A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine gave me a pair of leather-bound notebooks. “You’re a journal writer, right?” I had to think about it for a second before offering a tentative “yes,” since I’m a journal writer more in concept than in practice. I’m far more likely to watch a film or read a story about a journal writer than to actually sit down, crack open a new page, and put my pen to paper (or fingers to keypad, as it were) nowadays, such is the procrastination, lethargy, and outright dissipation that can dominate my existence.
But still, I accepted those notebooks, as if in appreciation that my friend still thinks of me as a writerly type in desperate need of two notebooks that need filling with words. I suppose I could fill them with drawings of stick figures or checklists for home improvement projects that are slated for FY 2017, but I think either would be an insult to the Italian leather affixed to their covers. They’re the type of books you’re meant to scrawl in, deliberately, while smoking some vile “Indian” weed beneath an ancient oak overlooking the Potomac. Who am I to deny their true purpose?
When I brought them home, though, I realized why I should have followed my initial impulse and refused them. No sooner had a dropped them onto the side table next to my couch – the place where things that have no place go on to lead long, undisturbed lives under blankets of dust – than I noticed another notebook boasting a smiling, ’60s-era visage of Captain James T. Kirk. What a cad. That notebook was a birthday gift from my good friends Chris and Jenny. (“Don’t get too excited,” they said, before they gave it to me, perhaps because there was a “Clearance” sticker on its cover, but perhaps more so because they knew the book would be utterly useless to me.) Now don’t get me wrong: I have managed to scratch some heartfelt prose into the strange grid-pattern that adorns those pages – along with quotes and images from the original Star Trek series! – but it’s at best one-third full five years after receiving it.
And it’s not alone, either.
I have a spiral bound notebook, from China (yes, yes – isn’t everything?), that my friend Megan gave to me. This, she figured, was the perfect container for any musings and discoveries I wished to memorialize during my trip to China in 2003. What a lovely thought! But that book is empty, still wrapped in cellophane and in possession of its new pulpy scent. Beneath it, on another shelf, is a dime store sheaf with long-hand observations from my South Korean vacation and an outline for my journey in Ireland. I couldn’t even bother to document that one in real time – I remember jotting off a list of what I’d seen, done, and thought about as we boarded the plane home. I’ve reviewed that list recently and, let me assure you, those words (Liffey, U2 Wall, Kitchen Bar, blackberries, Gap of Dunloe, roses, jaunting cars, Ring of Kerry) trigger about as many memories as a mystery wound does after a hard night of drinking. You get questions, sure, but there are no answers to be found…
I have pocket-sized notebooks – eleven of them at last count – that I carry around in case a brilliant idea strikes me while I’m in the loo or driving my car. One of them is so old that my friend, Rob, once drew a rendering of a Palm Pilot on its back cover. “I don’t need that shit,” I thought, as if the little PDA that everyone was carrying around at the time was somehow uncivilized and beneath me. Writers write with ink! It was always thus; thus it will always be! But in 2011, enthralled by the concept of location awareness, I changed my tune and bought an iPhone… as well as another three-pack of Moleskine notebooks, just in case. To go with the other other five Moleskines I have. None of these, mind you, are even half-full. I have one for my work bag, one for the junk drawer in the kitchen, one for each of my three winter coats, one for my nightstand, one for my glove box, and three, it seems, for the side table where notebooks become monuments to potential erudition.
Oh, and there’s one more – the “composition” notebook I purchased after getting laid off from Discovery in 2011. My intention was to write two pages (front and back, nigglers) a day until I reached the end, then set the book aside for a couple of months before coming back to mine it for nuggets of truth that I couldn’t see in the moment. You know, so I could figure out what the hell to do with my life. I even put an inscription on the cover: “Do not open until August 8.” I didn’t pull this date out of the sky. It comes from a scientific formula:
(Date of Layoff (April 19)) + ((100 pages/2 pages a day = 50 days) = June 8) + (60 days) = August 8
I got as far as May 7. I gave up on my future, apparently, on May 8. And now I’m working again and still doing IT project management. I never did go back to check on the nuggets that the author of The Artist’s Way promised would be there if I followed her program. For all I know, I would have discovered that I want to be a trapeze school instructor or anarchist. Nihilism, alas, has never come easily to me…
If I bothered to add it all up, I’d find that I have literally thousands of blank pieces of paper in my apartment, all available to capture my next great thought. But the thoughts don’t come, at least not with frequency enough to justify the mass of pages in my life. It’s as though I’ve bought Costco out of all of its toilet paper on the odd chance that my next New Year’s Eve party will boast 200 guests and go on for 18 months straight. I suppose it could possibly occur – in dissolute Hollywood circles, probably – but no sane person would bother with the stockpile. The odds are against us.