There are things we go through that we are supposed to grow through. Things that beat us about, press us into a corner, force us to rethink everything. Things that teach us what matters and what doesn’t, things that help us become. Difficult things, like high school or losing everything you own. Then there are things that help us come out the other side sane, human. Everybody has one, or a couple–things, places, people that become our refuge. You go there to imagine good things, to see whether your hope is still alive, to find the version of yourself that you like best. Like a personal sort of therapy, since not many of us can afford actual therapy. A lifeline, an escape. You go there to breathe. You go there to remember what matters. You go there to just be.
For some people it’s music. For some it’s cooking. For some, the stranger ones among us, it’s peeling potatoes. I’m serious. My sister recently told me that she finds peeling potatoes therapeutic. I know, I don’t understand it either. And she’s not even the worst I’ve heard; I know someone who does laundry when she wants to get away and clear her head. Because taking a nap is far too mainstream and taking a holiday far too expensive. For me, notebooks.
I used to write a lot. I didn’t need any prompts, any discipline techniques, any reminders that this is what I loved to do. I just wrote. I wrote without formula, without plan. I wrote because I needed to. Because the words would get stuck in my throat, in my chest, in my stomach and clog up everything if they didn’t get out. The notebooks were a perfect outlet. I’ve always had one or three at every point in my life. In high school I would go through about six or seven notebooks every year; it was a thing. The words I put in them weren’t important words, most of the time. They weren’t spectacular words. But they didn’t come out for anyone other than myself, so they didn’t need to be. They were for me. They were mine. I wrote because I liked who I was when I did. Unbound. Because I felt more real when I put myself on paper. My notebook was my lifeline. Things made more sense, were quieter, on those pages.
I took my notebook everywhere. I wrote in class during lessons. I wrote in the lab when I should have been constructing a dichotomous key or learning how to find the angle of refraction (Jeez, high school was wild). I wrote in bed after lights out. I wrote at lunch time when I should have been scrambling for food. I wrote in the chapel during the Sunday service or Friday assembly, I wrote in the chapel on weekday evenings when there was nobody else there and it was so quiet that I did feel that I was standing on holy ground. I wrote in the library, in the cafeteria, on the stairs behind the gym (calm down, it wasn’t a real gym, just a big room with some ropes hanging from the ceiling. I’m telling you high school was wild). I didn’t know how to not write. Sometimes when I didn’t have any words I stared at my notebook until some came. It mattered that much. When there were no words, there was nothing.
Somehow, other people found a way to make my words theirs as well. I had classmates who would frequently borrow my notebooks, just to read them. To this day I don’t understand why. Like I said, there was nothing special about what I wrote in those notebooks. They were filled with personal thoughts about nothing in particular. Short sentences. Quotes I picked up in books. Notes to self. Beautiful phrases and sentences that I happened upon. Song lyrics, in part or in full. Pages and pages of rants, prayers, thoughts about the things I felt and experienced. Things I wanted to say to someone but couldn’t. I poured out my heart in those notebooks so that I could know what was in it. But people wanted to read them as though what I wrote was important to them.
Of course I wondered whether they asked for them so that they could read my thoughts and laugh at my life, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t care. There was nothing in there that I would deny if questioned about in public, no secrets, no slander (Okay maybe a bit, but only subtle, anonymous slander. Some people are simply unbearable and you have to put that irritation somewhere otherwise you become a mean girl who is also unbearable). They were just my thoughts, written as they came. On those pages I left some of the most authentic versions of myself there have ever been.
There are things we used to do because we didn’t know how to live without doing them, because they were us, they were our nakedness, our soul. Things we don’t do anymore because life. Things we think about and wish we could go back there, to that place where we were safe even though we were vulnerable. Things that were loved but were lost. The notebook is my lost love.
This year I’ve used only one notebook. Oh, the height from which I have fallen. I saw an article recently about why you should carry a notebook everywhere, and an extra pen. Of course I agreed with it, even shared it on LinkedIn. I do what the article said to do. I carry a notebook everywhere, sometimes two, because anyone with a notebook addiction will tell you that notebooks are like those smokies you buy on the side of the road: one is never enough. Sometimes you write different things in each notebook, sometimes you see a pretty one and you just have to have it even though it will remain unused for the next one and a half years. I have three empty notebooks in my desk drawer as I write this. It’s hard to explain; just buy your girlfriend the pretty notebook if she seems to have fallen in love with it. The fact that she bought another one month ago is irrelevant. I love having notebooks just as much I always have. But that article forced me to see how I’ve changed, how the function of my notebooks in my life has changed. I used to write in my notebooks more frequently than I ate. Those notebooks were my lifeline. And now?
I don’t write as much anymore. I carry the notebook around but I don’t write in it. I have a whole bag of excuses that help me not feel guilty when I don’t write. I am less of a writer now than I was four years ago. Which is a terrible thing because I spent all of high school wishing that the system allowed me to write more. Vowing that I’d write more once I was Out There and had the time. Now I am Out There and I find myself sometimes only writing because a blog post needs to go up. The height from which I have fallen. 17-year-old me weeps.
Someone once told me after reading something I had written that I wrote as though I was writing for myself. At the time, I didn’t know whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. Now I know that it shouldn’t even have been a matter for debate. I was happiest when I wrote for me. I wrote most when I wrote for me. I wrote for writing’s sake when I wrote for me. When I was my primary audience the words never stopped flowing.
There are things we realize we need if we are to fall in love with life again. Things that we buried underneath pretences and versions of ourselves that we created for other people. Things that help us put ourselves together again when bits of us shatter. Things like forgotten dreams, child-like wonder; things like notebooks. Lost loves, now found loves.