I compulsively crave and obsess over new journals and notebooks. In the bookstore, Walgreens, and paper goods store, I walk directly to the shelves of Moleskins, Paperblanks, Deuts187s and Piccadillys. A journal serves not just as a utility to write. Before the writing happens, a journal is loaded with meaning.
Writing in some journals may mean participating in a historical continuum. Paperblanks’ cover images are restored designs from millennia ago. The aesthetics are orderly, symmetrical, and intricate—foreign to the modern reductionist journal with a white cover and a tiny but rebellious black square in the center. The Paperblanks images, ranging from equinoxes, silk work from France, the book of Solomon, to Paris Noir, imbues each journal with a sense of historical continuity and connection. By writing between the covers which bare images of the old, we restore them to the present. The journal which contains the first draft of this essay bares a cover with a symmetrical, silver filigree design from Germany in the 1800s. The description inside proudly declares: “Silver filigree was made with the intent to celebrate human’s inclination to the ornate, the symmetrical nature to beauty and the delicate system in which beauty participates.” No matter how desolate the modern era appears to others, we can always restore our universal appreciation of beauty and the ornate. A notebook can thus restore and connect us to something greater than what it is we’re writing in the present.
Black journals are the most alluring of them all. Black, though the most soulful color, is not understood as such or even considered a “real color.” In objective terms, it is the very essence of color; it is all color condensed into one point. Darkness does not signify the absence of light but the complete absorption of it, as when pupils dilate in the dark to collect as much light as possible. Blackness gathers, collects, and condenses as a black hole does, inhaling the galaxy it inhabits. When I look at a black journal, I see colorful tales and mysteries condensed in the cover. Opening the cover titillates me, and I am always shocked by the white void of the blank pages.
We can neglect notebooks with different colors. They are too heavily associated with ever-changing personalities and moods. Red hot anger, yellow sunniness, green envy, imaginary purple—these colors have their own sentiments. I could only ever justify a notebook cover with a plain, light blue color, one reminiscent of water.
Water reveals what’s underneath, letting light in and reflecting simultaneously. In this way, the water can be a source of reflection, tranquility, and wonder which makes it an astute metaphor for the work that journaling involves. Water is a form of writing, like Dumbledore’s liquid pensive in Harry Potter, used to sift through memories, reflect, and relax. In writing, we wade through narratives, emotional currents, and epiphanies made by diving deep. Sometimes the waters are pacified and stilled with the pen, and I see a clear reflection staring back at me. Other times, I see something close to the Loch Ness: a dark and mysterious figure that manages to escape before I can take a snapshot. There is a mystery lurking in my subconscious, just beyond reach, awaiting discovery in a dream.
There might be something ironic in water as a metaphor for writing, as writing is a way to solidify passing thoughts on a page. Yet our words, no matter how tangible, are never absolute. No claim can ever actually be permanently proved to exist, although it can be improved and advanced, torn down, and critiqued. Just as I can write my memories down, my memories will change. I will have changed, for better or for worse, and inevitably look back on a memory which could feel foreign to me. By journaling, I can attempt to capture my memories as they were at that specific point in time. Yet just like a black and white photo, writing a memory down is only capturing a fragment, a basic shell of what it was. This brings me to the inside of the notebook: the blank pages.
Despite myself, I looked at these blank journals before anything else in the bookstore. The other books have already fulfilled their creative potential. Their creators will never walk into the bookstore to squeeze in their last edits. All is said, done, in print and for purchase as is. The empty journals are begging a writer to walk into the bookstore, pets in a shelter desperately looking for love. More so than a living, breathing thing, they are tragically incomplete and absolute without a writer.
This is a reason why they are also intimidating to start. Unlike spoken language, writing is slower and presents the possibility of rewinding, replacing, improving our language in retrospect. What we write can be taken apart; people can take a magnifying glass to it like a detective and interrogate each word. We have to back up and defend what we write due to its permanence in the objective world.
A blank page is the blank day we might have ahead of us on our schedules, lucky as that is. It is another stomach waiting to be fed. We must really listen to know when it’s hungry and what it craves. A blank page is the emptiness any creative person feels before starting the project. This emptiness will persist, and therefore the creativity will live on. This satisfies the “logic of the fit,” the model of the universe which states that no being exists as a solitary unit, everything is completed by its complementary part. And so, the blank pages keep turning as long as we are brave.
Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.