Keep Track of the Tiny Details

Keep Track of the Tiny Details


Welcome. I like to get up while it’s dark, before anyone else has begun to stir, walking through the apartment on tiptoe with the world on mute. I fix my coffee in the dark and wake up slowly. There are fewer variables, minimal stimuli. At 5 a.m., New York’s famed sleeplessness is repudiated.

This morning, I used the time to sit and think. I tried to remember the early morning on this date 19 years ago, but found many details were lost. That day, in my memory, begins at 8:50 a.m., when I left the house for work. My recollection is limited to the broad strokes of the narrative I’ve retold over the years: I went here, I saw this, I felt this. I know I bought dried figs on the walk home, but only because I’ve recounted that one detail so many times.

If only I’d kept a log book then. I learned about the log book from the artist Austin Kleon, who recommends keeping “a calendar of past events,” a notebook where you record the ordinary facts of the day. It’s a very simple form of commonplacing, of setting aside information for your future self. I love the simplicity of this practice, how it’s distinct from a diary, which to me implies commitment and complete sentences. As Mr. Kleon writes:

Keeping a simple list of who/what/where means I write down events that seem mundane at the time, but later on help paint a better portrait of the day, or even become more significant over time. By “sticking to the facts” I don’t prejudge what was important or what wasn’t, I just write it down.

The log book excites me because its simple lists of small details might, when I reread them someday, unlock troves of memory. If I jot down that on Sept. 11, 2020 I bought oat milk from the deli on the corner, then perhaps, decades from now, that shorthand will remind me of the $5 bunches of hyacinths I bought every spring at that deli, how I once saw a handwritten sign taped to the shelf there that said “PLEASE STOP BITING THE BREAD,” that I used to go there late at night and chat with the owner through masks, that I once saw a famous musician there in his pajamas and slippers. I’ll be able to access the particulars of this period and not just the synopsis of a year in quarantine.

What would you write in your log book today? What bit of info will you jot down that you would otherwise forget? Write to us: athome@nytimes.com. Include your first and last name, age and city. We’re At Home. We’ll read every letter sent. And thank you for sending your favorite cover songs; I’m listening to and loving so many of them and will share them next week. As always, more ideas for living an agreeable life at home and near it this weekend appear below.



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