Found notes have always carved a deep rut in the hearts of humans . For years, FOUND Magazine was a sort of barometer of both cool and humanity: If you knew it and loved all of its hyper-human insights, it said more about you than your carefully curated MySpace page. FOUND Magazine still highlights found objects—hand-drawn birthday cards, grocery lists, to-do lists, ideas and things left behind—but the ubiquity of the smart phone has made hand-crafted windows into souls an increasingly rare find.
Which is why when I recently spotted a piece of lined notebook paper—folded into a square, the frayed edges hanging off its center—I ran to it like a toddler to a kitten. There's no telling what you're going to uncover as you unfold each end like glitter could fall from its sides and stick to you forever.
It was the platinum gold of found notes: a scribbled, personal list of someone's most profound moments. "Top of Kilimanjaro" was it the top of the list, scribbled in half-print and half-cursive. Next were: "Hearing *Calvin's first cry; Birth of Stephanie; Near-helicopter crash; Carrying Lynette to birthing room..."
It was an important note for me to see that day. I had been busy making my own list in my head, but it was a list of all of the things I regretted. (Giving a guy regular coffee when he asked for decaf when I was 19; re-gifting a terrible shirt from Limited Express and the gift-giver was at the party; playing "maid" with my sister and convincing her being my maid meant she had won.)
Over the years I've made thousands of lists, but none were quite like the one I found begging me to see its insides. Lining my junk drawers and forgotten corners throughout the the house are little pre-smartphone-era memo pads filled with shopping lists, gardening ideas, favorite hats seen on the street, poets to read, big "to-dos" never crossed off and lingering undone in the ether…crumpled bits of weightless paper. And I am probably not alone in my note accumulation.
For one thing, writing things down using real-life pen and paper actually helps us improve memory, according to real research. For decades self-help gurus have touted the art of writing to help people get what they want. And according to a 1979 Harvard MBA program study, those who wrote down their goals for after graduation were more likely to achieve them.
Writing things down, it seems, is the cheapest life-coach/therapist around. Just this past weekend, the NYT looked at how writing about one's feeling can help people heal from break-ups and even physical wounds. “When people are given the opportunity to write about emotional upheavals, they often experience improved health,” said one researcher at the University of Texas at Austin.
In fact, there is quite a bit of research about how writing things down can make us "better" at being or doing something, but little about how writing down accompishments makes us better at being who we already are. We tend to write things we hope will be, because it's less easy to celebrate with pen and paper things as they are.
So I'll start: 1. I recently found a note with someone's greatest life moments.
*Names were changed to protect stranger's identity (and not all on list were included.)