A one subject notebook and some cheapo pens kept me writing through the end of 2015.

My New Year

Part one: happenstance resolutions.

I don’t usually bother myself with New Year’s resolutions. I pick them too poorly and drop them too easily. But throughout 2015, a few habits made their way into my daily goings-about. I haven’t followed any of them perfectly, but they’ve improved my life enough that I make the effort to keep them up. I wrote a pen or two dry, and I filled up some notebooks. Here’s my 2015, in good habits:

Bike to and from work (when weather allows).

My bicycle has a beer holder. How convenient!

This was a no-brainer. The Manhan Rail Trail is right outside my apartment, and the Norwottuck runs straight to the back door at work. It’s a gorgeous ride through the forest, and some days I can see the sun rising from behind Mt. Tom as I cross over the Connecticut river. Some days are foggy. Some days I see large birds. Some days a small plane flies overhead, departing the Northampton Airport.

I have panniers for my bike, so I can bring groceries home from work. And, you know, beer.

When it’s cold enough for a jacket, I listen to podcasts as I ride the path. RadioLab, The Longest Shortest Time, Welcome to Night Vale, Planet Money, and 99% Invisible were my most-loved podcasts in 2015.

When it heats up I don’t have any good pockets, so I have to entertain myself. For a short period in the summer, I wrote a haiku in my head for each bike ride. It kept me entertained, watching nature as I commuted to work.

June 10, 2015 (morning)

Wet roots, leaning trees — 
three robins meeting on a 
shadow-dappled path.

June 10, 2015 (evening)

Announcing danger? 
Birds in the brewery eaves 
Announcing dinner!

Wear a watch.

When I interned as a radio producer for Living on Earth, I quickly learned that every radio producer wears a watch. It’s an easy, visual way to keep track of timing while listening attentively to tape. So I bought one.

I’ve now gone from a job mainly done with my ears to a job mainly done with my arms & legs. Moving wine boxes around all day took a toll on that leather watch strap, and the strapless watch found its way into the wash in one of my pockets, so I had to upgrade to one with a metal chain. Which meant that I also had to learn how to remove links from a watch chain, because my wrists are the size of a 12 year old’s wrists (but a Batman watch would have been unprofessional).

Not as unprofessional, though, as a naked watch. (image: Adrian Clark)

Now I just take a quick glance at my wrist and I know what time it is. I don’t have to dig my phone out of my back pocket to know what time it is. I don’t have to feel rude when I want to know what time it is. I don’t lose track of time when I’m stuck in a building all day. I keep better track of my food when I’m cooking.

Keep a journal.

I journal on and off, but have been fairly consistent since November. I bought a thin, spiral-bound notebook—like the kind I used to use in high school. I bought cheap (colorful!) pens that write easily, but that I won’t mind losing. I took both of those things everywhere I went. If I found myself twiddling my thumbs, I pulled out the notebook and started journaling.

Or, more accurately, I started writing alphabets. Starting a new journal is a terrifying task. An entire notebook of blank pages. Pages I don’t know how to organize. Pages I’m not sure I’ll fill. Pages I may want to recycle next time I read them.

But, if nothing else, I could practice my handwriting. Or, I could write illegibly so that I don’t have to worry about ever having to read my inane musings. Either way I could get my hand moving.

Writing as a physical act. (from What It Is, by Lynda Barry)

I did this when I was a kid, too, but mostly I just wanted to change my handwriting. I always had a messy hand, and worked hard to even it out. I have since come to accept that my handwriting will always be a scrawl that oscillates between all caps and a wincing cursive. Thank goodness for computers.

Something is lost though, when I type my thoughts. Lynda Barry puts a finger on it:

There is a state of mind which is not accessible by thinking. It seems to require a participation with something. Something physical we move. Like a pen. Like a pencil. Something which is in motion, ordinary everyday motion, like writing the alphabet.

I checked out her book, What It Is, from the library earlier this year. The book is thin, but it’s huge. It’s a huge, heart-wrenching, encouraging book about how to create art and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to make art. And I think she’s onto something here (and there, and all over the place). I think differently when I write by hand. It’s slow and messy, but there is ease to dragging a pen along the page that simply doesn’t come at a keyboard.

I don’t do as many alphabets now, but I do keep a food diary going in my notebook. Like the alphabet, it gets my pen moving. I am not quite sure where the food-logging will go, but I hope that it will help me keep better track of my health and budget.

Just before I go to bed, I write down what I’ve done for the day, as well as a to do list for the next day (or week). I took this idea from Jessica Abel, another great comics pedagogue:

Once a week (or every day, if you’re doing a lot), just write down what you did that week, what you’re struggling with, what milestones you hit, goals, thoughts. Really, just a couple sentences. I’ve started doing this the last couple years, and it’s enormously helpful…I’ve had to reconstruct the history of various projects at times, and it’s not pretty digging through email and drafts. Keep it organized from the beginning, and you’ll be glad you did. Plus, you can look back and see what you were struggling over a month ago that you managed to achieve, and it’s a good feeling!

This helps me most on a psychological level. I’m not just crossing things off a list, I am acknowledging what I’ve done by writing it out in words. It’s there, on the page, and I feel like I’ve accomplished something. Instead of a couple sentences, I make a list (like the inverse of the to do list from yesterday). After the log, I write my next to do list — and that list is usually shorter. Then I go to bed without worrying about tomorrow (as much).

Go to bed by 10pm.

This has been huge for me — I started giving myself a bedtime in graduate school, and soon saw drastic changes in my health and mood. I was tracking my sleep with an app called “Sleep Cycles,” but once I got the hang of that I started using sleepyti.me to calculate my sleep cycles and set my alarm.

(Image: Northern Saw-Whet Owl, Dave Darney/USFWS)

Now it’s simple: Bedtime is 10pm, and my alarm goes off at 6am. Getting out of bed is just as important — if I linger, I’ll be drowsy for a while. If I stay up a little late, I just calculate the alarm time and work my way back to my regular schedule.

Of course, I’ve only just recovered from staying out till 1am on New Year’s Eve.

Next, my resolutions (or suggestions) for the coming year, as written in my spiral-bound notebook.

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