Only real learning is self-discovered, self appropriated.

The Importance of Reading Old Notebooks

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!

How We Read Voices

Every sound we make is a bit of autobiography. It has totally private interior, yet its trajectory is public. A piece of inside projected to the outside.  

Anne Carson The Gender of Sound

All bodies possess capacities for creating sounds. Each of us began as an embryo, entirely dependent on our mother’s body. Gradually our bodies developed with the help of a connecting umbilical cord.  We emerged into the air of the world, out of the fluid of our mother’s womb. When the umbilical cord was cut – we let out a cry. That cry was the sound of our bodies learning to breath air on its own for the very first time. Sounds provide an outside life for our interior one.  Its absence indicates that the body may not be functioning properly on its own.

Anne Carson, in her essay Gender of Sounddescribes with delicate clarity that each sound a body makes is a bit of an autobiography. In other words, when heard, those sounds add up, piece by piece, and shape stories about our bodies. Our minds develop alongside our bodies. They learn to refine these sounds, or autobiographies, and fashion them into a voice. As our bodies grow and explore the world, they find that certain spaces may censor their minds from forming certain sounds, repressing their voices. These moments, stir up as much panic as when a baby enters the world in silence. The absence of a voice, like the absence of a baby’s cry, means that the mind is restrained from functioning properly on its own. 

Minds are prevented from speaking by altering the way they are heard.  Sounds that are created by a female body are often heard with an association to “monstrosity, disorder, and death.” Associating the female voice with negative attributes, such as monstrosity, is one of the main tactics used from antiquity to present day of “putting a door” on the mouth of a female. The door is a barrier. It censors what can enter or exit. Throughout history, whenever culture closes the door on a female’s mouth, it censors the sounds that can enter or exit her mind.

For example, in ancient Greek culture, most women were prevented from speaking in public places. Scarcely any voices born from a female body during antiquity reach us directly from their source. However, that doesn’t mean that women weren’t making them. The absence of female sounds’ inclusion in any culture’s history is a sign that either the ancient or modern day culture is preventing these females’ bodies from functioning freely on their own. In the case of ancient Greece, the limited records that exist of these women’s voices are, at best, filtered through many other voices (second hand accounts, translations of those second hand accounts, scholarship on the translation of those second hand accounts, etc) before the modern day readers even have the chance to hear them. It isn’t a direct autobiography actively from the female’s own body. And how does the purity of a female voice stand a chance when it is often associated throughout different points in history negatively with “monstrosity, disorder, and death”? Her voice, and in turn her own female autobiography, is left muffled and distorted. This distortion is important to keep in mind when reading any voice. We must actively question how we are hearing them.

Happily today, in our modern culture, there exists a great engine of contemporary scholarship that continues to discover, recover, and reclaim the voices of these female intellectuals. One of those engines is The website acts as

….a multimedia resource dedicated to the creation and preservation of women’s intellectual history from the earliest surviving evidence into the 21st Century.   It will be accessible and contributable by everyone.  The core of Project Continua is the “female biography” archive, searchable content containing individual entries for each woman, including up-to-date scholarship on their life trajectories, their work, and the new knowledge they produced.  Project Continua will also act as a virtual laboratory in which students can connect and collaborate with scholars, experiment with ideas, share research, and initiate new scholarship about historically significant women. (

Project Continua is a home for the sounds of many lost and forgotten female intellectuals from antiquity to present day. It provides evidence attesting to their voices. Sappho sung,

Although they are

Only breath, words

which I command

are immortal.

Project Continua’s digitization of these female voices aid in their immortality. Although these women’s bodies have died and decayed, their words, their sounds, still breathe today.

Girl Reading a Book -- Emma Eilers ↘


Sheila Heti: “The only place you can be free is in your writing.” (by The Lavin Agency)

Crying does not indicate that you are weak. Since birth, it has always been a sign that you are alive.
Jane Eyre 

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre 

For now she need not think about anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of — to think; well, not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others. Although she continued to knit, and sat upright, it was thus that she felt herself; and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures.
from TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf (via readandbreathe)


On the New Yorker fiction podcast, the magnificent Jennifer Egan reads the equally magnificent Mary Gaitskill. Pair with Gaitskill on the six motives of creativity.