I was thinking the other day about notebooks and sketchbooks, and my obsessive need to maintain both when I was younger. When I was in art school, I always had at least one sketchbook on the go (in fact, usually two; I don’t know why, but they had different purposes in my head at the time, so it made sense to me). They were an integral part of how I navigated life at the time, how I processed what was happening to me and what I was feeling at any particular moment. Well, maybe not that up-to-the-minute, some pretty close.
They were filled with everything; with sketches and comic strips; with abstract experimentations in mark-making, or collage; with hastily written-down quotes from books, magazines, TV shows, or conversations — with everything, like I said. The scattered nature of the whole thing was the point, though; these weren’t intended to be finished documents, or even anything that was meant to be seen by anyone that wasn’t me. They were me downloading my brain in pieces to see what happened.
(I still write like that now, as is obvious on this site; I start with a vague idea or direction and then discover what I’m doing as I go, finishing with a sense of oh, so it was that all along! Honestly, I think it’s the only way that I can actually work my way through an idea. The notion of not sharing it in writing in real time as the thought process is happening feels almost comically wrong, to me.)
I kept hold of these sketchbooks as I moved from place to place, through the 1990s; I moved apartments, I moved cities, but I still had them all, ready to revisit and make new discoveries and come to new conclusions. When I moved to the U.S., I made the last minute decision to leave them behind — almost literally last minute; I decided a few hours before I left, when I was reconsidering luggage costs — and, to be blunt, I’ve regretted it ever since.
I pretty much stopped keeping a notebook or sketchbook when I moved countries, and sometimes I wonder how things might have been different — been better — had I managed to stay in that practice. Just imagine what I could have learned, years before I discovered it the hard way.