I have measured out my life with moleskine notebooks . . .

and the like.

Gustave Flaubert said it best: “Get black on white.”

That’s all he wrote. Okay, maybe he had a bit more to say, but these are the words by which I’ve lived since I was in kindergarten. Oh, you could say anything you wanted, but it didn’t really count until you’d gotten it down in ink on paper.

All my life I’ve adored writing tablets and pencils, oak tag and markers, newsprint and crayons. Every medium has its surface, and one you’ve gotten your words or your symbols down on that surface, you’ve achieved something magical–this is what I grew up believing, and it’s served me pretty well.  It was true when I was a kid craving the giant box of Crayolas and a new drawing pad for Christmas, and just as true when I was a 21 year old spilling all I knew into the pages of a blue book at exam time, watching the ink from my fountain pen (I was one of those 21 year olds) soak into the cheap paper of the blue book pages as fast as I could get things down, and always, always figuring that she who wrote the most pages won.

Photo by arbitrary.marks flickr site

Photo from arbitrary.marks' flickr site

As long as I can remember I’ve made words come alive by putting them down, not just on paper, but in some kind of bound book: a Blue Horse spiral bound, a black speckled composition book, a moleskine, a middle school diary. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have at least 3 or 4 of these going at once, for different purposes.

This is the part where I confess that, though I’ve been meaning to write about my notebooks for a long time, I was finally goaded to do so by reading about this contest at Black Cover, a wonderful blog about notebooks–Moleskine alternative type notebooks in particular.   Bloggers (there’s a way for non-bloggers to enter, too) can try to win a set of nice little Piccadilly Moleskine alternatives by mentioning the Black Cover blog on your blog, and letting them know you did so. Which I’m shamelessly doing here.  Hurry on over–the deadline to enter is October 30.

Of course I have a Moleskine. Here is a page from my current one–nothing very racy, just an attributed quotation, a little bit of nonsense that was probably supposed to remind me of something, and a quotation I’m afraid I can’t attribute to anyone–something must hav distracted me before I could write it down:

I like a Moleskine with quadratic ruling–it seems to provide one more degree of freedom than a normally-ruled notebook does (“If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.Juan Ramón Jiménez). And I like the way the lines cover the page from top to bottom. Alas, though, my Moleskines have always felt business-like. My current one is full of little bits and bobs like this, lists, notes for work, the odd receipe here and there, a brainstormed list of things we needed to get before we brought home Second Child’s guinea pigs a few years ago.

But no art. No color. No illustrations. Not in mine, anyway.

This notebook, on the other hand, opened up new possibilities. What began as a place to keep a simple day book with lists and phone numbers and a little bit of organization, refused from the beginning to be a quiet little book. Maybe it’s because it’s really a sketch book, with nice, thick, blank pages (no fountain-pen bleed here). And that’s what I had in mind when I bought it  But what started here at the bottom of a page about things I needed to do or buy became, on what I remember as a rather eventful day, became a looser sort of diary. It was, I assure you, quite a day, with a rabid skunk stalking us and our up-the-hill neighbors outside, and an internal moat-in-the-making in the cellar inside as the water heater began to leak. As for the ice and flowers, I confess I don’t remember where I was going with those (on the way where?) but I’m sure the ice and flowers came in handy after the more clearly depicted events.

Then I branched out even more (never mind that I have a perfectly good calendar on my computer) and let the sketch book live out its fantasy to be a day planner:

Clearly, it was fall when I created this rather hectic page (see: scribbled references to a Halloween costume* and the need to get a flu shot). The flying cats were reminders to try to get a cat rescue person in to re-home a litter of lovely stray cats in our garage that First Child had dubbed the Catwings (after the Ursual K. LeGuin series, which we were reading at bedtime). Winter was, after all, icumen in, and we were worried about their survival.**

But the point was that, though I had begun this page-a-day or page-a-week free for all, it was incredibly helpful to be able to have, say, all the notes and phone numbers for the sources for an article I was writing on the same page. And to be reminded at the same time that Mom’s birthday was coming up, the library books were due, turkey was on sale at Big Y, and it was time to write something for the dojo newsletter.

God, I was organized then!

But the purpose of the notebooks was definitely evolving and expanding. Here’s a sneak peak of another book with another purpose, for another time:


* I remember now. First Child was going to trick-or-treat as a teradactyl with a prodigious wing span, but he came down with the flu the morning of the kindergarten Halloween celebration and was only able to participate in about 5 minutes of the class parade before being whisked away to recover in bed. It was a great costume, though.

** The Catwings in our garage, if I remember correctly, more or less re-homed themselves, though we continued to see one or more of them for a year or more.  This was 15 years ago, but just last weekwe spotted a stray cat in our garage (which is a wild and tumbledown place separated from the house by a hundred yards or so). October must be when they start looking for winter shelter.


One response to “I have measured out my life with moleskine notebooks . . .

  1. I love reading about other peoples notebooks and journals. i’ve had written ones all my life, but sketching is coming into them these days too… I’ve never had a ruled one though, I prefer blank pages! 🙂

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