July 13, 2006


Last night I was at a mothertongue reading at the Black Cat here in DC (yes, Tara Betts was *amazing*). A woman was preparing for her open mic stint by running her fingers over lines scribbled in a journal. The journal's cover was ornate, red leather molded with the Sacred Heart of Jesus (you know, the flaming one). "That's a nice journal; I bet that's from Florence," I said, and it was--a gift from the woman's friend. "But," the poet confessed, "I had it for months, and I never actually wrote in it. It's so fancy. It just didn't feel like...me. So now I use it for the dirty stuff." Sure enough, the poem she read from it was a sinuous erotic encounter--thumb licking, head turning, sighing and sweating. She had a little black notebook tucked in her jeans pocket for the more straightforward stuff.

I sympathize. To give a journal to a writer is safe, like giving something adorned with an apple to a teacher. But really, we tend to be very picky about where we write and what we write in. I have stacks of untouched journals from well-meaning friends. I bet I'm not the only one.

Cornelius Eady finally convinced me to keep a notebook; for every previous professor I had just created a mock-journal at the last minute, scribbling out retroactive drafts from the poems I had created on a computer. The magic book, for me, had a hula girl on the front who danced when you shifted the cover in the light. Today, I can thumb back through it and see the antecedents of poems that have long since evolved into print. I love that. But sadly, I wrote out the last page a few months ago and have yet to find a suitable replacement. I'm looking for decent heft, a line wide enough and tall enough, a cover that is colorful but not distracting. There have been a few contenders but nothing quite right, and now there's growing pile of orphaned journals with just two pages used.

Too hot! Too cold! Where's the one that is just right?


Don said...

I find I write my best stuff on yellow legal pads I bought years ago in Montgomery, Ala., and memo pads. My cousin gave me a fancy notebook for Christmas, black leather, gilded pages, but I don't seem to write in it much. It's too heavy to carry around, and I get inhibited when I write in it. Maybe it's because I subconsciously feel I have to write more elegantly, formally, and end up writing crappier stuff.

Sandra said...

Ah, the legal pad...I know people who swear by them, including my boss. Hasn't worked for me yet. Those really heavy, nice journals seem to be the kiss of death--like you say, we feel we our writing has to measure up, and the drafts become stilted.

I'm thinking of just going back to ballpointing on my inner calf, like in middle school.