt.

Yes. I'd describe this as more of a daybook -- a record of the day. Somewhat like a farm record but with other items. Very little along the lines of feelings or emotions.
posted by jgirl at 8:46 AM on December 28, 2011

I would keep track of diet, mood, and general health. These things can be pretty useful to see how you've been going over time, and if you think you might have food issues it will help you find patterns or the like.
posted by that girl at 8:51 AM on December 28, 2011

Also, be sure to keep in mind:

-You can change what the journal is about. If in 7 months you decide you only want to record the weather or your lunch or your underwear color, cool. And then you can change it again.
-If, at some point, you feel totally and completely uninspired and hate every journaling idea you've had, keep writing SOMETHING. Open the diary every damn day and write "butts" and close it again, if you have to. Inspiration will strike again, so keep the habit going.
-If you do screw up and forget to write for a day or a month or whatever, that doesn't mean you've irrevocably destroyed the entire point of doing it and URRRRGH WHY BOTHER, THROW IT AWAY. Just start keeping it again. Fuck it.

Those are all reasons my dumb ass stopped keeping a diary, at various points in my life. This question may have inspired me to give it another shot...
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:22 AM on December 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

You could use it as a reading journal, to track cultural events like plays or films you see, or to list craft projects you're working on - depends what sort of things you do really. You could also use it to track your periods. And you might want to read Bernice Rubens's novel A Five-Year Sentence, about a woman who's given a 5-year diary as a retirement present.
posted by paduasoy at 9:27 AM on December 28, 2011

Keep track of your opinions, feelings and impressions, and not as much the daily routine. Keep track of the things you are absolutely sure you will never forget and the ones you are absolutely sure you will never change your mind on.

It could be enlightening in 5, or maybe 50 years.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 9:53 AM on December 28, 2011

A section of things you'd like to accomplish/places you'd like to go??
Also travel logs when you do go somewhere.
posted by beccaj at 10:15 AM on December 28, 2011

I change my suggestion. Just write "butts" every day.
posted by 3FLryan at 10:17 AM on December 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm just shy of 2 years into my 5 year journal. I don't write in it every day, even though I used to be pretty good at keeping it filled with at least 5 days/week of content. For the last 6 months I got into the whole new phase of NOT tracking my life's events and it's been great, freeing me up to think and live in the moment. However, last night I literally spent an hour and a half going through my online calendar and Twitter updates and using them to fill in important blanks. The thing that kept me motivated to do this (besides being in the mood to note past events) was seeing what I'd experienced that day the year before...the format almost forces you to do that, which is a great introspective exercise. Mundane things that I would have otherwise forgotten were remembered with new perspective and wisdom. It was pretty neat.

My point in telling you all this is that you will change, and the very act of chronicling life's events in any form will also change you. Don't box yourself into some system that you feel you have to keep up for 5 years. That's a looooong time. As somebody suggested above, keep it open and write whatever it is you feel like putting there for that day. It's much more interesting to see how that changes (because you are changing). Maybe you'll go through 4 months of happy/crappy and then switch to 2 weeks of food consumption notes, or a year of quotes from people, or who knows! When you look back on it, you'll be able to see what journaling phase/mood you were in, as well as how it relates to the actual content you put there (and how that all relates to what you were about or into at the time).

I'm loving that you posted this question and the answers/ideas will probably help me keep up my years 3-5 in fun new ways. Thanks for the motivation, MeFites!
posted by iamkimiam at 11:28 AM on December 28, 2011

Jerry Seinfeld tries to write 1 joke everyday.
You might try to write 1 specific thing every day (a story, observation, haiku, etc) or you might just try to input something everyday.

I think "tracking" is better done with numbers and a spreadsheet. This would be more of a "record."
posted by jander03 at 11:57 AM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I was working crappy retail jobs my father advised me, "just try to get one good story a day out of it." Write down the most entertaining thing that happened to you; it keeps you positive even when the entertaining thing was unpleasant.

Another idea is to write out a long statement about what you want your life to be like in five years--then use each entry to track your progress towards your goals.

Sounds like a fun project. Good luck!
posted by chaiminda at 1:00 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have that exact same journal and am a year and a half into it - and have made an entry every day. In the front, I made the claim that it was to "Keep track of the people I meet - who, where, and, sometimes, why." It's been to make note of the people who make the biggest impression. I soon started doubling up the text in each line.

I'll be traveling to Thailand next spring and I'm really torn about whether or not to take my journal or not. I'd hate to lose it and -- also -- I have some entries about my roomates. It's not likely they'll sneak a peek, but you never know.

As to whether I read my old journals. Yes, I do. I started off-and-on when I was 11 years old or so. I've kept them and I do read them once in a while. What inspired me to try a 5-year one was how I felt reading through a similar 5-year journal a favorite aunt wrote after she died a couple years ago. She wasn't much of a writer, but she talked a lot about the weather and outings she had with people. She was in her mid-twenties at the time. I wished she'd been more regular about making entries and that she'd said a word or two about her interior life, like her thoughts, hopes, and fears.

A while back here on the blue was a report of a guy who tweeted entries from his aunt's five-year diary, too. She was from some place remote, like rural Nebraska. My aunt's diary wan't a good candidate for this because she only filled out a quarter of the days for about half the diary.

My advice is to mention who you meet and what you did and something about your motives for doing what you do. Like any character in any book, it's more interesting if you have a context and know what's at stake for the person -- even if it's just you reading it years later.

Have fun! It'll be a great adventure!
posted by rw at 2:22 PM on December 28, 2011

I have a similar diary. I use it for pretty mundane stuff: who I saw, what park I went to, what book I'm reading, the weather, milestones in my kids' lives. I try to be specific, to name restaurants and movies and grocery stores, as I think that will be interesting years from now.

I used to keep diaries that were places to vent, full of anger and self-pity and all that. I destroyed them, as I didn't want anyone else to find them and read them -- they showed me at my worst. This one I wouldn't mind my kids reading (if they can read my handwriting) when they're adults, to help them remember their childhoods.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:08 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older Where to get wedding ring transformed into a E?   |   Porch swing plans Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.