Throughout much of my life I have carried around a little notebook to record my thoughts, make grocery lists, and calculate how many degrees from Kevin Bacon my family members and I are removed. Sometimes I have used an inexpensive spiral notepad from the drugstore. Other times I have used the fancy schmancy leather-bound notebooks with the attached elastic band, used by great artists such as Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, and “Wendy” the Snapple Lady. The only criteria for my notebook was that it was easy to carry in my pocket and could double as a wedge to prop up a rickety table.
In my experience, being at a social gathering and taking out a little notebook and writing in it is kind of like setting yourself on fire. It tends to get attention.
“Are you writing about me?” my friend asks.
I assure him that I am not writing about him.
“I don’t believe you,” he says. “I want to know what you are writing. Let me see.”
I assure him, again, that I am not writing about him and that he cannot see my notebook. I say this because my work is private. I say this also because I have written things about him. To be careful, I close the notebook and focus my attention on the South Park rerun we’re all watching.
A few moments later I feel a tugging at my pocket. I turn and it is the same friend trying to pull the notebook out of my pocket. “What are you doing?” I ask.
“I want to see what you’re writing about me.”
“You’ll never see what I’m writing about you. And I’m not writing anything about you.”
I get up and move to another part of the room. Although standing in the closet might be considered a bit strange, I figure that this is the only way I can write unmolested. Unfortunately, there is no light in the closet so I must make my best guess as to how to form the letters on the page. Soon there is a knock at the door.
“Yes?” I reply, scribbling in the dark.
“What are y0u doing in there?” asks my curious friend.
“I’m doing research on coats of North America. There are some interesting specimens in here.” I rattle some coat hangers to support my story.
“Are you writing in there?”
“No. Why would I do that?”
“I want to know what you’re writing about me.”
It suddenly occurs to me that if I had been typing on a cell phone instead of writing with a pen and paper, no one would have said anything. They would have thought I was just being rude by texting instead of being rude by writing. I feel like I’m going to get sent to the Gulag if I don’t change my act. When my friend opens the door I have my notebook pressed against my ear as if it is a cell phone, and I’m talking into it. “Mm hm. Okay. Sounds good. Let’s circle back sometime next week.” My friend looks confused and closes the door. I keep talking for a few more minutes so that my ruse is not exposed.
A month ago I bought one of those cell phones that is basically like a hand-held computer. Now, whenever I want to take notes I can pretend I’m just texting or emailing or searching for videos of street fights between Mets fans and Yankees fans.
“What are you writing?” my friend asks me while I’m writing on my cell phone.
“Nothing,” I say. “I’m just texting or something.”
“You can’t fool me. The screen is lighting up your face. I want to know what you’re writing.”
Alas, the technology change has not worked. There is nothing I can do to hide my compulsion to take note of the world around me. But I will never tell him or anyone else what I’m writing. That is for me and me alone. And whoever reads my blog.
Thanks to Chris Calabrese for the topic.