(revised from an earlier, secret, blog)
I hate this notebook. It’s fat, almost 2 inches thick. A little brown brick of paper and temptingly leathery binding material. The first time I saw it in a big chain bookstore, in the self-indulgent “Journals & Blank Books” aisle, the price was marked at $10. Our baby was new and we weren’t spending much on ourselves since I was staying home–with no salary–to look after her; I fondled the notebook, and thought, you could travel months without having to buy a new journal, you could go and go and go, if you had THIS. 500 pages! Cool quadrille, like the paper my German friends cover with their spidery handwriting. Never mind that I wasn’t going on any solo trips any time soon, and hardly had the chance to take a shower or comb my hair, let alone write 500 pages. The most writing I had managed so far—and I felt gleeful about that–was sending emails with the baby on my shoulder.
Several years later, when the baby had become a child, I spied the same notebook, this time wrapped in cellophane, in another big chain bookstore, in another state far away; I thought, ok, this will be my souvenir from this road trip–notebooks often are, along with a couple of postcards I buy to keep for myself. My long-held desire for a child had been fulfilled, and I bought the brick full of other big desires: to write all the time, to set down all the things I hadn’t taken the time to (did I have the time?) when my girl was a toddler. I thought, I’ll scribble and scribble and catch up. It will hold lots, I’ll carry it everywhere…
But The Notebook, my brick, feels like it weighs about five pounds, and its dense, rounded, just-above-handbook size is a factor of its tumbling off your lap, out of your tote bag, and of its generally taxing waywardness. I have wished many a time that I was a bigger, stronger, wider-shouldered person, all so I could use this notebook with ease and happiness. I had just spent a couple of years lugging around a roly-poly baby who demanded to be held all the time; I could wrangle an 18 lb deaf cat into its hated pet taxi. But this notebook was going to break my back, because I wanted to have it with me all the time, everywhere. So I could become the Herculean writer I wanted to be. At the beginning (and now, at the end, with only 8 pages to go), when you open the notebook, one side is thin and wimpy; you have to rest the remaining right-hand pages on another book to write on them. In the middle of the journal (and oh what it takes to get there in one of these stubby contenders!), it won’t lay open. It wants to close up sluggishly, mid-thought, like a brainless sea creature whose nerves are set off by drifting oceanic chemicals you can’t see.
Writing a LOT had been the initial idea with The Notebook, and cramming it, being economical with paper and copious with words. When I began writing in it, I used each and every quadrille line and made myself a little blinder than I already am. Then the light bulb went off and I began to skip a line, but I felt like a lavish and wasteful Big Capitalist, sure to be swallowed up when the earth turns in on itself like a dried stoneless peach. (Where would thrifty recyclers, among whom the Aristotelian ideal of my soul dwells, be? Sitting up there on the branches of the heavenly tree Yggdrasil looking down at me in their long, natural, green-cotton robes? They would be barefoot of course, but their feet would be CLEAN.)
The brick notebook is filled now. That feels strange to say. It happened only a few days ago, in the interstices of the cataclysms of our moderately sized emotional world: we finally decided to go abroad as a family, finally decided to get our little house painted to sell (we are do-it-yourselvers very reluctantly giving in to the realities of jobs dominating our lives and to our limited physical capacities), and monitored Hurricane Gustav as it passed over my parents’ Louisiana home. I kept writing in the margins of the brick’s filled pages, trying to make sure it was “complete”. How could it be? It wasn’t a novel with a beginning, middle and end. I at least wanted to write R. I. P. or Om at the end. It just filled up, sitting on my big cluttered desk, like a stomach filling up with odds and ends rather than with one hefty meal. Then the nervous ritual of searching for a new notebook to continue in began. I decided it wouldn’t be a fancy new one, because writing is what I do every day and I didn’t want to encourage myself to be arch or prim or special about it. I found a simple spiral school-supply notebook in my desk drawer at work, and put it in a macho black executive-looking cover to disguise it for day-job purposes. Only a few entries in it so far, but one includes the words “this is the right kind of notebook to have–flat and wide”.