How Scrapbooking Stopped Me From Running Away

By the end of 2012, I hated everything. No, scratch that — I seriously hated everything. I felt aimless in my career, bored at home and incredibly restless. I kept having fantasies of slipping out of my apartment in the middle of the night, withdrawing all of the tens of dollars from my savings account, and driving down to South America or hopping on a slow boat to Samoa. Or maybe graduate school. I didn’t know, but I just needed something to change my life.

Was I depressed? Not quite. I’ve been mildly depressed before, and I know people who have been truly depressed, so this would be unfair to call it depression. This was more like clinical frustration or manic ennui, and I had no idea what to do about it. My fix? Sit on Pinterest for hours a day, hoarding images of outfits I could never afford and sewing projects I would completely botch. But one night, I kept coming across people’s scrapbook pages.

Now, time out — at that point, I had only known one scrapbooker my age: my sophomore year roommate. She seemed like the antithesis of a scrapbooker, but between punk shows and Hillel meetings, she would come back to the dorm and bust out the pinking shears and 12×12 paper. I’ve always been crafty. I was familiar with Mod Podge, purling, interfacing, and wax pouring, but I drew the line at scrapbooking. Excluding my roommate’s work, that garbage was just binders full of cheesy, fugly cutouts of those hideous Precious Moments figures, and dumb words like “Cherish” for weddings and “Sand Between the Toes!” to conjure the memories of a beach vacation. Not my thing.

The scrapbooking pages I kept encountering that evening, though, were different. They were composed of moody Instagrams, business cards from hot restaurants, and concert tickets for obscure bands, all placed on modern, gorgeous paper and affixed with bright, bold tape. People chronicled great moments in life, right alongside the sad and mundane. These scrapbookers weren’t (all) dowdy broads with nothing better to do. Some were my age, some were childless, many were in their ’20s and ’30s, and found a way to document their active, seemingly fulfilling lives.

As it turns out, these people were using a modular, pocket-based (think baseball cards sheet protectors) method called Project Life introduced by some crafty Web lady named Becky Higgins. Once I got over the name, I ran to Michael’s craft store to make my own version instead of buying a kit — I’m just gangster like that, okay?

When the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, I made sure to grab some confetti off the floor, and take a photo of myself with my husband, in my pre-hangover state. Those items, along with my laundry list of resolutions, comprised my first page.

After that, my first few weeks were very mundane. Looking at my pages now, here’s how I spent January 2013: I went to the gym. I caught a cold. I re-watched Felicity. I bought a coffee mug. It was hot one day. I bought a comforter at Ikea. Riveting.

I enjoyed the process of scrapbooking, but I realized I had nothing to scrapbook about. So I started saying yes to things. I went on a trip to D.C. where I had an epic night of karaoke with one of my closest friends, followed by a billiards adventure with my sister. These two people are so important to my life and general happiness, and yet I rarely took photos with them. I thought about how I had some very solid relationships with people who just made me happy, in this case, Stephanie and Joe. I remembered how happy and energized I felt around them and other people who I genuinely liked.

I came back to Los Angeles and was greeted almost immediately with the chance to go to Coachella on assignment. Now, I’ve turned down Coachella before, because I thought I would hate my hipster peers standing around and watching a bunch of hipster bands (that I like). But I went. And I loved it, in part because my low expectations for what I figured would be a claustrophobic, hot weekend surrounded by a crowd of my generation’s douchebags were mostly shattered.

During all of this, I had been going out and doing more things with my husband. I’m not going to air all of our dirty laundry, but I will say I spent the end of 2012 very angry with him over something significant but not insurmountable. Eventually, things mended, and even better, I saw how beautiful he is, in the purest sense of that word, because I took so many photos of him. I realized I was lucky to have someone to put up with my moodiness, assertiveness, and obnoxious behavior. I was fortunate to spend my days with someone who understood me unlike anyone else on this planet. This man makes me laugh until liquid oozes out of every orifice of my body; if that ain’t love, I don’t know what is.

Then I started keeping track of work things like meaningful work I had done, or hitting big Web traffic numbers. I celebrated every essay, screenplay, comedy sketch, and TV pilot I had written — as a nobody screenwriter, you begin to appreciate the process of writing for your own enjoyment, while knowing that you may never actually be writing for the consideration of a network executive or a big shot producer. I kept tackling projects that I knew I would feel satisfied about, sometimes for the incentive of scrapbooking about them.

I kept saying yes, and it led me to Amsterdam, Zurich, Antwerp and New Zealand — believe it or not, there was a long time where I would have said no to these free-ish, work trips. I said yes to parties, films, lectures, baseball games, and concerts, including a life-changing, face-melting Fleetwood Mac concert in July. I kept track of pizzas, novels, TV shows, happy hours, recipes, runs, tweets, text messages, brunches, lottery tickets, favorite outfits, the change in seasons, my progress at the gym, fortune cookies, Supreme Court rulings, and funny things people around me have said. It’s creepy to admit, but I sneak photos of my friends, family members, and even coworkers when they’re not looking, just because I want to remember them exactly at that moment.

Keeping track of these things has made me embrace how lucky I am to have a relatively happy life. To some of my family’s chagrin, I’ve shirked organized religion. But, I realized that keeping a scrapbook helps me focus on gratitude in a way that Catholic school never encouraged me to do; at least not in an authentic way.

A lot of my friends know about my new habit of grabbing business cards after brunch or happy hour. No matter how tipsy I am, I remember to bust out my iPhone to snap a photo. Sure, I get weird looks when I tell people I scrapbook (even from the intern), but it’s also reminded me that when I’m not happy, I have the power to change my situation through hard work or simply saying yes.

Michelle Garcia is the managing editor of The Advocate, and writes sketch comedy for Top Story! Weekly at iO West in Los Angeles ( Follow her on Twitter @mzMichGarcia.

Featured Image via Shutterstock

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