How the Bullet Journal Predicted My Feminist Failure

I had a six-hour astrology reading last year.

Coincidentally, it was on the day of the eclipse. While Joey Bada$$ was burning his eyes out, I was sitting inside some air-conditioning, across from a determined astrologer. She’d printed out reams of sheets on my personality and natal chart, a multi-coloured spreadsheet on all the “upheavals” I was going to experience in the coming year. It was supposed to be three hours. At the four-hour mark, she got us a snack of cheese.

“I don’t believe in eclipses the way other astrologers do,” she said as I came back in from checking it out.

One thing she did tell me was I have a tendency toward lofty thinking, big ideas, and though I’m organized (a quality enjoyed by my boyfriend, whose chart she also read), I tend to plan big and wobble on the details.

I hadn’t thought of myself that way before. And anyway, I was in the midst of a summer of FINISHING THINGS. I wrote a 57,000-word romance novel. I cleaned up five issues of my journal that was overdue and sent them out. I threw away old socks and my PhD notes. I didn’t go anywhere. I wasn’t sure I believed her.

Around that time, my friends were all getting bullet journals. They’d whip them out at writer’s group, show off their lists and designs and calligraphy, and I’d think wow, that’s cool, but who has time to decorate their to-do list? Plus, my attempts at decorating would inevitably look like my blind cat had knocked over a can of paint and walked in circles for the rest of the day. I was cool with my to-do lists as they were:

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Then the call of the bullet journal grew too enticing to ignore, so I put it on my Christmas list and got two. Not knowing what to do with the series of dots, I did a search on YouTube and entered a very deep, and largely female, world.

Insane! I thought. I don’t want to track my period, or my workout sessions. But I did sort of want to make a list of the books I’d read. And then there was the savings chart; that was cool.

I had some rough starts.

And thought about going back to the dollar-store notebook to-do lists.

Instead I bought coloured pens and forged ahead, making a Sunday-night ritual out of drawing a calendar and mapping out my days with colourful, reasonable expectations.

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I bragged to my partner about it so much – you set normal goals given the amount of time you have each day, and they actually get done – that one week we went to the same art store and got him two little books. Wow, this is great, he said. Every time I look at him, he’s holding his notebook, either scratching something out or adding to the list. His isn’t super pretty.

He keeps scratching things off his list.

There are things I am not scratching off mine. Look closely, you’ll see what they are.

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The easy argument is I’m locked in full-time work mode, so any creative projects must stand by until a break is forthcoming. Or that my brain is so full of constant demands that coming home and writing a chapter will result in nothing but trash bin dumbassery.

The less obvious, but more appropriate argument is I’m deflecting anything that would help me move creative projects from “big ideas” to completed works of art, because I don’t think I deserve that time. It’s the same reason I used to – and still do – read furtively, flipping pages on my phone on the subway, in bed at night, for an hour with the TV on in the background so people think they’re interrupting something if they call. I can’t imagine any better way to spend my time, so I don’t. Somebody must need me, I must have failed at a task, maybe there’s marking in the Assignment folder? Surely I need to send an email.

To assume one’s sole purpose on earth is to serve others seems a largely female phenomenon. I know lots of male academics and writers and musicians who understand that their work is a central building block of their identity, whereas it’s something we ladies often slip in when we catch a moment’s reprieve. It’s awfully essentialist of me to say that, considering any man with kids is likely struggling to find a corner of the house to create something in silence too. Still I watch as male colleagues give students an abrupt No, I’m leaving now, while I let them come in and cry over their essays. I am wracked with guilt when I say no to a meeting with my boss because I planned to stay at home and write that day. Even now, I’m neglecting the to-do list and writing a blog! So many things will carry over to tomorrow.

Initially, the bullet journal seemed like a way to set reasonable expectations of myself. Imagine going to bed not feeling like the day was a failure, I thought. That could be amazing. And alongside those lists would be teeny celebrations like I finished this book and rated it! or here’s a list of concerts I saw last week! Somehow the journal is proving otherwise, illuminating my rejection of myself as a creator, favouring the self I’ve constructed out of others needing me to help them cross the things off their list.

Well, maybe I’ll go check to see if there’s something to grade.