Operation Notetaker

Hi, my name is Jane, and I take notes.

It started simply enough, with learning to take precise bullet-list style notes in 6th grade social studies. I remember that the paper was longer than the usual 8.5 x 11, and that everything I absorbed during class was meticulously organized on those oh-so-long pages. My lack of enthusiasm about the subject matter and instruction style faded to unimportance.

I was hooked.

In 7th grade I started taking notes on my life (because what else is a diary, really). Sometime in high school, "diaries" morphed into "books of random thought" and ultimately settled into "journals" - and it didn't stop there. Outside of class, I took notes on library books, computer game solutions, religion, and worlds upon invented worlds.

In college I began using my notetaking powers for Awesome when I joined a few roleplaying groups. Once my habit made itself glaringly apparent, game sessions often began with: "So Jane, where did we leave off last week?" Also there was this one day when I was exhausted from an all-nighter and fell asleep during class... but kept writing. I discovered upon jolting awake that I'd had a brief but flavorful dream about purple zebras.

Obsessive notetaking for almost 25 years ends up looking something like this:

Questioning my sanity is old hat at this point.

Questioning my sanity is old hat at this point.

That's RPG notes and journals only - no academics. And no filler in those piles. It's turtles all the way down.

A couple weeks ago, I unearthed the diaries and journals, and -- as I have on previous occasions -- wondered why I was still holding onto them. Truly, I cannot think of a more awkward, uncomfortable, embarrassing era of my life than 7th to 10th grade. I was hypersensitive to criticism, perceived indifference and carelessness as hostility, and withdrew deep into myself as a defense mechanism. I felt adrift in a choppy sea of inscrutable social interactions. And while I myself desperately wanted to be understood, I had no idea how to make that happen and little faith that it ever would.

These threadbare sentiments and conclusions drifted through my head as I flipped through the linguistic snapshots of late middle school. And then the critical analysis part of my mind flared to life, and I noticed something that I hadn't before: those harsh, confusing moments that have loomed so large, so long in my memory were really rare.

I wondered if I was really seeing what I thought. I scanned through probably three times to make sure, and could not dispute the conclusion. I had written something, even if just a sentence, every single day for probably two years. Most days were varying degrees of routine, regularly spiced up by friends and new experiences. In an entire year of notes, I could count the noteworthy negative days on one hand. The way those few memories reverberated forward is doubtless reflective of various intriguing properties of human learning, but that's not my point. Getting to look over a fairly complete data set with the benefit of a mature perspective is a powerful opportunity to recognize the Actual Size of the bad. The stand-out problem days were few and far between, and the ambient malaise that picked up in later entries is directly attributable to hormonal shifts, amplified by medical conditions that I did not then have the life experiences to recognize as such. I think those thorough life-notes have finally fulfilled their purpose.

Seventh Grade Me wrote a few "In case you forgot" notes to Future Me. Now I get to turn around and peer along the path I've walked to whisper a soft "Thank you" back to that girl.