New Year’s Eve is approaching, I’d like to review something thematically in keeping with the occasion, and my spent 2006 planner is sitting conveniently on my desk, so here goes. Perhaps I should begin by saying this planner cannot be named or described too exactly as the publishing company that employs me produced it, and there would be both conflict of interest and personal security issues in my being specific enough that it could be identified. Ahem.
I hope I can safely say it wasn’t the planner for me. Not that it isn’t a handsome, nicely designed volume in its own right, and I’m not just writing that because I’ve helped edit it in the past and/or could be fired for publicly criticizing my company’s product. The planner is black-covered and gold-lettered, has gold and black satin ribbons for marking one’s place, has a lot of reference material at the back, and at 8.5” x 11” looked weighty and impressive on my desk all year. But then weightiness and impressiveness weren’t qualities I particularly needed or wanted in a planner. I take public transit and need a planner that isn’t a chore in itself to carry. And then this planner is designed to be used at one’s workplace, whereas I needed one geared to organizing my activities outside of work. I can see it being exactly right for a number of busy professionals — thousands of them, in fact. Planners are a very individual preference.
But it’s typical of me, and indicative of a larger issue in my life, that I never do find quite the right planner for me, the one that will help me feel more in control of my life, to stop me from frittering away time and procrastinating (actual Freudian-style typo: procasturbating), to accomplish more, to keep me from neglecting or forgetting to do things I very much want to do. Or failing that, I’d like FOR THE LOVE OF GOD to at least find one that lets me look at a week at a glance, gives me some actual room to scribble more than a few things down AND still fits into my already bulging shoulder bag. This past year I wound up carrying a little plastic-covered calendar style planner because the weighty black one had to stay at home, a memo pad because the little calendar had no room in which I could write, and also keeping a planning notebook because I needed some place to write down brainstorming lists and research notes on the best roofers/internet service providers/books to read/Christmas present ideas. Etc.
Again, it’s typical of me that for 2007 I’ve bought a new planner, hoping that both the planner and the year will be a better one than the one past or if not, that I can at least condense my oragnizational system from four notebooks to two. But then this is always the appeal of new planners and notebooks. I can’t be the only person who has a notebook fetish, who lusts after those beautiful covers and crisp blank pages and winds up giving away several journals for Christmas every year simply because I wanted an excuse to buy them. (As was the case with the exquisite embroidered pale green satin one I gave to my seventeen-year-old niece this year – I wanted to buy it and it matched my niece’s eyes, so she got it.) Those rafts of gorgeous notebooks and planners one sees in the stores must go somewhere. The appeal of these planners and notebooks is the promise of renewal, of a fresh start, of new things and new days to come. It’s an act of faith to buy one because it presumes that one will be living each and every one of those days named within. And, if one is a writer, there’s always the hope that the words one will write within will actually be worthy of their beautiful setting.
I don’t get a sense of this promise as I flip back through my spent planners. Instead I get a sense of the past as a thing apart from my memories and overall impressions of it. Perhaps I find I went out more often or was more productive than I thought, or perhaps less. Perhaps I discover that I wrote in some item to be done, such as signing up for a yoga class or doing some home improvement task, see that I scheduled it again and again before it finally disappeared, but realize it doesn’t matter now that I’d rather take kickboxing and have moved. This particular year I find the gold ribbon is stalled in mid-November, because I was embroiled in all sorts of real estate and moving craziness and was too overwhelmed to even be able to try to calmly order my days. This bird’s eye sense of the past — even my own past, which I should know intimately — as something significantly different from my conception of it isn’t as exciting as the sense of anticipation I get from a new notebook, but it’s probably more instructive.
The planner is a relatively modern invention. I don’t suppose it is much more than a century old, though people were certainly jotting down their daily minutiae long before that. It’s something we designed to help us cope with lives that have become more varied and hectic (though not harder overall) than they were two hundred years ago. Not that the medieval peasant whose daily to-do list might have been a one item “plant turnips” wouldn’t have had some conception of the more primal motivation that underlies our dependency on planners, and BlackBerries, and whatever other forms the planner will take in future. Like most adaptations, they help us cope with currently existing circumstances without necessarily making us any happier or more fulfilled in the larger sense than people have been in past millenniums. Nearly two thousand years ago Paul of the Bible was writing, “That which I would not do, I do; and that which I would do, I do not”, and that is a universal, eternal human lament which even the most beautifully designed Moleskine will never do more than assauge. Not that this realization for one minute dampens my ravenous desire for the said Moleskines.