I met Kristina through Jessica, a mutual friend of ours. Jessica and Khristina have known each other since they were two years old. Their mothers met in their Harlem apartment building, drawn to each other because they each had little girls who were the same age, and the two of them have been friends since. I met Jessica probably more than ten years ago when our kids were in the same taekwondo class. Jessica and I eventually started taking taekwondo too. We earned our 1st Dan black belts together and would both continue on to get 2nd Dan black belts. While Jess and I connect on many levels, she DOES NOT share my love of all things paper. This is something that we’ve laughed about many times over the years.
It took Jessica some time to realize that both Khristina and I would hit it off because of our mutual love of all things paper, and eventually, she introduced us to each other, and I am so grateful to her for that. For a while, the connection was made and existed only on social media, but eventually, we did meet each other face to face over a late lunch one summer afternoon. It was as though we’d known each other for years. The conversation came easily, and it wasn’t long before she took out her Louis Vuitton monogrammed zip agenda and unzipped it to show me the Hobonichi planner inside. To be given the opportunity to look through someone else’s private notebook is an absolute honor, and it was right then and there that I knew she was my “people.”
Khristina Westbrook-Fordham wasn’t always the sharp marketing strategist who sat across from me at the restaurant that day with her gorgeous designer agenda. Years ago, when she was a little girl, she would get excited at the beginning of the school year because that meant getting a new notebook. She went to elementary school on 81st and Madison Avenue, and there was a stationery store not far from there on 83rd and Madison. She would go in there all of the time to look at pens. It was there that she discovered Wite-Out, which she thought was the best thing ever, finding even the smell of it to be intoxicating.
She’d always kept a diary to write in because, as she told me, there were “things that I felt that I didn't feel were okay to share with other people,” even her good friends. Her journaling/notebooking practice eventually evolved into a more creative one, when a high school friend of hers, whose Surinamese parents were from The Netherlands and would travel there during the summer, brought her back an agenda as a souvenir. They each had one and would write their assignments and “stuff in it.” And it was perfect for a music-loving, paper-loving teen like Khristina because “it had all of these cool pictures of New Wave rock groups.”
She still has that planner and most of her other notebooks and planners stored in a pretty box in her office. She kept everything from around the 10th grade on, and as we talked during our Zoom interview, she flipped through some of them. They were filled with memories and memorabilia. She found a $19 ticket stub to a The Cure concert. She also found autographs and tickets to other concerts, like Susan and the Banshees and Big Audio Dynamite concerts. Her notebooks and planners are like time capsules. She said she never went anywhere without one because it was almost like having a security blanket. She thinks the compulsion to keep one and to plan may have had something to do with trying to control her life or feel some sense of control over her young life, which at times was marked by trauma and stress. Writing and making collages became like a kind of therapy when she became anxious. She could sit and cut out pictures from magazines and paste them on the pages.
At some point, the theme would shift from the radio station WLIR and British rock to Black history, culture, and art. Her archived collection of notebooks and journals impressively chronicles the various phases of her life from 10th grade to the present, and she still journals every day, writing in her Hobonchi planner several times throughout the course of the day. At one point, she thought she might switch to using an app called One Day, which was more efficient, but she realized that she’d have nothing to leave to her daughter, Devin, if she switched to digital forms of journaling. She wants her daughter to someday have all of her notebooks and read through them, all parts of them, because, as Khristina explains, these books are part of her legacy.
While her childhood was marked by trauma, and she would sometimes get into trouble after her mother would read something she’d written in a notebook, she continued to write, own, curate, and cultivate her story. She owned it and valued it so much that the preservation of it is part of the process, so that, in her own words, her daughter has a chance to “know me when I’m not here anymore.” Her notebooks were not only something that she was compelled to write in and keep because they helped her cope and manage anxiety and plan and gain some sense of control over her life, but they were also such an important and integral/intimate part of herself that they would be a connection to her when she was no longer here.
Her story is told not only in words, but in art and images as well. Sometimes, she cannot articulate her feelings through writing and when that happens, she doesn’t pressure herself. She decorates her journal and plays with paper until she’s inspired to write. She uses a lot of stickers and prints photos on sticker paper to fill the pages because that allows her to express herself in artistic ways with, what she calls, her limited artistic ability, and I loved looking at them. Her notebooks are beautiful and full of rich meaning. I was inspired by her ability to embrace her inner child and find joy in playfulness, color, and art.
To those who want to keep a journal or notebook, but don’t know where or how to get started, Khristina suggests that you find a basic notebook that is beautiful and portable and that you always keep it with you. “Make it a place where you can attach memorable things from you day, [like] movie or concert tickets, I VOTED stickers, pictures of your family, etc. These make your notes more valuable to you.”
Her favorite supplies include her Hobonichi planners. She uses the A5 Avec, which divides the year into two notebooks. This makes them thinner for her because they get thicker when she adds things to the pages. She also likes Cloth and Paper inserts, Rosie Papeterie, TWSBI fountain pens, UNI One, and Sarasa dry pens.
I am so grateful to Khristina for opening up her notebooks and her heart, and I will be carrying this advice into the New Year with me by intentionally capturing more of my special memories in more playful ways and not only focusing on words and the “serious” stuff that makes up life.