Earlier this week, I crossed a threshold: after keeping a daily log of my activities consistently since June of 2001 and filling in others from calendars and journals, I logged my 9,075th day. Of those, 9,011 are in my lifetime out of 17,924 days alive.
That’s 50.3%…a majority of my life.
I’m not sure what kind of achievement that really is, though I’m astonished I’ve managed to write 1.5 million words. Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is only 1.27 million words. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson weighs in at a mere 943,000 words. And the King James Bible is comparatively a haiku at 783,137 words.
(This guy has a journal that is 35 million words, but he works on it four hours a day and documents his bowel movements. Mine is a little more reader-friendly.)
I suspect you have questions.
Why would someone write a daily journal like this in addition to 50+ narrative notebooks and a log of 1,975 dreams?
To avoid writing anything important or saleable is my best guess.
No, really. Why did the idea come to you?
When I started the log, I was having a hard time adjusting after college to working a normal job, and I felt that I was losing my days to endless emails and meetings and project plans instead of living the life of adventure I assumed was my destiny.
I began the log hoping that, like Thoreau, I would “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
I decided that I wanted to pay closer attention to how I spent my days in the hopes that I would spend them better.
And have you spent them better?
Almost certainly not. I suspect I may have accidentally documented a Gen-Xer’s desperate search for significance with as little effort as possible in the fading years of our American civilization.
Some college’s American History department will be very pleased to take this journal off Aimee’s hands when I die, and the Psychology department next door will be even happier to correlate it with the dream journal to find out what was wrong with me.
Some poor grad student will read it and think, “Man, this is like Willy Loman documenting his own decline to nothingness.”
What are the technical specifications of the log?
It’s in XML, essentially a text file marked with tags for data about each day (the month, the day, the year, and what happened).
When I enter each day into the log, I open log.xml in a code editor (Visual Studio Code these days because other text editors can’t open a file that large), copy a previous entry so I don’t have to retype the tags, and then I update it for the day’s events.
When I want to display the file, I use an XSL stylesheet that can either display a chronological listing or all of the entries with the same month and day (so I can know what happened on this day in my personal history).
How accurate is the log?
For events before I began consistently entering data, I have compiled events and their dates from a variety of sources: journals, genealogical information, newspapers, emails, blog posts, correspondence, postcards, photographs, and legal records.
Also, my mother filled out her calendar with the events of the day, which was handy for research.
(And also the reminder, I guess, that I have a good deal in common with her.)
Have there been any benefits to keeping a daily log?
- It’s been handy to do a search by today’s date to see patterns in my life (creative surges in summer and fall, depression in the late winter, that kind of thing).
- It used to impress the hell out of my government jobs when they needed data for clearance checks.
- It actually does give me a moment to consider how I’ve spent my day and imagine ways to spend the next one better.
- It’s great for reminding people of weird things we’ve done together, such as when my friend Tom commented out of nowhere from the backseat of my car on July 21, 2000, that the most humiliating thing you could do to a defeated opponent is shit on their back.
- It’s also handy for documenting things that cause bad outcomes (such as foods or medications that make me sick).
What patterns have you seen?
Word count analysis shows some interesting things.
- The single most mentioned person is Aimee, with 9,261 mentions.
- There are 10,938 mentions of read and 2,027 of “read and nap.”
- There are 2,261 appearances of “LOTRO,” which is the game Lord of the Rings Online.
- Luckily, there are 3,087 of “write” and 2,699 of “writing.”
I lead a surprisingly (and sometimes disappointingly) simple life of writing, napping, reading, playing games, tinkering with electronics or Legos, and running.
Is there a downside to keeping that log?
Probably the most disappointing aspect of the log is how boring it is to read. Yes, I do make some snide editorial comments here and there, but for the most part, it’s a reference of what happened. For narrative and insight, I write in a normal journal (though not daily).
It’s hard not to wonder if the very act of documenting each day has made them less likely to be interesting. If I was living a truly adventuresome life, I wouldn’t have time to document my own shit. That’d be up to historians.
What will be the fate of the log, do you think?
Well, I’ll keep writing it, I suppose, though I’m considering doing so in slightly less daily detail. There are 4,374 mentions of “retire to bed and read,” my nightly ritual, which I think can now be taken for granted.
I’ve always thought that if I’m not remembered for the quality of my work, I can at least be remembered for the weird novelty of it. It’s best to hear, “Holy shit, HOW did he do that?”, but I’m okay with, “Holy shit, WHY did he do that?”
I suppose the big question for me is whether there’s still time to make the rest of that journal more interesting than the first half. I hope so.