MAKING THE WORK // On Pocket Notebooks
In the weird genre of writers writing about writing (ahem), you can always find quotes about keeping a notebook. Like this one from Jack London: “Keep a notebook. Travel with it, eat with it, sleep with it. Slap into it every stray thought that flutters up into your brain.” Or this one from May Sarton: “For any writer who wants to keep a journal, be alive to everything, not just to what you’re feeling, but also to your pets, to flowers, to what you’re reading.” There’s Joan Didion’s famous essay too, “On Keeping a Notebook”, in which she confesses of her notes, “I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matters.”
Once, a fiction teacher in my MFA program made us keep pocket notebooks for the semester. There was resistance from those who wanted to use their phones, not some analog relic. Then, every week, we had to go around the table and read out something from our notebooks. For instance: “Bolster pillow with knit log cover on Queen West. Urbanism and the replication of Nature... or hipsters’ obsession with Twin Peaks’ Log Lady?” The whole thing felt remedial and embarrassing. At the end of the semester, the teacher gave us each one of his favourite pocket notebooks—a bankbook swiped from CIBC.
Famous men have kept pocket notebooks for centuries. It was considered part of the art of manliness. There was Mark Twain with notes on steamboating, pithy lines, and dirty jokes; Emerson with entries so prolific they needed to be indexed; and so on with the chaps, up to Larry David and Peter Jennings in the present day. Where are all the women? They’re wondering where the hell their pockets are to keep their pocket notebooks in, that's where. Pockets are, of course, a feminist issue. Today, if a dress-wearing woman wants the freedom to go out without a purse or bag, she probably has to resort to keeping her streetcar tokens, folded cash, apartment keys, and lip-whatever in her bra. If she’s wearing boots she can slip her notebook inside one, along the calf. The pen gets clipped to the rim of the boot.
Many of the top brand pocket notebooks today have a masculine (in the way that these things are assigned) aesthetic. For instance, the classic black Moleskine, “the legendary notebook used by artists and thinkers ... among them Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and Bruce Chatwin.” Or Rhodia, whose signature colour is construction cone orange.
Field Notes is another brand. Their pocket notebooks are utilitarian and sturdy. They’re ace at marketing too. Even Forbes talks about how brilliant Field Notes’ holiday ad was last year because the company sells their why, not their what. ("Customers," we know from Simon Sinek, "don’t buy what you sell, they buy why you sell it."). The verse for the ad is stirring (though I would’ve liked them to have workshopped the last line):
Let us never forget the sprawling genius of a midnight dream;
And how silly it seems in the light of day.
Let us never forget the mundane and the beautiful.
Let us never forget why we write;
To remember what happened;
What could have happened;
What didn’t happen.
We write to find out how it ends.
So let us keep writing,
And let us never forget how it feels to hold life in your hands.
CULTURE // Peter Carey at the Appel Salon
Date: Thurs., Jan.... something. Whatever. It’s the 2nd to last Thurs.
Event: Appel Salon Series featuring Peter Carey
Location: Toronto Reference Library, 2nd floor. (To quote my friend Erin, “there’s a pond, glass elevators and little birds live in the stacks.”)
Cost: Free, so any pleb can book tickets.
500ish seats, 3/4 full, so 300-ish bodies. The room’s nippley enough that a lot of people keep one or two items of outerwear on. There’s an abundance of cotton book bags. One features a splendid mallard backed by a florid sunset. Some people—mostly grey-haired ladies with big rings—swill merlot bought from the cash bar.
Painfully long housekeeping-type opener by Yvonne Hunter, Manager of Cultural and Special Event Planning. Nevertheless, since taking over last year, she’s been doing a terrific job of bringing big talent to the salon (Lena Dunham was said to be her first real coup).
Hunter introduces Jared Bland to introduce Peter Carey. Bland is a plus-sized man with a lot of game who, from certain angles, looks strangely like Truman Capote. He’s also the Arts Editor at the Globe. His intro is snappy: “Peter Carey is a two-time Booker Prize winner,” yaddy-yadda, done.
Peter Carey comes out and he and Bland take seats.
Carey’s dressed all in black, though his shirt, untucked, has some kind of tone-on-tone shiny-ish vertical striping. The projector allows me to study the shirt on the huge screen. He’s also wearing a watch, which you hardly ever see anymore.
Carey’s new novel is called Amnesia. It’s about Internet hacking and 1970s Australian politics. He takes a sip of water and says, “I’m going to read from the very beginning of the book, so I guess I don’t have to explain anything at all. The chapter is called ‘One’.”
Someone’s cell phone goes off (American Beauty ringtone) and I lose concentration.
Carey Sound Bites from the Chat with Bland:
Upon being asked about his two main characters being “oafs” with “stained teeth and dirty underwear”:
“They’re my people. I just have to say I’m from a different planet. They don’t seem strange to me.”
On the guy his physiotherapist introduced him to who works at Google and helped him with the research for his book:
“By the end of the process he had a book to read that made sense to him.”
On reading his famous friends’ books:
“If you’re a writer and you have friends who are writing you know how to lie to each other.”
Big Capote's style is laid back, guy-to-guy. Carey is occasionally a touch shirty and not as generous as he could be. I want to blame his shirtiness on his shirt. Of course, that’s just fancy.
Carey Sound Bites from the Q&A:
As the question period opens and Big Capote asks people to keep the line tidy, but there’s only one person actually in the line:
“It looks pretty tidy so far.”
After a woman the size of an eleven-year-old squeaks out: “How do you know—like, do you know [almost passing out] that you’re such a good writer... do you know that you are a good writer? Like, a really good writer?”:
“Absolutely, not at all.”
[The fan follows this up with: “I love your works, by the way.”]
On being asked by a big, friendly man which other Australian writers to read:
“Richard Flanagan ... and Helen Garner—she’s remarkable.”
When asked by a man wearing a felt hat with ear flaps about the possible film adaptation of True History of the Kelly Gang:
“Respectable adaptations are really boring.”
On being asked by a woman dressed like a textile designer whether or not he knows the ending of his books ahead of time:
“I do know, but I don’t want to know it too exactly.”
When the same woman sneaks in a second question about whether or not he starts writing the last sixth of a book by writing a clever last line:
“Oh god no. I don’t end it that way either.”
READING // Game Warden Field Notes
I have discovered, quite by accident, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s press releases, which are regularly printed by various newspapers, under the title Game Warden Field Notes. Each press release consists of a list of incidents compiled from law enforcement reports. The incidents are given titles, such as “Buck Wild”, “Into the Woods”, and “Shots Fired in the End Zone”. It’s as if they’re titles for a new genre called hunter noir. Take for instance, this recent incident:
Girl’s Got a Gun
A game warden in Angelina County was on patrol when he heard two shots fired. The warden soon found a Suburban stopped in the road and a subject walking with a flashlight. Inside the Suburban were two males, two females and a toddler. A second warden came to assist and received confirmation from each person that the male with the flashlight had shot a doe with a pistol belonging to one of the females. During the investigation, the warden also found that one of the females had an outstanding theft by check warrant from 1997. Cases pending.
It seems to me that the Game Warden Field Notes are little goldmines, perfect for story prompts if one is inclined to write stories. Otherwise, they’re a change of pace to my usual reading. Plus, I like the Throwback Thursday photos, like the one up there in the header, that the Texas Game Wardens post on their Facebook page. Now, I'm no red neck, but cowboy hats off to 'em anyway for sharing what they do in all its kind of bloody, oddly fascinating glory.