Note to Self

So much of my life lives on paper.

In letters, in cards, on glossy, on matte.

Inside once locked hardcover journals, there are words scratched in anger, in pain, and occasionally, in radical amazement.

Inside carefully categorized photo albums, there are faces I used to recognize, love, envy.

Most of it — my life on paper — reflects only what was once the drama of my life. For this is what we photograph. Parties, graduations, weddings. And this is what we journal. Love, loss, confusion.

Drama. It’s indeed the drama that compels us to document, to reflect.

But, as I’ve discovered through digging in my cardboard boxes, there is another side to my life lived on paper.

The mundane.

Surrounded by doodles in spiral bound notebooks is the every day life I lived once, in between the drama. Errands I had to run. People I agreed to meet. Tasks I needed to complete.

In pen, in pencil, and in sparkly marker, there they live. All those moments in between.

As notes to self.

“Send confirmation fax to Mark about disclosure.”

“Laurie’s new phone in L.A.”

“Talk to NH about DA after conf. call.”

All of it meant something once. All of it familiar enough to allow for shorthand. All of it important enough at the time to require a note. Now the majority of it is meaningless.


Maybe. Maybe not.

The mundane is, perhaps, the most important documentation of all. It reminds us that most of our life is not the drama (despite what our memories will have us believe.)

Most of our life is the stuff of spiral bound notebooks. And it’s good to be reminded of this, especially when you are turning 40 and reflecting on the life you have lived until now.

In one of my boxes, I found three spiral-bound notebooks, chronicles of my mundane every-day work life in the years 2000 and 2001. What would possess someone to save her old work notebooks? I don’t know. What was I expecting I would one day find inside them? I’m not sure.

But what I did find inside one made me smile.

It aroused in me wonder.

It made me look upwards toward the sky, to the place where I believe magic originates.

Inside an 80-sheet, 60% recycled paper spiral bound notebook, I found a note to self from April 2000.

writing avi name

It was the first time I ever wrote my husband’s name.

There among reminders-to-call and freelancer phone numbers, it lives.

A document that I once did not know my husband. That I once needed to write his name in a notebook in order to remember him. That this man, who I now know better than any man, once existed for me as scribbles on a page, as individual digits.

And I even misspelled his last name. My last name, now.

Once, long ago, I didn’t know how to spell my last name.

Mind-blowing, isn’t it? Or not, depending on how caught up you get in such ideas. What does it matter that you once wrote your future husband’s name in a work notebook? Someone more grounded than I might ask.

And I might shrug my shoulders and say, “I don’t know why it matters.”

Except it does.

It’s there. Evidence of how quickly life shifts. How easily the mundane becomes the drama.

Proof that there’s magic in the sky waiting to sprinkle down upon on us and show up as letters written in sparkly marker.

A reminder that our life is a mixture of the drama and the mundane, and that we can never truly be certain what or who will carry meaning for us one day, and what or who will be relegated to the margins of our lives.

126 thoughts on “Note to Self

  1. Might I add to this beautiful post, Jen, that life changes in sudden, at times not-so-dramatic ways, and that we are always ill-at-ease in dealing with this immediacy? Drama or mundane, it’s all the same – in truth we just swim through things.


  2. I love this post and your reflection on what constitutes the drama of life. Moments are so fleeting and sometimes they don’t take on significance until much later. Those tiny scraps of a memory, the scribble, the quick snapshot, the saved ticket stub or receipt, the song on the radio, they can all transport up in ways that we might not expect. Thanks for the lovely read, Jen.


    • Thanks for your comments BB. I’m deep into reflecting these days on exactly that — the tiny scraps that transport us. Thanks for coming along for the ride!


  3. There is meaning and importance in EVERYTHING. No matter how mundane. Signs and hints are sent to us in sometimes the most obscure ways. There was a reason you wrote his name. Maybe not the reason you originally thought when you wrote it, but on another level………….who knows? You were meant to write it and keep it.


  4. I have also kept some of my old work notebooks – and love looking through them when straightening up my desk. Remembering things that seemed so important or exciting, how life has changed, how our personal and professional paths have grown or shifted…wonderful post.


  5. I’m glad I found this post. I had a yellow Post-it with my future husband’s name and temporary phone number (while we was traveling in the US) in a pocket in the purse I carried during one of our first meetings. I found it a few years later, and it made me smile for a few reasons, both of which you stated: a) it was the first time I actually wrote down his name, and b) it reminded me that at one time, I didn’t even know him.

    Love these musings — thanks.


  6. I love this post! There is a gas station near my work that always features little thoughts about life, and my favorite is “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” Sometimes I’m so busy trying to finish an assignment on deadline, clean the house, check off an errand, deal with an annoying phone call … that I forget to remember how magical it is to have the home, marriage, life, work I want. I write about dreams, but I feel like a fraud sometimes, because I rarely stop to realize that I’m living one. This is a perfect reminder that life’s serendipity is all around us, and a meaningless name we write down today could define our world tomorrow.


  7. Your right alot of our lives live on paper. I grew up writing in hard book journals and floppy notebooks.

    My life back then was files with drama of all kinds; from my boyfriends, friends….whatever.

    Now, my life is exciting and busy. O have a six year old son, college, and my fiance and I are planning our wedding for July of this year. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    I am so blessed!!!


  8. Thank you for sharing! good topic, well written.

    I met my now-husband on the internet. There was a time we BOTH said, “nope, not what I am looking for!” and we both laugh about it. How little we had in common at the start.

    Only God knew HE was just what I needed. I could not be happier!


  9. Over the years, paper has become more obsolete, but the more obsolute paper becomes, the more important it is, and the more we still tend to use it. Even though I have all this electro-gear that i could store notes on, there is just something about paper; you do not really need to use it, but you just cant help it, of course I could always put my grocery list on my iphone note pad or something, but it is just not the same.


    • i still keep to-do lists on paper, write notes to my kids on paper, read books on paper!

      I do admit to preferring to write on the computer. I never had nice handwriting and the OCD in me never liked to cross things out.


  10. I really enjoyed this blog post! I never thought about it this way, but you’re right, we record the drama on paper and we live in between those unfortunate episodes. However, I do find the utility in making notes about our low moments in realising when re-reading them how lower down we once found ourselves, or to remind ourselves how things get better.


  11. Your blog is beautiful! This is what I recently came to the blogasphere for – thank you! As it is, I wonder if you could advise and help me a bit. I am noticing that most of the few people who are following my blog are trying to sell me info on how to reach people with your blog etc etc. It’s driving me crazy!

    I don’t want to be mean but I feel they are perched, like stalks above the pool of creative crazies into which I want to fall, trying to feed off our insecurities and lack of confidence, just as we are diving in. There ARE free ways of discovering how to blog more effectively aren’t there? I am not stupid, though maybe a bit lazy, but actually, I am just afraid I won’t find the amazing people out there who I think, think like I do and make me feel not alone anymore. You see? You made me think I’m amazing. Got any tips? 🙂


    • I checked out your blog. You’re doing great! Keep writing, keep being honest, and keep finding like-minded bloggers and get involved in their writing too. My community here is made up both of people who know me in real life and people I’ve met through accidentally stumbling on their blog and loving it or vice versa.


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  13. “What does it matter that you once wrote your future husband’s name in a work notebook? Someone more grounded than I might ask.”

    Are you kidding me? If that’s what it means to be grounded then I’m staying right up here in the clouds, baby. It’s seriously, deeply cool that you have that clip of history saved.

    When scientists study avalanches, they track the whole thing backwards up the mountain to what they call the Starting Zone. What you have there in pencil is the Starting Zone of a wild ride that is still making your heart go Thump! And it’s building momentum and spreading out wider and deeper and more powerful as it travels across time. Love avalanche.

    When I get people’s numbers, I never type it into anything. I have them write it down on something. That way I have their signature style, the art of them, on file. You’ve inspired me to make sure I save my future husband’s hieroglyphics on scratch paper. Fun to frame something like that as an anniversary gift ten years down the mountain.


  14. Reblogged this on Spanish Tutor in Valencia and commented:
    Hi Jen , you are so lucky for having so much paper in your life, so many cardboard books, so many reminders from your past and your best moments and discovers in life…I would like to,,,but I’m a disaster with agendas…and with blogs….It becomes difficault to me to persist writing…by the way would you like to read in spanish ? A for pleassur for me to read you !!!


  15. For a long time I kept a file folder labelled “Karma’s Folly”. In it I put records of work projects that didn’t pan out. It was amazing to go back after a few years and see what high hopes the teams had for the projects, and how quickly we forgot all about them once they were quashed. We rode the horses at full gallop, fell off, then got back up and rode on as if nothing had happened. There is some kind of lesson there in how useful is the power of forgetting.


  16. Such a lovely post … it made me remember that I still have my 17 year-old address book where I first wrote my (eventual) husband’s name for the first time – I had never even considered how special that is. Thank you!


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  18. i absolutely love this!! it’s for all of these reasons you’ve listed above that i can’t seem to throw away my yearly planners, and i have a box full of journals under my bed. it’s amazing to look back and see what we wrote about, and how we wrote about it, whether exciting or dull! i also think it’s so crazy when you look back on something that you wrote very quickly/breezed over that ended up becoming so important, like your husband’s name! awesome.


    • I did get rid of the yearly planners at some point but it was HARD. I guess when I started using the notebooks more than the planners, I felt less of a need to keep them. But totally get that! (I did find one from college and it was a trip!)


  19. This was an absolutely lovely post. Immediately, it made me rummage through my old notebooks and scraps of paper and remember those mundane moments between the drama. Or, in some cases, the drama between the mundane. Thank you so much for sharing your sincere words and simple, but important message 🙂


    • My pleasure. Thank you for reading and commenting. Would love to hear about your experiences rummaging! Let us know if you blog about it by adding a link here!


      • Oh yes! I’m a rummager…of words! What caught my eye from your post was the pictures of the words on paper. I had just written an article and even posted very similar photo. You are so kind to ask. Here’s the link:
        Feel free to read at your convenience, but no obligation 🙂
        I’m finally back to my reader after a busy work day–I’ll be sure to look for new things from you. I’m hooked already!


  20. A beautiful post, one that truly touched home for me. You are right we never know what the universe has planned for us. As for me it was a baby a son after 17 years. I raised my daughters now 19 and 22 and my husband and I are starting all over. This time it’s as if time has paused just for us. Thank you for your post


      • Thank you, and yes DiMaggio is a special kind of joy. He brings us the laughter once missed, the tears when needed, the adventures to keep us young and most of all he brings a special kind of song to our lives it’s amazing and I feel so blessed .


  21. I enjoyed reading this beautiful meaningful post. I am also the person who enjoys writing a lot. And I believe there is a real magic in writing. When you write a dream you will make it happen, and you bring it to existence. When you write a happiness you make it magically live forever, and you save the feeling of happiness inside that. And if you write when you are sad, little by little you will transfer the sadness on the paper, and you will feel good. That is why I write in every given opportunity. I also have lots of notebook from the past… I should run through them one day to see what I can find there 🙂


    • I believe in the magic too. Our words become our world — for both good and bad. I also believe (and have seen personally) how healing writing may be


  22. I don’t know about everyone else, but for me, I think one of the most interesting moments a person can have is when they see a letter for example with a date because then you know exactly what someone was doing at that date. I’m not sure how, but I always feel a connection when that happens, whether it be with myself, or with someone else.


  23. In sifting through papers too I’ve been interested in the change of handwriting too… Careful script of schooldays on cards to my parents, and these days hardly legible even to me!
    Thanks for this blog…


    • Lol! I have always had messy handwriting, but it’s gotten messier as I’ve become a lazy user of the pen (prefer the frenetic pace of the keyboard but NOT touch screen.)


  24. Yes you are very right .. Time is unpredictable, time has wings. I loved the way you have expressed this in your post.
    But you know old memories can be frustrating at times. When I opened my old diary I found notes to the guy I loved before but he went with someone else. Marked dates on which we met and talked.
    So that wasn’t actually so good for me.
    Anyways following your blog from now.


  25. Reblogged this on Locsy With Moxie and commented:
    I have so many notes to myself. They start at age 5. No kidding. And I am still walking round with to-do lists. This musing reminded me that life as we know it is a series of rememberings. A gem from the “Freshly Pressed” section of


  26. This is a very interesting post. The whole contrast of mundane and drama you made was well thought. Writing down not only tasks and memories is important but also goals.
    Cool post 🙂


  27. This is so beautiful, thank you! It is true that when we rummage through our closets and basements for those scribbled gems, we tend to remember the dramatic, memorable experiences – not the mundane. But all of life’s memories are precious. And if we remember that, we won’t take as many of them for granted.


  28. Excellent post! I always get so depressed looking through old notebooks and seeing that the majority of what I have written is mundane reminders. It always drives me to buy new blank notebooks and tell myself that I am only going to write beautiful prose… but two weeks later, back to the mundane! This post has shed some new light on the potential importance of the quotidian life.


  29. This really makes you think about things? I to have all my old notebooks and journals. I look back at my journals, me talking to God, my troubles, my achievements, my sadness and many other feelings, but the MOST amazing things I read in those journals are what God tells me. During of trials it’s sometimes refreshing to go through and see what I’ve come through and how I came through it-the words told to me by God-to get me through it. This is my first time on here and doing the whole “blog” thing. So I hope I’m doing this right. Lol. My first blog I wrote I think I can describe as more of a cry for help or using the “paper” as an outlet. 🙂


  30. One of the reasons why I write is that I want to chronicle my life especially the way I think. I want to look back by reading through and see how I’ve developed or changed through the years. But after reading this, I realized that what I often write about are the dramatic or the meditative type and not too much on the mundane. And it made me see that yes, the mundane might seem unimportant or something that can easily be disregarded but they are a huge part of our everyday lives. Now I have an itch to take a look at my old things just to see some mundane things or notes that I’ve kept (or didn’t realize I’ve kept) and just reminisce on the good ol’ days. 🙂


  31. I really love how you were able to capture how insight often arises from some intersection of the mundane and serendipity. I’ve been <a href=" purging lots of stuff lately, including old papers. It makes me wonder if there might be some opportunities for reflection in this process. I haven’t gotten to my old notebooks and journals yet–though I can’t imagine I will chuck those!


  32. The last three paragraphs of this were absolutely beautiful. I think it’s fantastic that there is a mystical part of you that find wonder in the (not-so-)small miracles that happen in every day life. I believe in writing, and I believe in keeping everything one writes, on the off-chance that maybe one day we’ll all be able to tell a story like this one. Thanks for this!


  33. Reblogged this on Mott the Hoople and commented:
    What a find, the first mention of your husband to be. Yeah, I like going back through my notebooks, keep one near me all the time next to my computer, and go back thru them.


  34. This I have to say, by just reading this post…….made me truly think of wow even when we look back on our journey’s in life and the things that we at one point had to implement into our everyday lives. We can always come back to those once used things and say……..look at how far I’ve come.


    • It’s so true. And I’m so enjoying that process. But i am finding I’ve also arrived at a point where I’m starting to let go. As if I saved all those things for RIGHT NOW. When I’d be able to appreciate them, and let them go.


  35. This is as beautiful as it is thought-provoking. I regret not keeping a journal as consistently as I now do — reading back the diaries and notes I *do* have is always fascinating. And I’ve recycled a lot of old papers and notes. I guess I don’t really have room to keep them all, but a post like this encourages me to do so.


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  37. Beautiful and how! You made me smile, smile a lot actually 🙂
    “All of it meant something once. All of it familiar enough to allow for shorthand. All of it important enough at the time to require a note. Now the majority of it is meaningless.”
    this is so true….and has so much meaning…
    And these, even more….the simplicity with which these lines are written makes it even more dear…
    “A document that I once did not know my husband. That I once needed to write his name in a notebook in order to remember him. That this man, who I now know better than any man, once existed for me as scribbles on a page, as individual digits. And I even misspelled his last name. My last name, now. Once, long ago, I didn’t know how to spell my last name.”

    Thank you. And congratulations on being freshly pressed.


  38. very well work done…keep going…i liked it…its nice…as am a new blogger in this world and i wrote just 1 blog (story) ( and unable to find my viewer as like you, can u please help me by reading my 1st blog what wrong with my writing…is really something wrong with my writing or am just expecting too early…your helpful comments will really inspire me… and please follow me…


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