I have a too-many notebooks problem at the moment. I have one titled The Journal of Endings in which I note and write about things coming to an end. I have a process journal for the book I was writing last year. I have one titled Daily Noticing which has become more like a planner/catchall/tarot diary since the layout is not the best for free-form writing. I have one on the dining room table to catch thoughts from reading and reflections; and this week I have started another for daily writing practice. Though I wrestled with marking up yet one more blank book, I couldn’t see my way around it given the specific purposes of the other notebooks in play.
The problem here lies in the fact that by having this many notebooks on the go, I will never come to the end any one of them – or at the very least, my satisfaction of *finishing* a notebook will be delayed into the far future. Which begs the question of whether I really only keep a notebook in order to prove to myself that I write enough to fill one.
The other problem with multiple notebooks is that I will likely eventually abandon one or more of them, leaving the irritating half-finished notebook cluttering up my desk for the many months it takes me to come to terms with the drift of my attention. Future me will pull these half-finished notebooks out and feel frustrated at the fact so many pages went un-used, and yet she won’t be able to bring herself to re-start an old notebook. The chronology is wrong for one thing, not to mention the fact that the content from one period of life doesn’t hold up beside another.
My conundrum brings to mind the notebooks of Anna Wulff In The Golden Notebook, that classic of western literature by Doris Lessing. In attempting to analyze herself, Anna starts four colour-coded notebooks dedicated to various parts of her life (including her alter-ego Ella). She doesn’t like the idea of keeping a single notebook which she feels will lead to a kind of chaos, but over the course of the novel she starts slipping between them, confusing one for the other and inserting content in the wrong places. It is only when she embarks on the synthesis notebook (the golden one) that things in her life start to make sense to her, and she overcomes her alienation and paralysis in both relationships and creativity. Anna is integrated by drawing her worlds together into a single object of reflection. There’s a lesson in there for me, I’m sure, but I’m not heeding it.
Though I don’t write in order to self-analyze, that is likely the root of all this. After all, notebook content almost never makes it into the public except in roundabout ways. But by writing down quotations, reflections about my reading, thoughts about the day, things I notice, and conversations I am moved by, I show myself to myself with each new entry. In Harper Lee’s words: writing is “a self-exploratory operation that is endless. An exorcism of not necessarily [the writer’s] demon, but of his divine discontent.” And what is discontent if not the state of perpetually not quite knowing oneself?
Wonderfully worded description of a malady I too suffer from: too many journals