Endings have always been very important to me—of books, movies, jobs, relationships, apartment leases, you name it—but there’s one specific type of ending that’s always had its own special ritual: the end of a journal.
My sophomore year of college I realized that I was having trouble remembering with any accuracy what I’d done two weeks ago, let alone a year or two years or ten years ago. Like any great journey does, my attempt to stem the indefatigable tide of forgetting started with a single step, in this case a postcard that I wrote to my future self from a little path near the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, at the end of Christmas break, on an afternoon that I didn’t want to forget. The date was January 15th, 2000; on January 18th I bought myself a journal in Houston, a 5 ½” x 8 ½” Watson-Guptill sketchbook that now holds within it 11 months spanning the end of my sophomore and the beginning of my junior year of college, and I was off to the races.
I’ve been writing more or less daily since then, more when I’m traveling and less when I’m not, and if you were to sit down and read my journals straight through (all 1.6 million words or so) you would get an extremely honest and intimate portrait of who I am and who I’ve been over the course of the years. When I go back and re-read them, though, each little detail fires up another cluster of neurons that had forgotten long ago that they ever knew each other; my journals contain whole worlds within themselves that only I can see, worlds that would be buried in the sands of time if not for the fine-point Pilot Better Retractable ballpoint ink on archival-quality blank sketchbook pages that stretch back to my sophomore year of college and remind me viscerally of all the hopes, fears, dreams, life experiences, and revelations that have defined my life and driven me forward for the last 13 ½ years.
That first journal ended at LaGuardia airport, with me staying up all night for a 6 am flight with an airport full of strangers all trying to keep warm under our thin, airport-issued blankets. The version of me that’s been forever enshrined in that airport underneath that blanket with his whole adult life still ahead of him revisited the “letter to myself” conceit that had started the whole thing to begin with and used the last page—page 222—to write a letter to all the collective versions of us that he knew would come after him. No predictions, just observations, advice, and a description of his life written for someone he knew would have forgotten most of the details and might want to remember what it felt like to be 20 years old again.
I’ve changed the color of the Watson-Guptill sketchbooks based on what’s ben available at the end of each journal, I switched from Better Ballpoints to Better Retractables in Number 2 and stopped pasting in scrapbook-style reminders of my days in Number 3, but aside from that the format’s stayed pretty much exactly the same since the beginning. I can still remember where I was for the end of each one, and they encompass a lot of very significant, meaningful moments in my life—writing beneath the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha became enlightened as the sun rose over Bodh Gaya, India at the tail end of an all-night bus ride from Varanasi; arriving in Tacoma after college to start my life over from scratch with a very clear short-term goal and a sense that anything was possible; my last night on dry land before we set out from Dampier on Ragtime to sail across the Indian Ocean; rounding the Cape of Good Hope on a clear, starry night just before my 4 am watch with a strong wind in our sails, making 7 knots easily as the spray splashed into the cabin and I wrote furiously by the light of my headlamp; sitting alone in my empty apartment in Fort Worth at the end of an all-nighter, minutes before I got into my trusty little Civic and struck out into the unknown towards Indiana and what was left of the 2008 Obama primaries, one day after quitting my job at Mercedes-Benz Financial and with no employment prospects aside from my determination to volunteer until they gave me a job in a swing state; and, two nights ago, sitting in the first home I’ve ever owned at the tail end of quite possibly the best summer of my life in a city in which I feel my belonging in a very deep, holistic way that I’ve never experienced anywhere else I’ve ever lived since I left my childhood home for college.
Part of my end-of-the-journal ritual involves going back and re-reading the journal that’s coming to a close in its entirety before I write the last page. Number 10 started on January 3rd, 2011, at the end of Carolyn’s and my first trip to Texas together two months into our relationship; since I’d already re-read most of it earlier I started on February 8th of this year, the day of the breakup, and read forward from there instead. I’ve made a lot of changes in my life for the better since then, but even just going back 7 ½ months I was surprised by how much I’d already forgotten, and the life lessons from myself that I had to be reminded of because I was too busy to really internalize them at the time. I’m always amazed by how much insight my past selves have to offer my future self, from back in my traveling days when I was roaming free upon the earth but also more recently when my world has become by choice more ordered and stable but no less full of potential.
I’ve had thematic quotes for two journals in the past—“He had thrown away the substance for the shadow” from The End of the Tether for Number 8, as I disembarked from Ragtime and struggled to discern the meaning from the distraction in my own life; and “If we aren’t willing to pay a price for our values, if we aren’t willing to make some sacrifices in order to realize them, then we should ask ourselves whether we truly believe them at all” from The Audacity of Hope for Number 9, the journal that saw me join the Obama campaign and the McGinn campaign both and completely change the trajectory of my life.
Number 10 ended this past Sunday night, at the end of a very good Startup Weekend and the day before the Mayor transmitted his proposed budget to Council, and I started into Number 11 (my first Canson—Watson-Guptill no longer makes sketchbooks with the proper number of pages) Monday evening. Its founding quote comes from the Seattle Poetry Slam finals at Town Hall earlier this year; it’s been stuck in my head ever since I heard it, and it resonates with me on a lot of different levels: “Because God knows, this world needs fire.”