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navy personal

A Short Update on Separating from the Navy

There was a time when I didn’t think I’d make it to the other side of the US Navy. It wasn’t even that long ago.

After you’ve been doing one thing for so long – even if it’s something you hate – it becomes comfortable and familiar. As time goes on, it becomes harder and harder to separate yourself from it. To make matters more complicated, the Navy makes a point of invading every part of your life, both personal and professional. (I was also pretty depressed and thought the Navy might have the decency to kill me so I wouldn’t have to do it myself. But, spoiler alert: I don’t feel this way anymore!) So after eight years, it got really hard to envision a life outside of the Navy, much less one chasing my dreams. Was it going to be a mistake to turn my back on a reliable paycheck? Would I be able to find a job, and balance work and school at the same time? Will my benefits come through and will they be enough to support me?

The separation process is probably stressful under normal circumstances. It was doubly stressful working with one of the Navy’s worst admin departments during a global pandemic. Somehow, though, after months of sleepless nights and grinding my teeth and frantic phone calls, it all came together. My property was scooped up, my vehicle shipped; the paperwork never really got done done, but it was good enough. On July 31st, I was a civilian again. I got on a plane and went home.

At the time I’m writing this, it’s been less than a month since I separated, and I feel like I’ve been the recipient of a series of miracles. Things fell into place better than I could have imagined in my wildest, most hopeful dreams. I feel happy and energized and motivated in a way that I haven’t felt for a very long time – but it was the result of taking a big, scary step into the unknown, away from the unpleasant but familiar. Hard brake, pivot; start over.

Sometimes things turn out in ways that you can’t anticipate. I guess the risk is that things could be better or worse or even just completely unexpected. For what it’s worth, I’m so glad that the darkness of uncertainty didn’t completely close me off from the possibility of hope for a better life outside of the Navy. Or, at least, it didn’t stop me from throwing myself out of my comfort zone and believing it could turn out okay. It turned out better than okay.

Categories
navy personal

I Am Vanessa Guillen

In the early summer of 2018, I was deployed to the Middle East. It was my second deployment to this location, doing the same mission: conducting airborne surveillance in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. It was, truthfully, pretty uneventful. I remember reading a lot of books (the camp library was well-stocked and quiet, an introvert’s delight) and playing video games in the MWR (where the internet was better but we also got eaten alive by mosquitoes). But one particular situation will stay with me for the rest of my life.

About halfway through the deployment, someone realized that one of the magazines was missing a bullet – a single 9mm bullet. How long had it been missing? Whose responsibility was it: the flyers who carried the magazines in their vests, or the people whose job it was to maintain the ordinance? When was the last time all of the bullets had been accounted for?

We searched the plane all day, even after an 8+ hour flight. We looked through every station, every vest, every compartment. We looked behind panels and under seat cushions. We opened boxes and shook out emergency equipment. We did at all again and again and again. We took up floorboards and crawled around stacks of wiring and ventilation. We must have put flashlight beams on every surface of that plane, inside and out.

It was, of course, a completely futile effort – a literal needle in a haystack – but we kept at it for days, rotating groups every few hours, searching 24/7 without pause. We never found the missing bullet, but we sure tried.

What does this have to do with Vanessa Guillen?

Vanessa had been dealing with sexual harassment from someone in her chain of command, but resolved to handle it on her own. She went missing at the end of April. The Army didn’t offer a reward for information regarding her whereabouts until June. For what it’s worth, I’m willing to believe that the Army was doing their due diligence in the investigation – even purely for the sake of covering their own asses – but they must have done a very poor job of keeping the family appraised, because Vanessa’s family and friends unleashed a relentless social media campaign to draw attention to her disappearance. There is a history of Fort Hood not finding its missing soldiers. (WARNING: this article contains details of Vanessa’s gruesome death.)

But if Vanessa Guillen had been a single 9mm bullet, nobody would have gone home until she was found.

Categories
current events navy personal

The Black Hole of Uncertainty

“We’re all going to have to stay in our homes for a little while,” said our national leaders. “It’s for the common social good. A few weeks, maybe a few months, of missed plans and isolation, and we will put all of the bad stuff behind us.”

“Oh no!” replied the introverts of the world, reaching for a blanket and burrowing deeper into the couch. “How ever will we cope?”

Sounds like me, right?

It’s been a little over a month since my state issued its stay-at-home order. It was, at first, a little scary: would we run out of food? toilet paper? what does this mean for my future?

These being the extent of my concerns, though – most of them intangible – shows how lucky I am: I can’t get laid off from the U.S. Navy (and boy do I try). No matter what, I’ll be able to pay my rent and have healthcare and a job. But this is not true for an alarming number of people who are now relying on a safety net not designed for a crisis like this, and wouldn’t be sufficient to support people in need, to this extent, even if it was. And now that I’m hurtling down My Bullshit Lane, if we could pull our heads out of our asses for, like, a single second, we might realize that some of our previous assumptions about the way things have to be simply aren’t true, and we can’t go back to the way things were, pre-pandemic. Too many of us are just a single misfortune away losing everything.

I say all of this as a disclaimer, knowing full well that there’s some measure of guilt in what I’m going to talk about here: being able to move through pure anxiety to find moments of joy during a crisis where others find only the misery of need and uncertainty. If you’re in a tough place, please don’t take any of this as a minimization of your hardship, or some inane encouragement to look on the bright side. Sometimes reflexive cheerfulness is the wrong reaction. It feels strange to be positive now, sometimes, occasionally. Now and then, it does sneak up on me, but it took a while to get there.

You're Interacting With Dark Matter Right Now - The Atlantic
Illustration by Paul Fleet
Categories
navy personal

Good Military Habits

I learned some things about myself, too: what I’m good at, what I’m not so good at, how I react under pressure, and how I manage stress. But there are a bunch of other positive habits instilled by general military discipline that we come to take for granted. Here are just a few.

USS Blue Ridge maintenance
Let me play you the song of my people. (140 dB of needlegunning) (Image from DVIDS)
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personal

2019 In Review

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Stuff That Happened

Categories
navy personal

PRK, Courtesy of the US Navy

Refractive eye surgery is pretty well advertised on my installation here in Hawaii. Long-term, it makes more sense to permanently correct the vision of eligible servicemembers than supply them with new glasses (and contacts? some fliers get free contacts?) every year. I knew my summer deployment was probably going to be my last one, so I thought I’d ask if I could get my eyes fixed before I separate next year.

The keyword there is “ask.” I’m in a deploying billet and a flight status. I was prepared for a struggle, one I suspected would result in the negative.

Somehow, it actually worked. It was six months of persistence and administration and, frankly, the kindness of my leadership, and even now that it’s all done, it still seems too good to be true. I got PRK surgery in September, and it was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. It changed my life.

Here is the how the whole process went down, from start to finish.

Categories
health and fitness navy nerd stuff

Pokémon Go Made Me Go Outside

When I lived in Japan, I didn’t own a car. I had a bike, but it got stolen on base (naturally), and with less than a year left before returning to the US, I started walking instead.

A walking commute is really easy in a place like Japan, where public transportation is robust and accessible. I had my walk to work down to a science:

1. Leave the house for a twelve-minute walk to the train station;
2. Five minutes on the train;
3. A ten-minute walk from the train station to the base gate;
4. Ten minutes from the gate to the gym’s locker room, where I stashed my uniforms;
5. A quick costume change, then, depending on where it was parked, a five- or ten-minute walk to the ship.

After a few weeks, I could predict to the minute what time I would cross the brow in the morning, and I was always on time.

The combination of walking to work and running around the ship often resulted in jubilant vibration on my wrist sometime before lunch: “Congrats!” my fitness watch would say. “You met your step goal of 10,000 steps!”

I took for granted how easy it was to be active when it was organically built in to the day. Coming back to the US was a rude awakening.

Categories
navy

My Last Deployment, by the Numbers

Days deployed: 58 (thank me for my service)

Hours sat in window: 80

Air medals earned: 0

Times carrying the pisser: 3

Times spilled pisser on self: 0 (an improvement)

Fires: 1

Fake fires: innumerable

Emails from Mom: 20

Emails from Dad: 1

Longest uninterrupted study session on single subject because I’m too polite/awkward to say “alright, I get it”: 3 hours

Gym sessions: 45

Deadlift working weight: +50lbs

Body weight: +5 lbs

Times mediated interpersonal drama: 4

Times I thought everyone was trolling me but they weren’t and I got sad for no reason: 3

Books read: 12

Overdue travel videos completed: 2

Seasons of Letterkenny watched: 2

Times said “ferda” or “dirty fucking dangles, boys” or “crush some sandos” or “dust on praccy”: sorry

Celeste C-Sides completed: 5

Times listened to Cuz I Love You by Lizzo: 58 (daily)

Average hours of sleep: 6

Ambien intake: ???

Times sleep interrupted by whoosh of crows alighting from roof: any night not on the Ambo

D&D sessions: 7

Times teased by pilots for playing D&D: every opportunity

Crew diss tracks written by rider: 8

Actual qualifications competed: 0

Meaningful contributions to the mission: 0

Days until command closes for good: 340

Days until I get out of the Navy: 340

Categories
books health and fitness navy nerd stuff travel

2018 IN REVIEW

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WHAT HAPPENED THIS YEAR

I spent five months deployed: January, February, March, May, and June. It seems like a lot of time when spelled out like that, but for the most part it was easy and went by quickly. I got fully qualified and my aircrew wings. Best of all, though, I got to be in Hawaii for my birthday and I got to go home for a friend’s wedding and for Christmas too! I feel lucky. For all my worrying, things turned out okay.

I went on a trip to Alaska. I saw Denali, Wrangell-St. Elias, and Kenai Fjords. Now I have a truer understanding of what constitutes a wilderness. Alaska is sprawling and untamed and beautiful. I admire it and fear it. I would love to go back someday.

I got to spend some time with a friend in Washington as well. I’m proud of these videos.

I ran my first half-marathon! It was fun and challenging, but I don’t think I’ll do it again.

I started going to therapy again. It would be dishonest to say I’ve made a lot of progress – sometimes you don’t know how junked up you are on the inside until a professional calls you out on your own bullshit – but I’m at least becoming aware of what the path ahead of me looks like. The biggest difference between the start and the end of this year is that I now see the journey as worthwhile.

I started volunteering regularly. On Wednesdays I help out at the library on base. I really like the librarians and the work, too: re-shelving, helping out with programs, cleaning, cataloging. The place is always super busy and the time goes by fast.

I read my most books ever – 75 in a year! Thanks, deployment! Even if you take out the comics and graphic novels and novellas, I went way beyond what I was aiming for. A book per week has become a reliably attainable goal. I will stick to it for next year. You can find all the books I read this year here.

My recurring resolution to write a blog post every month frustrates the hell out of me. I wish I would stop doing this to myself. But I’m in the habit of doing it by now, and I know if I drop it, I will probably never find the motivation to write anything at all. I need something that will force me to, even only once a month.

BOOK OF THE YEAR

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I think we all harbor some sort of secret fantasy about the life we wish we could live. If I wasn’t such a coward, my dream is to move to some remote wilderness and stake out a solitary, sustainable life for myself. Whiskey When We’re Dry takes that daydream and shakes it up with my favorite fantasy life: a nineteenth-century, wild-wild-west story of a trick-shooting, cross-dressing young woman on a quest to redeem her family name. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. Jessilyn has the authentically Western voice that I’ve been craving since reading True Grit and her integrity and tenacity left me feeling breathless, inspired, a little bit in love. I devoured every word of this story. I can’t wait to reread it.

2018 Runners-Up
Saga by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples (volume #9 ruined my will to live)
The Witch Elm by Tana French
Circe by Madeline Miller

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

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Jonna Lee’s music has been making a huge impact on my life for almost a decade. Her entire iamamiwhoami project deserves a long write-up of its own. But her music and videos are so dear to me that anything I write feels so incomplete, so inadequate. I have been trying and failing for years to express how much I love what she does.

Think about the art that you appreciate the most. Try to describe it in such a way that conveys its significance in your life and encourages others to make room in their own hearts for it. I see this all the time when people recommend TV shows. You just have to watch it, they say.

For her three iamamiwhoami albums (bounty, 2011; kin, 2012; blue, 2014), Lee released the music and videos simultaneously. It was almost impossible to separate the visuals from the audio. The secrecy behind the project also made the release of each new video feel like a dispatch from the beyond, a clue that might reveal more of the machinations behind the creators.

Jonna Lee is a performer, though – she wants to interact with the audience behind the screens, take the audiovisual show to the real world. There was only so long that she could continue as iamamiwhoami. Though Everyone Afraid to Be Forgotten is her first venture beyond iamamiwhoami, it retains enough of the project’s visual motifs and audio samples that it feels like an authentic transition between the two.

Much to my relief, it stands spectacularly on its own two feet.

In Everyone Afraid to Be Forgotten, every song, separately, is memorable. The more upbeat synth tracks that Lee has become known for – SAMARITAN (with excellent costuming by COMME des GARÇONS) and NOT HUMAN, for example – contrasts in sound but not in tone with her slower, echoing dirges (LIKE HELL, HERE IS A WARNING). The haunting live recording of DUNES OF SAND in Jonna Lee’s hometown church provides some of the dopest acoustics your ears will ever be blessed with.

But where Jonna Lee really excels is audiovisual thematic unity. Linking the music with the videos is what makes Lee’s audiovisual storytelling so compelling and unforgettable. So the first time I watched the album’s movie accompaniment, I was actually a little underwhelmed. It felt like there was something missing.

There is just something about the way she produces a short video, contained to one song, that is perfect. No one else is doing what she does. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

2018 Runners-Up
By the Way, I Forgive You (Brandi Carlile)
Be the Cowboy (Mitski)
Dirty Computer (Janelle Monáe)

MOVIE OF THE YEAR

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Look, this one isn’t deep. I like these women and I love a good heist. Ocean’s 8 is light-hearted, fast-paced, and fun. It doesn’t take itself seriously. I liked it when I watched it the first time and I was surprised when I really enjoyed watching it a second time.

2018 Runners-Up
Black Panther
Crazy Rich Asians
Bird Box

TV SHOW OF THE YEAR

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During my first deployment this year, I was on a lot of overnight watches. It wasn’t a real watch, though, because I got to watch a lot of TV. And I watched the entirety of Brooklyn Nine-Nine in an embarrassingly short amount of time.

Once I started, I couldn’t stop. This show is pretty close to perfect. It is hilarious at no one’s expense, my favorite type of humor. Many of the episodes convey substantial moral messages. All of the characters have substance and depth – most of all, in this year’s season, Rosa. Her coming out was portrayed so perfectly that it stayed with me all year long. It was honest, it was authentic, and it gave me hope. It made me feel less alone during a time when I was very lonely. I’ll always be grateful for that.

2018 Runners-Up
Terrace House: Opening New Doors
The Great British Baking Show

GAME OF THE YEAR

Image result for celeste game breathe2018 was the year of beautiful indie games that made me cry. It started with Monument Valley – both, though neither are 2018 games – and then there was Florence and later Gris. What all of these games had in common was they felt like playable works of art.

Just on the surface, there is a lot to like about Celeste (by Matt Makes Games, also creator of TowerFall). The music is some of the best I’ve ever heard; seriously, ask anyone I work with: I have been listening to the soundtrack nonstop for months. If you’ve taken the time to read all of these words (thank you) and you get nothing else from this post, put on some good headphones and listen to the music* from Celeste. The pixel art is also gorgeous. The game controls are so simple and tight that there is zero room for error. As a 2D platformer, Celeste belongs to a genre that is notoriously brutal and unforgiving. From the very start of the game, though, Celeste sets an encouraging tone for the player: “You can do this,” the protagonist tells herself. “Just breathe.”

“Celeste gives me the tools and guidance to succeed so that every death is my own fault,” writes Emily Heller for Polygon. “I find this oddly comforting, since I know every stage can be bested; I just have to keep trying.”

There are going to be many times during this game where you want to give up. I can’t count how many times I rage-quit (though I can say exactly how many times I died, since the game keeps track). But after some time away, I would resume the game and beat that seemingly impossible puzzle almost effortlessly. Why was it so hard before?

Celeste Mountain makes manifest the climbers’ deepest fears. For Madeline, a physical embodiment of her anxiety discourages her from continuing her journey. Madeline first tries to outrun this part of herself, then musters up her courage to confront her head-on. I don’t need you, Madeline tells the negative part of herself. You’re holding me back. This pushing-away has terrible consequences, though, and Madeline hits rock bottom – literally the deepest depths of the mountain. There, she realizes that she can’t conquer Celeste without accepting herself in her totality, fears and all. Madeline’s contrition and reconciliation with the negative part of herself moved me to tears. Together, supporting one another, they summit the mountain.

Through some challenging gameplay (just want to emphasize that again: this game is very hard), Celeste teaches the player that progress isn’t always linear. Through Madeline’s experience, the game reveals that the only way to conquer your fears is through self-love. It is the starting place for true change.

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If you play Celeste (and I really, really hope you do), remember that the effort is what makes it rewarding. It is supposed to be hard. But you’ll get better, and you’ll return to earlier levels and wonder how in the world you found them difficult at all. Facing your fears and accepting yourself sometimes demands an intense inner struggle, too, but you’re going to come out on the other side – or on the top of the mountain – better for it.

2018 Runners-Up
Into the Breach
Florence
Gris

* Lena Raine, the composer for Celeste‘s music, wrote a really interesting blog post about her creative process using as an example one of the game’s most popular tracks. As someone who knows nothing about music, this sort of thing is super interesting to me, and maybe it will be for you too.

FOR NEXT YEAR

I am still trying to stop swearing. I was doing pretty well at this for a while, but inevitably we are influenced by the people around us. I’m going to keep trying.

I have to stop using my phone while driving. This is a terrible habit. Even with my phone mounted to my dashboard, I don’t need to keep changing my music while I’m driving, and definitely I don’t need to read a text or check my Neko Atsume cats “real quick” at a stop light. If you’re in the car with me, please keep me accountable.

I want to – need to – write more. It’s a shame that the only writing I do anymore is for work and for this blog. I have to find some way to stay inspired. Someone please start a creative project with me to maintain my motivation.

Some undefined fitness goal? I focused a lot on running and swimming this year with an appalling collection of tan lines to show for it. Maybe 2019 is the year I come back to the church of iron? Maybe it will be the year I find the balance between the two? Maybe I will give up and be fat in peace at last?

Finally, I am turning 30 soon. I thought this would scare me. With the exception of things that are the result of trauma, as I get older, I feel less afraid, less frantic, less rushed. A family friend once told me that, in his head, he doesn’t feel any older than he was in his twenties; it’s his body that betrays him. I think I’m starting to understand what he meant.

Categories
navy nerd stuff

Bullet Journals and Me

“That’s unprofessional,” one of my LPOs on the ship told me as I scribbled a reminder on the back of my hand. It was his passive-aggressive way of telling me to stop doing it. I didn’t listen because 1. it wasn’t an order and 2. I have a bad attitude.

Fed up with my bullshit, my chief told me explicitly to stop, which I did, for the most part. I started writing on my wrist instead, right below the strap of my watch. I patted myself on the back, thinking this was very clever: it was more or less out of sight but still maintained the spirit of my stupid system. But of course they caught on to this, too, and the jig was up.

I was certain that, if a reminder about a task wasn’t immediately in front of my face, I would forget about it for good. I’m like an infant with object impermanence, but for things to do: once it’s out of sight, it’s completely out of mind. I had to find some other way.

If you’re in the military, you’ve seen those little memorandum books: green, pocket-sized, reporter style. The memo notebook’s larger, hard-covered cousin, the logbook, was a precious and scarce commodity on the ship; having one of those was a status symbol. The highest tier of Navy notebooks was the leather-bound, magnetic-clasped varieties carried around by Chiefs and Chief-aspirants.

In other words, this was me, your typical shitty E-4:

This was your workcenter supervisor:

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This was your LPO:

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This was… yeah:

So I started small, with one of those little memo notebooks. For the most part, it worked out pretty well. It fit easily in all my pockets and it was so cheap and common that I could scribble all over it without feeling any sort of organizational impulse.

I mentioned that it was cheap. What I mean is that it wasn’t durable, and ship life takes a toll on things. This little book was rained on, sweated on, HAZMAT’d on, put through the laundry once or twice by accident. But for all I put it through, it’s still more or less intact and (arguably) legible.

And then bullet journaling hit the internet like a ton of bricks.

It is an incredibly, almost insultingly, simple method of organization. It takes a list of tasks and breaks down big, long-range plans to the smaller, daily tasks. A bullet journal, at its essence, is an agenda that you design for yourself from a blank notebook. The original method suggests organizing pages by year, then month, then week, but the appeal of the bullet journal – and why it became so popular so quickly – is that it gives you a broad framework under which you can develop a system that works best for you. And I was definitely in need of a new, better system.

In 2016, I started with one of those light green logbooks mentioned above. I had become a first class, after all. It was time to move up! The logbook withstood damage better than the memo book, but it was harder to carry around. Bulky and with sharp corners, it was not very pocket friendly.

But it was my very first bullet journal, the first journal in which I used an organizational method, not just scribbling and crossing-out on any available empty space. It took some getting used to, but it ended up being a really useful system. I felt more “on top” of things: less forgetting, less falling through the cracks, more reliable in showing up where and when I was needed.

Next, I tried a small, grid-lined Moleskine notebook. In the stationery corner of the internet, Moleskine is your basic bitch, but for me, anything that wasn’t military-issue was a huge upgrade. I used this style of notebook for two years – 2017 and 2018 – and it helped me learn what qualities of a bullet journal were absolutely essential for me. I had developed a system!

(Moleskine’s classic notebook. Pocket-sized. $15. An entire year in the size of my palm.)

Here are the elements that have been consistently included in each new iteration of my journal:

  • Index
  • Future log (year at a glance)
  • Addresses
  • Passwords and log-ins
  • Books read, movies and TV shows seen
  • A few pages for misc notes and scribbles
  • Blue brains (flying notes)
  • Monthly log (month at a glance)
  • Weekly log (where the action happens!)

Everything from the index to the blue brains comprises the first quarter or so of the notebook. I like to keep the odds and ends separate from the logs. This is what this year’s index looked like:

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You can see how I would be devastated if I were to misplace my bullet journal. It contains an entire year’s worth of data. That’s why it’s so important to me to keep it close and handy at all times: it has become an extension of myself. One of my mentors calls his notebook an “external brain.”

Here is an example of what it looks like on the inside. A typical monthly and weekly log:

The monthly “to do” stuff carries over through the weeks ahead. Once you write down a task, the bullet journal system forces you to address it in some capacity: complete it, move it forward or backward, or delete it if it becomes irrelevant. This is ideal for tasking triage, or managing the most important, urgent stuff first. Used correctly, nothing gets lost, even amidst the chaos.

You can see how there is some bleed-through on the pages and how the binding on the notebook is coming a little loose. For 2018, I am trying a new brand of notebook: the Dingbats pocket-sized notebook. It is almost identical to the Moleskine, but has better paper quality and appears more durable. But that’s the only big change. With small tweaks here and there, I’ve found a way of staying organized that works really well for me – without being unprofessional.

If you’re looking for a way of staying on top of your to-do list in a way that makes sense to you, why not start from scratch? Bullet journals give you a loose but usable structure, flexible enough for you to manipulate it as it works best for your own life. It has helped me quite a bit; I can’t imagine not using it anymore. If you are interested, here are some resources on how to get started.

The official bullet journal website
Why I started a bullet journal, and so should you (Financial Times)
Why do millennials love bullet journals? Control. (Vox)
The Bullet Journal, Minus the Hype, is Actually a Really Good Planner (Lifehacker)
Bullet Journaling for Beginners (and Impatient, Unartistic People Like Me) (Medium)