The last couple of weeks haven’t been the best (this seems to have become the default way of describing life right now, for me) but if there’s one thing I know how to do well, it’s to keep myself busy, and so my last few days have been spent buried in new and old obsessions.
I’ve had a number of obsessions over the last decade, and being the list-maker that I am, I have considered several times to make a list of them, just for the sake of getting an overall picture. And again, being the planner and procrastinator I am as well, I never actually made that list, until a few weeks ago.
My obsessions keep changing, but there are some that have stuck, and some that I lost interest in, only to return to them again. My favorite one so far is my commonplace book.
There were two full notebooks until recently, but then I flipped through the first one – which I had started when I was about 15 years old – and realized that I did not believe in and agree with many of the things I’d written in it. And since I don’t like hanging on to things that no longer represent me, I took a sketch pen and scratched them out. My initial plan was to paste pictures from a magazine over them to make the spreads look neat, but by the time I was done, I had covered almost 70% of the quotes with black ink.
I had changed a lot, evidently.
So I took my scissors and cut out all the remaining quotes. The scraps are safe in the envelope at the back of my reading journal now, waiting to be put together into a themed collage and added to my second commonplace book. The quotes in that one were noted down after much thought and scrutiny over several months, so it’s not going to suffer the same fate as the first volume.
(And yes, a friend of mine who has on several occasions asked me to will him the volume has already told me I’m a monster for butchering my notebook like that. I still prefer being called a monster than holding on to the burden of words that don’t serve me, S, so I don’t care.)
My commonplace book – Volume II, more precisely – is one of my most prized possessions. It’s the first thing I’d rescue if my house were ever on fire. I’ve labored a lot over it; a project entirely for myself. I’m proud of what I’ve made. And that’s why I’ve been wanting to share it with the world.
I’ve done so in the past, but it’s one thing typing a selection of quotes and sharing some pictures with them, and another to write them down, give the selection a structure and a theme, add an occasional doodle, and then share the finished product with everyone. I love my commonplace book as much for its presentation as I do for its contents.
I like organizing things, putting them into a particular order, and visualizing ideas and concepts around me. A commonplace book is the perfect place to do that. The only problem is, a notebook has a limited number of pages but there’s no end to how many things you can love and obsess over.
Commonplacing is a deliberate process for me; I’m more considerate now about what I put into those pages. Sometimes I have days when I get so overwhelmed that I feel like getting rid of as many things as I can. Everything from apps on my phone to quotes in my commonplace book is scrutinized. Discarding things feels great.
It also makes me organize my stuff and methods and think about what I let into my life. Over the last week or so, then, I’ve been busy doing just that, putting to good use a new obsession of mine – Google Sheets. Someone on Reddit put together a timeline of the events that take place in The Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson, along with character births and deaths as well as their ages when a particular event happened (it has spoilers). My inner list-maker and reader thought it was perfect, and a wonderful project to do.
Thus began my journey to find more such spreadsheets, informative or otherwise, and soon I was obsessed with using Google Sheets. I have since made several of my own: a list of the things that I want to do over the course of my life (there are not many and I’m not surprised, considering my death anxiety and the desire to have a simple life), broken down into actions I can take over the following months in order of priority; a sheet tracking projects I want to do (or those I wish existed); a list of small actions you can do to be an activist; a writing log; an idea dump; a spreadsheet with details of literary magazines I’d like to be published in, and so on.
My latest spreadsheet is a commonplace book of sorts. I believe the best way to preserve information is to share it. I keep getting a lot of ideas about things that I’d like to see happen, even if I’m not the one to do them – sometimes simply because I don’t have the required skills, sometimes because I want to see it exist as a consumer rather than as a creator. Add to that my death anxiety and the fear that my ideas will die with me. (I’m no da Vinci, of course, but it’s fun to explore ideas and see them come to life.)
So I decided I would share all my ideas and other notes here on my blog. Maybe others can use them. Even if they don’t, I’d done my job of not keeping them to myself. Putting them together nicely in a spreadsheet anyone can access seemed like a better idea than scanning the pages of my unorganized diary, so I started a new commonplace book in Google Sheets for just that. It’ll be much more organized; I can delete stuff from it without giving my friend a reason to call me a monster; it’s eco-friendly, and I can easily share it without having to scan pages or worry about rescuing a ton of notebooks from a fire. (I’ve attached the link, though it’s still a work-in-progress; there’s a lot to be added.)
But this is a new commonplace book, the third volume. I still have that second one, the one I put a lot of effort into; I’ll share that one along with my blog posts. Life has become fairly routine and novelty has become a rarity, which is why I haven’t been writing much on the blog or in my diary. I’m instead trying something new from today: taking one picture every day and writing one line about my day in a spreadsheet (obviously) – a digital 5-year journal. If on a lucky day one line won’t suffice, I can always write here, or in my diary. I think I don’t really fancy writing words others can’t see; I want to share as much of my work as possible (minus the entries made just for catharsis. Those are destined for the dustbin). And so I seem to be moving away from the idea of keeping a diary.
I often imagine my biographer (have I mentioned enough times on this blog how much of a daydreamer I am?) going through the very pages I’m writing, describing my thought process to the reader. I know there’s no reason anyone would ever write my biography (if they do, don’t buy it; my life is boring) but I like the idea of someone going through my notebooks. I like the idea of notebooks being personal artifacts, remnants of a person’s mind after they’re gone. It’s so fascinating; and even more fun if their creator is still alive.
I do wish sometimes that all people kept a commonplace book or a pocket notebook or any type of notebook – the quotes one selects from their reading, the notes one makes in a hurry, the lists one jots about their favorite movies or places they want to go to tell so much about a person. Plus, a notebook spread full of neat handwriting or random scribbles and the occasional doodle or detailed sketch is just so aesthetically pleasing to look at. Notebooks excite me, especially if they’re not empty and hold pieces of someone’s mind.
When I’m noting down a quote about contradictions or about the joy of writing, I’m doing so because the quote describes what I feel and identify with, and I hope that the quote explains to others parts of me that I don’t need to describe because another writer did the job better than me.
And it is for this same reason I wish other people kept notebooks too. If I were to date someone, I could hand them my collection so that they could get to know me better, and they could give me their notebook, and from the passages they chose to note down for keepsake, I could learn so much about the things they value and believe in. Notebooks are no substitute for communication, of course, but they do a lot of talking for you. And I imagine such an exchange of commonplace books will give way to a lot of interesting conversations about the person as well as the world around them.
I imagine, because I haven’t had that chance yet, but I’m carefully putting together my collection, preparing for that chance if or when it does come. Until then, I’ll keep sharing them here, because I love showing off work I am proud of.
And I’d like to leave you with this beautiful post I found on Tumblr about keeping a commonplace book. It’s what inspired me to write this one.