On Keeping a Notebook (Part I: Obsessions)
I've been talking paper with my dear friend S. over on the west coast. Especially planners, and just how the hell do put one to work properly. I'm not sure why, but the Internet is in love with what was once considered a freak obsession of mine: journals, notebooks, stickers, pens, and - even more stranger - colored tape. This used to be the stuff of my middle school years, when my room was bursting with Lisa Frank stickers, scented pens, and those little diaries that with cheap metal locks. My obsession started with Harriet the Spy, who became ostracized by her friends because she kept meticulous and less-than-kind notes on everyone in her life.* I saw something romantic in carrying a notebook with me everywhere I went, although at the time, I hadn't the slightest clue what to put in it. The Indiana Jones movies fed that obsession, after seeing Indiana's father's beautiful leather journal, full of detailed drawings of things long dead and buried. There was a secret world here, and I wanted to be part of it. Pressed flowers. Ticket stubs. Coffee stains. Intricate drawings. I think, at the time, I thought of it as some sort of rite of passage into adulthood, whispering secrets into a notebook.
It was until between the end of high school and my freshman year of college that I started to keep a journal on a regular basis. Moleskines were the darling at that time, so it was the first real notebook that I bought myself. It was an artist sketchbook, full of thick, cream-colored paper. Like cardstock. I glued a contact sheet from photography class onto it and filled it with collages and paragraphs about boys and how much I hated art school. There's old polaroids, too. Tea bag pouches. A piece of a cigarette carton. Ephemera that belonged in the trash, really, but I'm glad I thought to keep it. If nothing else, it illustrated my blooming obsession with paper hoarding.
My journals weren't quite this vivid after this. My second journal - a lined Moleskine - is mostly writing, with a few polaroids and drawings tossed in. A lot of lists. A lot of Tool lyrics. Around this time I had also discovered Buddhism, and quoted extensively from newer Buddhist teachers like Brad Warner and Noah Levine. There was still the usual stream of bitching and moaning over boys, too. That had died down by my third volume, when I met my husband in 2012. My journals got more pensive. Less art. Less scrappiness. A lot more self-doubt. My sense of purposelessness threatening to swallow me whole. My handwriting got tighter. Then it got looser again. Harder to read. And always in cursive. I couldn't abide writing in print. It was hard enough to keep up with the stream of babbling coming from my little monkey mind in cursive; it was impossible when printing. My journals, if you opened them up and lined them up, serve as visual timeline; the quality of my handwriting, the existence or absence of art... it all told a story. You can see where I lost my sense of creativity when I stopped drawing. When I stopped giving a shit and just felt compelled to write like I was possessed, when my handwriting turned into large strings of loops. You could watch one girl in the Midwest trying to grow into her skin, skimming these notebooks. And that's why I've keep them all these years, to serve as my own litmus test. Where have I come from? Where am I going? The records of my past have reinforced the Buddhist notion that the past doesn't exist, and that I'm dying every moment. I barely remember being the girl in that first journal written 13 years ago. I'm not entirely convinced that it was me who even wrote them.
My journals have become considerably less dramatic since then. I've also given up on Moleskines, trading them in for Paperblank's behemoth reproductions of old leather tooled hardbacks. They've become pensive, contemplative. There's almost no drawings, now. Most of my writing focuses on my inner world, and the only time I bother to look outwards is when I'm reflecting on my daughter (she consumed so much of my energy and thoughts nowadays. There's weak attempts at poetry, and a lot of self-effacement when I remember all those poems I wrote when I was younger and never saved. I try to write on a regular basis; I was far more lackadaisical in college. It's mostly to instill some discipline (something that one does not immediately earn upon turning 30, I was dismayed to learn). The pile stands 6-7 notebooks high now, and I aspire to fill a bank vault with them ala Anais Nin. Although, in reality, I'll probably write in my will to have them burned by someone who won't have a reason to be emotionally invested in the contents. After all, my journal is my one true confidant in this world. When going to a therapist started to get too expensive, my journal is where I went to. Pissed off at my husband? Half-tempted to lock my then-4-month-old baby away in her nursery because I couldn't cope with the lack of sleep and the constant crying? I always ran to my journal. There's a lot of stuff in these notebooks that must never see the light of day, even after I die.
Fuck, was there a point to any of this? Yes. Maybe. My point is, if anyone knows anything about keeping a notebook, journal, whatever, well... it's probably me. I was going to actually get around to giving some tips and advice on how to actually keep a notebook, but you see where that went. This has been mostly the why of it. It's largely fueled by the streaks of obsessiveness, perfectionism and compulsiveness that runs in my blood. I think that goes for anyone who has been keeping a notebook of any kind. It's why I don't believe that anyone can become a diarist. It's a hobby and habit fueled by certain personality traits, and if you haven't started yet, you probably never will.
I know, I know. "Fuck you, Jenny, I'll keep a journal if I want to". So I'll follow up on how to actually do it, I promise. But the baby is finally in bed, and I could really use a hot bath and some quiet time to read (Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness by Bhante Gunaratana, if anyone out there in the 'Verse cares).
Good night. May you be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm to come you, and you always meet with success.
* I'm now going to school to become a therapist, which is the same thing, only with the expectation that one must fix the less-than-kind things in the people once one is done with the notetaking.