Inside the right back pocket of my coveralls, the Navy’s working uniform, I carried a small, light-green notebook. This small notebook was an essential item to have with me, especially while on deployment. My superiors expressed its importance and mandated that we carry it. They required us to log every task given to us and daily events we needed to attend. To them, it was important, because it kept us on track and helped establish good management skills. To me, however, the notebook was for more than work. It allowed me to express myself during hard days and good days and to note new experiences and the things I wanted to improve.
On the first page of every notebook I owned, I wrote the stoic Victorian poem “Invictus,” Latin for unconquerable. It was a reminder that, no matter how difficult the day might be, I controlled my life. This became clear to me on my first deployment, as our 55-day stretch at sea in the heat of the Indian Ocean was coming to an end, and land was ahead. The day before we were to moor, our captain unexpectedly gathered us on the flight deck. The news he gave us was unwanted: The Navy had extended our sea time. It would be another month before we would hit our next port. Later, writing in my notebook, letters formed into words, words into sentences, little by little filling the blank spaces between the blue lines. The frustration and anger I felt when I heard the news diminished as I wrote my thoughts down in my small green notebook.
Such unexpected news, like the long workdays and stubborn superiors, was inevitable and beyond my control. How I handled these situations, however, was something completely up to me, and the poem in my notebook reminded me of that. Sometimes, in the final minutes of the day, I would draw pictures of the sunsets that colored the sky purple and orange. On clear nights, when every star glimmered in the sky, I would also draw in my notebook. After every port visit, I made sure to tape one bill of foreign currency into the pages of my notebook. These images and tokens would be future reminders of my travels.
Today, I keep my notebooks locked away in a chest, along with other items from my Navy career. This treasure chest of memories reminds me that although deployments were difficult, they were also an amazing experience I am grateful to have had. I no longer use the military standard green notebook. Now, I use a black book to log what I can do to better myself and to record my daily, monthly, and yearly goals. I write down my plan for the following day, and I make a drawing whenever I see something that catches my eye. My superiors were right, the notebook is important. Today, it’s an essential item I still carry with me.
Adrian Mejia was in the U.S. Navy from 2010-14. He is a senior, majoring in sociology, at UCSB.
This Voice was originally submitted in 2019, and the link was re-posted in 2021.