Fine Print

Wishing you a Happy Robbie Burns Day.

I noticed a call for submissions in a recent school newsletter for a poetry competition in celebration of Robbie Burns Night. First Prize will be awarded $200 which was motivation enough for me. Staring at the thumbnail portrait of Mr. Burns I thought two things – this is quite a niche poetry competition and would being a descendant of a MacDonald from New Glasgow, Nova Scotia be considered Scottish enough to take up this challenge?

I spent a very nice Sunday afternoon listening to highland reels on Spotify and studying Robbie’s poetry, his style and stanzas, his subject matter, and his many love interests. More than 50 of his poems were written in the Burns stanza which is written in AAABAB style with A lines having 6 syllables and B lines containing 4 syllables. After a few hours and drafts I finished with what I thought was a fair attempt at honouring Robbie’s legacy and influence on Scottish arts, poetry, and Scottish nationalism.

After feeling quite content with the final product and receiving positive feedback from my lovely and patient family and friends, I did a quick search for the top three poems from last year’s competition to make sure all our poems about Robbie Burns and Scotland weren’t too similar!

Well to my surprise — it was just a regular poetry competition! And none of the past winners, not one, was about Scottish nationalism and republicanism.

But alas, I was already finished and am too stubborn to backtrack. And so, I present my entry, in Robbie’s honour. Wish me luck 🙂

“Home Rule”
By: Maggie de Barra

A toast upon a distant shore,
To honour those who’ve gone before,
To hear the Rampant Lion’s roar,
Over the lea.
As one, we mourn, for we want more,
Our liberty.

Beneath a howling wind, we’re numb,
To recognize the distant drum,
And hear within, our own heart’s thrum.
Sweet victory,
She calls to us, to claim freedom,
Our sovereignty.

A gift so fine, your words, we heard,
A moment where a nation stirred,
Together now, a debt incurred,
Our solemn plea,
To stand alone, onwards now spurred,
We do decree:

We’re strong as warp in Gretna Green,
And Thistle sharp in Aberdeen,
A call to all clans in between,
Rise up from your knee.
We serve no foreign king nor queen,
For Scotland is free.

Update January 26, 2022: I’m pleased to say this won Best Public Policy Policy Poem last night and I will be adding prize winning poet to my twitter bio, linkedin, and resume.


The New Journal: Leuchtturm1917 Review

“Details make all the difference.”

Leuchtturm 1917 Journal Review | Paper Clips by Maggie de Barra

New year, new agenda, and a new journal. This is always one of my favourite things. Unwrapping a new journal and getting to set all my hopes and dreams on the possibility of these blank pages.

I have been keeping a journal since I was 13 years old. I am currently finishing up Volume 27, a large, hard cover, lined Moleskine journal started on November 17, 2014 and which holds one of the most topsy-turvy years of my life. Keeping a journal is easy enough as long as you have some good paper and a decent pen. I bought a pack of Uni-Ball roller pens a while ago and have been working through them. They write very well and seem to last forever.

Volume 28 is something new. A soft cover, lined Leuchtturm1917 notebook. This is my first Leuchtturm notebook and I picked it up from DeSerres for about $20.00. It’s a little wider than the Moleskine notebooks and agendas but the height is the same. The cover is soft like my agendas and about the same thickness. It’s 121 pages, noted at the bottom right which is very convenient. It also has a table of contents at the front. It is black bound, with an elastic to keep it closed and a ribbon bookmark just like the Moleskines. So yes, it is new and different but it’s exactly the style I know and love.

I was hesitant to get another Moleskine again because they have so many pages and it takes me about a year to run through it. I was looking for something less permanent but I didn’t want to sacrifice on quality. I have tried the Moleskine Volants and Cahiers before, which I really love, but I didn’t want to rest on my laurels.

Moleskine Agenda | Paper Clips by Maggie de Barra

I have been reading a lot about a weird trend called Bullet Journalling which is a style used by people who have entirely too much time on their hands. Basically they take a journal with a dotted page layout and then they take a pen and a ruler and mark it up to the high heavens. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it and it just seems chaotic to me. I think I have everything I need using my agenda and my journal in tandem, and I just don’t get why you would want to spend so much time creating and drawing your own layouts when journals and agendas, especially my favourite Moleskine agendas, already have such a good system of layouts: monthly and weekly pages plus they have lines on the right pages for lists and notes. Why re-invent the wheel?

And so, I have a new journal and a new agenda and all is right in the world. Here’s to Volume 28, and counting.

The Joys of a New Journal

Full Disclosure: If we’ve ever spoken, I’ve written about you in my journal.


I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words…

I finished another journal. A pretty thing, embossed with Tudor Roses and gilt pages, purchased from a museum gift shop in Washington. It was bigger than what I’m used to, but it fit in my purse and was mostly discreet at coffee shops.

I had purchased the successor a few weeks ago. I like to keep the spare around in case I fall into a spell and run though the last pages faster than anticipated. Is there anything worse than having a mind raging with things to write and no journal nearby? Or maybe having a notebook, but no good pens?

I have found that buying a new journal before the old one is finished is a bit like declaring the heir before the reigning monarch has died. Your hopes and dreams turn to the novelty. In the past, I’ve found myself wasting pages full of nonsense just so I can move onto the next.

I have been keeping a journal since December 21, 2001. Nearly 13 years! Almost half of my life!! Save for a few months here and there, I have mostly recorded every day of those 13 years in one way or another. Journaling is a tool that I use to achieve all the “selfs” I was talking about.

I keep a diligent agenda, the Moleskin Weekly Notebook has been my favourite for the past 6 years or so, where I keep a detailed record of the day-to-day goings on: my work hours, funny things that happen throughout the day, what I make for dinner, noting mood extremes either happy or sad, time spent with friends and family, and my gym schedule. Basically, all the facts.

This may seem excessive to some, but I’ve been doing it for so long it is just a part of who I am: constantly taking notes, making plans, scheduling ahead. If I don’t get through my thoughts as I write in my journal during the day, once a week or so, usually on Sunday, I’ll pull out my agenda and transfer in the details of the week with expanded thoughts or comments. I had taken to calling it my double journal system- the agenda and journal working in tandem. Using these two books, I can basically track every day of the last 5-6 years in great detail.

I have a big box stuffed with my old journals. Too many to count now. This box would be the first thing I grab in a fire. It is my life’s work, my legacy, and my greatest accomplishment, thus far. Self-indulgent and narcissistic, maybe. Therapeutic, calming, and essential for good spirits, definitely.

This is how I keep track of my feelings, loves, dreams, fears, big thoughts, and plans. It is one of my dearest friends. Within those pages I can be honest about everything I’m thinking and feeling. I don’t hold anything back. I have thoughts and feelings for a reason, and I think it would be a disservice to suppress them, so I explore them fully.

Logistically, the best time for me to write is at lunch. With a coffee, and a good pen, sometimes earplugs, I can get about 30 minutes in during the day. Sometimes over the weekend I’ll have a marathon session and hammer out pages for hours. Sometimes I’ll take breaks… circling back to tackle an issue or a tricky problem.

If I don’t write for a few days, and I have my agenda building up a list of bullet points to address, I get stressed. I imagine it’s like being an addict, I actually crave writing in my journal. Sometimes, when I purposely avoid writing, it’s because I have an issue that I’m trying to avoid. I don’t want to write because I know I’ll have to confront it. Those are usually the times when I need to write the most.

My greatest wish would be to one day publish these journals. I see the paradox here. While, yes, I am writing for myself, I do write with the understanding that one day these may be read by others. Millions of others? Perhaps. When Anne Frank heard on the radio that journals and letters were being collected for the historical record, she began to edit her work and started to revise for the purpose of publishing. She was writing on a small-scale, but with the bigger picture in mind.

The Joys of a New Journal | Paper Clips by Maggie de Barra

While I would love it if the things I wrote entertained or inspired people, I don’t know if anyone but myself would find it relevant or worthwhile. I’m sure it will need to be many years from now to soften the blow to my friends and family. FULL DISCLOSURE: If we’ve ever spoken, I’ve written about you in my journal. Some more than others.

I do have more to say on my favourite topic, but with this, I’ll let you go. Wishing you many happy hours of self-exploration and insight through journal writing.

Remember, the unexamined life is not worth living!

The Joys of a New Journal first appeared on Paper Clips by Maggie de Barra.