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David Bouchier: Organizing the future

appointment calendar
Bill Branson
Wikimedia Commons

Last week, I bought an appointment book for 2022. I couldn’t put it off any longer.

“Appointment Book” may not be the right name for these things. Some people call them Agenda Books, but I don’t have an agenda. They also announce themselves as Calendars, Planners or Organizers, and they come in an extravagant variety of shapes, sizes and formats. The book I chose is a very plain, black and ordinary week-by-week appointment book — made in China, of course.

Simply buying an appointment book made of paper marks me as hopelessly out of date, a living memorial to Johannes Gutenberg. Most people these days prefer to entrust their futures to electronic gadgets, also made in China, which will keep all their plans and notes safe, unless and until the thing stops working — or the batteries run out — and their future vanishes.

The advantage of a plain paper appointment book, apart from simplicity and cheapness, is that it feels like a visible, tangible token of optimism about the coming year. It tells the story of your life before it happens, serving some of the functions of a diary but in reverse. If you have a whole year of dates waiting to be filled in, then you might as well get busy and fill them in so that your year is laid out in a reassuring manner, with no surprises. Some things won’t change, like birthdays, or Twelfth Night on Wednesday, when we will all take our decorations down to avoid bad luck or Valentine’s Day in February when we can be in love all over again, or the blessed first day of Spring in March. We can write them down with confidence, and even indulge in a bit of pre-emptive nostalgia by sketching in things like vacation dates and other eagerly anticipated events like retirements and hip replacements. It’s not exactly a guarantee, but a conditional promise that good things will happen or, at least, that something will happen. Already, only three days into the year, I’ve been able to check off a medical appointment and a haircut – the possibilities are endless.

If you keep all your old appointment books, as I do, you can go back and discover what you were intending to do at any date in the past, and so relive the experience whether you actually had it or not. A diary may tell your real-life history. But these appointment books reveal a tantalizing shadow life of intentions and plans that may or may not have been fulfilled. My books for 2020 and 2021 were full of plans that came to nothing — flights and talks and social events that evaporated into thin air because of COVID. Everyone must have had the same experience.

It may be over-optimistic to make plans at all at the moment, or to buy a book to write them down in. But I don’t care. My little black book is already filled out with enticing entries from January to December — travel and work dates and social events — all written in pencil of course, because it would be foolish to be caught out a third time. It’s not so much a plan as a kind of lottery. You make your bets regardless of the odds. That’s what gamblers do. That, I suspect, is what we will all do.

Copyright: David Bouchier

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.