On Notebooks 📔
which are both magical and mundane.
Notebooks used to have such a magical hold over me. It was an obsession that began when I was quite young, writing my first little poems in a sticker book. My first diary was puffy pink, Barbie merch with gold lock and tiny key. In middle school, there were crushed faux velvet journals from Hot Topic, denim journals from Delia*s, plain sketchbooks from Border’s, spiral notebooks I’d cover in stickers and the names of bands and silly things like “I ♥ Jonny Greenwood.”
High school saw more plain notebooks that I’d collage with cutouts from all my British music magazines, inspiring a Franciscan monk to once sing Peter Frampton at me—I’d cut out the cover of Frampton Comes Alive without really knowing who he was. I saved up once for a green suede notebook my mom refused to buy me, because it was $30, and in that I chronicled the strange summer of 2002 when I had a fight with one of my best friends and got obsessively into John Frusciante’s solo music—then met my first real boyfriend. It was an indie movie (it still could be)! If I’d known the word and condition “graphomania” as an adolescent, I would’ve dramatically ascribed it to myself.
In college and my twenties, notebooks remained important but my life became more and more digital. As with many pursuits in my young adulthood, I would always buy notebooks and attempt to imbue them with power, with being the thing that would change everything for me, turn me into a writer, get me to write the short stories and novellas I thought I was meant to be publishing. I didn’t have a strong enough stomach for rejection, though; the few short stories I did submit received feedback that I couldn’t read. I would delete the emails and pretend they never happened (this is still my response to rejection, though I am able to read critique, which I do credit with helping me keep up a delusional optimism and keep writing). I dropped my fiction dreams when food seemed to call, and I haven’t really looked back. The first notebook I filled up since high school would be my initial book of recipes.
The last few years have seen notebooks take on a much more functional role in my life. I lost, in a move, my favorite item—an item that had rekindled a youthful attachment to notebooks, this Louise Carmen leather folio, which writing this has inspired me to re-purchase. It did provide me with the realization that slim paper cahiers are the way to go, and now I use Baron Fig ones to take notes, write questions, develop recipes, occasionally journal or write out pieces of essays. I use them to think, and go through one every two to three months, so I now have quite the little archive. Not quite as fun as all the crushed purple velvet and green suede of my youth, but useful.
I keep a separate planner for appointments and my to-do lists. For 2021, it was the Appointed Co. I loved its format so much, with dates on one side and room for lists and notes on the other. But its spiral binding eventually gave way; it’s not suited to be toted around. For 2022, I went with Papier, as it’s hardbound. But it’s only dates, which isn’t how I like to think about work, and so for 2023, I have found what I believe is going to be the ideal: Leuchtturm1917 weekly, so that I can track appointments and meetings on one page and write my list of tasks on the other, and I can bring it everywhere without worrying it will fall apart.
My ability to be organized and no longer imbue notebooks with magical significance is one of necessity as well as circumstance: I have a lot to stay on top of, and I also don’t have little shops to go wander in where I might see a notebook that I can pretend for ten minutes will change everything about my life. I also don’t want to change everything about my life anymore—that’s pretty key. When I do, I’m sure that the desire will reveal itself as it always has: in a notebook.
This Friday's From the Kitchen dispatch for paid subscribers will be a recipe for a walnut shortbread—the one I used as a shell for pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving—and I will include some suggestions from past recipes for how to make them even more exciting. See the recipe index for all recipes available to paid subscribers.
Nothing! But as usual, I promise I'm working on plenty of things.
My own book, once again, to do the copyedits. Preparing for my Culinary Tourism class coming this spring at BU.
All the usual things—back into the routine of my weekday meal concepts.
Loved this! Notebooks and planners are indeed magical, but I've also fallen HARD for the charms of Google Calendar: the colors! :) I don't carry a notebook with me, but I've used the Writual Planner (https://writualplanner.com/products/2023-writual-tarot-journal-paperback) for going on three years now, and I love it: space for astrological info, as well as Tarot cards.
Deborah A. Cecere
Lovely essay, Alicia. Thank you for sharing your reflections and stimulating mine. Here's to the many notebooks I bought that were so magical I could never bring myself to fill them with the mundane!