All the small things: why it's worth recording the little details of life.
When we think about writing, we often think about the future.
Will I remember this time in my life? What stories will I have to pass on to my kids? How do I leave a legacy or a record? And so on.
But recording the details of our lives can also help us now. It can allow us to reframe our day-to-day, and help us feel a little more satisfied with the sometimes chaotic, sometimes mundane experience of living.
Let me explain, starting with a question.
How do you know when you have done enough?
When it comes to the end of the day, how do you know you’ve worked hard enough? Done enough for your family?
How do you know when you’ve made enough money? Achieved enough?
What does enoughness look like in a day? A month? A year? A lifetime?
In reflecting on these types of questions, there is one thing that gives me some surprising insights into my own story of “enoughness”.
It’s my line-a-day journal.
This is a 5-year journal that includes just enough space for a line or two each day.
It not only offers me the chance to write a simple summary of the day, it also allows me a chance to look back and reflect: How do the days add up? What does a year look like? How do you measure, measure a year?
This journal gives me comfort. Because when you break things down, day by day, you can plainly see that not every day is “big”.
Not every day is momentous and grand.
Not every day is a good day or a productive day.
Not only are most days far from perfect, they are not always “progressive” either.
I feel that there is so much emphasis on being productive and making progress in our culture, and that’s not always a good thing. Or realistic. Or human. The problem with that phrase “progress not perfection” is that it implies we must always be moving forward, as though in a straight line of constant improvement.
This is not how real life works.
Some days are rather boring.
Some days are simply lived.
What’s more, my line-a-day journal reveals that some of the best moments of the year were small, little surprises.
They were acts of trust and optimism: choosing to believe that, after a bad day, tomorrow might be better.
They were little moments of delight and simple pleasures: Throwing off a to-do list to take a walk. Baking chocolate chip cookies and eating them in bed with a glass of milk.
They were sometimes the part you would think unpleasant: Running through the airport to catch a tight connection. Strapping on a weighted backpack and my hiking boots and walking up and down a steep hill under the stiff sunlight in order to train for my hiking trip.
Even the biggest adventures bore the smallest surprises that sometimes outweighed the big stuff: hitchhiking and hearing a stranger’s story was not something I planned to do and definitely not in the Oahu guidebook. (Though “A hitchiker’s guide to Hawaii” has a nice ring to it.) Yet it wound up being one of my most memorable moments from a trip I took.
My line-a-day journal tells me:
An anxious day does not mean an anxious life.
A boring, or unproductive day does not mean nothing is happening.
A day full of “wasted” time does not mean a wasted life.
It’s not just the joyous, ecstatic moments that count.
That said, paying attention and savouring the little things has made all the difference.
Recording the small but wondrous things helps.
It reminds me that the little things really are special, and worth enjoying. It reminds me not rush too fast in pursuit of more, and to appreciate what is here.
It reminds that while in progress, “something” often feels like “nothing.”
Movement often feels like stillness.
And so, when it comes to storytelling, I encourage you to write about the details. Not just for later, but for now.
Whether it’s in your journal or for public consumption. Look closely. Describe the little things.
Somehow, it’s those mundane little things that connect as humans.
Just like in life, it’s the little things that make the story.