Two days ago, I hit the 200-day mark in my journaling app, Day One. This number isn’t particularly impressive in and of itself – it’s only seven months worth of writing, and there are plenty of people who’ve written for far, far longer – but it is nice to have a record of consistency. I began journaling on a trip to San Francisco in 2013, where I remember sitting outside a theater and writing my observations about the cars that pulled up and deposited parents and children outside the building. I took a long hiatus after writing that entry, but the memory was strongly concretized, thanks to my having articulated my thoughts in a concrete way, and periodically returning to the description of an otherwise minor and esoteric event.
I’m currently reading Joan Didion’s 1968 collected essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, where she muses on California – and particularly San Francisco – in the height of the 1960s. Didion also writes about the nature of writing, and her compulsion to keep notebooks wherein she documents the esoterica around her. She writes in “On Keeping a Notebook”:
But our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable “I.” We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensées; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.
The app that I use, Day One, is, unlike most of the other clutter on my iPhone, decidedly not an app meant for sharing. (And, internet research shows, I am not the first to quote Joan Didion’s belief in keeping a notebook). Day One is simple and stripped down, but robust where it needs to be. The app is principally text-based, but allows you to add one picture per entry. That seems like a low limit in the current arms race for photo storage, but it also precludes the app from becoming just a photo gallery, which it isn’t meant to be. The app – on both iOS and Mac OS – pulls EXIF data from uploaded images, including time, location, weather, and motion details. You can also create tags to organize your disparate entries (yes, I have one called “Coffee Bliss.”). Lastly, Day One allows the user to export his or her journal in PDF, so it can be printed or made into a bound journal.
I’ve found journaling to be a great sort of prep for structuring my day, and using Day One – and its “Don’t Forget to Write!” alerts – is a great way to force myself to sit down and articulate what I aim to achieve. A lot of the technorati have sung the praises of journaling in the morning, and Shawn Blanc has a great review of Day One at The Sweet Setup. Day One is unique ultimately in that it’s not exactly a productivity app, and it’s certainly not a photography app. Rather, it’s a truly effective means of broad goal-setting and solidifying memories, since flicking through old entries (and their attendant weather, motion and pictoral details) helps keep neural pathways to those thoughts active. It’s rare that an app actually changes behavior in a meaningful way, but for me, Day One has both sharpened my recall of the past and my appreciation of the present. It’s well worth the money. As Joan Didion notes toward the end of “On Keeping a Notebook:”
We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.