Wellesley College's Journals
This book was made to commemorate the artist's traveling experience with her exceptional friend. Two copies were made, one for each of them, in order to cherish their trip to Prague in August of 1997. Visit Wellesley College's online exhibition of fourteen personal journals transformed into artists' books.
For the Love of Books
A monthly column that has absolutely nothing to do with the business of publishing, and everything to do with why we're involved in it. This month: Personal BooksWe often don't realize that we are creating personal books as we record the details of our day-to-day lives.
I loved the ads Apple ran a few years ago asking people what they kept in their PowerBook because I've always been fascinated by what information people choose to record and the methods and media they use to record it. I love to see how people arrange their notes on a page, what kinds of pens and notebooks they use, the other materials they house in them. (As I write this, a notebook sits on my roommate's bureau, tempting me with intriguing bits of loose paper peeking out from between the bound pages.)
I'm on a road trip this month and-because I'm so enamored of atoms rather than bits--my collection of notebooks takes up almost as much room as my clothes and toiletries. There's the notebook I use for morning pages: three pages, first thing every morning in longhand-a practice Julia Cameron has proselytized in The Artist's Way. This is a 7x10-inch, spiral bound notebook, which I usually buy-two or three at a time-whenever I find an interesting one in Barnes and Nobles. I write in it only with a purple Pilot V-Ball extra fine pen, which I buy in bulk from Indian River Office Supply.
Then there's my daily journal - a slightly smaller (6 x 9) engagement calendar-that I select toward the end of the year from the plethora of gift calendars on the market. This year I'm using the Smithsonian's America's Treasures, which I picked up last summer on a visit to Washington. In it I record-briefly--what I did, who I met with, spoke to, significant events in both my personal life and the world. (I have a fantasy that someday I will actually sit down and read the daily journal with my morning pages simultaneously and gain great insights, but the truth is reading my own journal bores me, so I rarely get through more than a few days.)
Next there's my study notebook, the one that holds notes from workshops and interviews, quotes and thoughts from books and articles I read, plans for research and creative projects, an-on that rare day-flashes of genius! For this I use a standard 8 1/2 x 11 with top-bound spiral binding (so I can store a pen there) and microperfs so the pages rip out neatly.
I always have a small notebook in my purse or backpack to record books that intrigue me: Margaret Atwood's Good Bones & Simple Murders, Rob Campbell's Plato's Garage; quotes that inspire me: "Universities should be safe havens where ruthless examinations of realities will not be distorted by the aim to please or inhibited by the risk of displeasure." - Thomas Jefferson; items to pick up when I run errands: paper towels, contact lens cleaner, extension cord; and driving directions: email me if you need directions to the Volvo dealer in Ithaca. I love pulling out the one I'm currently using; it has a black cover with beads of iridescent paint. (Whenever I look at all the notebooks and journals for sale I say, I could make that, but I usually succumb because the one in my hand has already been made.)
In my car I carry a 6"x9" sketchbook in which I record all the minutia of my travels - departure and arrival dates and times, odometer readings, significant checkpoints, fuel purchases. I transcribed these details from last year's trip into an art project, so this notebook has now been designated my Official Summer Driving Trip to Vermont Log.
My bag of art supplies holds several notebooks. One started out as a sketchbook, but, during an unconsummated and, as far as I can tell, unrequited infatuation, became the repository of some very bad poetry. There are also two blank books waiting to receive whatever flotsam and jetsam I come across in my travels. Finally, there's a 6x9-inch Napa leather three-ring binder that contains quotes on spirituality gleaned from my reading. Right now there's a heavy emphasis on Thomas Merton and James Finley. I write the quotes, as carefully as I can, with a gel pen onto archival paper edged with aluminum foil tape (found in the painting supply section of Lowe's!) When I showed it to a friend she said, "Oh! That's a commonplace book" and told me that's a quaint term for a collection of quotes.
Waiting for me on my desk back home is what I refer to as my general journal: a green notebook which records information more practical than profound: my weekly to do list, items of temporary interest such as web sites and phone numbers, and notes from mundane conversations such as the one with the plumber about what part he is waiting for and when he will show up.
I pester people until they let me see their sketchbooks and notebooks and interrogate them about how they use them.
Anne Dolan writes her morning pages in cheap notebooks so she doesn't become paralyzed by thinking of her work as precious. Billye Miraglia has adapted her morning pages discipline to creating a daily page in a visual journal. When Donna Morris was dissatisfied with the bindings of previously written-in a meticulous hand-journal pages, she rebound them.
Mary Segal always has an idea book in progress--a place where she can play with concepts, layout, color, and technique. As she works in the book, it takes on a direction of its own. By the time she has completed the last page, it has become a piece of art.
I love the accumulated mass of a series of notebooks. A few years ago I gathered all of mine together and indexed them. Currently I have fifty accounted for, the majority of those being my morning pages of the past six years.
My grandfather kept a pocket notebook every year in which he recorded money in, money out. I have about twenty of them, from the '40s and '50s. Most of the daily notations are rather spare--cigars, eggs, gas, union dues, wages and tips. Occasionally I come across a notation about buying me balloons or--the highlight of my childhood--my little red wagon.
A writer of a novel set in 19th century Nebraska recounted that most of her research was through the accounting books of the general store. In them she could read the stories of people getting married, having babies, burying a loved one, of times when they needed credit and times when they were flush.
As Jim Barnes's feature last month made clear, publishing is moving away from atoms and toward bits. Perhaps a century from now, all that will remain will be these ephemeral, handwritten notebooks to tell future generations about the lives we led, the people we were.
C. J. Metschke is a Florida-based writer with a special interest in book arts. Contact her by email.