My Mind is a Blank Book

7 Nov

This blog sort of reminds me of one of those Andy Rooney segments on 60 Minutes when Andy brings out dozens of disposable razors and then provides pithy insights into each one of them. “Rubber grip? Just how weak do these razor manufacturers think I am? Why I remember at the Battle of Normandy, we shaved with broken Coke bottles and spit…”

Unlike, Andy, I don’t want to talk about disposable razors.

No, I want to talk about something near and dear to my heart.

One afternoon not too long ago, I ducked away from my office during my lunch hour and went to Barnes and Noble. Not to look for a novel or the latest non-fiction bestseller, but to commune with the blank books.

Yes, it is not at all unusual to encounter me in a bookstore thumbing through books whose pages are completely empty.

When I say empty, I mean empty in a good way.

There is something hopeful about a bound book of blank pages. It feels like a handful of potential. The breeze the pages make as you thumb through them carries a whiff of creativity.

I am not sure when my love affair with the blank books began exactly. I remember, I received a 5 Year Diary when I was seven years old. You know the kind—it was brown and had a little lock on it. The kind of lock that bratty brothers have been picking for eons, just so they can read their sister’s diary and then blurt out her secrets during family dinner which in turn causes sis to run crying to her room screaming, “I hate you! I hate you!”

Fortunately, I am an only child. Actually, I have a sister, but she and I are both only children. That’s a topic for a different blog.

The point is, there was no one with an inordinate curiosity about the content of my little diary. That’s just as well. I was 7 years old. How juicy could it have been?

All I ever remember about writing in that book was I had a bit of challenge with the whole “I before E” thing so one time, to avoid the whole sticky issue, I used the word “pals” instead of “friends.”

Isn’t it odd the things you remember sometimes?

Blank books became a big part of my life when I started high school.

In December 1974, I bought a one-year diary at a drug store. It had a black cover and one lined page for each day of the coming year. I wasn’t earnest about writing a page each day and then on some days, having teen angst and all, I had a lot more than one page I wanted to write. So I would continue what I was writing on one of the previously skipped pages. These passages are painful for me to read now. It would be one thing if I could read them and laugh and say, “Boy have I changed since then!” But in all actuality, I am still just a troubled adolescent trapped in the body of someone pretending to be a responsible adult. Don’t tell anyone I told you.

Actual high school journals

Here’s an excerpt from October 10, 1975:

“Last night was total Hell. I won’t dwell on it because things are going well today…”

Well, we’ve all been there, right?

In the back of this book, I wrote down the name of every book I read, month by month, throughout the year. I even had a rating system.

Books I liked best included In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan, Watership Down by Richard Adams, and apparently (although I have no recollection of reading it) Liza! By Parish and Ano.

Now being sold on ebay

Yes, Liza!

Don’t all boys typically read unauthorized biographies of Liza Minnelli?

What are you trying to say?

I had a one-year diary for 1976 too. It was red. With this journal, in addition to tracking the books I read, I listed the movies I saw as well. Some of my favorite movies of that time include Dog Day Afternoon, One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, and Lucky Lady.

Yes, I am aware that Liza Minnelli was the star of Lucky Lady. What is your point?

That was the year I graduated from high school. When I went to college I abandoned the Day to Day Diary and switched to a spiral notebook for writing my journal.

At college the teen angst turned into college student angst, which is teen angst with a bit more philosophy thrown in, along with drugs and, eventually, sex.

To illustrate my point, here is a poem I wrote in my journal back in 1976:

Sitting at the bus stop; no friends in sight

my funeral could be held in a teaspoon
and no one would have to stand.
or at least it seems that way at times.
it’s not that I want to be important
no, I just want to know that I matter.
look at it rain,
and I forgot my umbrella.
there are enough drops in the rain
to fill a teaspoon again and again.

Oh, brother…

I have been keeping a journal ever since. Fortunately, for the most part, I gave up writing poetry long ago.

Sometimes I think I just keep a journal because it gives me an excuse to shop for blank books. Over the years I have used a wide variety of blank books.

I love the bound sketch books they sell in art supply stores and I’ve used volumes of those over the years. I used to create title pages and collages in them. Here’s an example from 1989:

Here is one of my favorites. I bought it in San Francisco in the early 80’s.

I would love to find another one like this but I haven’t been able to. If you know where I can buy one, please let me know.

Here’s a really cool blank book that was made in Nepal.

Pretty little pen killer

Unfortunately I didn’t like writing in it because the pages were so thick and absorbent my favorite pens kept dying while I was writing.

Here’s a blank book I bought at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington. It is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY. The cover is embossed with Egyptian symbols

and here’s what the pages look like:

Lately I have become partial to magnetic flap journals. Here’s the one I am currently using. A friend gave it to me as a gift: (Thanks, Terry!)

I have a lot of blank books but let me end this with one I found on that trip to Barnes and Noble that I mentioned earlier. Can you believe this was on clearance for $5.00?!

A Catwoman journal. I had to have it.

I know….. Not Liza! gay, but pretty damn gay. That’s what you’re thinking.

You’re just jealous.

I will close with the final lines of a poem I apparently wrote in 1975. It is called Labarith. It goes on for two pages and I will spare you most of it. But the finish seems appropriate here:

If my life is a poem
The words are my friends.
But this poem like all others,
Must eventually end.

(Unlike my obsession with blank books…)

So tell me about your relationship with blank books or some other inanimate object that brings you joy….

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