“How many notebooks do you have?”
I was asked that once at the beginning of an improv rehearsal as I removed a stack from my book bag. The answer at that time was five: three for storytelling, one for work, and one for improv notes. Five is usually pretty standard, not counting the one that I keep in my left pocket with my cell phone. That’s just for random, thoughts, though, nothing specific.
I bought my first journal when I was twenty. I think I went to the Michaels in Henrietta in Rochester to get it. I used a Canson Artist notebook, 6″ x 4″. Canson Artist notebooks have nice white paper that really takes ink, particularly the ink of a Uni-ball Vision Micro point black pen. That’s a 0.5mm point. I mean, sure, I used the 0.7mm for a while but I was young and I had a lot to learn.
I take my notebooks seriously.
Recently I’ve been cleaning out my apartment and I realized that, damn, I’ve got a lot of notebooks.
I’ve used them for joke ideas when I was doing stand up. I used them for morning pages when I read The Artist’s Way. I used them for directions (pre and even post smart phone). I have dedicated storytelling notebooks with ideas for stories with bullet points of the events that helps me memorize them. I used a couple for notes about new coding languages that I’m trying to learn. I’ve used them to make notes about spec scrips that I’ve never written.
Like my father, I write out to do lists because no app can recreate the feeling of writing something down in ink, doing it, and then crossing it off in ink. I have even fallen prey to a new trend and I am currently trying out: The Bullet Journal (google it, it’s bonkers how many people make youtube videos about these things; bonkerser still is how many of them I have watched). I have also filled a fair number of notebooks in recent years with improv notes.
Improv notes are especially crazy given the haste with which they are written and the scenes to which they refer that only make sense in that given moment. Here are some lines from improv notebooks, i.e. things that I have actually written down while coaching improv:
“nipples – cut them out of the poster”
“alright girls, enough about you two, let’s talk about the pool diving board”
“this guy got a handjob from God, I’m in his camp”
“Hey. Carl? Hope? Heimlich – shoots Rich”
I have yellow legal pads, marbled composition notebooks (some college ruled, some wide), Mead notebooks (all college ruled), Staples notebooks (ditto), sketch books with white paper, and a lot of Moleskines. Pocket sized, full sized, medium sized, some with black covers with the elastic band that keeps it closed, others that are thin and cardboard colored. Some have plain pages, some lined, some with graph paper. I even have two from The Force Awakens, one with Boba Fet on the cover, the other with Kylo Ren.
Lately I’ve been decorating my notebooks with stickers. I bought a couple of sticker books from a shop on Canal Saint-Martin in Paris. One is full of graffiti-esque skull stickers. The other is full of letters. I use these on my notebooks the way I would draw logos on three ring binders in middle school with a blue ball point pen.
I feel strange if I leave the house without a notebook and a pen. I feel like I’ll have some brilliant thought for a sketch or a joke or a story. The brilliance rarely comes but I like to be prepared. Sometimes I just need to vent, so, I write down what I’m thinking about in that moment. I would say that most of the personal writing in my notebooks is a veritable nuclear arsenal of embarrassment. I can only hope that, were they ever found, my writing is illegible.
Leafing through old journals provides a record of my life but the odd thing is that I sound exactly the same. I worry about the same things. I vent about the same things. I hope for the same things. My main motivation in writing things down seems to be solipsism, pure and simple. I don’t have a record of my days after my parents died. Actual crisis in my life makes me too nervous to actually write. Navel gazing, emo crap on the other hand sends me right to the Canson Artist Sketchbook. (It is also not lost on my that the content of this post isn’t exactly scintillating, set the world on fire stuff, but, just for frame of reference, this is how I sound when I edit myself over days and weeks. This, believe it or not, is pared down.)
Falling short of self improvement seems to be a big theme. In one notebook, I wrote down the same goals daily for a month or two because some self help book told me to write them until I finally believed them. I never did stand up on Conan O’Brien nor did I get a sketch show into the Aspen Comedy Festival. I’ve found notes from meetings with various life coaches. I found a notebook where I tracked my calories. (I still do that but now I do it on an app.)
I looked through the yellow legal pads where I wrote jokes. It’s not just that none of the jokes were particularly good, it’s that none of them were really jokes. They were just vague observations with no real punchlines. Hard laughs were not really my strong suit when I was doing stand up. I was never as inspired to write jokes as I was to write blog posts or tell stories.
Along with the notebooks, I also found pretty much every piece of writing that I ever liked or felt proud of. Every sketch, every short story, one character monologue.
I had a writing teacher who would take our hand written exercises from class, read them in her off time, and make notes on post-its in red pen and affix them to our papers. She would fold them into an envelope, write our names on the front, also in red pen, and hand them back to us at the beginning of class. I kept every envelope. In one of her notes, she said that I was talented and that I should take my writing seriously. That note meant a lot to me. I put it away in a cardboard box from IKEA. Re-reading it now, it still means a lot to me. It was the teacher from this piece. I feel like an asshole because she was this dedicated teacher and writer and I focused on the fact that she was a stripper. Maybe I should journal about that.
One thing that all of my damn notebooks has shown me is that I’ve never stopped. I always write something, even if it’s some self lacerating paragraph in a pocket sized notebook that somehow makes me feel better to get off my chest. I have these bursts of inspiration sometimes where I’ll say, “I’m going to learn the guitar!” or, “I’m going to start drawing!” But a week goes by and the novelty wears off and the sound I’m making is nowhere near as good as the sound of a real song or my drawings look like crap, so, I let it go. But I keep writing.
I don’t know where the urge comes from. As the saying goes, I don’t like writing but I love having written. I like performing my stories or sharing blog posts. But the writing in all of my damn notebooks isn’t meant to be seen by anybody and I still keep doing it. Maybe it’s just the sensory details of it: the creak of the spine when you open a new notebook, the odd satisfaction when you see the pages start to fill up with writing, the feeling of putting ink on white paper.