Thursday, January 11, 2007

An Obsession Revealed

It is time to admit my obsession. Many internet hours poring over websites, reading other’s accounts of our mutual interest, elation when I discover yet another magazine highlighting this favorite thing, trepidation in the same instant, afraid that this will become another fad and prices will rise...or worse, that demand will exceed supply...

I confess:

I love Moleskine journals.
I love writing implements.

This may sound ridiculous. When I was in sixth or seventh, grade, I remember reading an article and commiserating with a writer who announced, to the derision of colleagues, that his best writing tip was to use a yellow legal pad. I understood what he was talking about. There are some of us, who for an inexplicable and deeply ingrained tactical reason, must rely on specific tools in order to get any writing done. I can tell you from experience. But also...well, we just love these things!

Warning! Technical, somewhat nerdy language to follow. Not for those who think stolen hotel pens are acceptable tools.

In high school, my poetry book was a two or three-subject mid-size notebook without holes but with lightly lined, college-ruled pages, a manila colored pocket in each of the separators, and a sturdy black cover. It was about the size of a paperback book and held up to some of the worst treatment I could offer. I still have those books, tucked away in chests somewhere in Indiana. It’s funny to read through them and see the hideous clichés, the sappy love poems, and some surprisingly lucid thoughts that slip out from the pages.

I only used mechanical leads or black ballpoint pens. Ink must be black. I’m sorry. Blue pens are an abomination unless there is a distinct desire to add color...and then, why not use a fine-tip Sharpie? In adolescence, I fell in love with the Zebra F-301 pen. Other than a green eraser that hails from my mother’s college days (and from the looks of it, going to be passed on to my children someday!), the Zebra pens have been with me through everything. Junior high, high-school, college, now. They wrote me through biology tests, secret love letters, crossword puzzles, entrance essays, music scores, and signing leases. I can’t get them in Brazil and coveted Tiago’s prized pen collection for the two or three I saw hidden in the depths...tried unsuccessfully to get a girlfriend to trade me hers, a gift from some Americans...and finally convinced my mother to bring me down a few when she came at Christmas. Mother, would you believe that those pens were one of the best gifts I got this year??? Not demeaning the camera, but the Zebras and I, well, we have such a long history together...

Other than that high school book, I have hated ruled notebooks. Good hearted people, knowing that I loved to write, would give me beautiful journals. Thickly lined, with little doo-dads in the corners. I have a stack of them at home. Tried, unsuccessfully to use them. Some became recipe books, half filled. Others started out as quote books and then were tossed aside until I finally ripped out the written pages and gave the journal to someone less picky. I can’t work with the colored pages and lines. They interrupt my thoughts, impede creativity and line drawings and splashing all over the page.

I also cannot use plain stick pens, other than to chew on with frustration. Or most regular pencils. They make a funny sound on paper and the line’s all wrong. And pens? Well, other than the aforementioned Zebra, its sister, the Zebra F-402 is also sweet, though a little thick of a line for regular journaling and poetry writing. The Pilot BPS Grip works nicely, but because it has a cap, I don’t like to lug it around. Too likely to get lost. When they’re working properly (as in, not exploding on an airplane), the Pilot V5 Precise extra fine is fabulous. But I’ve given up on them, because I hate getting ink all over my fingers. I’m still searching for the perfect, razor-thin, unsmudgeable line...

Back to journals...
In college, my best friend gave me a thin book with thick, recycled paper. Completely blank. I loved it. Carried it around with me for months. It birthed, if I remember right, most of my Servant Team poems. But the best journal ever was an expensive splurge that I’ve never regretted. I found it at a specialty store in Denver, Colorado and had to force myself not to touch it for the weeks leading up to my YWAM trip, as I planned it to be a travel journal. It had smooth hand-made paper, a sewn spine, and was covered in some creamy, silver-striped paper flecked with tiny imperfections. Absolutely gorgeous. I used up every page.

After that perfect journal, there was a unhappy lull when I looked unsuccessfully for blank books that would fill my high standards. Then one day, as I worked at the Christian bookstore in Marion, Indiana, we received a shipment. And my world was forever changed.

They weren’t anything extraordinary to look at, these simple black journals. Bound with an elastic on the right side, the Moleskines were sturdy but otherwise unremarkable. Until you opened them. The pages were cream colored, smooth, substantial. You could write on this paper without bleedthrough. The back cover held a secret little pocket for clippings, scraps, candy wrappers, money, bus tickets. There was a bookmark. I touched the paper and was instantly sold. Some people love their lined ones, or the watercolor/drawing paper, or the grid designs. I go blank. Simple. I just picked up two more from The little Moleskine has been converted into a weekly planner in the first half and a notes and inspirations diary in the last. The large Moleskine is my current diary and poetry journal. I’ve arranged a little display below:

The five displayed are:
-An old pocket that I carried around during my first times in Rio, whose pages are scattered with names of contacts and street kids and emergency phone numbers.
-The original journal, now filled to capacity.
-A pockets-only, which I use to organize receipts and credit cards.
-A drawing journal, for doing art and collages
-My current pocket planner

I’m sure I have confused a lot of people right now. Three pages on the merits of journals and pens??? I’m in good company, however. There’s the website, and a host of other artists and writers who post up their Moleskine designs on the internet. And the company has just come out with a line of travel journals for various cities around the world, which wouldn’t be a bad gift to give someone who’s traveling to London or Rome. Too bad they don’t have a Rio version yet! Did I mention that Chatwin used these notebooks? Not that I know who he is...but it gives cachet to the obsession, no?

Peace, and may you enjoy your hobbies with abandon!


Sue said...

I bought a Moleskine in college, and have never been content with any other journal that I have owned since. I had put off going back (in hopes of discovering a cheaper love), but I find that I never have words when I write in the inferior cousins I have tried. I think you may have inspired me to pay the extra pennies and buy one again, and perhaps be inspired to write again.
Oh - I am with you on the pens too! I can't tell you how many times I have tried to find the perfect pen, and shelled out way too much for pens I try once and never use again.
I miss having friends as crazy as I am...

Ali la Loca said...

I love me a Moleskine! Although I am much more of a sucker for larger-format unlined journals (my Moleskines are all the small, lined ones).

And pens? Oh, don't even get me started. For me it's rollerball all the way. I also like the fine-tip Sharpies, but they tend to dry out quickly on me.

Pens and paper are probably the least of my hobby obsessions these days, although at one time they did occupy front and center.

Sue said...

I must tell you that you sold me on trying the Zebra pen. I bought one today. It is quite the pen!

--jenna said...

i'm glad to know i'm in good company...sue, i miss you girl! get back to writing!

ali, you've got to try the larger, unlined moleskines...seriously, NOTHING beats these babies unless you're having something made-to-order from a master Nepali craftsman...and I too love sharpies. but they bleed...

El Matt said...

Ah yes, the Moleskine. Though extremely proud to finally fill a journal, I mourned the lack of additional pages in my first Moleskine. It was almost as if I'd lost the phone number of a good friend, preventing us from a much needed talk. I picked up my second pocket-sized Moleskine yesterday. It has the high calling to capture all my thoughts that would otherwise go away and never come back. The book has its work cut out for it.

As for pens, I highly recommend the Pilot G2. What can I say? I like the gel. Also, they happen to be the perfect diameter to use as a stopper on an Indian made ceramic cone water filter.