I have a friend who kept a notebook just like she kept her car and her closet. It was a spiral bound notebook with a hard cover. She wrote on the pages but also on every loose bit of paper near her hands: napkins, receipts, orange construction paper, the torn piece of a brown paper bag. She stuffed each piece of paper inside the notebook and kept it all bound together with a rubber band. I envied her notebook because the chaos pointed to mystery and genius.
In a cinderblock college dorm room I thumbed through a beautiful new journal. It had creamy handmade paper that was luscious and perfectly tactile. My friend, who had just received the journal as a gift, said; “It’s so hard to write in a new journal for the first time. I worry that I will mess it up.” I nodded my head, knew exactly what she meant. Her roommate, our friend, looked at us with her wide-awake eyes and said she had no idea what we were talking about. She had a strong artistic voice and her hand didn’t shake when she considered what people might think about her pen-marks. Journals, she knew, are for filling.
When I first kept notebooks I bought large black spiral-bound sketchbooks that they sold for $4.99 at Ocean State Job Lot. I probably filled six to ten of these books with spiky handwriting, line-drawn profiles, and collages. Then I moved from New England to North Carolina. I brought the notebooks with me but they didn’t last long. My English friend who studied science told me that it was good to leave the past behind. In the mental space between one home and another I stacked those notebooks in a black trash bag and threw them away. I still think about whether the dump is a good place to look for other people’s journals.
Now I write in small black softcover notebooks that are stupidly expensive. I have stacks of them. When I’m reporting for the newspaper my handwriting expands into huge looping script and I worry about all of the pages I’m using up. I like that each notebook looks the same and I think about cutting pieces of masking tape for the front; that way I could label each one with its contents. It would be hard to label them. Just this one has directions to an orchard, notes from a newspaper article about gleaning, thoughts about wombs and rivers, and doodles for a logo. Unlabeled they’re mysterious. I remember an idea I had once and I flip through each notebook, meandering between the folds of my mind as it once was.