I keep a notebook for my ideas of what to write. Actually, I keep notebooks (plural), virtual (Evernote) and physical. Fragments of what I write rest in so many places. I cannot corral my words even when I try too.
None of my notebooks are even close to full. Blank pages dominate my frenetic handwriting. Each notebook represents different moments in my life as a writer. They are evidence of my contradictions, my successes, and my failures.
There’s a black and white floral one that had plans for chapter five of my dissertation. I’m unsure whether I followed these plans. There’s a magenta notebook that feels like it is made of suede. It is not.
There are many black notebooks. One of which I cannot bring myself to open because I’m afraid of what I will find. That one is an anguished journal, in which I try to make sense of where I am at and where I have been. There are previous selves that I am not quite ready to encounter (again). There are moments I am not proud of.
At least one is repurposed. It is small and spiral-bound. The cover is green and brown. “Wine” is hastily written on the cover. Years ago, I thought I would get into wine because people I knew were into wine. I decided to document my favorites and their tasting notes. I quickly discovered that I don’t like wine that much. I feel outclassed by wine drinkers, and my tasting notes are shit. I ripped out the wine pages with much prejudice. Now, that notebook contains my thoughts on Joan Didion’s essays on self-respect and others from Slouching Toward Bethlehem, possible columns for Sexism Ed, and some colorful drawings by my daughter. Since I wrote in the notebook, she did too. A purple whale and a pink snake rest between my jottings on kindness and my summaries of episodes of The Leftovers. Writing and motherhood intermingle. Her whale makes me smile every time I thumb through that notebook.
My favorite notebook is a leather-bound journal from my sister. An intricate floral pattern graces the left side, and it closes with a snap. I love the sound of opening and closing it. The sharp snap brings peace. She bought the journal for me in 2012 before I left academia. She wanted me to focus more on my writing, and she thought the journal would help. The price of admission is scrawled in the front cover; all she wants is the dedication for the zombie manuscript. I’ll have to remind her that I didn’t actually agree to the terms.
My first entry is the most painful. In blue ink, I wrote, “I hate the job market for making me feel like a loser.” This was a particularly desperate moment. It was becoming clear that I once again would not be getting a tenure-track job. I hated myself. I hated the job market. My sister wanted me to put “pen to paper” as a method to cope. My hopefulness about writing as a way to regain my confidence is clear. I thought that writing might heal me and make me whole again. Little did I know, how true that would turn out to be.
Unsurprisingly, most of my notes in my leather journal are about zombies. I pour over theses early sketches of my project desperately as if my research questions, then, can tell me something about my research project now. I see how wrapped up I was in one idea of what the manuscript might be. I have discarded that idea. Now, I’m faced with a different beast. These are my archives of a project. I don’t know what to do with them. I read them again and again looking for guidance.
What you should know is that I am a haphazard note taker. I’ve attempt to always carry a notebook, and I never manage too. I leave my poor notebooks behind. I have ideas that appear and disappear before I ever write them down. I try to be more mindful about my writing. I always disappoint myself.
Yet, the notebooks also save me. I write out my thoughts, analysis, and often pain by hand. Typing can feel too detached. Too mechanical. Too distant. I dwell in the slow process of handwriting notes. I process my analysis more carefully. I work to control my emotions word by word. I write down the words to let them go.
Often, I rediscover what I’ve written in my notebooks. I polish them and send those words out into the world. They become the starting point to something worthwhile. Some pieces go into my notebooks to die. I’m done with them after a paragraph or two. Writing them gave me peace, which is what I needed. We leave a lot behind in our movement forward; my notebooks bear witness to this truth.