03 December 2008

The datebook ritual

Since 1970 or so, I've been keeping track of my life with a Sierra Club datebook. Despite my technolust in other areas, I'm not a PDA person; good ol' paper and ink give me the context I need. I can tell by the density of the markings on the page whether it's going to be a busy week or a light one. When an errand or to-do item slips by a day or two, I merely draw an arrow. An arrow squoogle that meanders down the page from Monday to is-it-Friday-already? denotes a certain urgency. If it doesn't get done that week, I re-enter it in what I think of the "sometime this week" space at the top of the next page. Or the one after that. Sometimes the act of writing and rewriting makes me reflect on whether it's worth doing at all.

The format of the Sierra Club Engagement Calendar, as it's officially called, hasn't changed in at least four decades. It's spiral-bound, a convenient size for whatever bag I'm carrying that year (truthfully, I tend to choose purses based on whether the datebook will fit). There are lovely nature photos on each facing page. Saturday and Sunday are grouped together, properly, at the bottom of each week. (One year I acquired a freebie datebook from some other source that I thought I could use instead, but pitched it as soon as I realized that Saturday was at the bottom of the page and Sunday at the top of the next one. In a week-at-a-glance calendar, it makes no sense to split a weekend like that. I would have been disoriented for the entire year.)

I make note of everything in the datebook -- birthdays and anniversaries, meetings and deadlines, concerts and theater dates, dinner invitations, due dates for bills, calls to make, chores and projects to get done. Before menopause, I put a cryptic little mark (okay, it was a "P") on the day when my next period was due. I literally would be lost without my datebook.

At some point I treated myself and my datebook to a slip-on leather cover, which helps it endure a year's worth of daily wear-and-tear. It also provides a couple of pockets for loose lists and other slips of paper. The cover itself is pretty beat up at this point, but it made me look slightly more corporate, back in the day, in meetings with Day Runner/Filofax people.

As next-year commitments accumulate, I list them on one of the blank Notes pages in the back of the book. When I start worrying about conflicts and double-bookings, generally sometime in November, I know it's time to buy my new datebook and start the transfer process. First, I go through my perpetual birthday book (you knew I had one of these, right?) and write all the pertinent names in the appropriate daily spaces. Then I transfer the recurring events -- monthly meetings, weekly volunteer gigs -- and finally the random items from the back of this year's book.

Both datebooks are in play from now til the end of the year, depending on the day on which New Year's falls. This year, I'll get to transfer the leather cover to the 2009 book around Monday, the 29th. Before archiving 2008, I'll look back through it and review the year in my mind. This is useful on general principles, but especially on those rare occasions (don't hold your breath) when we're inspired to write a holiday letter. My husband has noodged me not to cross old items out so heavily. My biographers will be grateful, I'm sure, to discover my datebook stash, since it's the closest thing to a journal I've ever kept.

The datebook is, of course, my personal scheduling assistant. It's way too much information for the other human in the household. For the basics of our shared life -- dinner dates, ticketed events, doctors' appointments and so on -- we keep a standard wall calendar by the phone in the kitchen. Here, I have no brand loyalty. For 2009 I think it'll be the Cat Lovers Against the Bomb calendar, which is published by Nebraskans for Peace and comes chock-a-block with commemorations related to peace and/or felines. Starting right in with January 2nd, I learned that, on that date in 1972, a cat in Scotland turned 43 and, exactly 20 years later, the UN established the first Conventional Arms Registry.

Clearly this calendar is going to be useful and entertaining when one of us is waiting on hold. Bet you didn't know that on August 18th, 1950, a four-month-old kitten, following a climbing party, scaled the Matterhorn in three days. And here I thought that August, with the exception of my birthday, lacked occasions for celebration. I wonder if Nebraskans for Peace has thought about doing a datebook?

No comments: