Notebook Addict of the Week: John Dickerson

This week’s addict was found thanks to a tip from last week’s addict, June. John Dickerson wrote a piece on Slate that I think many of us will identify with, about our impulses to capture the moments of our lives, whether it be in paper notebooks or in smartphone snapshots. The article was accompanied by this lovely photo of some of the author’s notebooks:

John Dickerson's notebooks.

It’s hard to see exactly what kind of notebooks the black ones on the bottom are, but they remind me of some that I have from many years ago, which I think you can still buy. I think mine were made by Boorum & Pease, though I’m not finding anything that looks like them online at the moment, and I don’t seem to have ever put any photos of mine on this site. This has inspired me to dig them out as a topic for a future post!

Some quotes from John’s article:

“We’re told that we spend too much time recording moments instead of living in them. That’s a false choice.

Some of my favorite memories and best ideas from last year are gone. I wrote them in a notebook I carried in my back pocket, and a few months ago, I left the notebook on a plane. Observations about my kids, story ideas, and thoughts about the world around me were lost. I replaced the notebook, and then last week, left the replacement notebook on a plane. This should win me some sort of prize….

“I have developed emergency relationships with the lost-and-found departments at Delta and United airlines, but you know how that story ends. You can find vintage sandwiches in the seat-back pouches of a plane, but if you leave a leather-bound notebook about the size of a 3-by-5 card behind, they’ll throw it in the engine and clam up before you get out of the airport. They have special drills for this, I think.

I have carried a notebook in my back pocket for the last 23 years, five months, and 11 days. I can be precise because I still have the first one and 20 others like it on a shelf in my office. They contain thousands of little passages, some only a sentence, from coffee shops and northbound trains and campaign buses. I’ve transcribed overheard conversations (“Shy sales people have skinny kids”), I’ve sketched characters for a novel (“he had the face of a dissipated potato”), and I’ve collected facts, words, and quotes from my travels and reading (“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard”)….
When you pause to write about something—even if it’s for Twitter or Facebook—you are engaging with it. Something within you is inspired and, at the very least, you’ve got to pick the words and context to convey meaning for your private recollection or, if you make it public, for the larger world.

In “Why I Write,” Joan Didion explains, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” Hey, we’re all little Joan Didions! Well, not exactly, but if my theory sounds grandiose, go back to look at things you wrote a few years ago, if you can. When I look at the notes I’ve stopped to write in those books, entire worlds come back at me.

Read more at Note To Selfie

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2 Responses to “Notebook Addict of the Week: John Dickerson”

  1. That’s an interesting idea that one could spend too much time documenting their life. I think it’s possible to– but most of us find a balance of living in the present and also documenting life too. Paper or instagram photos/etc., I guess we all like to leave some tangible mark on the world.

    23 years worth of notebooks… wow. He has some funny overheard conversations written down… I might have to try that sometime.

  2. Entire worlds… You’re right:)

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