Monday, October 29, 2012

Musings on Notebooks, Ideas and Pastel Nuns

By Deb Courtney

I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go. I will stop what I am doing to write in it, and anyone who has known me longer than 5 minutes is not surprised to find themselves quoted in it. Because, you know, I am The Conversational Shoplifter, and therefore I shoplift amusing things other people say.

My friends have lately begun calling my notebook The Book. Because The Book is ubiquitous. Where I go, so goes The Book. When I do not have it, frequently someone will ask me: "Where is The Book?"

The Book is not not just for capturing shoplifts, however. Recently, I visited a Buddhist temple and wrote The Book:

They left the temple slowly, the white haired ladies in their pastel skirts and flowing scarfs and pale straw hats, four of them, the youngest with a few streaks of dark left in her long ponytail. The wind buffeted them and for a moment they seemed as nuns -- a Catholicness to the colors, sisters in pink and baby blue and palest yellow and beige and ecru, all flapping and flowing in the wind. So gentle of spirit they barely seemed there, ghosts of a more genteel time, yet I could hear the crunch of their modern practical shoes on the pebbles, making their last walk around the temple after visiting, and so they were really present, gently, gently winding up their karma, storing it for who knows what, and then off to the gift shop they went.

And when, more recently, someone poked a bit of fun at me for clutching The Book like a small child might a security blanket, my first instinct was to explain it in terms of shoplifts, how I remember the amusing bits of wordage people drop, which I wish to shape up for inclusion in my blog. But instead, I flipped to this passage, as quoted above, and then to another, much different, written in a fit of aggravation, and then to another, written while musing through the conclusion to a scene which would not conclude of its own accord. 

And then I realized something.

Writers need to carry notebooks.

To write in.

And yes, laptop computers or iPads or cell phone note files can fulfill this very necessary receiving function for writers. But for me, there is something about the beat up wreck of paper and cover, dented by the clip of a pen, marred by some ink that bled onto the the spine, curled where a bit of coffee hit the paper and not my mouth. Something important and visceral. And flipping back through it and seeing the handwriting and noting the emotional state BY the handwriting, and recalling where I was when I wrote whatever it is I am re-reading, I know that in The Book I capture the essence of things, not simply type words into a file.

In The Book, there is the flavor of life. Imbued in all its messy inconsistencies and moods.

And this is what we do as writers: capture things, ideas, scenes, in all their visceral messiness.

I am connected to the words that flow from my brain, down my arm, through my hand, into the ink and onto the paper, in a way that I am not when I type.

You cannot backspace with paper and pen; what you capture this way is as blunt and unique and as first draft as any first draft will ever be.

I want access to my first draft unadulterated non-backspaced thoughts when I go back for them. And not just the amusing Shoplifts.

So I can remember the pastel nuns of my life.

About the Writer: Writer. Diva. Wearer of incredibly high heels. Project Manager. Mom. Ex-wife. Driver of a convertible. Extravert. Eavesdropper. Herder of teenagers. Namer of things. Shopper. Chef. Dancer. Traveler. Student of the world. Observer of the patently obvious. Martini-swilling heathen. You can find more from Deb on her blog at The Conversational Shoplifter.


  1. I'm a notebook carrier, too. I've even perfected the art of writing while driving (don't tell!), because that particular phrase or description just will not stay stuck in my brain long enough to pull over. It's nice to know I'm not the only one!


  2. You said it just right: "You cannot backspace with paper and pen; what you capture this way is as blunt and unique and as first draft as any first draft will ever be."

    I will "shoplift" that one and use it the next time I'm accused of being a Luddite. (Actually, it would be refreshing to encounter someone who knew the word.)


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