“This thing between me and my notebook”

The notebook

For several days, the single-subject, college-ruled notebook that I bought back in September has been whispering my name. I bought it at Target before a trip to visit my parents, wrote in it a few times while I was there, and brought it back with me. Since then, it has been neglected; covered by an increasingly precarious stack of CDs.

For a while, I didn’t even know where it was, but at some point along the way it revealed itself to me, and started catching my eye. From time to time, I would return its stare for a moment, but I generally ignored its attempts at attention.

I don’t have anything against that notebook. However, it was buried under a bunch of CDs, and it was something that I would have to leave my chair to retrieve. I didn’t feel like getting up, or moving all of those the CDs.

After a while, I began to wonder why I didn’t just get up and get it. It began to be a “thing” between myself and this notebook. It wanted me to uncover it, open it, write in it. I resisted the urge for a while… but for what reason? The contents therein will never be published, nobody will see it. Nobody cares what I write in it. So why was this such a difficult thing for me?

I think the answers to this question are many, but the two main ones that come to mind are 1) some embarrassment about – and frustration with – my own penmanship and 2) my misplaced belief that most of what I write will be of no consequence.

These aren’t rational ideas to cling to, but they’re a part of my personality, and always have been.

Penmanship

My mom has beautiful penmanship. I’ve always admired her handwriting, which is easy to read and very consistent. None of my siblings can write as neatly as she does, but I’ve seen her sisters’ handwriting in greeting cards, and one or two of them have a similar quality and style. I’ve always wished that I could write like they do, but I simply can’t.

My handwriting is not pure cursive, but a combination of cursive and single letters. I mix cursive letters with certain printed letters, such as ‘k’ and ‘b’ at the beginnings of words, and capital letters like ‘Q’ and ‘L’ and ‘I’ (among others). However, sometimes I use a cursive capital ‘I,’ although I tend to try to avoid doing so, because my upper-case ‘I’ ends up looking like a lower-case cursive ‘L.’ I’ve never been truly consistent; I think that what I use depends on my mood and the situation.

Regardless, if I sit down to write – a letter, for instance, or a journal entry – I can start out with decent penmanship, but that has a tendency to disintegrate into slurred words as my hand struggles with the task of keeping up with my brain. Of course, when I go back later to read what I wrote, I find myself faced with the prospect of figuring out which words and sentences I had intended to write, but which came out as mostly illegible waste. This has been discouraging for me, and in these instances I’ve generally tended to retreat back to the comfort of typing.

And the notebook has fallen by the wayside for an indefinite period of time, again and again.

Journal content

As for the issue of content… this may sound stupid, but I feel as if there is a significant portion of my brain that has no idea how to journal. I have all these hangups about whether I’m journaling properly, whether what I’m writing is boring or pathetic, how it looks when I correct a mistake, and how much more difficult it is to write clearly and fluidly by hand when you’re a) out of practice and b) used to the instant-edit lifestyle that is blogging (and typing in general).

Looking at that last paragraph, these ideas seem mostly irrational. Regardless, they’re real hangups that I’ve always struggled with. Fortunately, they haven’t managed to permanently kill my desire to journal: it lies in wait, in some part of my brain, waiting for me to feel that itch again.

Getting back into it

On Thursday night at 11:55pm, after several staredowns between this notebook and me, I relented. I stood up, extracted the notebook from beneath the stack of CDs and whatnot, and covered the front and back of a page with my increasingly erratic handwriting. I wrote about my struggles with journaling and penmanship, and made note of some things that I can do to improve my experience, such as making some writing space for myself. I have this slight hope that writing more frequently will result in better handwriting quality if I make that a priority.

I used to write a lot of letters. In the age of blogs and email and mobile phones and social media, the letter is a somewhat rare and ancient phenomenon, and I’m amazed when I think about how often I used to churn out pages upon pages worth of letters every month, and how long ago it was that I stopped doing that regularly. But the letter doesn’t have to die out, and neither does the journal. There are millions of people who still journal and/or write letters, and that includes my mother*, so I’m not revolutionizing anything by doing this, other than a part of my own lifestyle. I just know that, over the past several years, my habits have changed with technology, for better or for worse**.

*By the way, her handwriting is still consistently high-quality. I find her ability to journal and to write so well and so consistently to be inspirational, and am glad to have that inspiration in my life.

**Blogging has been a major “for better” part of this equation, of course.

Closing

This notebook is, as I said at the top, a single subject notebook. It has 70 pages, several of which are already used. But that’s okay. As I contemplated my inner desire to get more involved in hand-writing on a more regular basis, I made plans to buy a larger notebook. However, I’ve decided not to waste this one. If I can fill the remaining 60-odd pages in this notebook, I will buy myself another one, along with a better pen. Those will be my material rewards for doing something that is almost certain to have, more importantly, mental and spiritual benefits.

It’s a good time to start – or revive – a good habit or two. Hopefully, I can make this one of them.

* * *

Thanks for reading this post. In addition to the internal “urge to write” and the external “notebook staring me down” influences, this post was inspired in part by the following article:

Snapshots from the writing desk by Andrea Badgley at Butterfly Mind… a great post by a great blogger! Thanks Andrea.

* * *

Posted by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!

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7 Comments on ““This thing between me and my notebook””

  1. Thanks so much for the shout out Russ – I enjoyed your post. I can related to everything you wrote (except the penmanship; though I also have terrible penmanship, it doesn’t bother me), especially the inner editor. It’s different for me in my notebok than it is on the keyboard though – my inner editor (who asks “is this crap?”) is quieter in my notebook because I rarely intend journal work to go out into the world.

    I know it’s much easier said than done, but be fearless. Know you don’t have to share what you write, and that will free you. I look forward to reading more of your work.

    • Also, if you haven’t read Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, you might want to give it a whirl. It always makes me feel better when I’m feeling blocked.

  2. Abby says:

    If it wasn’t for computer keyboards, I wouldn’t write at all. My handwriting is terrible. Plus, I am lefthanded and when I was little I wasn’t taught how to hold a pen properly, so it really hurts to write after a well. Good on you for letter and journal writing though – you are right, they are great things to do, and letters are still so lovely to receive.

    • Russ says:

      Thanks, Abby!

      The computer keyboard is indeed a massively important tool. I could never write or create like I do if I didn’t have one; in fact, it is a major factor in everything I write (other than the aforementioned handwritten bits), simply because it allows me that flexibility and ability to craft something that has some sense of professionalism and coherence to it. Nobody would want to read my writing if I hand-wrote something, photographed the pages, and posted them to my blog. It would be… a regrettable thing, to say it nicely! 🙂


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