When I imagined “The Notebook People Project” over a year ago, I envisioned myself talking to analogue-loving people and that we would be having conversations that would be mostly about the contents of their notebooks, rather like a show-and-tell. I figured they’d talk to me about their love of washi tape or their favorite pens, and I would ask them about the brands and why they loved a particular pen so much. Pure office supply/analogue nerd stuff. And, well, while we have some of those conversations, all of the conversations, every last one of them, becomes about something much bigger than each person’s notebook or planner or calendar. Even though we all have this shared love for analogue tools, something far more important connects us, and that is our shared humanity. And, at a time like this, I find myself leaning into these simple connections.
Whether it be my love of TRC Traveler’s Notebooks, The Superior Labor A5 Zip Organizer, and my A5 Roterfaden Taschenbegleiter or their love of the Hobonichi Planner, Jibun Techo, or Franklin Day Planner, our conversations always become about something critical to the human condition, like raising children, relationships, social injustice, the trauma of some sort, issues surrounding gender and sexual orientation, poetry, travel, grief or some other human matter, and that is what enthralls me. That is what keeps me asking people, Do you mind telling me how you use your notebook? They will tell me all about their notebook, but in addition, they share some brilliant insights about life.
Back when I started my Instagram account in 2014 and started sharing my notebook, as a social experiment in a writing class I was teaching, I really didn’t think anyone would start following it. But people did, and much like these interviews do, my notebook-inspired social media account also evolved into a space where we talked about other things. I was surprised. And, much to my even greater surprise, it became a place where I connected with people, some of whom I would go on to call “friend.” Some of these friends, I have met in person, and others are friends, I haven’t been able to meet in person yet. Grainger, aka @texturewaves on Instagram, started following my account years ago, and in February 2018 asked for my address because she wanted to send me something. Prior to that, I knew her only by her screen name; and after that DM, I knew her as Grainger, and through messages and correspondence, we became friends. I am so happy to introduce you to my friend, Grainger and share her story with you.
I was so excited to finally “meet” Grainger. We’ve corresponded many times since that first message in 2018, but this would be our first FaceTime or Zoom call. It was long overdue, and I’m delighted that she was willing to talk to me about her notebooks because Grainger is a self-described introvert, as am I. So, if someone came to me and asked me if I would be willing to talk about my notebooks, the people pleaser in me might say yes, but the introvert in me might stress about the entire ordeal. And it would be an ordeal. That said, we love to talk about our notebooks. so I was beyond excited to finally get to see Grainger’s face and hear her voice on Wednesday, August 9, 2023, and so happy to share some of what we talked about with you.
Over the years, Grainger and I have discovered that we have a number of things in common, in addition to our love of analogue tools. One of these things is a notebook-ish connection to the fictional character Harriet M. Welsch, also known as Harriet the Spy in the eponymously titled children’s book. I read Harriet the Spy when I was around nine years old, and it was that story that inspired me to keep a notebook, in which I wrote spy notes about my friends. My notebook was never discovered. Unfortunately, that was not the case of Grainger and her friend, Laura, who were in the 3rd grade when they collaboratively kept a Harriet the Spy-inspired spy notebook, while in summer camp. Grainger shared a lively and funny story about the events that followed. “[A]fter about four weeks of keeping this notebook, a boy snatched it and ran away with it.” The whole thing turned into quite a fiasco. The other children read the notebook, the counselors found out, Grainger and her friend were reprimanded, AND the notebook was thrown in a campfire!
Much like Harriet, Grainger and her friend did not think about the repercussions of the other kids reading what they’d written. It would be quite some time before Grainger would keep another notebook. And though we laughed at the misadventures of her youth, we also talked about other concerns that come from writing your private thoughts down and those notebooks being discovered. I’ve often had many people share the fact that they find themselves unable to write freely and openly, even for themselves, because they worry about those words being discovered. What can we or do we do in that case? Well, for Grainger, the answer involved another fire. She explained that, while she “never censored anything,” she did set a backyard barbeque that destroyed many of her notebooks. When I asked her if she regretted it, she said no. The act of burning the notebooks not only physically released the burden of moving them around with her, every time she moved, but released her of the emotional burden of hanging on to baggage. That spoke volumes to me, as I am in the process of considering what I want to “leave behind” for my sons, and how I wish to both archive and dispose of things I’ve written in the past. I am so grateful for her insight.
Speaking with Grainger about letting go of some of her notebooks, confirmed my belief that not all writing has to be or needs to be permanent. We don’t have to keep everything or anything that we write forever and even for a day. The emotional notes that we write about traumatic relationships are not the same as travel notes that we write about an amazing trip that we’ve taken. It makes sense to hold on to the latter, while it might make more sense to let throw the former in backyard barbeque like Grainger did. Perhaps, somehow, all of this relates back to lessons learned in Harriet the Spy.
Childhood literature isn’t the only thing that we have in common. One other thing would definitely be our love for analogue tools, office supplies, paper-y things. Our conversation easily went back and forth between talking about serious issues and great analogue tools, like Midori-paper colored correction tape and The Superior Labor A5 Zip Organizer. She opted the yellow I’d gotten several years ago. It holds her Hobonichi. Grainger uses TRC traveler’s notebooks and Baum-kuchen notebooks, both regular and passport sizes, for her personal writing. For work, she uses Jibun Techo and a Wisdom Supply Company academic calendar. As for pens, she uses a Stalogy four-function and pen and Zebra Mildliner highlighters. When she travels, she uses the Traveler’s Co. brass pen and pencils and the Gansai Tambi watercolor travel kit with brush pens and other media.
Throughout our Zoom call, she would start telling me about one of her analogue favorites, ask if I wanted to see it, and bounce out and back into the frame with a youthful excitement that made us both giddy. We were like school-age friends, showing each other our “cool stuff.” I would wait with anticipation for her to return to the video call with something else to show me, and was reminded that though she was in Ohio and I was in New Jersey, and we’d grown up with different life experiences, we could talk about these things with such joy, and that somehow we could always talk about issues that were much more complex and often considered “sensitive,” and somehow make it all work.
I wish that same energy could be felt everywhere. I wish that people could find simple ways to connect with one another, and that they could see those simple paths of connection as just the beginnings, portals to bigger things, to humanity, compassion, and even love.
Thank you, Grainger, for all the humanity, compassion, and love that you’ve shared with me over the years.