The other week, at our semi-regular music-listening hang, I had a moment of notebook envy. Not the computer kind, either. We were listening to a few tracks from Undun, the new Roots record [Moon NPR review is here], when my friend Andy pulled a sleek black sketchbook from his bag. It was slightly smaller than an iPad, and as I watched him riffle through the unlined pages, I felt slightly like I was eavesdropping on a private realm. There were doodles, and notes in red felt pen that had urgent-looking underlinings. There were dashed-off ideas, names of songs and albums and probably grocery lists too.
I was struck by the stonecold simplicity of it. And by the sharp sense of missing this type of book, some necessarily haphazard permanent record of momentary obsessions and free-associative “what if?” thinking. Some place where wild ideas were welcomed and expected. It reminded me of the little Clairefontaine notebooks I kept in my back pocket years ago. This was before the smartphone era, when it wasn’t so easy to organize and sort information. The pages in the one I carried had no order at all – phone numbers were followed by quotes that seemed brilliant at the time – and as a result, they were highly inefficient for storing data. But they in some ways, the randomness served as a creative catalyst: It’s possible to dismiss the cluttered pages as rambling or to read them as a kind of internal news-crawl poetry, a symphony of mental beats sometimes leading nowhere, sometimes leading to life-changing notions.
Talking to Andy about notebooks, I realized how much I have missed this mode of capture. Ideas are like gold; even the impossible unrealistic ones can enrich daily life. Maybe in the very act of relying on a device for everything, we deny ourselves a bit of farflung dreaming, the simple analog pleasure of stalking an idea, framing it Venn-diagram-style, mulling it again while waiting for a train. And then turning the page….