Journaling with Evernote and why I switched from writing on paper

My dad has a childhood friend who we visit when we return to Korea. My dad is a fairly picky and critical person, and this friend is one of the few people I’ve never heard him criticize before. He lives outside Seoul in a smaller city, and the last time I visited, he showed me a thick volume of The Chronicles of Narnia in English, which he’d painstakingly marked with post-its in an attempt to better his English. I was impressed. Fantasy is difficult to understand even for native speakers.

What also impressed me was his journal. Maybe I should call it a log, since the journal is limited to about a sentence a day, with which he summarizes whatever noteworthy thing happened that day. The last time I visited, he pulled out a journal from several years before to see what we’d eaten for dinner the last time we were all together (it was duck).

I’ve always believed in the importance of keeping an account of my days. I’ve kept a paper journal for close to ten years now, and I have a drawer overflowing with various notebooks. When I look back at the entries from high school, carefully crafted in purple ink, detailing trivial conversations and happenings, it brings back some memories, although admittedly faded ones.

I’ve continued to write a journal to this day, but lately, I noticed that my logs were becoming infrequent. And when I did write entries, I tended to put in a minimal amount of effort, only putting down the bare skeleton of what I’d done that day, rather than recording my thoughts or feelings. Sometimes weeks would go by between entries, especially if I was busy with school and work.

And the reason is that I hate writing by hand, as blasphemous as that may be to say. I find it tedious, it hurts my hand, and I hold my pen in a position that smears ink onto the underside of my pinky. And because I hate writing by hand, this led to me dreading the act of writing and eventually writing shorter entries, to just get it over with.

So eventually I switched to writing my journal entries in Evernote. If you haven’t heard of Evernote, it might be difficult to understand what it is, because Evernote’s own descriptions of their product can be a bit vague. Basically, you can use Evernote to organize your thoughts in writing, photos, links, and whatever other content you find. I use it for the bare minimum: creating one notebook for each year, and writing one note for each day.

I was initially hesitant on moving to a digital format for my journal. As much as I dislike writing by hand, I still feel like handwriting has a more personal feeling than typing does. However, here are the benefits I’ve discovered to using Evernote:

  • I type much faster than I write, and this simply leads me to writing more. While my hand often struggles to keep up with my thoughts, I find that typing leads me to recording more of my thoughts.
  • Evernote is cross-platform! I mainly use the web app because my laptop is very old and I doubt I could install anything onto it at this point. The web app is clean and fine for what I need to do. I also have the Android app on my phone, where I can quickly glance at information if I need to.
  • You can upload pretty much anything onto Evernote. I can add photos, links, and whatever else to illustrate my day, with a minimal amount of effort.
  • And although I haven’t used this function, you can also create to-do lists in Evernote. I mainly rely on any.do for my task management needs, but it seems handy to have everything in one place!

It felt like somewhat of a betrayal when I dropped my piles of handwritten journals to switch to Evernote, but it’s been a great experience so far that I would recommend to anyone. How do you like to journal?

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Book Review: Of Mice and Men

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As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

Before we start this post, let’s just say that this isn’t exactly a review of Of Mice and Men.

I did read the book. I read half of it on my flight to Toronto and the second half on my flight back home. It was short. I was sleep deprived and had that unique sweaty, disoriented, easily irritated persona that I only adopt during air travel. So while I enjoyed the book while I was reading it, when I sat down to write this post today, not much came to mind.

I recalled the story, the names of the characters (sort of), and my own love of Steinbeck’s descriptive style. But I didn’t have any sort of deep insights that I wanted to share on this blog. But that led me to another train of thought.

I have an uncle who loves to read. He has a job that allows him to travel frequently, and one time while visiting us, he mentioned that he had a goal to read 100 books that year. “But it’s hard,” I remember him saying. “So I’ve started reading books of poems. Much faster.”

I remember being troubled by this. While it’s great to aim to read 100 books a year (if you can actually accomplish that, I’d be seriously impressed), I feel like setting a numeric goal defeats the purpose of reading. It reminds me of when I was in elementary school and we were rewarded for reading quickly. What does it mean to read quickly if you haven’t properly absorbed the information?

That brings me back to Of Mice and Men. I’ve always been an achievement oriented person, more invested in the result than the process. I’ve read 20 books so far this year, and while I remember the rest vividly, Of Mice and Men remains cloudy in my head, even though it was the last one that I finished. Rather than speeding through books so I can achieve some sort of goal for the number of books read, it’s important to remind myself to read slowly, extract meaning, and to not be afraid to reread passages and whole books to attain greater understanding.

That being said, Of Mice and Men (what I remember of it) is an excellent read. I only started reading Steinbeck this year, with East of Eden, and I fell in love with his characters and style. East of Eden is an epic story that occurs over generations, while Of Mice and Men takes place over a few days and involves only a handful of characters. For this reason, it didn’t impact me as deeply as East of Eden did, but there was still plenty for me to mull over on my flight.

YES OR NO?: YES. I’d recommend Of Mice and Men if you’re looking for a quick but thought-provoking read. And of course, I’d recommend rereading – just because it’s a short read doesn’t mean it’s a simple one.

Book Review: The Martian

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Astronauts are inherently insane. And really noble.

The Martian, by Andy Weir

Remember last time I wrote, when I vowed to write and post to this blog more often? Well, there are always excuses, and this time my excuse was a short trip to Toronto. Before I left, I vowed to stick to my blogging schedule while on the trip, but it proved too difficult (and tiring) to blog after long days of walking under scorching suns and thunderstorms, especially without my laptop. But on the bright side, plane rides without stimulating in-flight entertainment gave me enough time to finish not one, but two books in less than a week.

One of these books was The Martian, which I had been struggling to get through for a few weeks. It’s not that The Martian is difficult to understand. It’s the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut who is stranded alone on Mars. Its plot and characters are relatively straightforward (sometimes too much so), but the scientific details were often too intricate for me. I’m not a particularly technical person, and while I was impressed by the amount of research that Weir must have conducted, the long, detailed descriptions of Watney’s survival tactics didn’t make for a compelling read, at least for me.

The Martian came to me highly recommended from someone who is very close to me, so I was surprised when I didn’t enjoy it as much. But in hindsight, that shouldn’t have been a surprise, since everyone has different preferences for books. Reading The Martian helped me realize what I look for most in books (which happen to be two traits that The Martian is, in my opinion, sorely lacking): compelling, believable, dynamic characters, and elegant prose.

As for the lack of elegant prose, it can’t be helped. Most of the narrative is told in first-person, through Mark Watney’s eyes, in the form of log entries. The prose lets Mark’s cheerful, pragmatic, and silly personality shine through, but it doesn’t do much to describe the barren beauty of Mars. But then again, it’s obvious that Mark’s first priority is survival (and rightly so).

I had some problems with Mark as a character. I understand that he has a cheery disposition, but I found that he was entirely too cheery for someone forced to survive alone on Mars. He never seemed to reach an existential crisis, or actually face his utter aloneness. I understand that Mark is supposed to be a strong, resourceful character, but come on. Even the strongest person I know would face a few breakdowns in his situation.

Aside from Mark, I found the other characters flat and one-dimensional. Whenever the narrative turns from Mark, it becomes dull. The conversations between characters are filled with cheesy, uninspired one liners, and the characters themselves are often caricatures. There’s no depth to them. That being said, I usually don’t look forward to film versions of books, but I’m excited to see how these characters will be brought to life in the film version.

YES OR NO?: The Martian was a NO for me, but I think that speaks to my own tastes, rather than its merit as a novel. I can see how other people would find it compelling, but it certainly wasn’t my cup of tea.