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equal and opposite forces

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destruction and creation between two covers

As college students, we often feel the need to fill each day with activities we deem “productive.” Classes. Meetings. Studying. Exercise. Rehearsals. Practice. We always anticipate what’s coming next—the upcoming time block on our calendars.

I’m one of those students. I get antsy whenever I have a free 15 minutes before class, scanning my to-do list for something I could quickly accomplish in that time. During a casual lunch with a friend, my mind shifts away from our discussion and focuses on everything else I could be doing with my time. I start feeling guilty, even when I try my best to immerse myself in conversation.

Being fully there in the moment takes more mental effort than any project or assignment. It’s hard. What’s missing from our agendas is a reminder to breathe. To enjoy life. To stop taking ourselves so seriously.

“Wreck this Journal” by Keri Smith provides us with an escape. Smith’s inventive do-it-yourself journal is filled with instructions on how to destruct and deface the book. My first thought was, “What’s the point of spending 15 dollars on a book if you’re just going to slowly destroy it?” But the mysterious cover and intriguing premise won me over. I decided it would be the perfect birthday gift for a friend, but a few months later, I decided to purchase a copy for myself. I soon learned that Smith’s journal is a lot more than just a quirky idea designed as a conversation starter at the coffee table. She challenges us to let go of our hectic and driven college-student personas and instead embrace the silly and creative sides of ourselves.

When I first started the book, I was still stuck in my typical organized and methodical ways. I carefully wrote with my best handwriting and used a bookmark to keep track of my progress, even though Smith advises us to finish the pages in no particular order. I knew that eventually the journal would turn into a mess, with instructions such as “rub here with dirt” and “place sticky things here.” However, I wanted it to be an organized mess, like everything else in my life. I wanted rules and restrictions to feel comfortable.

The greatest issue with that mindset is that life is often chaotic and unpredictable. Keri Smith knows this and applies this principle to every one of her books, all various guided journals that foster inventiveness. I realized that my personal need to feel in control was actually hindering my creativity. With time, I learned how to just let go and allow the journal to guide me. “Wreck this Journal” never fails to surprise the user (the word “reader” doesn’t really apply here). Some pages shock us, some make us laugh, and some leave us thinking, “I can’t believe somebody actually came up with this.” Smith dares us to test the limits of our comfort zones and embrace what feels awkward and uncomfortable.

Despite what the title suggests, “Wreck this Journal” doesn’t only contain guidelines for damage. The “page of good thoughts” and “space for negative comments” provoke self-reflection. Smith gives us a small nudge to contemplate everything that makes us smile along with everything else that doesn’t. The user has all the freedom to interpret the meaning of “good thoughts,” instead of some didactic question like “What are you grateful for?” These personal and thought-provoking pages are scattered throughout the journal in the subtlest manner, so the user never feels forced to soul-search in the typical self-help book manner. Perhaps “Wreck this Journal” could be viewed as a self-help book in disguise.

My personal favorite line of the book? “Give away your favorite page.” So much of life is spent holding onto material items we find valuable. We collect objects of worth and significance, often assigning our own importance through these physical goods. But what if we decided to give it all away? Transferring our favorite page in a book to someone else doesn’t have to be seen as a loss. Instead, we are actively engaging in a deed of giving, which passes on our enjoyment to others.

Our society promotes over-working and applauds those who go to extreme means to earn accomplishments. Talking about how many hours we spent at the library quickly turns into a competition. We brag about pulling all-nighters. Complaining about how busy we are is just normal conversation. Through “Wreck this Journal,” Keri Smith pushes us to question societal norms and welcome the weird and embarrassing elements of life. She conveys that destruction possesses the ability to manifest itself as a form of creation. Simply by wrecking a journal, we can become friends with strangers, let out our feelings by creating a mess, and remove ourselves from worry and stress. “Wreck this Journal” presents us with an unconventional form of therapy—a creative outlet for expression.