Are You Taking Notes?


With all the people I meet who learn of my project, I inevitably end up rehashing a lot of the same material.  The list of cities I’ve lived in gets rattled off with all the rhythmic precision of a scripted speech.  My favorite city? How do I pick my cities? What will I do when I’m done with ten cities?  All those frequently asked questions.

But once those details are covered, most people want to know if I’m keeping a record of my years.  Am I actively taking notes or keeping a journal?

The truth is, no.

Obviously, I have this blog, and from time to time I write out an amusing anecdote about an evening out, but I’d say 90% of the content on this site has little to do with the personal moments of my life.  This blog was never meant to be a diary.  I don’t even keep a Captain’s Log.  Over the years I have flirted with writing down my day to day happenings in a notebook, but such habits have never lasted more than two consecutive days.

The problem is that I hate writing about myself.  It’s really a loathsome activity.  Not exactly the greatest attitude for a would-be memoirist, but in all fairness, when I started this project I never expected to write about it.  This is your fault.  Everyone I met who said, “This would be an interesting book,” you’re to blame for my cognitive dissonance.

The truth is, I’m flattered when anyone takes an interest in my banal life, so I’m happy to talk about it.  But sitting and scribbling down a play-by-play of my daily activities strikes me as being one of the more particularly vicious circles of hell.  I don’t care how interesting a person you are, most of your days are filled by strings of boring happenings that no one needs to read about, even via Facebook.

When I set out to finally write this book, I’ll have notebooks of essays, poems, attempted journal entries and random scribbles to help piece together the chronology of my life (because, lord knows, my whiskey-addled mind isn’t remembering most of it).  But I believe the majority of the material I’m going to abstract for the final product will be derived from interviewing old friends and acquaintances in each city.

When the time comes, I hope to fly back to each city for a week, one right after the other, and revisit old haunts, reconnect with people there and see what sorts of flashbacks I can trigger.  Maybe when the time comes I’ll create a Kickstarter project to help fund my 2 1/2 month journey around the country and through my past.

Memories are notoriously unreliable.  Mine sure as hell is.  It’s not that I believe getting other people’s versions of my history will help me craft a more accurate chain of events.  If anything, it’ll probably corrode my own memory further and distort reality to an even greater degree.

But the very thing that makes memories so capricious is what makes them so fascinating.  Our mind stores memory in a complex neural net that puts very little emphasis on accuracy.  It’s all about associations and mental links, and those ways in which each mind remembers an event tells us more about the individual than the actual occurrence.

When we take the collected memories of a group of people and try to form them into one cohesive narrative, we get something far more powerful than a memoir or history.  We create a myth.

10 cities in 10 years is not a goal.  It is not a dream.
It is a story I tell at parties.  It is the thing people attach to my name like it were a title.
It is the root of a myth.

That tag has been in the About section of this site since I first created it.  Don’t let me be misunderstood.  I’m not attempting to craft a false history to seem more interesting, a la James Frey.  What will end up in 10 Cities / 10 Years: The Book will be as factual as I can manage, with as much research and secondhand supporting evidence as I can amass.

But no memoir can ever aspire to 100% accuracy.  Until someone invents a time machine out of a Delorean, there is no hope of truly recapturing a personal history.  Even with the most fastidious note-taking over the previous 7 years (and the next 3), I couldn’t hope to get everything right.  Sure, it’d make remembering dates and names easier, but greater details don’t make for a better myth.

So, no, I’m not taking notes.  I’m living my life, and in a few years when it comes time to type it all out I’ll sew together my memories with those of others and fashion my own myth.

And then I’ll start a religion.

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One thought on “Are You Taking Notes?

  1. I can’t recall where I heard or read the quote or line that says; a writer only gives 10% or less truth of his writings, and the rest are all creativity. And I don’t know if that applies to what I read, but I think it’s what you’re trying to address to everyone? 10 cities in 10 years would be great though if you make it.

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