This image has been saved in my inbox for a few weeks as a reminder to read Joan Didion’s essay “On Keeping a Notebook”, which is part of her collection of essays in Slouching towards Bethlehem (1968).
I cannot remember the exact date I started keeping my notebooks, but it must have been 3rd or 4th grade. When we migrated from Guyana to New York, I was too old for the 2nd grade; the school registered me for the grade above. That was such an overwhelmingly difficult year. Fresh off the boat, well actually, fresh off Eastern Airline; slowly navigating our new neighborhood in the Bronx and adapting to the change of season, going from the Caribbean breezes to Fall, was a drastic change! A shy student with a West Indian accent and to add insult to injury, every day I was ushered into a special reading class for two hours and then returned to my homeroom, it’s embarrassing even now to think, how I envied the students in my grade. This was my struggle as a child to learn to read at my grade level.
My lack of self-confidence did not help matters; I learned to read in the 3rd grade. By the beginning of 5th grade, I was no longer in special reading (hooray!). I could finally sit with the other kids.
“It all comes back. Perhaps it is difficult to see the value in having one’s self back in that kind of mood, but I do see it; I think we are well advised to keep on nodding term with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.”
“Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4am of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget who we were – I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be.” – Joan Didion
That frightened little girl, who spent many sleepless nights, who would have rather hide than go to school and be teased because she couldn’t pronounce a word, dreamt of becoming a writer. When I was applying to journalism schools, I laughed out loud, was I the same girl who stuttered her way through Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go!
I am grateful, every day for Mrs. Brown, my first teacher from PS 47. When I think back to when writing became part of my life, it’s because of her compassion towards me. Every week, she encouraged me to read a book in addition to my homework. Do you remember the baby blue exercise books; she gave one to me to write a book report after each story. In my notebook, I was never wrong or judged on my analysis of the major characters, themes and symbols. Years later, before moving for high school, I went back to PS 47 and thanked her. If I had to pinpoint the moment, it was then I started writing short stories, by the time I was in 9th grade, I had written a novel, I still have the spiral pink notebook with my friends’ notes, one girl wanting to be my editor. The blue exercise books, led to the black and white composition books with quotes, passages from my favorite stories, lyrics from songs as my writing prompts, I find myself flipping through them more frequently now, reacquainting myself with an old friend. It jolts a memory of my mood, my envy, my desires, and my imagination.
I think, of that little girl sometimes, when I see the kids in the after school programs, who are so afraid of their own shadows. I want more than anything to give these kids a creative outlet through art and writing. Sir Ken Robinson, an educator and writer, during his (TED2006) talks, How Schools Kill Creativity said as children we were all fearless and willing to take a chance; we lose our childhood curiosity and creativity because we are frightened to be wrong.
“I imagine, in other words, that the notebook is about other people. But of course it is not.”
“It is a difficult point to admit. We are brought up in the ethic that others, any others, all others, are by definition more interesting than ourselves; taught to be diffident, just this side of self-effacing. (“You’re the least important person in the room and don’t you forget it, “Jessica Mitford’s governess would hiss in her ear on the advent of any social occasion; I copied that into my notebook because it is only recently that I have been able to enter a room without hearing some such phrase in my inner ear.) Only the very young and the very old may recount their dreams at breakfast, dwell upon self, interrupt with memories of beach picnics and favorite Liberty lawn dresses and the rainbow trout in a creek near Colorado Springs. The rest of us are expected, rightly, to affect absorption in other people’s favorite dresses, other people’s trout.”
“And so we do. But our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable ‘I’” –Joan Didion
On Keeping A Notebook- https://www.penusa.org/sites/default/files/didion.pdf
Sir Ken Robinson, TED2006- http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity?language=en