Tuesday, January 4, 2011


I bought a new journal yesterday. I have several notebooks sitting around, in various partially-written-in states, but sometimes, when you need to start over, to pick up a practice that's been dormant, you just need a new notebook.

I have a bit of an obsession with notebooks actually, but normally, I go for cheap ones--notebooks I'm not worried about writing in, notebooks that are large enough to really spread out in, write big (though I like the smallest ruled lines I can find), be messy, write fast. This has always been important to me, a way of getting around the need to be perfect in my journal, and I know this is a thing--I'm hardly alone in this little neurosis. So as picky as I am about the feel and weight of the book, the particular weight and silkiness and color of the paper, the narrowness of the spaces between the lines, the need for lines at all--as picky as I am about all those things, I generally manage to find notebooks that work for just a few dollars.

But yesterday, wandering randomly around Borders, I was drawn to the Moleskine notebooks. This is bizarre not only because they're super expensive compared to what I usually choose, but because I've had a bit of a knee-jerk reaction against them in the past. The damn things are all over the place--they're sort of the the "in" notebook, and frankly, I find the trend vaguely irritating. It's my curmudgeonly side, what can I say?

But there I was, picking up various Moleskine notebooks, and putting them down again, resisting the urge mightily even as I was curious about why the heavy little black book with the creamy pages was calling to me. It took me--no lie--half an hour of touching various books, and then putting them down, and then picking up the other options, and then putting those down--before I could decide.

The one I finally chose is not only more expensive than my usual choices, it's also the size I would normally consider out of the question. It's the iconic 240 page, 5-inch by 8 1/4-inch book, with a hard cover. I finally chose it for a few reasons. First--it's a notebook. Not technically a life-changing or bank-breaking decision. If I'm this drawn to it, it's probably for a reason. And second, it's ultimately a lot cheaper (though less fun) than a trip to London to visit my favorite stationery store, where my very favorite notebooks live. (Though I see now that Muji not only has stores in NYC these days, they also sell stuff online. Oh well.)

So my deal with myself is this: I'm just aiming to fill this book up. I'd like to write every day, and to fill it in a reasonable amount of time. If I scratch out four pages a day, that's two months worth of time to fill the book. I never actually *fill* my notebooks, so that'd be an accomplishment. In the process, of course, my hope is to rekindle a regular practice of keeping a journal.

And there are several things I'm noticing so far as I write in the book. First, I have to admit--this thing is a really great object. I love great objects, and I really love the idea of a journal as an object--as a handmade thing, an art project, rather than some repository for deathless prose. This book feels good, and I like the way the green ink I'm currently using sits on the page. I like the slight curl the pages develop as they're written on. I like the way the book will be fatter when I'm done with it, the way the ink will build up an almost imperceptible layer on each page, giving it depth and dimension.

And I realized, as I wrote in it this morning, that my journal writing these days is tinged with a slight air of frustration, of irritation at my inability to get the words down coherently--at the need to slow my hand down for long enough to capture a thought, when my brain is already racing down the page. My handwriting is worse than ever. And this delights me, frankly. It used to be, at some level, a kind of chore to fill the pages each day, even as I needed the journal to ground me and keep me healthy. Still, each morning, facing an empty page was vaguely intimidating.

But now I've apparently come to a point--almost 16 years into my journal keeping life--where I want to write in it. Not because I think it'll keep me sane (though it will) and I should do it, not because I have anything to say, not because I'm desperate to prove to myself that I'm a writer. But just because my hand craves the motion, because my brain has words to dump out whether they're useful or garbage, and because I like seeing the journal itself develop as an object. I no longer worry what I'll find to write about when I sit down at the page. I no longer question whether there's something to write about. There are always words, and, in my journal, the goal is simply to write them down.

And all these words here, and I think I'm still not fully explaining what I mean. It's something though, about a vital ritual action having become more pure over the years, and more automatic than ever before. About no longer needing the action to result in any payoff in order to act; about the action finally, honestly being its very own payoff. And at the same time, knowing that this new phase of action itself is very likely to open some door I can't even imagine.


  1. "Repository for deathless prose." If our blog weren't already HAMAMA, I think I'd want that title.

    This is such a solid post. I like the bit about your hand craving the motion, and your brain having words to dump out, whether useful or garbage. Just write, my mentor used to say. Write the shit. You have to write it all to write at all, was what he meant.

    And we're back to writing: what a fascinating topic. xox

  2. I love journal writing just like you say---I love the feel of the writing across the page---whether I'm writing something wonderful or junk. It has become very much a ritual for me, and I look forward to it every morning. I like pretty cheap notebooks too, but I'm also very particular---I have this one notebook I always buy at the office supply store. It just feels right. Happy writing!