If I had a motto it would be, write it down.
My notebook obsession began with reading Harriet the Spy as a kid. I was too young to grasp the finer points of that magnificent, morally-charged work, but I sure as heck wanted to be a spy like Harriet. Twenty-five odd years, well into my career as a writer, I am still in thrall to notebooks.
For the past few years I’ve used Ryman Project Books, chunk and ring-bound with transparent plastic covers, ideal for an inveterate bar and cafe scribbler. They act as a combined journal, work station, and ideas bank. The pockets of the yellow, orange, red and blue plastic dividers hold photos, ticket stubs, magazine cuttings, unsent letters, baggage claim tickets and phone numbers jotted on scraps of paper, among other things.
Notebooks are a repository for my thinking, feeling and figuring out.
They also weigh a ton.
I lived in Ibiza, Spain for the past four years, happily accumulating. Then I decided to move to the States. Suddenly the stacks of dog-eared, ink-faded notebooks were a burden. I couldn’t bear to get rid of them but found it equally hard to justify putting time, effort and cash into shipping across the Atlantic. I hadn’t looked at them in years, would I ever?
To keep or to toss, that is the question?
My writer friends split along stability lines. The ones with fixed addresses were unanimously, adamantly in favour of preserving every scrap for posterity. Those whose Amazon order history, like mine, reveals serious wandering tendencies suggested a cull.
Pondering it, I realised notebooks are not the issue, per se. Like anything else, a notebook is just a thing. Its value or meaning is decided by what emerges from what goes into it.
Some of my notebooks contributed directly to my novel Ibiza Noir, others to my first non-fiction book Vine Lives: Oregon Wine Pioneers, others I’ve mined for ideas and inspiration for articles, blog posts, letters. These I saved.
The rest I dumped in a blue-lidded plastic recycling bin. It was liberating. It felt like a betrayal. I drove home with Janis Joplin’s throaty plaint ringing in my ears — freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.
Instead of wishing I’d carved something from those unread pages, I decided to take the best things about keeping a notebook and create this blog. Because life is worth recording and it is worth sharing.
You and I don’t need to be alike to gain from seeing fragments of each other’s lives and thoughts. Au contraire, the more divergent our experience the more we have to learn from each other. You may not like the same books, music or food; you may disagree with my politics or philosophy; you might think my photos are average and my anecdotes boring.
That’s okay. I don’t want to impress you. I want to learn.
Opening my notebook to the world is daunting because it’s profoundly personal. But how else are we going to figure things out? We have to get beyond artful selfies and ingenious Instagram feeds (that said, feel free to follow) if we want to break through the barriers of preconception and expectation that separate us.
Why am I flying across the Atlantic?
It began with a Tinder date on a rainy night in Portland. I’d spent the day trundling around indie bookshops pitching Oregon Wine Pioneers. Dealing with a Tinderdude was the last thing I wanted but, being an inveterate people-pleaser, I turned up anyway. My first thought was he’s put on weight since his profile picture. So imagine my shock when I caught myself gabbling like an idiot. I can’t be nervous, I don’t even fancy him.
That was, to put it mildly, a spectacular miscalculation.
We had stumbled upon a fancy-dress party in a Mexican dive in Old Town, the Saturday night before Christmas. We drank margaritas and watched the staggering Santas, inebriated elves and women randomly wrapped in tinsel. (The Spanish have a great phrase for that state of intoxication: borracho como una cuba — drunk as a lord.)
We swapped bites of vegan mole (his: butternut squash, mine: mushroom). He had eyes like fragments of sapphire. I found myself melting across the table till we were holding hands, then my feet were on the rung of his chair, snugged around his legs. One of the Santas sat down hard and went straight over backwards, chair crashing to the floor, rubber boots shooting into the air. We collapsed toward each other, laughing. When we rose to leave I stepped around the table and into a kiss.
Two thoughts went through my head: I’m making out with some random Tinder dude and This might be the best kiss ever.
Dazed, I followed him back to gleaming black tour bus, clambered up the steps and was introduced to a handful of men. It should have been excruciatingly awkward. Instead, it felt like hanging out with old friends. The others made their excuses, leaving blue-eyed boy and I to make out in the back lounge, wedged between a sliding door and a case of bottled water. Then he said, “I have to go to work.”
That’s what he’s like: he doesn’t leave people in the lurch, not even after three margaritas and some good kissing. Gentle but inflexible, he steered me out the door. Didn’t ask me to stay. One more kiss and we walked in opposite directions. Even though I’d probably never see him again my body was lit with a king-size hit of serotonin and dopamine.
We started Whatsapping that night. He sent me a link to PollStar and said, “This is the best way to keep track of me.” Our second date was in February in Ibiza and London. After half a bottle of wine and a gin cocktail I told him I’d marry him. Sober, I wondered aloud where my filter goes when he’s around.
In March we met up in London, Manchester and Brussels.
June: Ibiza and London.
July: Ibiza and Rome.
August: Memphis and Ibiza.
September: Ibiza, London, and Manchester.
November: New York, Washington DC and Ann Arbor.
December: London and Glasgow. The we’re crossing the Atlantic for the first time as a cohabiting couple. “Not that we have a place to live,” my boyfriend pointed out. Technically, he’s right. But we have a destination. We’ll see how things unfold.
One thing 2016 taught me is it doesn’t pay to hold on too hard. Life showered me with gifts one day and kicked my teeth down my throat the next (the 8th and 9th November, for example). I learned to not get wrapped up in expectations or how I think things should be. However much I crave control, mostly I’m not in charge.
What I can do is write, think, create, record, share, work, love, and be kind. Natalie Goldberg, one of my guiding lights, quotes her Zen teacher Katagiri Roshi: “Always make positive effort for the good.” Keeping a notebook is a way to make positive effort for the good. It is a way to actively value our life and experience, which is the essential precursor to valuing other people’s lives and experiences. Now, more than ever, we need that gift.
Grab a pen and notebook, start a blog, or take a note on your phone. The medium isn’t so important. What matters is making positive effort for the good.