Earlier this week, I believed I’d lost three major things this year: the earrings my husband gave me when Boo was born nine years ago; my camera which contained photos from our latest Disney trip and Boo and Critter’s Christmas Program at school; and my purple notebook. I was sad about all three losses, and most of all crazed because I. Don’t. Lose. Things. I don’t always know where they are, but I am always confident they will be found. I was confident I’d find the earrings when we returned from our cruise in November, and the fact they still haven’t turned up shook my confidence a bit, I think, so that when I couldn’t find the camera or the notebook I thought they were gone forever, too. The camera, it turned out, was at my father-in-law’s house. The notebook was under the jump seat cushion in my van. My husband found it when he was looking for Critter’s new Kindle. The relief and joy I felt when he found that notebook was indescribable. I know I wasn’t as overjoyed when the camera turned up. I don’t even think I would have been as ecstatic if he found the earrings. Finding the notebook was THE perfect end to 2012. It was like I’d been reunited with a part of my soul.
I posted about it on Facebook, and figured that someone would ask, “What is it with you and that notebook?” Because, really, it’s essentially a big bound pile of paper. Yet it was more valuable to me than the diamond earrings and the camera. I figured most of my online friends would be all “WTF?” But instead, the post got 41 likes. FORTY-ONE. I don’t think I’ve had that many likes on a post EVER. I mean, some of my posts go viral with comments (mostly because my friends C. and L. I LOVE to chat within posts) but to get 41 likes . . . that’s a whole lot. And what I realized in seeing that number is that, clearly, 1/7th of my friends totally get me–even if I don’t always get myself.
Because, back with the notebook by my side, I was able to think again, and what I started to think, of course, is what is it with me and the notebook? Why was this item more important to me than the others I’d lost (or thought I’d lost)? And the answer: I was at the end of that notebook. I’d been using it since November of 2011. That notebook held more than a whole year of my life. Granted, some of the stuff was crap: to-do lists; notes from meetings I’d taken just to keep myself awake (yeah, when I’m at a meeting don’t think that I’m writing things down because I’m oh-so-attentive; it’s a strategy I developed in high school to keep me from nodding off–try to write down as much of what the teacher is saying as I can); doodles; ripped pages from when I needed a place to spit my gum. But most of it was absolutely irreplaceable. And even if it wasn’t, the very fact that I wouldn’t HAVE the notebook would have left a hole in my bookshelf that would always be full of its own absence.
You see, I’ve kept every notebook I’ve ever had since the 1990’s. Some have more than a year of stuff in them, particularly notebooks that I used while I was in college or grad school, because the notebooks I used for my college class notes aren’t included in my shelf of notebooks. They’re in what I call my “big bin of brilliance”–the place where I keep all my academic stuff that I never really look at any more. My notebooks are kept on a bookshelf, and I revisit them from time to time for inspiration: to see what I was thinking, dreaming, hoping, loving, losing, creating. There’s an entire notebook full of ideas for unwritten romance novels–yes the smutty ones. There’s one full of poetry written the year of my grandfather’s death. There’s a lot of joy in the one I used while planning my wedding, and a lot of cattiness, too. It’s definitely not one I would want anyone to get a hold of. I’m not proud of the person I am in that journal. I keep it to remind me of the person I don’t ever want to be again. But the one that wins the award for craziness is the one I used while writing my dissertation. That one is kind of unusual in that it’s HUGE, and the cover of one side is a beautiful blue and the other side is pitch black. The black side has all my dissertation stuff. The purple side has all my teaching stuff. It was clear, then, where my joy resided. The purple side is decorated with rainbows and unicorns. The black side is decorated with white stickers with a variety of inspirational sayings like, “The only way to fail is to quit,” and “It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be done.” Anything to get me through the day.
Then there are “the pregnancy notebooks,” where I wrote notes to the unborn children. The one I was writing before I miscarried my first child is particularly heartbreaking only in comparison to the ones I wrote for Boo and Critter. The first one is so unguarded, just pours out everything I was thinking for about ten weeks and then just . . stops. It’s full of blank pages. I just couldn’t bring myself to write in that book again, much the same way I could never again bring myself to wear the clothes I wore to the doctor’s appointment where we saw the baby with no heartbeat. Boo and Critter’s notebooks, in comparison, are full to brimming. But they’re not so open. They’re more reserved. I don’t pour myself into them. I keep myself back, just a little, and I know now it was because I knew I couldn’t ever trust in the inevitable existence of the reader again. Once they were born the entries get a little more confident, a little less reserved . . . but then they pick up the reserve of a woman who maybe does not want her thirteen year old child knowing that she would have given her left leg if it meant the kid would just STOP CRYING FOR FIVE MINUTES. There are some things kids never really need to know their parents were thinking.
My most recent notebook, though, is not like any of these. I had tried something new. The notebook was divided into sections by color. There were a certain number of blue-trimmed pages, then red, gray, light green, purple, and blue-green. Blue was supposed to be for to-do lists. Red was supposed to be about teaching. Gray was for Homeroom Parent Coordinator stuff and volunteering. Green was, of course, for Girl Scouts. Purple for church stuff. And blue was for kids’ doodles because I would on occasion give them my notebook to write in when I was doing something and I didn’t want them scribbling over something important.
I can tell you that system worked about as well as trying to keep ten tomcats in a burlap sack. From the first month it was pretty clear I couldn’t remember which section was which. Then I skipped pages. Then I wrote on things upside down. Then the kids wrote in the purple section. And I have Girl Scout notes in gray. And church notes in blue. So, finally I gave up, turned to the blue section and just started using consecutive pages to make notes, which I should have done from the beginning. Because as it turns out, I am not a divided person. I am an integrated person. I cannot chop myself up into my little tasks and keep them clearly defined unless they’re things as distinct as research and teaching. I am one, big, giant, clump of mess. And to be quite honest, I like that about myself, that I am one big undivided package.
As I was thinking about my notebook and my inability to segment myself, I remembered reading a book by Doris Lessing called The Golden Notebook. I freaking hated that book. I mean, I LOATHED it. I had to read it for a Women in Literature class during my sophomore year in college. It was about a woman writer who split herself into four different notebooks, but at the end was able to integrate herself into one Golden Notebook. Or something. I just thought it was a book about a pile of neurotic insanity, and yes, this is an example of the pot calling the kettle black. Maybe that’s why I hated it so much–because it was an example of what I could become if I let myself go to the extreme. I remember I had to write a paper analyzing this dream the main character had about a package that she thought would contain something valuable and beautiful, but ended up containing a living crocodile. I hated writing that paper, mostly because my professor assigned it the Tuesday before the weekend I was supposed to go on a trip to New Orleans with a college group, and it was due the Tuesday after the trip. Any normal person would have said, “Screw the paper. NEW ORLEANS, BABY!” but I got myself so worked up that I cancelled the trip so I could write the paper. Stupidest. Move. Ever. While my friends were drinking bourbon and eating beignets, I was sitting in my room writing a paper about a box full of crocodile. I still haven’t been to New Orleans, by the way. And, as it turned out, if I’d thought to actually tell my professor what was going on, she would have given me an extension on the paper. But I didn’t know that, because I was a sophomore at the time, and didn’t realize that English literature professors are mostly cool people who TOTALLY think it’s a better idea to travel and drink than to write. Even Doris Lessing agreed. She wrote this introduction to The Golden Notebook, that I sadly didn’t read until AFTER I’d read the book, where she talked about how silly it was that everyone was analyzing her novel when the time would have been better spent writing novels of their own. After trying to analyze the crocodile in a box dream, I couldn’t agree more. It’s ultimately one of the reasons I ended up getting my Ph.D. in English Education rather than in English Literature. I didn’t want to write literary criticism. I wanted to study how people learn things, particularly writing, and how to better teach them how to write. I guess I just turned out to be more practical than theoretical.
Which goes back to my notebook, insofar as it is DEFINITELY more practical than theoretical. In theory, it was a GREAT idea to divide it up into sections. In practice, not so much. And it’s a practical notebook insofar as what it contains, too: notes about planning last year’s and this year’s Vacation Bible School. Lists upon lists of volunteer names, kinds of supplies, things that worked last year and things that need to be made better this year. Exercises and books for my primary grades’ writing summer camp. Lists of books I want to read. Lists of field trips my Girl Scouts want to take. To Do Lists, long and short term. Lists, lists, lists. Totally practical stuff. And yet in other ways the notebook has more ideas in it than any notebook I’ve used in years. In fact, what I value about this particular purple notebook, and what made losing it so devastating for me, is because this notebook, more than any other notebook I’ve ever completed, contains more about my thinking about my Catholic faith. It’s got the notes from when I was studying to be a Eucharistic minister. It has all the notes from the classes I’ve taken as a Confirmation sponsor. It has notes I’ve taken while doing a Catholicism Bible Study. And a study on the Mass. It has scripture verses a friend wrote out for me and included in a gift. It has has reflections I wrote while planning a “Writing as Prayer” presentation for a local mom’s group. It has notes from when Bethany was taking her classes preparing her for First Penance and First Communion. It has notes on a lecture I attended about Vatican II. And it has all these notes from a National Conference of Catholic Youth Ministry I attended, in which one of the presentations was about using C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein to “Unlock the Adolescent Imagination” in Catholic Youth Ministry. The notes from that presentation, alone, make the notebook invaluable to me. Because, hello–Gandalf as Christ figure? AWESOME SAUCE.
And so, yeah, I just totally took a moment to hug my notebook. Just seeing it here, next to me, helps me to breathe easier. I know that probably seems weird to most people, but that, too, is a part of who I am. Leaving the house without a notebook makes me feel vulnerable and incomplete, much the same way I imagine other people feel if they leave behind their wallet or phone. My notebooks become a part of me, an indispensable and irreplaceable part of me. And it is so wonderful to begin this new year with my notebook back at my side, where it belongs.