A few months ago, I came across a tiny camel-coloured, leatherette-covered pocket diary, the kind that was popular years ago and often came with a miniature pencil that fit into the spine. This one was filled with notes and scribbles, including, on the January 3rd page, the Paris address of a writer I admired, scrawled in ballpoint ink that had soaked into the thin paper over time to give the letters an oily blue halo. What I was planning to do with the address I can’t now remember: stalking isn’t my style, but I might not have been averse to lurking in a nearby café and engineering a chance meeting.
I have a cupboardful of such notebooks and diaries, in various styles and sizes and degrees of shabbiness — a tangible, if disorganised, record of parts of my life, including some I’d rather forget. Some are primarily work-related and filled with schedules and diagrams and notes and ideas for projects that never came into being and meetings I don’t recall having attended. But most are a hybrid, as I’ve never been good at setting firm boundaries between my work and play lives.
A part of this record exists in digital form, in an array of text files created during the period when my faith in the security and everlastingness of digital media was unshaken, and I revelled in the illusion of control over the contents of these files, including the ability to search and find at will, and their near-invisible physical “footprint.” But lately I’ve returned to pen — mostly fountain — and paper, and my shelves have begun filling up once more. These tools have made a good dent in my wallet, for paper that tolerates liquid ink doesn’t come cheap these days. But I tell myself that in this time of devices and consumption a shelf of personal notebooks, even filled with little of consequence, is a sign that one has resisted, in some small way, the tendencies of the age.
These days, my daily journal is an A5 notebook, often a hardcover, which measures roughly six by eight inches. A softcover A5 contains most things related to my work life. A pair of smaller notebooks live in my handbag, strapped together between leather covers — one for shopping lists, the other devoted to on-the-go journal entries, notes, and the odd sketch. Another small notebook sits at my bedside.
This proliferation of notebooks has implications for travel, of course, especially in this era of shrinking baggage allowances, and while packing for a recent twenty-six-day, six-city trip, I decided to leave the A5s at home and experiment with a smaller format. I took along a few different sizes, but the final record of my travels ended up between the covers of three smaller notebooks, which turned out to be just the right size to carry around in my handbag for note-taking on the go, but still worked for “proper” journaling after hours.
In my dreams, the pages of my travel journals look like illuminated manuscripts or high-class scrapbooks, richly embellished with watercolour sketches, gorgeous hand-lettering, and a carefully curated selection of museum tickets and other mementos from my travels. In reality, they’re mostly filled with my handwriting, which isn’t bad but hardly calligraphic, and the mementos are bundled together and stored away in a manila envelope.
On this recent trip, however, I made a small step in the direction of improving the aesthetic appeal of my notebooks, by adorning the covers and spines with postage stamps. This had the added benefit of making them more easily identifiable on my bookshelves. Maybe this is the start of something.