It was the summer before my freshman year of college, in what may be regarded as one of the least romantic place on Earth: the MJM Designer Shoes Store in the strip mall a five-minute drive from my house in Holmdel, New Jersey. What I needed was a new pair sandals. But when I got to the store, what I wanted was her.
I spotted her atrocious yellow binding from across the room. All summer, I had been hoping to get a notebook. I vaguely knew that people who did cool things had notebooks, and I wanted to be a person who did cool things. Thus, I naturally gravitated towards the notebook section of any store I entered. Wondering what kind of aesthetic-hating human would ever purchase this one, I scornfully pulled her out from her place on the shelf to admire her in all of her ugliness.
On the front cover, in three different mismatching and heinous fonts —
“There is a certain happiness in being silly and ridiculous.”
I flipped through her blank pages (they were wide-ruled, can you believe it?), and then turned to look at the cover again.
“There is a certain happiness in being silly and ridiculous.”
I thought to myself, this is a true statement. Something about it resonated with me. An almost-college-student, I was then slowly crawling out of the hellhole that is teenage angst, and I found the statement strangely comforting. I wanted that statement to be a part of me that I would never forget.
With the same sinking feeling you get when you un-ironically utter a phrase you were determined to only ever use ironically, I realized that the aesthetic-hating human being who would purchase this notebook was none other than me.
So I bought the notebook.
I also bought sandals.
My notebook has turned out to be surprisingly hardy for a random $6 purchase. She has outlived my sandals and been with me through urine-scented New York subway rides, the unexpected dousing of Taiwanese typhoons and the brutal warzone of my backpack. She’s become a weird journal-notebook-scrapbook, comprised of half-compiled aggregates of meaningful quotes, security pass stickers from visits to my friend’s Juilliard dorm and weird mental transcriptions of extra time at airports or mild angst. She’s the bearer of silent response rants to seminar classmates. (“No, David, you are being narrow-minded and wrong.”) She’s the pan under the sieve, catching all of the experiences that I am too lazy to write into personal essays, all of the show tickets I’m too sentimental to toss, and all of the ideas that maybe will go somewhere-someday.
By now, her front cover is attached to the rest of the notebook by only a purple and green duct tape reminiscent of an abstracted version of Barney the dinosaur. She is just as ugly as the first day I got her.
But she scares me now. Not because sometimes I page through the used pages and have absolutely no recollection as to what journal entries like “I think he looks like a …fat British Burger with a case” mean, but because she has only four blank pages left.
I am almost done with the notebook. (The humanities side of my brain would like to note that this is a metaphor for Kat being a junior in college and being almost done with college.) As someone who once lost a sock on a train ride, I’m surprised I have managed not to lose her over the course of two and a half years. I’ve never written enough to reach this predicament in any other notebook. And I don’t do well with endings.
When I went home for fall break this year, I found a photo of my mother holding a pig-tailed, three-year-old me on the front porch of my house. I had taped it onto the insides of the front cover, over a haphazardly-placed Barnes and Noble “Buy 1 Get 1 Free” sticker, just to prevent myself from losing it. But I forgot that this notebook was not infinite, and now, as I imagine my notebook being tucked away onto my bookshelf when her pages are filled, closing the covers on a childhood photo feels heartbreakingly symbolic.
But beyond that,paging through my entries is a jarring reminder that I have gone from someone who once wrote:
I’ve started waking up at night and thinking I’m at home for a few seconds, before my feet hit the board at the end of my bed or my hand reaches out to the wall right next to me, and I remember that home has neither of these things and realize that I’ve just forgotten I’m not home. The ceiling, my comforter, my bed feel unfamiliar for a second, and there’s a pang of homesickness, but then I go back to sleep.
To someone whose jotted notes tended to resemble:
I meant to make it into the city earlier so I can eat Ippudo [ramen] before I have to go.
I don’t I miss the person I was when I was three, or the person I was freshman year. Thankfully, I no longer cry on the bench outside Durfee until someone gives me half a Twix bar (the wrapper is taped to the fifth page of my notebook). I’ve found A Different Drum Dance Company and made better friends than that one weird toxic and draining friendship I had in high school. I’ve learned to be less bad at writing. I’ve learned to be less bad at being a friend and human being.
I am infinitely cooler now.
Perhaps my freak-out shouldn’t have been as much of a surprise. Joan Didion once wrote that “Keepers of private notebooks are … lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.”
And while I like to think I come off as a little bit less angsty and mysterious than Didion’s description, I’d be inclined to agree. In my notebook, I’ve written down fragments of life as I observe it, as if my written words are a roadmap to rearranging my neuronal firing patterns in that exact moment — as if I could maybe weasel myself back into that moment in time. But I have spent all of this time attempting to thwart the unidirectionality of time to no avail. And this heartache-terror seizes my junior year existence. I can never go back to moments that have happened already, so how do I ensure that I get the most out of staying up too late with friends instead of doing my homework?
The end of my notebook is a wake-up call to the fact that my time in college is flying by, and now I am wallowing in hyperconsciousness-induced paralysis.
What ought I do with my remaining time at Yale before I’m thrust into the real world, which I have heard is sad and miserable?
How do I best use my four remaining pages? Do I use them to address my feelings about the end of the notebook (“Dear notebook, you will soon be of no use to me and therefore, I will leave you to gather dust in my bookshelf so better make the most of this.”)? Do I make future plans again like the ones early in the pages that I made for my college years (“learn to code,” “write a novel,” “stop being late to things,” etc.)? Or should I just scribble them all out and call it a day? And oh, how it doesn’t really matter, and how it does.
But in the end, whether or not I use them well, and whether or not I like it, if I must have a notebook, I must buy myself a new notebook. I must move on. (@Heart, take note.)
The new notebook will have pages of an unfamiliar thickness, with edges that aren’t worn, with pages that aren’t mottled from being wet and dried again, with lines that are probably not wide-ruled, with covers that don’t make everyone who sees it think it’s a poorly marketed novel.
And I’ll miss my ugly notebook with which I shared two and a half formative years. I’ll miss my freshman year days of staying up too late after FroCo pancakes. I’ll miss my first tastes of freedom from the monotony of New Jersey Suburban Hell. I’ll maybe miss the fact that I no longer need to be reminded that there is a certain happiness to being silly and ridiculous.
Time will move on. I will move on, and I will fill up the new journal with more notes and doodles and tickets and ideas that are probably better than the ones in this one.
So it’s fine, however heart-wrenching it may be, to move on. And now everything condenses into one singular thought: thank God I’m not a senior.