The Accidental Journal
TAoN No. 153: Find yours. Plus a sense-shuffle assignment, and more.
I’m bad at journaling, and I’ve never been able to maintain a diary. I recognize the value in those practices, and related exercises like “morning pages.” I just can’t seem to stick to them (possibly because I produce so many words already the thought of adding to the weekly total fills me with dread!).
But I do make what I suppose could be considered oblique journals — for example I have a long-running log of thoughts about notable obituaries1, and I’ve done other personal projects documenting life over time. Most recently, I discovered an oblique diary I’ve been adding to for years: the list of my past purchases via Amazon.com.
Here’s what happened. The cord I use for charging my iPad stopped working. I remembered having to buy one before, so I went to my Amazon past-purchases list to re-order. I couldn’t remember when I bought that earlier cord, so I started clicking back year by year. Almost immediately, it felt like like thumbing through old journals.
A little over a year ago, I bought a Sudoku book for my father — this is one of the last activities that engaged him after my mother died — and was reminded of how he updated me on his progress every week until his passing. I think he did it for me more than for himself. Prior to that, I bought a lot of 100-piece jigsaw puzzles for my mom, whose cognition slowed down after a stroke in her final year.
Even mundane purchases could be markers: In the summer of 2021, I bought sunscreen, evidence that I’d started taking longer bike rides. Back in 2020: a spate of Whole Foods deliveries, as the pandemic made us hermits. Also from that period, a ring light, something I never would have owned before the COVID Zoom boom. Starting in around 2017, a variety of goggles and anti-chlorine shampoo, as visits to the local pool became a mainstay of my existence. Back in 2010, a high quality digital recorder. And of course, books: gifts, books by friends, books for researching what became The Art of Noticing, books related to projects that went nowhere.
You get the idea. Amazon’s recorded ledger of my buys dates back to 2000 — nearly a quarter of a century! (Early on it was largely CDs; the oldest entry is Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.)
I realize that some people dislike Amazon, and even more people might side-eye the notion of a consumption record evoking episodes of life. Moreover, I concede that most of my shopping signified nothiing (water filters for the fridge, etc.).
Nevertheless, some of these purchase records functioned like little time capsules for me. And they made me realize that these unlikely life ledgers are worth attention.2
Be open to the oblique journals, memories, fragmentary stories, that you may be creating, without even trying.
Meaning is where you find it — even by accident.
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DEPT. OF READER INSPIRATION
Here’s a new addition to the TAoN mix for 2024. I hear lots of fun and useful ideas from readers, and I try to incorporate and act on those. Plus, many of you leave really great and helpful comments — but not everyone reads the comments.
So now I’m going to carve out dedicated space for your ideas and experiences. The first example comes from reader Jill S. A former elementary school art teacher, she wrote to me after last issue’s Shuffle Your Senses item, and mentioned an assignment she’d received in her first week of a drawing-and-painting course back in high school:
Paint the smell of gasoline.
I would love to hear your examples of prompts, ideas, provocations, or assignments that you’ve experienced, or perhaps assigned. Uses and especially adaptations of practices from TAoN are also welcome. One of the ways I want this newsletter to grow is to become a better resource and inspiration for educators — art, writing, design, and beyond. I need help! Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if I use your idea, I’ll give you a free three-month subscription to the paid version of TAoN, no strings attached!
IN OTHER NEWS
Friend (not relation) of TAoN Benjamen Walker has launched an epic podcast series, Not All Propaganda Is Art, about three writers (Richard Wright, Kenneth Tynan, and Dwight Macdonald) who got caught up in the cultural Cold War, between 1956 and 1960. So far it’s great! Check it out here or on Supercast or Apple Podcasts or other platforms.
“A book dedicated to artists who collect and use boxes, compiled by Tom Buchanan.”
Ice huts. Beautiful.
Enough to-do lists. Make a “ta-da” list. Gift link.
Furniture made from pool noodles.
Metal version of “Blue Monday.”
Guided Color Meditation, by artist Dora Kamau; eight minutes, from MoMA:
OKAY THAT’S IT!
As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults directed at me, not at anyone else, etc.), as well as your tips or stories or personal noticing rituals, things we need a word for, and of course your icebreakers: email@example.com. Or use the comments.
—> Or just click the heart symbol. That always makes my day.
And thanks for reading …
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All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032. Send me mail!
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More on that some other time.