This is not how I usually begin my diary. I can’t begin it the way I normally do, because I am not actually writing this at the end of April 23 (or the beginning of April 24, as I so often find myself doing).
I usually recount my day the same way: “I woke up exhausted.” This has been a years-long frustration of mine. The constant cycle of feeling fatigued all day before my brain finally kicks into gear around 11 p.m, right as I tried to go to bed, has made me feel extremely unproductive.
I meant to start a diary far sooner than I actually did. After spending years in my late teens worrying about losing memories, I realized in my early twenties that my memory wasn’t good to begin with. I needed some way to remember.
I started the diary the day after I submitted my final exam (online and in my bed –– never thought that’s how college ended). It seemed like a nice transitioning milestone to begin something new.
It’s a Microsoft Word doc titled “Post-Grad 365.” I could’ve named it “diary,” but I’m sure the twelve-year-old in me who subconsciously believes diaries are for girls prevented me from titling it what it obviously is.
I wanted this diary to last an entire year, and I established three rules for myself:
- Entries would be daily –– no missed days allowed.
- Entries must be at least 350 words.
- Entries must include two photos from that day.
This would not just be an exercise in maintaining memories, but also in writing regularly, even when I had nothing else to write.
I didn’t know how viable it was to actually write a diary for 365 days straight, especially considering it involved memory and starting a new habit. Not surprisingly, there have been a few times I almost forgot to write and had to swipe text on my phone, and there were at least two occasions where I wrote my diary after midnight in the back of a car.
But now, twenty days away from completing a year-long project, I wanted to look back and see if it was worth it.
Do I remember more? The fun thing about being forgetful is that it’s hard to quantify just how much more you remember.
After rereading some entries, however, I do have more concrete memories of things that have happened in the past year. Things like extra Popeyes and an unexpected anime marathon with my housemate on day 178 and watching one of my favorite sportswriters get hacked by an NFT group on day 301 aren’t just retold, they are moments remembered.
Has it made me a better writer? Writing this diary has helped me write poorly. I haven’t worried about anything except getting at least 350 words on the page. Everything else has gone out the window.
It hasn’t taught me new creative strategies or better ways to write (at least I don’t think it has), but it has helped me write. It’s a daily deadline I can’t avoid. I’m not actually able to write about day 345 early, and I’ll miss far more if I try to write about it late. Writing a diary has helped improve the skill of just doing it.
Progression was another aspect I wanted to see. I had higher aspirations for my life a year ago than where I’ve currently ended up, but that’s not the sole definition of progress.
I’m going into my sixth year in Grand Rapids, which is about five-and-a-half years longer than I thought I’d be here after I left Calvin following my first semester.
Staying in a city I’m not overly attached to while most of my friends have moved to sunnier pastures has left me feeling stagnant.
But when I read my diary, whether it’s day 1, day 7, or day 330, it’s impossible to say I’m experiencing stagnancy.
I’m not doing what I was doing eleven months ago, six months ago, three months ago. I’ve started new projects for myself, started a contract job with a company that seemed like a pipe dream months earlier, found new favorite spots in Grand Rapids and where my parents live in northern Virginia.
By the time I post next on the post calvin, my one-year experiment will have ended. I haven’t decided whether to continue it as a new project or not. It’s so much of a habit at this point I can’t imagine not doing it, but I’ll need to make some amendments.
After all, the diary can’t stay stagnant either.
Mitchell Barbee graduated from Calvin University with a B.A. in writing in 2021. Originally from Boone, North Carolina, he is currently residing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He enjoys hanging out with the few friends who stayed, wearing grey hoodies, and hoping that he doesn’t get sucked into the nightly wormhole of watching a baseball game.