For Your Consideration: Chaos Journaling

for your consideration

Welcome to For Your Consideration, a series about things we love and love to do — and we’d like to give you permission to embrace your authentic self and love them too.


Yes, like all good Journal Gays, I have tried to bullet journal. It is, they say, the journaling system that works for both people who are organized and who are disorganized. It turns chaos into order. However, I quickly realized I don’t want that. I crave chaos in my journaling. It’s one of the only areas of life where I let go of any sense of rules or structures. Not only do I believe fundamentally that all journals should be unlined, undotted, unboxed blank pages full of possibility and absence but I also believe that they can mix business and pleasure, that you don’t have to fill those pages in order, that you can simply pick up the nearest journal and flip to any and start writing. I am a proud supporter of Journal Anarchy.

I’m not as Type A as I used to be, but oh buddy, did I ever used to be. Recently, I woke up and was suddenly jolted back to a memory from third grade, when I missed one question on a spelling test and spent recess that day punishing myself for my error, sitting alone under a tree instead of playing with my friends. (The word was “scissor,” by the way, a word I have since grasped in more ways than one thank you very much.)

Still, even then, I was never quite Type A in the conventional way, never a full-on Monica Geller, if you will. I never used the requisite homework agendas our school handed out in the first week of classes every year, because it didn’t matter. I didn’t need to write anything down to always remember what the homework was and when it was due (and the only time in my life when I straight up forgot to do a homework assignment was in 2008, when I didn’t do a simple journal prompt for my English class because I had been too distracted doing work for the Obama campaign the night before which… only proves my point here). I’ve wracked my brain over why I so often give up on planners, on systems of organization that seem perfectly suited for someone like me who loves plans and hates when they change, who loves order and following rules to an embarrassing degree.

It has taken me a while to accept that brains don’t always act the same about everything. Type A/Type B personality theory is very obviously flawed, as most binary systems tend to be. It has been debunked over and over by people more accredited than I, and beyond that, the initial research establishing the idea of a Type A and Type B personality was actually funded by the very evil tobacco industry… so, it’s safe to say we can just throw the whole damn thing in the garbage.

Brains are fucking weird, friends. Anyone who has ever seen my approach to journaling has been shocked to the point of horror. This is not the Kayla that they know. In a way, it’s not the Kayla I even know. And yet it is how it has always been. Subject dividers be damned. Numbered pages be damned. We should all let a little chaos in somewhere.


The Notebook/Journal Alignment Chart
Lawful Good – Lined Moleskine
Neutral Good – Composition notebooks
Chaotic Good – Dotted Moleskine
Lawful Neutral – Leuchtturm1917 notebooks
True Neutral – Spiral notebooks
Chaotic Neutral – Bullet journals
Lawful Evil – Leather-bound notebooks
Neutral Evil – Journaling apps
Chaotic Evil – Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya’s notebooks


I like to think about what might happen if I ever become famous enough for people to publish my journals. Good luck with that! I’d like to say I have the key to figuring out where everything is, how everything fits together, but that’s not always true. Sometimes I re-read whole pages I can’t remember writing. Other times, I recall one stupid haiku I wrote eight years ago and know exactly which notebook to look in, which page to flip to.

On the shelf in my living room, there’s a hardcover black, standard-sized Moleskine. On it, a piece of paper is taped to its cover depicting a very low-quality rendering of a Harry Potter meme that I printed at my high school between classes in 2008 for who knows why. There are notes for the novel I never finished writing, bad poems written from the perspective of Jean Grey from X-Men, lines I was supposed to memorize for acting class, homework reminders. In the pocket, there’s a Friendship Contract that my friend Jordan made me sign because she was convinced I was showing my other friend more affection than her one day. It’s a deranged, postmodern portrait of a horny, closeted, nerdy teen, and there’s one page that’s entirely blank except for the sentence “I wonder if love is always going to hurt the way it does now.” I can’t remember who I wrote it about. It’s possible it wasn’t even something about my life. I wrote a lot of fiction back then.

In my purse, there’s a small soft-cover blue notebook I bought in Soho one day a long time ago. I can’t remember the brand, and it doesn’t say, but the pages feel heavier, more indestructible than those of a Moleskine. It has diary entries about a lovely trip to Greece I took with my then-girlfriend, about what the sun felt like on my back as I rode behind her on a loud, sometimes faulty ATV and what the sun looked like in front of us later in the day when we would drive toward it, shouting at the top of our lungs that we were the Sunset Chasers.

In that same notebook, there are diary entries from the trip we took more than a year later to Norway laced with paranoia.

We fought again.
She’s hiding something.
Maybe she’s not. I feel crazy.
I’m happy we’re here. I already don’t want this trip to end.
The sun set behind them as they jumped, and it was magical.
I still feel crazy.
I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

Then, not long later, I started filling the same notebook with entries about the affair. Except none of this is presented chronologically in the little blue notebook. Angry, wordy passages about the affair written in my messiest handwriting, the scrawl I slip into when I’m barely thinking of the words before they’re already coming out of me, come first. The Sunset Chasers come after. In between, there’s a recipe for pavlova.

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is a Brooklyn-based writer, television critic, and comedian who spends most of her time over-analyzing queer subtext on television, singing "Take Me Or Leave Me" in public places, and assembling cheese platters. She has a cat named after Piper Halliwell from Charmed, and her go-to karaoke song is "Everywhere" by Michelle Branch. Her writing can also be found at The A.V. Club and The Hollywood Reporter, and she wrote the webseries Sidetrack. You can catch her screaming in all-caps about Kalinda Sharma, Jennifer Lopez, and oysters on Twitter and Instagram.

Kayla has written 174 articles for us.

27 Comments

  1. My journals are an embrace of the early modern idea of a commonplace book while rejecting those prescriptive comments about them not being a journal because my own thoughts are information (to me, to be sure,not so much for others, whatever)-anything I want to write, paste, doodles during vidchats, lists of crossed out words gets thrown in. I do have a bullet journal but it’s actually a record of what I’ve done in a planner (that I made) because I can’t retain dates to save my life and I plan ahead using an app. So, I guess I’m like neutral evil/chaotic neutral/lawful evil i.e. all neutral?

  2. “(The word was “scissor,” by the way, a word I have since grasped in more ways than one thank you very much.)”

    Heh.

    Also feeling very seen as a true neutral – spiral notebooks are the best

  3. I feel seen. I’m also a journal anarchist. I can’t stand lines in notebooks anymore. I want to write a whole ass slanted paragraph in the middle of the blank page and then write my grocery list in the corner and then also jot down a reminder for my therapy appointment in the other corner.

    • Yvonne!!!!!! I didn’t know we were alike in this way this makes me so happy!!! YES to slanted paragraphs! Sometimes……sometimes I even just tilt the whole notebook sideways and write something with a completely different orientation

      • When I write I turn the page sideways and go from bottom to top, is that because I’m a leftie who knows. I start writing in the middle of a page, sentences finish above where they started. Or go on forever in a tiny column while the rest of the page has some incomprehensible diagram. But these aren’t personal journal pages, they’re my work notes. Sometimes to stay awake in meetings I’ll write with my right hand snippets of what my boss is saying. Words that I find hard to write : institution, believe, LOL every word is hard to write regardless of the hand I use.

        Hand writing is not easy for me. If I were to keep a written personal journal it would be Chaotic Evil no hesitation.

        I’m actually a Journal Orphan right now. I want to write (type) constantly, I can’t seem to settle on an app I like that will work with my (seriously outdated) phone or tablet. I miss being able to doodle but I refuse to go back to paper, I refuse the physical object. I can’t stand re-reading my handwriting.

    • Thissss, lines are journal prison. Mine gets used for everything from work lists to angst to (terrible-but-scrappy) sketches, and there’s something very cathartic about being able to match what you feel with the physical way you put it on the page. Like a whole empty page with a very tiny “Things are not ok right now” for when you feel horrifically alone, filling it all up with block text when you have BOUNDLESS JOY, that sort of thing. And that’s easier without the lines, for some reason!

      (Also a super forgetful person w/ ADHD, books without lines are also helpful because they somehow makes me feel less guilty for not using them regularly, if that makes sense? Like yes, it is a chaos journal, it gets used when it gets used.)

    • Feeling very seen. My word was “rumour”, and the dictionary we had at home had American spellings UNBEKNOWST TO ME and having had a perfect spelling test record for several months I basically had a mental breakdown.

      Ahem.

      Anyway I usually use cheap A5 sketchbooks for notes because I can’t with lines or calendars and I end up drawing things in there regardless so I decided to lean into the chaos.

      Recently I took all the loose papers from my desk (basically 99% printed receipts from online shopping, oops) and folded them all to size and turned them into a bound book because I live a wild party lifestyle, and having a journal made of trash is surprisingly freeing. No idea too garbage for the garbage journal!

  4. Chaotic Chaotic- wide ruled loose leaf paper and a variety of post it notes some of which have no sticking power so they’re pinned to a curtain with sewing pins.

    Dysgraphic handwriting(bound pages of any kind)= spacing anxiety

    When a existing system doesn’t work for you, leave it behind and make your own is what surviving Special Ed taught me.
    I’ve got a special appreciation of this column. 😛

  5. i use these dot grid kraft paper miliko journals that come in a pack of four for $14. i tear out pages if i don’t like my handwriting. i don’t bullet journal even remotely and i also don’t, like, “journal”? i just write down quotes i wanna remember and words i need to define and draw pictures.

    i hate journaling in the traditional, first person sense. it’s weird and navel gazey

  6. I have a messy not at all chronological composition notebook with a tree painted on the front. Whenever I open it glitter falls out. there are notes and valentines from friends. Some of the pages are a running commentary of my life for four years, essentially a conversation with my past self. It is completely disorganized and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  7. I’m not sure exactly what “bullet journaling” is but I have friends who post pictures of theirs on social media and my first thought is always ‘ain’t nobody got time for that.’ The friends I have who make them draw all these different layouts with fancy hand-lettered headings. It is just… not for me.

    I don’t journal at all any more but I still have some journals from high school and they are the epitome of overachiever-chaotic. No lines, but most of the entries are in my best script. There are a few drawings, and notes pasted in. Then there are pages where I raged in all cap block letters, sideways on the paper. There are lists on the inside of the back covers. Bible quotes. Song lyrics. You know, normal closeted teenage girl stuff.

  8. Hooray for chaos journaling and loose leaf papers everywhere! I became fascinated with journals several years ago and found the perfect one for a trip to Europe. Green leatherette with debossed leaves on the cover and inside small simple trees extending upward. For some reason the first page is always left blank no matter the journal. Simple drawings, sideways, neat and scribbled writing fills the pages. A reflection of me not who I am expected to be. This travel journal turned into an external escape for innermost thoughts, feelings, and experiences. It became a sanctuary for all the things I dared not say which ultimately led to a late life realization. So many layers processed in those pages.

  9. A beautiful and honest post. I’d show all my cringiest high-school journal updates to you just for a bunch of laughs… I’m sure you’d appreciate them. Both the journal and the laughs:)

  10. I loved this post! I can’t get into the bullet system or anything too organized, but I’ve journaled throughout my life and have really benefited from it. I’m not too precious about mine (they’ve been thrown out, or written in drafts of email accounts I no longer use, etc) but just the writing itself can be wonderful for my processing. I have a horrible time talking about what’s on my mind, and journaling really helps alleviate that.

  11. Way back in March I decided to give chaos journaling a shot. I’m pretty sure Kayla just invented it, but she named it, so let’s go with it. Now I have a rainbow of inks and pens, and I write in whichever one of about ten journals feels right or happens to be nearest, and I’m going to burn them as I fill them up, because no one deserves my secret journals. This is great! Kayla is my new idol!

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