February 5, 2020
Into the Unknown
Isabella Olfert '19 graduated in December with a degree in English Literature.
I started my eighth bullet journal a month before graduating. If you’re an enneagram one, type A, or whatever personality categorization is now “in” at Wheaton, then you probably already know what a bullet journal is. For the ordinary person, Bullet journaling is a way of creating your own planner, using symbols and layouts that let you plan your life to your heart’s content, illustrated and decorated as elaborately as you like. It seemed rather silly to begin one in November with the new year right around the corner. Still, my mind was filling up faster than I had pages to express, and I knew December would require more room than the nine remaining sheets would allow. Sure enough, before I had finished creating my new planner, the nine pages were filled with lists upon lists. What I needed to accomplish in December, the first things that needed to get done when I returned home, and details for my work with the upcoming Arena Theater production.
I give in, and the new planner starts with December. I fill in my days to bursting with last trips to the city, last dinners with friends, last Dine with a Mind. Last, well, everything. I plan farther ahead than usual to keep my mind from exploding with all I am trying to hold in. As I reach the blank pages following, I use my brush pens to write “Into the Unknown” in big blue letters. (Had I just watched Frozen 2? Yes. No shame.) That’s exactly how I feel, though. I have no job on the horizon; I’m not even sure what career I wish to pursue. I don’t feel ready to step forward yet, so I look back.
The next page is simply titled in black: Wheaton Favorites. I didn’t know what exactly I was going to put on it when I first created the page, but I write under the title, “Dr. Kriner – a joy in literature.” It is the first thing I think about when I remember my classes. The utter enthusiasm and passion that Dr. Kriner exuded as she raved about Huckleberry Finn or The Wasteland or Middlemarch. My next point: “Blanchard – Wheaton’s historic castle.” I love the beauty of the stately building where I had countless English classes and gen eds; just looking at it makes me smile. “Dr. Edwards – finding my cousin across the country.” Yes, unbeknownst to me, my first cousin twice removed is a piano teacher in the conservatory, and it wasn’t until my first lesson in the spring of my freshman year that I knew she existed.
From there, the ideas continue to flow: “Seeing snowfall for the first time and feeling like I was in Narnia.” “Learning jazz.” “Doing hair for Pride and Prejudice and feeling so fulfilled.” “Writing a research paper on World War One and poetry, my dream combination of English and history.” “Holding hands in the back room of the theater, singing the doxology with voices filled with joy and proud tears.” I quickly fill up four and a half pages, generally going in order from freshman year to senior year (Type A personality strikes again). I decided to stick only with the joyful moments. Oddly, some of my best memories are the ones filled with hardship and grief. I got to see friends and professors come around and support each other and myself in ways that I didn’t know were possible outside of family. It was beautiful in its own way. But as I was approaching a bittersweet graduation, I kept to the happiest moments. Cue “It’s a Small World.”
Now I’m back home writing this. I will continue to use my bullet journal; I’m dependent on my little blue notebook with its lists and prayers and schedules and memories. But I don’t think I’ll ever use it in quite the same way again. I began bullet journaling in January of my freshman year, and, over time, it merely became my journal. It helped me count down the days when I was homesick and dying to be done for the semester. It helped me process my thoughts, focus my prayers. It gave me the creative outlet I so desperately needed in the chaos of school. It kept me from forgetting things (most of the time). It let me use stickers!
Filling my bullet journal felt uniquely Wheaton. So now, as I step into the blank pages of the unknown, I’m waiting on God to write the next entries, plan the next months. I don’t know what they will look like or when they will be filled. To be honest, I really really wish I did. But the (dare I say) overused verse is fitting here: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord (Jer. 29:11, ESV, emphasis added). I am unsure, He is not. I have hindered sight, He sees all. My experiences at Wheaton have taught me that I only think I’m making plans. Every one of my three and a half years was filled with the unexpected, the unwanted, and the beauty of blessings I didn’t deserve. Plans never end up as imagined, it is God who is tweaking, finalizing, destroying, and recreating my silly ideas and making something beautiful out of my ashes. So, I’ll just leave my bullet journal on my desk; I think I’ll plan to be surprised.