Filling Your Notebooks

My brother and I aren’t very big gift people. Sure, we’ll spend money on other people, but for ourselves and each other, we don’t really go for it. For years we’d skip each other’s birthdays or christmases, maybe making a token effort if a parent or someone else prodded us with guilt.

That changed a bit in the last few years, as our financial situations and personal situations evolved. My brother moved away and got an amazing job with stable income. I got clean and sober and treated. It’s two different kinds of stability, I guess.

But we started giving a shit about gifts, when budgets (mostly mine) could stand it. Now it wasn’t just “hey I got you a gift card” it’s “I got you this one gift card for this one thing that I know you value because your time is precious to you.” We don’t make a big show of trying to do that gift thing that maybe happens near you – there’s a great big production made of showing off how much you can afford or how much you know the person values it, as if the being seen giving this gift is more important than the why you gave the gift.

This year was a slightly better year than expected financially. I can’t say it was the best, but I ended the year with a few checks that got me a bit of cushion during the holiday season. I wanted to get my brother something nice, so my mom and I pooled some resources to get him a few housewares and some fun stuff.

What he got me was a complete set of moleskine notebooks. Here they are on the desk beside me as I write this post.

Probably one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.

Now if you’ll notice, there’s still plastic wrap on two of them. And up until about two minutes before I started writing this post, there was plastic wrap on a third.

It meant a lot to me that he got me notebooks. That on some level it was him recognizing that I do a lot of thinking and writing and notation, so notebooks are a perfect gift. I really appreciate these gifts.

I appreciate them so much, I feel like I don’t have ideas worthy enough to put in them. As though I haven’t earned the privilege and honor to use these pieces of paper because none of what I have done to date is “good enough” to be immortalized in these little notebooks.

Sure, I’ll save it to one of a dozen thumb drives or a portable hard drive or Dropbox like it’s no big thing, but there’s … something suddenly more concrete about writing it down in a notebook. That’s what I want to talk about a little today.

Initially, I didn’t unwrap these things because I was too busy telling everyone how much they meant to me, that it was just really nice to carry them around in my bag. That it was one of those elusive “Writer Bucket List” items where I got to carry a moleskine.

And after I think everyone got sick of me saying I was grateful, the shock of it set in. And up until about 5 minutes ago, I couldn’t express that shock beyond just saying that I didn’t think I had an idea good enough to go in them.

See, the other issue I have with them is that they’re finite. There are only so many pages to each notebook. Space in them is precious. The digital stuff, that’s practically infinite, because I can Ctrl+N a new document out of the ether and because the content in a document disappears when I tap the Backspace. That digital space seems infinite.

It’s in that gap, in that difference, that the paralysis lives. We see it in other places: people who say they’re going to pursue a resolution or a lifestyle change versus those who do the work or in politicians who make campaign promises and then upon election act wholly different.

We all possess the ability to talk a big game and make these big plans, but when we have to act on it (hell, even our language speaks to it in an aggressive way, when push comes to shove), there’s not just the inertia of activity to overcome, but there’s this whole ocean of doubt – is my idea good enough, am I going to get rejected, is this going to fail, am I wasting my time and energy, will it matter, do I matter?

So here these notebooks sit. Only one of them has any info in it. One of the smallest ones has four addresses written in it – all possible places to eat. I could have done that on my phone, so why did I write that down, but I can’t crack into the larger books?

Because the little notebook is about the size of the post-it notes I often write things down on. It doesn’t have the same weight (psychologically) that the bigger books do. It’s practically disposable, and I’m sure if I left it in my jeans pocket and it went through the wash, it would be disposed of.

Maybe for you, you don’t have these notebooks. Maybe you don’t have a stack of physical products in actual shrink wrap. Maybe you come at this from another direction – maybe for you, the act of typing your idea up and saving it as a file has more heft to it than the scribbling you do in that little notebook you keep tucked somewhat away. Either way, an idea becomes more real when it is made more concrete.

One of the toughest things we can do as a creative is make the idea (something intangible, it lives in our heads and dreams and we can describe it, but it’s hard to share exactly and precisely) into something tangible. But we have to do it. We have to find a way to do it.

But, you ask, having read the 1024 words that precede this one, what about those questions of doubt and possible future rejection? What if I type my MS up and it gets rejected, what if you write down an idea in that notebook and it doesn’t pan out, haven’t we both wasted time and stuff?

There are two  points lurking under the water here.

a) That you’re saying your time is wasted if you do a thing and it’s not perfectly received, and you need to know how a thing is going to be received before you do it

b) That if the idea gets rejected then you’re a failure, so writing it down hastens defining/discovering/confirming that you’re a failure

Look how precarious that is. Look how they’re both points about control – In (a) you need to control the future so that you can control how you spend your time and effort and in (b) you need to control how you’re thought of or labeled by other people.

All because of writing something down! That’s how we got to these two points.

I can name on one hand the number of people I’ll show the contents of these notebooks to. They’re not going public, I have a blog and Twitter for that. Now, yes, maybe later, an idea from a notebook will make its way to some other medium where other people will see it, but as the notebook, not so much.

You cannot control how other people perceive your efforts, and naturally, yes, you don’t want your first draft to set the standard for how we regard later drafts (though isn’t it interesting we treat first impressions of people so seriously?), but you can’t make the people like you to such a degree that they’ll never have a bad thought of you – you’re not in charge of them and their thinking. The best you can do is be you, and be the kind of you that makes you feel best while inspiring others to feel and be their best, all while everyone is doing the stuff that makes them feel good and inspires others to go do stuff too.

We all live with, we’ve all adopted, this notion that we’re seconds away, one tweet, one draft, one email, one pause, one word away from another human finding out that we’re undeserving of their love and help and attention and respect because of what we do, who we are, who/what we love. We all have this feeling, and we all perpetuate this idea that we’re the only one who has this feeling, that it’s unique to us.

It’s not. It might not always take the same form with every person, but the feeling isn’t just yours. This one version is bespoke to you for a variety of reasons, but we’re all there.

We are who we are, and we’re never undeserving of love and respect and care and attention and help. No matter what we make, who we love, where we go, how we are, what stuff we do. We might not all agree on things, we might present each other with differing points of view or ideas that don’t fit neatly with other ideas, but we’re all capable of existing in a world where there are multiple people and multiple ideas. I checked.

So open your notebooks. Write down that stuff. Make the transition, one step at a time, to doing something more than worrying about whether or not you’re good enough. Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll all find new reasons to keep thinking we’re going to be revealed as impostors later, but for right now, let’s just take a few seconds to take some steps forward.

Here’s mine.

I think that’s a pretty good start, don’t you?

Happy creating. One step at a time.

2 thoughts on “Filling Your Notebooks

  1. Lucky! I used to have a large hard cover notebook (it wasn’t a Moleskin, but I love them and usually keep the smaller ones for poetry). I wrote in that book on the daily when I was a young adult, and filled it with a lot of crappy emotions. Later in life (I think I was nearly 30) I decided I didn’t like the person I was when I wrote it, and I burned a stack of my journals. Including that expensive hardcover notebook.

    In hindsight, I wonder sometimes what it would be like to look back at those writings. At the same time, it really did feel transformative at the time, and now I just use a spiral to do my “morning pages”. Three pages a day, handwritten, each morning. It’s a great practice and it has helped me form a new writing habit. Nice post!

  2. I have become a fan of notebooks again in the last year. People often gave me lined or unlined sketchbooks when all I thought of myself as, in terms of my creativity, was an illustrator. The lined notebooks were useless for this, and the unlined notebooks were often so beautiful I was similarly paralyzed by their blank spaces. I know exactly what you mean about the paper being so precious, and the desire that everything recorded there be perfect.

    Mostly I’ve gotten over that.

    Now I don’t draw in the hardcover sketchbooks because their binding makes it difficult to work on a flat page. But I write daily affirmations in a moleskin someone gave me that was a giveaway from some company. At first I thought it was a ‘cheap’ moleskin, and then I looked up the name of the company and found that they make billionaire playboy bespoke watches, so now I regard the ‘free’ moleskins as a sign of abundance.

    Someone gave me a hardbound notebook with a magnetic flap to keep the pages from getting mucked about so I carry that in my purse for recording ideas. I even sketch across the lines if I have something to sketch. And I have a little field notes book for doodling in at restaurants.

    I find the more I use the notebooks, the more comfortable I become with putting permanent marks on perfect pale expanses. I also seem to have more ideas to record when I make a habit of it.

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