A personal question for the journal-keepers out there: where do you journal? For some, journaling is best done on the go: on the bus during the morning commute, in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, or in spare moments during a double shift at work. Others seek out special places to write: an idyllic park bench, a favorite neighborhood café, our kitchen table with our morning toast.
Lately I prefer journaling in the fresh air. This is almost certainly due to Delta anxiety and general cabin fever, but also because it’s September. September outdoor journaling is particularly special: the month brings with it a crisp chill that does wonders for my creative juices. When I’m not working, I spend most of my time at home working on my novel and listening to the news. The first is a necessary (if overwhelming) escape, the latter a grounding dose (some might say slap) of reality. Both are unhealthy when done in excess. When I let my mind wander I think about what I want to do more of: travel again, read more books, abolish my Instagram, adopt a dog and name it Mafalda, stretch more than once every 3 years. I consider each of these goals, think about the steps it would take to reach them, wonder vaguely whether there's anything I could do now to get started.
Instead, I grab my Traveler’s and go for a walk.
I start at Menagerie Coffee, which is right in front of Omoi and has the honor of being the coffee shop where I once wrote my grad school applications in an overcaffeinated stupor. Today it’s to-go only in order to keep everyone safe. I think about what it will be like in the future where the tables are brought back out and we’ll be able to nurse a coffee for hours like we used to. Maybe I’ll even bring my laptop and finally try for that PhD. The barista and I chat about the weather through the Plexiglas. For the first time in what feels like 3 years, early September is actually showing signs of fall weather. It’s a climate change conundrum. Today’s order is a warm black coffee, to-go, with a sweet treat.
I decide to continue walking down 3rd Street and see where the day takes me. My headphones are streaming Princeton’s WPRB station (iykyk) while I pass by the Olde City mural where Liz always parks before work. Sometimes I forget that I live in one of the mural capitals of the world. I take it for granted that every neighborhood should have at least a third of its buildings covered in bright colorful motifs, and then I go somewhere like Chicago and think “Hang on, why is everything so chrome?”
I cut through the 18th century garden (another thing most cities don't have) and make my way down the block to Repo Records, which is run by a handful of cool young women. Their store sticker is one of my favorite collectibles: it shows a two-headed purple alien, surfing on a stripey sea, screaming its head off. I relate to this image because that is exactly how I would react if someone ever dared to put me on a surfboard. I eye a Nick Cave record longingly for approximately 20 minutes, before I decide I can’t justify the price tag before payday and continue on my way.
A quick stop at Molly’s Books and Records is next, for gently used works of classic literature. Then onto the mannequin-decked storefront of Philly AIDS Thrift, a local treasure, and the place where I bought the animated movie Anastasia on DVD and witnessed a straight couple having a very public break up, all on the same day. You never have a bad time at Philly AIDS Thrift, even if you try.
At this point I’m all over the place in South Philly and itching for a destination point– a North star, if you will. I remember my friend Caroline bombarding my group chat with links about some guy in South Philly setting up a “Shrek Box”: a community library box that’s – you guessed it – inspired by the animated classic “Shrek.” Apparently it started as a lime-green box full of onions, then people started leaving artwork and DVDs and it grew from there. Google lists it as a religious destination in Philadelphia. I scan for a location: 7th and League. Let’s go.
The Shrek Box is everything you think it’ll be: onions, art work, and Shrek-themed paraphernalia, all attentively curated by some guy named Wil. The box is painted with the words From Our Swamp To Yours. I wish I had something to add to it to mark my pilgrimage, but then again, if I did own any Shrek merch I’d probably never let it go. I think about how the first time I watched Shrek in theaters I laughed so hard I almost got sick. They don’t make Counting Crows hits like they used to, I chuckle to myself like I’m an octogenarian mourning the death of the fax. If he ever left his swamp, I think Shrek would have really liked South Philly.
Satisfied with my day, I start heading back up north. I make a pit stop at OX Coffee for another cup of coffee. By this point I’m tired of listening to college radio cat rock so I pull up It’s Been a Minute and listen to Sam Sanders’s interview with Michaela Coel for the fifth time. I feel my skin clear up simply by the sound of her voice. I’m back in Old City and passing Washington Square Park. There’s a free bench not too close to anyone. I realize in all the excitement of the day I haven’t journaled once, but I have collected trinkets of my travels.
I settle down and lay my tote bag flat on my knees. I take out my Traveler’s and fish around for a spare pen. There’s a patch of sky opening up. My coffee is still warm.
Yes. This will do nicely.
Shop items pictured: