The Notebook

A while back, I wrote a post about the pile of books next to my bed, and where they sat on the continuum of not having been opened/being partly read/being almost completely read/will probably never be read. But did I mention the notebooks that were also in that pile of books? There’s about 5 of them. (Honestly, the pile of books next to my bed is the saddest pile of books anywhere, in as much as it’s an indication of a wanna-be writer who never does anything more than write a post on her blog.)

Anyway, after looking through one of them, today’s post is this:

All the Ideas listed in one Yellow Spirax Notebook. (2007 – 2011)

I first used this very ordinary, spiral bound notebook to take notes in when I started a new job back in 2007. It opens, therefore, with some uninteresting notes: which printer prints in color, procedures for locking up, file paths to certain files – information I no doubt quickly came to know by heart, as I spent the next seven years working in that same organisation.

A few pages later, it’s become a writer’s notebook. Perhaps there was nothing more I needed to write in a notebook in the course of my day-to-day job. In any case, the diversion to a writer’s notebook is intentional, because I’ve used it for an exercise from The Memoir Book, (Patti Miller, 2007, Allen and Unwin) called Brainstorm Circles. The instructions in this exercise are to start by drawing a circle in the middle of a page, and writing in it a topic you want to write about. Then, creating a visual kind of “flow-chart”, you write the first word that comes to mind from that one, and then, the first word that comes to mind from the second word, etc. Importantly, the author notes, you are free-associating each time from the previous word, NOT from the original word. When you reach the edge of the page, or run out of ideas, go back to the middle and start again. Spend about 20 minutes – this will give you an idea of how rich your idea is.

Writing exercise from The Memoir Book, by Patti Miller (Allen & Unwin, 2007)

(I like this exercise and employ it every now and then. As it happens, from this very first exercise, I developed a piece of writing that I liked and have sent to a few literary magazines in the past ten years, but so far no-one else has liked it enough to publish it.)

The next few pages contain my ambitious ideas for books (never started) and more versions of the same writing exercise, using different topics. Book ideas under consideration were: a book about an organisation I was volunteering for at the time, a book on people from regional areas now living in the city, or a book about careers in the arts. Next are pages of research for an article I was writing about the value of arts education in schools. (That article was published, at least!)

Abruptly, this train of research is interrupted with a note scribbled down when I received a phone call from ANZ bank in 2008. Some of my siblings were travelling overseas, and the bank called me out of the blue to say that my brother’s credit card had been the subject of fraud and had been stopped. I’ve scribbled instructions about calling the bank using a reverse charge number, and below that, credit card cancelled.

That innocuous little memo signifies drama for others, although that mostly played out in Berlin. My part was done with after I passed on the message.

Underneath this, there are notes to myself on possible chapter ideas for a non-fiction book on arts education (never written). Then some research on funding opportunities for the organisation I was volunteering with.

Turn another page, and there’s another sudden shift in the function of the notebook. We were moving houses, (dating this to late 2008) and my use of the notebook has become purely pragmatic. Instead of writing, or even thinking about writing, my spare time, as well as the notebook, were used to keep track of what needed to be done. The evidence: an extensive, hand-written, checklist of all the companies (phone, electricity, etc) I’d need to inform of our change of address when we moved. Judging by a few boxes left unchecked at the end of the list from seven years ago, it appears that the local library and Dinosaur Designs may still have my old address. Woops!

In the chaos of packing and moving house it must have been the only paper we had at hand. That’s the conclusion I come to when I turn the next few pages, which contain lists of words written by my daughter, who was about 8 years old at the time – apparently spelling tests, corrected by me.

Seems pretty good for a grade 3 speller!

Next: a scribbled quote from Budget Truck Hire, on the cost of hiring a truck with a hydraulic lift. The truck was to be driven by my younger brother John. Back then, John was the go-to every time one of his siblings moved houses, as he had a licence to drive trucks and was always only too willing to give up his time and help out. It would have been his instruction to make sure the truck had a hydraulic lift, as I would barely know the difference between a hydraulic lift and a hydroponic tomato. Following on this theme, next comes a list of items to be put into storage.

Perhaps the notebook went into storage too, because on the next page, it’s apparent that at least a year has gone by. It’s now a writer’s notebook again, and I’m drafting ideas for a blog post about Beckett. This signals that it’s now late 2009. We were settled in our new house by then, I started this blog around October that year, and one of my first posts was about Beckett. Following this are more notes, on a book called The Lost Art of Sleep, by Michael McGirr (2009, Picador, Pan McMillen Australia), perhaps thinking I may refer to them in a blog post, or maybe just because I had a strong personal interest in the topic, as I was still, at that time, a constant insomniac. It’s a memoir of sorts, and passages I copied down include this lovely paragraph:

We fall into bed. We fall asleep. We rise in the morning. That’s what we do. Over and over. Falling and rising. Rising and falling. We fall in love. We rise in it too. The rising takes longer. (p248)

After this, the notebook must have been misplaced or left aside again for 2 years, as the next turn of the page reveals a list of scribbled descriptions of photos of my brother John. I guess that, once again, I grabbed the first bit of paper that was at hand, and this particular notebook seems to have been in the right place at the right time whenever that was required. On this page I’ve written headings, indicating different photo albums, and under each, a description of each photo of John taken out of the album. This means it’s September 2011, because I took those photos out of those albums to compile them for my brother’s funeral when he died suddenly on 11th of that month.

At the time, I scribbled that list with the intention of putting the photos back in each album after his funeral, but then after his funeral, it didn’t really seem important to bother putting them back. I think those photos of him remain together in a folder with other papers related to his life.

Following that is a scrawled first draft of the eulogy I wrote with my sister and youngest brother.

Incredibly, straight after the eulogy – surely the most significant and heartbreaking thing I’ve ever had to write – the remaining pages full of mundane notes are a testament that the small details of life relentlessly carry on even after someone dies, and require attention.

These final, trivial notes include log-in details for a student portal, reminding me that I was actually studying part time at RMIT when my brother died. Then, prices of various options for holiday accommodation follow, because I had a strong desire to go away over the New Year break that would fall only a few months after my brother’s death and would also overlap with his birthday.

The rest of the notebook – only a few more pages – is taken up with similarly utilitarian notes: a confirmation number from a bill paid, a quote from a telephone company.

In my pile of notebooks, I’ve got writerly-looking notebooks, with luxurious, leather-bound covers, or floral designs and beautiful soft writing paper inside them. This one is the notebook you get out of your office stationery cupboard. It’s cheap and functional and not made to look like a writer’s notebook. It begins and ends with practical, trivial, and mundane memorandum – but it’s inadvertently also a missive that demonstrates how, in between the mundane, and in the course of four years, lives were irrevocably changed.

 

Don’t judge a book by its cover

 

 

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I’ve watched the children come and go

Notebooks. I have them all over the house. Notebooks from years ago, years before I ever started a blog, ideas scribbled down when I thought of them, as well as shopping lists, books to read, and websites I mean to look up.

There is no method to any of them. I need a secretary, to come and sort them all out for me, transcribe the ideas into an ideas book, look up the websites and tell me if they were worth saving, read the books and tell me if they are worth reading, and do the shopping. I’d love someone to do the shopping.

Last week’s post – about my propensity to write some very compelling blog posts in my head while busy doing something, but then totally forget the entire thing as soon as I think about writing it down – an event that occurred again this very morning as I cleaned the shower – has spurred me to action. This morning (after the shower incident) I implemented one small thing. It’s literally a very small thing: it’s a little notebook about 7 cm long, smaller than my iPhone – for scribbling down ideas. It’s so small, one idea pretty much takes up a whole page, and I quite like that. It forces the appearance of some kind of order onto it, at least.

I also like that it is disguised to look like a tiny version of A Room Of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf.

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Smaller than an iPhone, larger than an old-timey iPod.

I’m pleased to say that three pages are already filled, two with brief description of true stories I read in the news this week, and one with a sentence I heard the elderly lady over the back fence say to a child that I assume is her grandson.

I really must do more of that – capturing snippets of conversation, I mean.

The snippet I heard today was the little boy playing happily and the Grandma playing along with him, and then suddenly her tone changed. She told him that what he’d just done was naughty, that he “could have hurt Wilbur.” Wilbur is an unusual name, and I couldn’t see over the fence, but I hadn’t heard another child start crying, so at first I thought perhaps Wilbur was a rather fragile toy, or a pet, but it turned out that Wilbur must be a baby, because Grandma was very cross indeed, repeating to the little boy (I think his name was Fred) that he needed to understand that pushing Wilbur was dangerous. She told him if he did it again, she would have to take all the cars he was playing with. “You’re very lucky to have a little baby brother,” she said, and then tried to get him to repeat what she’d said back to him, that is, the part about that he must not do it again or Grandma will have to take all his cars.

I finished hanging out washing, and it seemed a bit creepy standing in the yard just to listen, so I went inside at that point, and can’t tell you if Fred was able to repeat that message back to Grandma or not. I suspected he was not old enough to do so.

The bit that I scribbled in my notebook (with brief notes explaining the context) was You’re lucky to have a little baby brother.

I hear the sounds of kids playing in that yard, and that woman interacting with them, whenever I’m home during the day, so I assume that she regularly minds her grandchildren while her kids are at work. It’s a lovely sound, the sound of kids playing happily, around an adult who has the time and motivation to potter around and play with them. (it feels as if that image is so much more likely to be a grandparent than a parent!) It’s inevitably a sound that arouses a bit of nostalgia, and as a parent, for me the nostalgia is on two levels, both for my own childhood, and for the time when my daughter was so young that she was pottering around in the back yard playing games.

hillshoist

Pic: The Hoopla

There must have been times when I happily sat and played too, but when I think back to her pre-school days, in my memory I always felt under pressure to be “getting things done” and found it hard to give myself over fully to playing for indefinite amounts of time. Even though – or perhaps because – I was not working full time, I had an internalised sense that I needed to be achieving things, not just playing imaginative games.

If only I’d devoted as much time – and concentration – to playing with her as that grandmother seems to do with her grandkids. My daughter is 16 now, she doesn’t need me playing with her. Instead I find myself watching really bad TV (eg.Teen Wolf) so that we have something to bond over together.

The little scenario with the boys next door also made me think specifically of my brothers (I have four, all younger, one of whom has passed away) playing at home when they were young. By the time there were two boys in our family to replicate a scene like this, I would not have been around to see it, as I would have been in prep at school. By the time I was in grade six, the same scene could have been replayed again with my youngest two brothers in the roles.

The grandmother’s declaration that Fred was lucky to have a little brother held a lot of resonance for me. I’m lucky to have little brothers, a fact that I’m hyper-aware of since one of them died a few years ago. So I endorsed her sentiment: the little boy should cherish the little brother he has, while he has him. In some ways, he could be seen to be luckier than my daughter, who is an only child and therefore doesn’t have any little brothers. The grandmother was right, he has something that not everyone has.

Of course, as I well know, sometimes having a little brother does not seem like luck – quite the contrary. When you’re a kid, little brothers are most famous for wrecking your stuff. When there’s more than one of them, they fight one another. (I guess if you’re a bigger brother, they fight you. As the oldest, and a girl, I was exempted from physical fighting, however my sister did get bitten by the brother who was her immediate younger sibling.) If you happen to be the older sisters in a large family, your younger brothers compete with you as a team – for example, under the lead of the oldest boy, one year the boys spoil your tradition of being up first to see the presents at Christmas, by deliberately getting up even earlier, and then brag that they saw, touched, even moved or played with, all your presents from Santa before you did. You are filled with hate and wish your life was not totally ruined by having these shitty little brothers in it.

So I can understand that for Fred, over the next 18 years or so, there will be some challenges in his relationship with his brother, and there will be times where he will not rejoice that he has a little brother. But I hope that beneath it all, he remembers his grandmother’s words.

 

 

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