I promise a whole book post will be coming your way next week, but the one I am currently reading is Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. I have never read any of her work before, and am so thankful to have finally picked up one of her books. The book is a series of short essays, a selection of her previously published works. There have been some I have skipped through and some I have felt compelled to read twice. One of those was “On Keeping A Notebook”, and I wanted to share it on here because it also felt like a moment of personal exploration that we could all undertake.
The essay, as the title suggests, is about Didon’s relationship with keeping a notebook, and how the notes she has made over the years are so personal they are often even total fiction, a lie about an event in a day, that in turn allows her to recollect the actual day it refers to and so much more - but the key point being; reading her notebook would mean nothing to you or I.
I loved the sentiment so much, and wanted to share a quote that really resonated with me before discussing how this relates to me in terms of how I keep a notebook, and how I think this blog is an extension of this sentiment.
“…But our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable “I”. We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful penées; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.”
This paragraph stood out to me so much. My own method of keeping a notebook is a very practical affair. To do lists, doodles made during distracted phone conversations, outfits ideas and the cost of items for Testing Basics. But still, if you handed me a to-do list I made two years ago, I am confident it would allow me to recall so much of that time. The to-do lists I made at university; check in book at Library, complete footnotes in essay, etc etc. They would bring me back to the smell of the library, the house I lived in at the time, the relationship I was in at the time, the friends that surrounded me then. Within those practical lists there is so much more personal information and thoughts, which exists because the to-do lists I write are so personal to me and I never consider they would see the light of day!
The blog is another level from that. The photos provide another layer of memory, but it is still the words that resonate the most. The blog is, to use Didion’s words ‘patently for public consumption”, but as her memory it triggered by the fictional moments in her notebook, mine is triggered by what I wasn’t sharing at the time. I can read blog posts where I am talking about jeans and remember that at the time, my mind was consumed with a painful relationship, or with the excitement of a blossoming one. Of course I share so much of my life online, but there is always going to be so much we keep within ourselves, that at most leaks into your notebook (or your WhatsApp conversation with your best friend, which is perhaps my modern day notebook above all else!)
What do you guys keep in your notebook? What does reading it trigger to you? I have never kept a diary or a daily journal, but my to-do lists are a version of that. They are often neatly written down, only be surrounded by scrawling handwriting by the end of the day - of added tasks, or something thoughts that need to be organised on a page to give more space in your mind.
To end this, my most enduring memory of keeping a notebook was my Dad. A journalist trained in shorthand, his notebooks were a series of lines, squiggles, dots and dashes - interspersed with the occasional word that gave no aid whatsoever in deciphering what was on that page. As a child I thought this was magical, like a secret code in a notebook that only one person can understand. But now I think, we all do write in our own secret code that means something to us individually, and key is that we keep hold of all the notebooks we fill because they can operate as a certain sort of diary to look over in years to come.