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On the top shelf on the far right wall of my closet, there are stacks and stacks of dog-eared, worn-out, bent-up composition notebooks. Well, mostly composition notebooks, but there is some variety — like a locked plastic purple diary that my older brother gave me on my ninth birthday, a half-filled spiral of love letters with ‘K+L’ scrawled across the cover, and a leather-bound journal I spent thirty dollars on when I was fifteen. Some of the notebooks are colored or patterned, but because no one snoops around in a composition notebook that looks like it’s intended for school, most of the ones I have bought are plain black. They’re all stacked rather precariously on the shelf, so unsteadily that one falls off with no encouragement at least once a week. To be honest, their proximity to the wall and to my closet light probably would classify them as a fire hazard. But I still keep stacking these notebooks; I find myself carelessly throwing another filled notebook onto the stack every three or four months, with total unconcern for the pandemonium that could result if every smudged book of pages came crashing down at once.
I think it all started when I read Louise Fizthugh’s Harriet the Spy in the second grade. Harriet kept a composition notebook in which she recorded the activities of those around her, as well as her own thoughts and general observations. My eight-year-old self was very affected by Harriet, as I often have been when it comes to fictional characters. Rather than refraining from spying on others — the apparent moral of Harriet’s adventures — I took up Harriet’s hobby in earnest. I “permanently borrowed” one of my brother’s school composition notebooks, tore out his pages of insignificant chemistry notes, and began to fill in careful notations regarding my family members, classmates, and even pets. Trust me — they were all up to something suspicious. After some time recording the minute details of the lives of everyone except myself, I began to shift my focus. I started throwing in a few of my own thoughts — a comment on a book I read, a sketch of my swing set, a list of the reasons why my dog Sammi was my best friend. Those few thoughts were the first sign of what I regret to report was my complete failure as a budding investigative writer. However, I kept writing anyway. And writing. And writing, and writing, and writing. Ten years and countless notebooks later, I still haven’t stopped writing.
My notebooks are not exactly a work of art, perhaps. Many pages are filled with incoherent babbles about topics that most people would find either uninteresting or hopelessly quirky. But then there are the beautiful parts: shaky poems and songs that I’m secretly proud of, short stories about children who can fly, a brightly colored leaf half taped into the pages, and quotes from the books that have moved me to tears. In the pages of my notebooks I have fallen in and out of love, I have hated and admired myself, I have struggled with both numbness and overwhelming feelings, I have made sense of the ugly and the breathtaking. Those ink-stained pages may not seem like much, but they contain an account of humanity that is flawed and unique and strong.
The Bible’s book of John says, “In the beginning there was the Word.” Of course, that doesn’t mean that literally there was a word — it means that there was God. However, as blasphemous as it might be, I sometimes like to think that the whole universe and every treacherous, beautiful, inexplicable thing in it were created from just one word, from just one powerful jumble of syllables. I like to think that life started from a word, and here I am, a writer, turning life back into words with every stroke of pen on paper. When authors write fiction, they then turn words back into life again. It’s an infinite cycle between life and words, and writers, even those as humble as myself, make these connections real.
Maybe I’m wrong, but in my stack of composition notebooks, I don’t just see a pile of personal thoughts and hopes. I see life. Despite the uneven quality of the writing, from my Harriet The Spy-like observations in second grade to the better-articulated accounts of my aspirations as a young adult, I find something wonderfully creative and noble in my composition notebooks. I love them all. I truly do. Sometimes, while I am searching for a blouse or a lost shoe, a composition notebook will fall from the shelf. As I haphazardly toss it back to its rightful place, I’ll pause and stare at the stack of notebooks, because with all its unorganized glory, there it is. Right there on the top shelf. My life.
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