The Daily Illini

Journaling makes the mundane matter

Brian Nguyen

Brian Nguyen

By Thomas Block, Columnist

Sometimes you drag yourself from sunrise to sunset just to forget everything in between. I call it a throwaway day. It might be a lazy name, but it’s the connotation itself that justifies it. It’s not a victory day or a defeat day. If there’s something to be won or lost on a throwaway day, you don’t even bother showing up to the contest.

I can’t speak for how your throwaway day feels, but I know mine like the back of my hand. When I wake up, I can’t tell whether it’s Monday or Friday, and I wouldn’t really care which one it was. The bus takes me zigzagging across campus all day, but I wouldn’t have noticed the difference if I had just stood at the station from morning to afternoon. It’s not that I don’t feel like doing anything, it’s almost like there’s nothing to be felt. On a throwaway day, nothing happens.

Or at least, it doesn’t seem like anything happens. Throwaway days are kind of misleading that way. They don’t really exist. There’s actually a lot going on around you all the time, you just need a notebook and pencil to figure it out for yourself.

I keep a journal. My current log dates back to about the start of last school year, but I still manage to scrounge up old ones from high school and prior. If I’m honest with myself, I’m pretty inconsistent. There are month long gaps between a couple of the entries, some are a sentence long, while others ramble for ten pages. Not kidding about that last part. I guess I was really enthusiastic about going to Pitchfork Music Festival a few years back.

You won’t find any wild stories about me parachuting off the Swiss Alps in my journal. In fact, it’s a pretty dry read for anybody who isn’t me, but then again, who else would I be writing it for? I remember wandering late at night through the long, empty aisles of a convenience store as a freshman, “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits crackling over a distant radio. What I don’t immediately remember, and what my journal helps me to recall, is how directionless I felt in that instant— like I was too old to feel like a kid and too young to feel like an adult.

That experience, along with the months following, made up an important chapter of my life, though I wouldn’t guess it at the time. After all, I was just walking around a store looking for poster hangers.

You should be able to feel like every day can and will matter to you. I love the often quoted remark of Socrates, “an unexamined life is not worth living.” If you ever find yourself running on autopilot, think about how that single moment ties into the bigger picture.

I do this by simply jotting down bits and pieces of what happens to me, but something else might work better for you. Maybe you want to reflect on what’s in the news, or what television show you’re getting into. Maybe you’re not the type of person who writes, and instead, you prefer to capture the memory with a song or a painting.

You can think of every day like a step in a big staircase. Each step, no matter how small, will bring you closer to the top— to the person you’re meant to be. Only by paying attention during the trip up will you be able to turn around and look how far you’ve climbed.

Thomas is a sophomore in Engineering.

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