The year began with such ambition in our household. We were going to learn how to bullet journal and get our lives on a page.
I had turned my husband on to the idea of the “bujo” system, a slightly intricate system that supposedly streamlines your life from random notes on your desk into bulleted lists on a dotted page.
It sadly did no such thing for me.
Despite a night of line drawing and list-making enthusiasm, where my husband and I designed what might become a guidepost for the year, I dropped off quickly and stubbornly retained my scraps of paper.
However, there was one page I kept going back to: a drawing of a bookshelf, where I would fill in the names of books I had read as the year went on.
About two weeks ago, I peeked into the journal and was dismayed that, to hit my goal, I’d need to get in another seven books in a number of weeks.
It had started well: In late 2019, I joined a book club with friends. I finally felt like I could get back to a hobby that I perhaps enjoyed the most when I was my daughter’s age, devouring books about babysitters, the paranormal, paranormal babysitters. It wasn’t high art, but it was fun.
I started losing the motivation to read in late high school when the distractions of life pulled me away and teachers put classics in my hands that I never seemed to relate to. Slowly, once I was told to read something for my own good, the appeal went away.
I’ve wondered whether my stubborn nature came from nature or nurture — whether the stubborn vein came from the pervasive individualistic nature in our culture, a desire to have no one to tell me what to do, regardless of how enriching the experience might be.
With the start of the book club, I felt a pressure that turned positive, a squeeze of accountability. And when the group went online, the social outlet and shared experience turned into bonding.
But I started noticing a theme in my reading: that nature of individual experiences. In Gail Caldwell’s memoir, New Life, No Instructions, she talks about how the plot of one’s life became restricted by the choices of a spouse and children, but it seems like more things in life restrict us now.
Our lives have become restricted by the choices of others, whether they are playing on the same American team you are and whether we can even define what that team looks like anymore.
Somehow, being on the same team and sacrificing for the greater good has turned into a strange, scary socialist idea. Many of us don’t like our lives restricted in any way, no matter how much better it could be for all of us.
The idea came up again during a week of late-night binge-watching another shared cultural experience: the show The Queen’s Gambit. The main character’s way of playing is initially through her smarts and winging it in the great American way. Spoiler: She has her butt handed to her by tight-knit Soviet players who study and work together.
Her mentor thinks it’s a flaw she and other American players have. He unmasks at the end what she might need to change to win, saying: “Us Americans — we work alone because we’re all such individualists. We don’t like to let anyone help us.”
There’s a stubborn flaw for all of us. The same can-do attitude that got us to the moon, builds trends that shifts the world’s culture and tries to fight against simple injustices ends up keeping us stagnant if we cannot figure out a direction we can go together as a team.
Just like those disjointed notes, we lose our more potent power that comes with the ambition of order.
— Cassie McClure is a writer, wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma, and drinker of tequila. Some of those things relate. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter: @TheCMcClure. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.