Let’s talk about notebooks, because I like them. When I’m putting down new creative writing, I use a good pen and a discerningly selected notebook. Usually, I’m sitting in a cafe with a black medium coffee. In most cafes I sit by the window, but in my favorite cafes, the kind with thoughts floating around, I’ll sit in a dark corner.
In my notebook I’ll scratch things out in neat lines, and while thinking I’ll doodle in the margins. Mostly the composition dominates my consciousness, but from time to time I grow aware of myself, aware of the sun shafts over the table, aware of the lines bleeding from the nib. I watch as intangible thoughts become a part of my physical history. I don’t know why I am alive, but it has something to do with this.
At some point a notebook passes a threshold of fullness—around three-quarters inked—at which point I take immense pleasure in lifting it, holding it, and flipping through it. Once filled, it joins my collection of notebooks. The notebooks in this collection are full of creation and reflection. Notes from classes have no place here, though God knows I can’t manage to throw that logging truck away either. Some notebooks in the collection are pocket notebooks; I carry one of these at all times on my person. I keep it in my rear pocket, and flip it around day-to-day, so that it doesn’t develop a crease in one direction. I write all sorts of thoughts in these little notebooks. I also jot the definition of every new word I encounter, and I copy quotes from books I read. I feel very proud when, in some public setting, I procure my notebook and pen—these days a TSBI Diamond 580—and jot something down. It reflects how I want people to see me, I suppose. When I realize I have gone an extended time without taking new notes, I know that I am falling off track with who and how I want to be. I know that life has passed swiftly without my consideration or approval.
Several of my pocket notebooks have been Moleskine, a famous brand of small luxury notebooks. The first Moleskine notebooks I used were excellent. It’s difficult to find a notebook of such dimensions and toughness so as to fit in a rear pocket and be sat on comfortably day after day. However, in the past two or three years they have changed the material of the covers to something less fibrous, and they no longer feel as elegant nor last as long. At over $10 for three small notebooks, I no longer buy them. Rather, my notebooking took a turn when I was in Beijing with my friend Sean.
Sean and I were wandering Beijing at dusk in search of a few random icons on our map but really just for the experience of wandering. I wish I could recall our precise location, but we were half-lost at the time anyway. As we neared a body of water, navigating rubble tossed from the hole where a new building was to go, we noticed a concentration of warm light and people. Suddenly we were in an excited shopping district. Mostly the typical souvenirs and bars lined the alley, but a shop of brown caught my eye. I can only compare this to walking into the Legoland store as a child. They sold leatherworks and leather notebooks and the paper to fill them. I bought a leather binding for a medium-sized notebook and a leather binding for a pocket-sized notebook. Then I bought a stack of the beige, non-ruled filler paper. To this day I am working through this paper, and it will be a sad day when I run out.
I trimmed excess leather off the pocket notebook, lined the inside with stiff paper, and stapled the edges for style.
Admittedly, there is something imperfect about notebooks with replaceable pages. They never quite achieve their fulfillment as an Artifact in their own right. The finished product, removed from its casing, lacks the character that my other notebooks have—a finished, bound, aged notebook recalls a distinct time in my life. Compare this filler notebook to this black hardback notebook. Both contain thousands of words of my novel, but one is faceless, and the other time incarnate. There’s eternal pleasure in a dusty old volume, but even more when the time in its figure is so personal—that time was mine.
For this reason my favorite notebooks are the ones that wear down. Look at this “Black n’ Red” notebook I kept during college. The black on the cover faded to reveal the red. The covering on the spine started to come off, but not too much. It’s a beautiful object. And if you compare with this Staples notebook from around the same time, the difference is astounding. The Staples notebook, though of a similar perfect size and a fine notebook, looks as if it were never used. This is no good. A great deal of the pleasure in a thing is the cost of what it took to achieve it.
I am proud of my notebooks. I am proud that I have filled them with words, because they are my words. My notebooks are proof of something—whatever that something is. Cherishing notebooks and writing about them admits a preoccupation with self, perhaps narcissism, but in a way to which I hope you can relate. It’s not so different from the pride I feel after any good work, but the difference is the notebooks’ chronicity, their documentation of my being, my spilled beverages, and the motions of my hand for many hours.