Notebooks: an essay


First published at Miranda Magazine.

Sitting on the bedroom floor next to the painted old trunk holding a greater number of the Norcom notebooks, are the ones currently in use. Scratches, sketches, doodles and notes to myself adorn the pages.

In one, I practice Spanish: the infinitive funcir means “To frown.” Antonio funcio al leer su nombre. Antonio frowned upon reading his name.

I collect phrases like this and expect that over a period of the next sixty years I’ll be fluent in Spanish. When I speak, I will sound like a native.

I jot down quotes, but forget to add authors I nab them from. Then write reminders of books I need to look for. “Look up Phenomenology of Mind by Hegel.”

I listed books I have not read (and should) and books I have read from the past forty years. When I compare the lists I’m reminded of how little I know.

Another notebook holds an assortment of language clips I’ve found: “The galleries are like souks…” I read over the phone to my daughter. I don’t know what souk means and my dictionary doesn’t list it. She finds it online. An Arabic word meaning a market, or part of a market. I translate: the galleries are like markets.

Notebooks are like open air markets of thought. They hold an array of quotes, incidents and story ideas, that they appear to be a writer’s market for ideas; perhaps an end to writer’s block.

I imagined the first notebook was a clay tablet with cuneiform scratches etched into it, naming the author and telling how many items he sold in the market each day.

Socrates kept a notebook, I think. Though not of the same form we have today, his was a parchment scroll, decorated with huge thoughts and Greek symbols, rolled into a small bundle and tucked under his toga. When I look it up, I find that the first notebooks are made of parchment or papyrus bound codex of ancientRome.

In The Golden Notebook, a novel by Doris Lessing, the protagonist, author, Anna Wulf attempts to bring together the fragments of her life recorded by four notebooks into one golden notebook. Each notebook holds a part of her life: memories ofAfrica, experiences with the communist party, a working out of a novel and memories and dreams of her emotional life. The end result of her working out is a braiding of life experience and for Lessing a best seller considered one of the most influential books ever written.

One of the greatest minds ever, Leonardo da Vinci kept notebooks in which he sketched and wrote about his different inventions. On page one of his published notes, he wrote, “…And how and wherefore I do not describe my method of remaining under water and how long I can remain without eating. And I do not publish nor divulge these, by reason of the evil nature of men, who would use them for assassinations at the bottom of the sea by destroying ships, and sinking them, together with the men in them. Nevertheless I will impart others, which are not dangerous …”

The most favorable use of the notebook is its portability and it comes in a variety of sizes from pocket-sized to briefcase. The Modo Company of Italyboasts that Ernest Hemmingway used the pocket-sized book to write, A Moveable Feast and Exaclair, ofFrance has a webpage dotted with celebrities who use the Clairefontaine notebooks.

My own notebooks have become burdensome, but I can’t bear to leave or burn them as I have in the past. Once, I burned old journals during a cleansing ritual, believing the fire would cleanse my mind of the things I no longer wanted to carry. They would be purged, turned to ash and blown away. Rather than rid myself of the books, the fire burned them brighter into my mind’s eye. What was written, I remember. So now I collect notebooks; careful not to leave any behind as they may haunt me, like curses from the past and burn me with irrevocable words.

I continue to write, filling more notebooks. Spiral bound, seventy pages; black, blue, red, green and purple. If I only fill twelve notebooks each year, in ten years I will have a hundred and twenty more notebooks to carry. And in twenty years there will be two-hundred and forty. As an old woman dedicated to the word until she drops, how will I carry them?

I will not. I will stay.

When I can no longer move them, I will stay and add to the pile each year and warn anyone who comes along to take on the task as a keeper of the notebooks about the curse.

I fill them because I must. I am a writer and the idea that there may be a higher purpose and a thought, word or action that will save the world, unite humanity and inspire a borderless future keeps me writing.

I know how to say I love you in Spanish. Yo te amo. I think this is a good start, but I have two-hundred and thirty-nine more notebooks to go before I’m forced to stay. By then, surely, I’ll have it all figured out.


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