Last year I started to keep a journal – the paper and pen kind. The first entry in it is 8/14/2007, about Einstein by Walter Isaacson. The next entry is 9/2, and says “Had to bring Einstein back to the library. I’m not reading enough.” Ha! The entire journal is filled with these cycles – read, write, read, write, a long gap in time, the obligatory “I need to get back to this” entry, then start all over. I’ve got some great stuff in there, though – notes from reading St. Augustine’s Confessions, notes from the first third of an audio course on World War II (in progress), and a host of other books.
Those cycles, though, are not what I’m thinking about today. Instead, I’m thinking about the method of note-taking.
My intent for the journal was to keep a record of my reading and prayers and thoughts in a personal manner that is unlike this blog, because, believe it or not, I try to have a complete thought (or a completed book) in mind before I sit down to write here. In daily life, though, a particular paragraph strikes me that spurs a thought or an idea, or an event occurs that makes me consider something. By writing those things in a private journal, there are no thoughts about who might read what I’m putting down, so I put down unfiltered things that might interest only myself.
That idea is still sound – I flip through these pages and books come right back to me. So that’s great. What I’ve got here in this notebook is a treasure.
However, I ran into a situation last week where I knew that I had a quote from Pope John Paul II about prayer – I recall him saying that he used to be uncomfortable asking for things, but then, as he grew, he certainly did a whole bunch of asking. I still haven’t found the quote, so I might be making it up. But that brings me to my point.
Why did I choose to write a journal with a pen into a notebook? I work with computers daily, and one of the best features is that the stuff you put in there is searchable. If that JPII quote is in my journal, and that journal is in a database, then a quick bit of typing and an ENTER key later, I’ve got the quote in front of me. That’s worth plenty.
If I switch the journal to a computer, though, my margin notes and doodles and places that I’ve crossed out a thought – those will all be gone. I kept a journal for a short time in a computer program back in the 90’s, and I looked at those entries… works just about the same as flipping through a notebook.
Yet the notebook and pen… they still feel right somehow. Why is that? I have no answer, except that I spend too much time on computers, and switching to a pen is perhaps a way of leaving work and blogs behind. That may be reason enough to just keep doing what I’m doing.
Our life is limited in its extent and still more limited in its possession, for it comes to us bit by bit, in succession and not all at once. We have to let go of one moment to take hold of the next; it is like beads passing through devout hands. — M. Eugene Boylan, from Ch. 1 of This Tremendous Lover, written in my journal on 5/11/08