I love the feel of it between my fingers, crisp to all the senses, glistening in its pristine newness. It calls to me from across shops, from the stacks in bargain shops between tacky plastic gizmos and basic household essentials. It calls a love song that my heart cannot resist and my feet are drawn relentlessly to it, my fingers itching to fondle. It is a love affair that has spun its story through my life since the earliest days of childhood.
Fancy stationery sets, matching paper and envelopes, were already rare when I was young and the stale, dusty smell of scented sheets never appealed, too much like those overrated incense sticks. And there was always correspondence paper, usually airmail blue, for pen pals. I preferred it when I finally acquired one of those line guides to hide behind each page, a bit like what we used to use for stories in junior school. But notebooks, ah, always notebooks.
I sought them out wherever I went. No, they sought me out. Calling to me always.
I’d return from holidays abroad as a teenager with stacks of the beautiful European squared paper school jotters. Beautiful, practical and cheap. The blank sheets of paper, stark and white, always overwhelm me. Where to start, where to risk placing the pen? I love the precision of squared sheets, regularity in my crazy world. I like margins and headers, tinted in different colours is always more fun. Spiral-bound is more comfortable, more enduring. A4 can be just as unmanageable although required for academic contexts. I prefer A5, big enough not to have to turn the pages all the time but easily held and carried, fitting on your lap when needs be too. Fuzzy-grade paper (sometimes recycled sometimes just too cheap) never is bought, I’m an ink pen user. Nibs get caught, snarled in the bobbles like toes in poly cotton sheets.
I have precise tastes when it comes to my paper.
Fussy? No, I just know what I like and what works for me.
I stash my notebooks carefully, always having some on hand. I have got better at using them. I used to keep them for years, saving them like cherished heirlooms, something precious and never to be tainted. I’m terrified of spoiling them. But somehow it still feels like a waste, for paper to go unused. Paper without a purpose is such a sad thing. That’s why I switched from fancy to school-style, it’s more me and a lot less pressure. I dread making a mistake, it holds me back always, from writing, from using paper, from starting things.
Notebooks contain my secret thoughts. Notebooks have kept me (relatively) sane. Notebooks have been my confidants and faithful friends. I have piles of those notebooks, a record of all the teenage turbulence.
Notebooks contain my scribblings. Notebooks which are full of lists, from the prosaic milk, bread and cheese to my dreams, ambitions, hopes. (There are less of those types of lists these days). Notebooks keep me (relatively) sane and organised. Notebooks are always the record of my life in cryptic half sentences.
Smooth and cool to the fingers, my hand skims over the first page of a notebook, even before I’ve committed to a longer term relationship. I judge the book not by its alluring, bright covers but by its leaves. Is the paper inside worth it? Fancy textile covers often hide ‘arty’ rough paper which does little to tempt me, especially not at that price. I want an orderly relationship, I check out its lines. I flick it through, does it turn or is it bound too loosely? The trauma of detached sheets spewing everywhere is best avoided. A notebook is an important relationship, there’s a lot of words to cover these as yet empty pages. Is it worthy of them? I dream of the things that might yet be written, secrets and fears, notes on a myriad of subjects, to do lists of things already done but need a feel-good tick, the grocery lists.
I get a thrill when I buy the notebook even if I might not use it for months or even years. But I know that it’s there waiting for me, the starting of a notebook is something to look forward to, something exciting in a mundane world. Pen poised, trepidation rising in my heart then the first word goes down. A new notebook christened.
Paper. Beautiful stuff. What an invention. And what a tale it tells.