Slice of Life: Reading Old Writer’s Notebooks


I have been keeping notebooks on and off for as long as I have known how to write, and I have written consistently, persistently, for the past eight years. I have a shelf of these Cachet spiral-bound notebooks.


Some I have filled in a couple of months, some in closer to a year. A few years ago, Cachet changed the paper quality, and I nearly stopped buying them, but I am a creature of habit and I love how they look lined up on a shelf. These are unlined artist’s sketchbooks with heavier paper that prevents ink bleed-through. I also love Moleskines, but can only write on one side of the page because of the pens I use.

I almost never sketch in my writer’s notebooks, though I occasionally ask my students to sketch a concept, and I sketch too.

Here’s a cartoon of the literary canon:


And a cartoon of myself in high school English class. I’m the bookworm:


I keep my notebooks as a practice, to have a place to write, but I rarely go back and do anything with them. I rarely even go back and reread them, but today I was looking for something for one of my classes and ended up flipping through a few old ones and collecting bits that I liked:

At the Tattered Cover with a scone that looks sad but tastes good.

At the Christian coffee shop. Usually there’s Christian pop playing loud. Today the voices and blender are loud enough to drown out the love songs to Jesus.

I am trying to fool the desire for brownies and candy and cake with an apple.

I wonder if I will wear my hair in a blond mushroom pouf when I get old.

Fantasy football: It’s interactive Barbie or toy soldiers, paper dolls that take shape, come to life, breathe, run, hit. This morning, I imagine the teams I could put together based not on skill or situation, but on the color of their uniforms or the poetry of their names.

I have this sort of niggling headache that even coffee didn’t entirely fix. My hair is pulled too tight.

As proof of my deprived childhood, I offer the Barbie Dream House.

I have to buy white rice today for my phone.

Summer of turning 13–banana slugs, clove cigarettes, the ocean.

I don’t know what to write about today. Coffee. Hair. Keys.

Dream jobs: owning a coffee shop, baker or pastry chef (I’d be so fat), training dogs, running a cat shelter, bagging groceries, scanning groceries, actually any job where I got to scan bar codes especially if I could use one of those scanner guns, naming nail polish, naming lipstick, professional fantasy football player, ruling the world.

I get wind crazy, like my dog.

The Oregon Coast is like Wyoming with a beach.

Now I know what to do for Mother’s Day every year: leave.

Crazy kid day. My favorite thing T said: “I’m going to kill Daniel in the middle of the night with a big knife.” Pause. “Wait! If I kill him, does that mean I have to do his chores?”

Ryan and I brainstormed new hobby ideas. Creating an annual costume for Comic Con, learning Ancient Greek, learning about ancient Celtic culture, identifying bird calls, karate, eating all the parts of the cow, watching all the films on the AFI’s Great Films list, fostering kittens, studying macroeconomics, playing board games, ice skating, latchhook rugs, learning how to fix cars, trapeze lessons.

Abby is the most interesting cat. Four years in, she still doesn’t know her name.

I now know what a kangaroo feels like.

T, looking out the window: There’s a dog on the sidewalk. No, never mind, it’s a shadow Frances.

T, trash talking his brother about chess, which he refuses to pronounce correctly: I’m going to show you who’s boss of the chest.

Converse sneakers are like flip-flops: they go with everything.

I have spent the day with a pen in my hand, working on lines and images, hours of work and I have a mess of half-lines and images that might, reworked, turn into something.

Anchor, stronghold, stranglehold, port, salvation, reservoir, blood.

12 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Reading Old Writer’s Notebooks

  1. Old journals are the best. I recently dug mine that I wrote while in India, volunteering, right after I graduated college. Was great to remember, to remind myself, of who I was then (and who I still am today).

  2. What a rich treasure chest that you just opened, Elisabeth. So wonderful to keep your journals even if you never reread them. Sadly, I don’t have all of mine anymore and now everything I write is right here on this computer. I’m inspired,

  3. “I have spent the day with a pen in my hand, working on lines and images, hours of work and I have a mess of half-lines and images that might, reworked, turn into something.”
    And that is a day WELL-SPENT!

  4. I have to buy white rice today for my phone.
    Ah, yes….I know this technique all too well. Such an adventure going through old notebooks and revisiting so many different types of experiences.

  5. Some of these are hilarious. I love “I wonder if I will wear my hair in a blond mushroom pouf when I get old.” Thanks for sharing these…they made me chuckle!

  6. Pingback: Slice of Life: One Little Word for 2014 | kelseyempfield

  7. I love going through my old notebooks, & many of them have captured trips with students and family, so especially nice. Love the lines you chose, from different ages I presume. But, your mention of Tattered Cover-are you from Denver, Elisabeth? So am I! You can e-mail me if you’d like!

  8. Pingback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 1/13/14 | the dirigible plum

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