A new year, a new journal.
Obviously it’s not a new year for most people. But my birthday is in the summertime, and I like to reset my resolutions by my age. (Before you ask, my astrology status is “It’s Complicated”.)
Last year, I started working with a system called “BULLET JOURN4L!!1!”. Now, I don’t like bullets (I’m actually allergic to them, give me huge bleeding wounds), so I’m going to call it Recursive Temporal Journaling. RTJ . It’s one of those hype-monster productivity-coach branding projects, but underneath the slick marketing is a decent little time travel machine.
When I say time travel, I mean the regular sort. One second per second, no take-backs, flies when you’re having fun. We’re all always already time travelers. But travel takes many forms: you can float rudderless in time, you can wander in circles, you can get caught in a rut. So we use time machines to help us progress in the directions we choose, both as individuals and as a species.
The time machine called RTJ is a pretty simple construct:
You get a notebook. They sell a fancy branded version with the instructions, but any notebook that you feel good vibes with will work.
Every day, you take a few minutes in the morning to make a new entry, at the next free space in the book. The entry consists of whatever you have to do today, plus whatever you didn’t do yesterday. You just look at the things you didn’t check off, put a little arrow next to them, and add them to today’s to-do list. You can put whatever else you want in the book: notes, drawings, moon phase, anything.
Ideally, you also take a few minutes every night to add details and reminders for the next day, although in practice I often forget this part. And there are other levels to it, for monthly and yearly planning, but that’s the essential structure.
The simple, analog action of writing things down on paper every day disguises the clever architecture of this system. More than just a commonplace book or a diary, the RTJ is a self-reinforcing nest of time .
The nest of time is a concept from Robert Grudin’s book Time and the Art of Living . His definition is beautiful, and peerless:
WHEN I SPEAK OF A NEST OF TIME, I mean any frequently repeated experience whose unique dynamics, intensity of involvement and regular length wall it off from other experiences and so establish a discrete psychological environment. While we habitually seek out nests in space, areas for privacy or intimacy or repose, we are relative novices in establishing these temporal havens, and slow in realizing that free space is useless without uncluttered time. Indeed, a nest of time need not require a special place at all: its only two requirements are that it concern some desirable activity and that it be, barring emergencies, inviolable. A writer sits down to work. It is nine in the morning, and the next four hours are free, just as they have been the day before and will be the day after, by his express decision and unequivocal need. He looks down those four hours as down a clear view of unencumbered space; more broadly, the regular work periods of the future open up like a long bright hallway of work in freedom. He has no need to fear a wasted hour, an unproductive day, and conversely he has no time-related excuse for sloth or failure. Two lovers meet each evening from five until seven. Their activities vary but their intimacy does not. Whatever else they do during the day is redeemed by this period. A man goes jogging regularly, through the countryside or a park, for forty minutes. The stress of running is sufficient to make it the only thing he thinks of. Yet immediately beneath his awareness of the present, in the familiar landmarks and the familiar stresses, is the sense that he has done this before and will do this again, that he characteristically wills to do it, that in doing it he enters and enlarges a part of himself which is unavailable to him at other times. Such periods unify us, concentrating our energy, judgment and emotion upon a single point. Conversely, they relieve us from all other considerations and so give us profound refreshment. They give us, if temporarily, ourselves. They are true acts of freedom, compared with which our normal miscellaneous diversions and indulgences of impulse are like the flutterings of moths.
I love this imagery of a long bright hallway in time. It makes me think of 3D printing, each day being a new layer stacked upon the crystallized surface of the past. If every day at 9am a writer sits down to write, then over the years that becomes a pillar supporting the intricacies of his other, irregular activities. It’s building, in time.
I’m going to call this domain chronotecture , even though that’s a terrible Greek-Latin smashup. It sounds cool, and we need a word for the concept. If you have a better one, email me.
So what does it mean that the RTJ is a self-reinforcing nest of time? Each day’s log contains information carried over from the previous day. It’s recursive, in that looking over yesterday’s notes also implies looking over the unfinished business of the day, week, or month before. It allows for a “virtual 3D model”, if you will, of the chronotecture of your life. And because it’s a to-do list it allows for further structuring of time, creating a feedback loop with the rest of your temporal environment.
The ten minutes I spend doing RTJ, pen and paper and first cup of coffee, stack in time like a tightly wound coil. A year’s worth of memories and plans, all compressed into a little black book. A telescope of time. Look down it one way, and it’s a grand vision of the big future. The other, and it’s the detailed data of daily routines and sudden shocks.
It’s a time machine, a rudder for guiding myself towards desirable futures and a window for seeing the past without the distortions of memory.
Contrast this with the cages of time built by the factory owners to ensnare the energy of labor, or the mazes of time designed by the data vampires of Silicon Valley to distractertain you until your poor little dopamine receptors collapse.
Just like architecture, chronotecture is the wrestling of giants. We are surrounded by forces greater than one human could ever control, but we can carve out our nests and warrens and survive. We can influence the temporal environment just as we can the physical. We can garden time, hack time, share time.
If we work together, we can liberate time. Enter eras and free them from the control of the world-burner, like the Zapatistas do in space or the Mondragon do in labor. Travel through time together as a mob. Collectivize. Advance. Recurse.
Thanks for reading. Temporally yours,
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