Since the moment I could properly navigate a pen, I have always created a home for my thoughts in a notebook. My notebooks are all stored, in chronological order, on their own designated bookshelf. Before each birthday, I read through all of them —- an attempt to rediscover who I was in order to understand who I am; a sort of Joan Didion-esque take on the notebook, “to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be,” kind of deal.
My incomplete nature is reflected in the substantial amount of empty pages left in every journal. I usually abandon them before they are anywhere close to being finished. They are left behind like an exoskeleton of the many selves that arise within me. Each time I molt, a new journal is needed.
One hot summer day in New York, I escaped the heat by ducking into a second hand bookshop. Suddenly, I felt an impulse: I was molting. On the table laid a beautiful, bright teal hardcover notebook. I was drawn to it and unable to leave the bookshop without it. That was the case, until I discovered the notebook was completely blank—- it had no lines. Throughout all my years of taking notebook keeping seriously, the only rule I had was to never own a blank notebook. Fear was the tyrant instating this rule. The blank page terrified me, the way it stares at you and mocks the nullity of your pen’s movement. However, on this particular day, the new self that was stirring within me was determined to free my mind from all its lines and barriers. My new self desired to possess the ability to roam, to make mistakes, to move backwards, to replay, and to travel. And because of these desires, I bought the notebook and let this new self guide me in doing exactly that.
You always think you need lines— until you discover how much fun it is without them. For the first time in all my years of journaling, I was kicked out of the journal. For the first time, the pages ran out before I was ready to leave. It is within those pages, which are pressed between the teal hardcover object, that I lived more fully, openly, and happily than I ever imagined possible. As I flip through the notebook, I can see my growth, expansion, and exploration teeming off the pages. Of course rough moments still happened, but this notebook served more as a celebration of my strengths rather than wallowing in self-doubt.
One of the barriers this notebook eliminated was the one between myself and other people. I allowed people to enter my life. I made room for them on these pages. Whenever I would go out on a Friday night, after exhausting the excitement of practicing small talk, I always found myself bored. When that familiar feeling crept up, I would pierce through the barriers that small talk fenced us in with, by handing the person my notebook, opening to a blank page, and giving them the opportunity to mark something: a quote, a drawing, a thought, a memory, a problem. It became a bridge that lead a way to get to know a person in a setting that was not conducive to doing so. It is now the only way I like to get to know anyone. After months of collecting these pages, I have drawings from all the new people I have met and all the people I have always known, each who have moved me in unchangeable ways. Some who have, within these pages, gone from strangers to family to enemies to family again.
Since my notebook has been completed, I, who am usually incomplete and unfinished, have become flummoxed. Not only am I bewildered, but I find myself completely uncentered. I feel like a wanderer moving in all sorts of directions, without any anchor. Freedom, while liberating, can be confusing. Without lines dictating direction in my notebooks, there were no lines dictating and keeping barriers between myself and other selves. There were no line dictating and keeping barriers between my thoughts and the thoughts of others. My mind’s growth, that used to be limited to the page, now gained the possibility to move into the world in any imaginable direction.
Yes, it is important to keep notebooks, but it is even more important to go back and read them. It is in reading our old notebooks that allows us to witness the moments our minds molt. Reading our old notebooks allows us to discover, and rediscover, that our minds, which began as caterpillars, have now turned into butterflies. And, what freedom there is in flying!