Day Zero Project List One: Goal One

As per the Day Zero Project home page: “The Home of the 101 Things in 1001 Days Project Day Zero is a community of people who love creating lists, setting challenges, and making positive changes in their lives.” I joined this community in 2012 as a way to stretch myself and get things done. I’ve gone on to make three 1001 Days Project, and these essays highlight (and sometimes lowlight) what I learned from these goals.

List one started in February of 2012.

First goal: Leave 25 notes in library books

I don’t know what I was thinking to have this be my first goal or challenge. Except that I am a trifle romantic at heart, but not that romantic; it’s not like a handsome stranger was going to read some random note about my thoughts on a book and then be so inspired that he must track down the writer of the note…only to discover I’m in a perfectly fine marriage.

Or maybe I had some vague notion of leaving my mark on a book, some fleeting legacy to inspire or uplift.

I don’t know, but completing this goal felt a little contrived, a little bit like a chore. It wasn’t a challenge, and it wasn’t very creative. In fact, I put it off for over two years because I didn’t actually want to do it, but it was on my list, and it was easy enough to do for the sake of completion.

I debated about leaving notes in my small-town library. Small towns are lovely in that lots of people know everyone, but in that same way, there’s a handful of judgmental folks who can get their noses out of joint real quick at the smallest misstep. Leaving notes in random library books doesn’t seem like much of a misstep to me, but it’s outside of ordinary. I left a few notes in my local library about harmless things: a sticky note near a recipe that said, “This is delicious. My kids loved it.” Or an index card tucked into Pride and Prejudice to the scene where Elizabeth condemns Darcy’s first proposal: “One of the best scenes in all literature.”

Eventually I went to a local college, grabbed a stack of books that I had no connection to, and sat at a nearby table with a newly purchased notepad and began chucking platitudes into random pages. Task complete.

Here’s the take-away: Notes in books should be authentic, inspired in the moment. They could be legit notes by the reader to help him/her remember an important line, task, or idea. Or they could be some sort of positive or negative reaction to the text. What they shouldn’t be is some vague clichΓ© like “Life is short, Eat the damn cake” tucked into a James Herriot novel.

I admit I do enjoy finding a note in my books, though most of the time it’s something dull like a grocery list. Once I found a picture of four people in a small kitchen. A middle-age person was in the background with only a fraction of their face exposed. Two young boys turned around on stools in front of a island counter to smile while a grandmother stood behind the counter wearing an apron and holding a Norwegian spatula as a lefse cooked on the griddle on front of her. I might have looked at this picture longer than necessary as I tried to place the people in the photo before deciding I didn’t know them, but I loved what the photo was: a grandmother creating a heritage food for the people in her life. I left the photo in the book when I returned it to the library for someone else to see.

Sad truth: my daughter worked at the library part-time, and she came home one day complaining because one particular patron always left notes in her library books, and it was a pain to take all them out. I remarked, “What! Why do you take them out? Why not leave them there for someone else to read?” She shook her head, “there are too many; her post-it notes cover up half the page.” And so I learned that when books gets checked in, they often get a quick flip through where most notes are discarded with barely a glance.

Will I do this goal again? No, not as a task and definitely not with a number attached. Will I leave notes in books? Of course, but mostly in personal libraries and only when it’s sincere and authentic.