Friday, March 07, 2008

On keeping a notebook

This morning I had the pleasure of re-reading Joan Didion's great essay "On Keeping a Notebook" because one of the grad students wanted to use it for next term's comp class. Of course I love the essay with its stream of consciousness and the great concrete details. I suggested that she have her students keep a notebook during the term - a Blue Book would work, light weight and standard sized, though maybe too institutional? Students definitely need practice in including more specific details in their work, so this is a good model for journaling. It's also a good model for reflection, for putting oneself in the picture - that "what this means to me is - - -" move that we hope for as part of critical thinking. Though it's not a great model for an academic essay, which is the assignment.

So, is blogging is like keeping a notebook? Yes and no. Because for Didion, the notebook (but not the essay) is writer-based, something for herself. She says "we are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensees" - which describes many blogs. I would not claim that my postings were graceful pensees, though it would be nice, but I'm sure many fall short. Still I keep a notebook as well - handwritten and always handy the way the blog is not (at least not for me without a wifi laptop and home network). A notebook, says Didion, is "something private, about bits of the mind's string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker. And sometimes even the maker has difficulty with the meaning." Amen to that. Our notebooks, she says, "give us away."


Blogger PaulaMc said...

Wow Sara what an incredible essay. That one little turn of phrase you pulled out enticed me to read the whole thing...which is filled with even more wonderful ways of evoking feeling and image. I'm embarrassed to say I've never read Joan Didion but I will endeavor to correct that deficit forthwith...perhaps you have a recommended starting place? I too have always found keeping a daily journal just too boring to sustain--maybe that says something about my life. But the notebook idea is one I've never really considered although I am also a compulsive for writing things down. It's always been confined to class or lecture notes, seldom to true observations. I have set a goal for myself to pay greater attention and, for me at least, it's often hard work. I pay attention to what's going on, the details, but often not the essence. I can pay better attention to others than to myself in some ways. Anyway, reading this piece has clearly stimulated my thinking, so thanks!

8:20 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home