On January 18, 2023, I had the good fortune of talking to Clementine Ford Wilcox for almost two hours for my Notebook People series. As is the case with all of my Notebook People interviews, the common thread is notebooks, but the conversations always, always, always become about something else, and it’s the “something else” that intrigues me. I hope the “something else” intrigues you, as well, because as much as I love analogue tools, we cannot be reduced to the artifacts that we carry, our notebooks. As much as we may love paper, and I admittedly do, I/you/we are so much more.
It was a while ago when I noticed that Clementime Ford was following me on Instagram because she has a blue check. It’s hard to know all of my 18,000+ followers, but I will often click on the accounts of those with blue checks, curious to see how they came about acquiring them. Her bio is short: Clementine Ford-Wilcox. (She/her) You deserve to exist. You deserve to thrive. I promise. It didn’t tell me much about her, except that she was boldly and unapologetically empathetic.
I turned to Google to find out more about her. Thankfully, her full name was listed in her IG bio: Clementine Ford-Wilcox, because there are two Clementine Fords when you do a Google search, and both have Wikipedia pages. One is an American actress, and the other is an Australian author. And if you’d asked me to guess which one was one of my followers, I would have guessed the Australian author because? I don’t know. Paper. But I found Clementine Ford-Wilcox, and she is an American actress, which explains why she has a blue check.
Clementine is an actress. She is the daughter of actress Cybil Shepherd, and nightclub entertainer, David Ford. She is also the mother of two children, both of whom are homeschooled several days a week. She’s a wife, the owner of a, as she describes, “needy dog,” an avid reader, a person who is vocal about her feelings regarding equity and equality of marginalized, and a person familiar with the challenges of living with a chronic condition, having been diagnosed with MS, some 13 years ago. These days, she’s selective about the acting roles she takes, focusing on her family and her health. She is also, of course, the keeper of a notebook. And yes, she really is boldly and unapologetically empathetic.
It was an honor to get the opportunity to hang out with Clementine on Zoom to talk about her notebook(s) and so much more.
I knew it was going to be an unusually amazing interview as soon as Clementine told me the story of what inspired her to keep a notebook. When she was a little girl, she found herself alone at a hotel, after refusing to board an airplane. While unsupervised, she watched the movie Heathers, which she was, by her own admission, far too young to watch. The 1988 dark teen comedy starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, which had way too many f-bombs and much too much sex in it for young Clementine, also showed Winona Ryder’s character writing in her diary. The latter detail may seem random, but it is a very important part of this story.
One of the lines from the movie that stuck with Clementine was “If you wanna f— with the eagles, you have to learn to fly,” not because of the sentiment, but because she loved the way Winona Ryder’s character made her Fs in diary. This inspired her to start keeping a notebook in which she practiced her penmanship, trying to copy Winona Ryder’s writing style by writing that line, over and over again. Eventually, her father came across her notebook, read it, and as she explains, “probably burned it.” And that was how her love of keeping a notebook began.
These are the outside and inside cover of her very first notebook.
The entire story had me doubled over in laughter. Even though her privacy had been invaded, she continued to love notebooks and pens, and thus began her search for just the right notebook and pen. She would try different pens. She said she bought “endless amounts of Bics.” She then loved writing with a Parker Jotter because that’s what her granddad always had in his pocket. But none of that felt quite right. Then one day, when she was in her 20s, she was at a store in the Century City Mall, and there was a notebook that looked very similar to the one in the movie. She recalled being told that it may have been from Italy or something. She couldn’t remember how much it cost, but in her mind she thought “I’m getting there. Like it was my holy grail to get to that place.” Many of us, who love analogue tools, can probably relate to this quest. I know that I can.
She explains that her mom “has boxes and boxes of journals and notebooks and pens and papers and lists and lists here and lists there, and things stuck on the wall. I come by it honestly. Genetically.” And her father kept a journal when she was born and through his divorce from her mother, which he later gave to her. Writing things down, for Clementine, was a learned behavior. Her compulsion to write is a family trait.
She has used writing as a form of self-expression for her entire life. When I asked if there was ever a time when she didn’t journal, she could only recall one, and that was when she learned of her multiple sclerosis diagnosis, around 13 years ago; and, what she shared about this period of not journaling was so insightful. She explained, “I was so busy, there was a lot of writing to take down information. And we saw a second specialist in San Francisco….I had my notebook and a pen. And [my mom] had a piece of paper and a pen because she’d forgotten her notebook…I was writing notes, and I didn’t have time to sit down and write thoughts and feelings because I was so in the thoughts and feelings.” I had never heard it explained that way, but I got it, and I am sure many readers can relate to it, as well.
When it comes to the type of notebook that she keeps now, she explained that she likes to keep things simple. Even though she loves to see beautiful notebooks and she wants all of the things, she has also developed a taste for less. She keeps a Jibun Techo, a Midori MD 1 Day 1 Page, and recently purchased a bright yellow Leuchtturm notebook, which she intends to keep as a fitness and wellness journal. The success of the latter was not certain at the time of our interview. She has, admittedly, abandoned a number of different notebooks. This especially happens when the process is no longer simple. She thinks of herself as more of a one notebook person. Her Midori is a family notebook.
Current notebooks. (Note the yellow one. It’s my attempt at a medical/wellness notebook. It is basically empty and useless.)
As simple as her style is, her stories and the ways in which she seems to approach everything that we discussed, is so intentional and rich with meaning. Her notebooks contain scribbles and now drawings from her children, which either she or her husband will write stories around. Some stories are as long as 12 pages in length, a depository of family memories. And when I asked if she ever discarded her notebooks, she explained why she didn’t. She was able to glance up at the notebook that she’d kept when her stepmom died unexpectedly six years ago. The notebook contained the notes she’d taken at the funeral home. She explained that when someone dies, they take you “into this room, so the hospital coordinator can help you sort out all of the stuff” and “notes from the funeral home and from the person we met with…I have all of that.” She would never want to lose those notes, or, on a lighter note, the notes that her little cousin drew in her notebook.
If you want to start a journaling practice, she suggests getting “something affordable and plain, look up a video of Lynda Barry spirals, and off you go.” She also explained that the “best thing I ever did was remove the preciousness of my notebooks. My kids draw and write in them. Sometimes we play games in them if we’re stuck somewhere. They’re coffee stained and well loved, and I think all of that makes it easier to just write when and what I need to write.”
At some point during our nearly two-hour chat, we started talking about the “fancy ways of writing and journaling,” as well as the expensive hauls that some people share on social media. Clementine admitted that she clearly had an agenda, to which I can relate. This type of social media sharing departs from her commitment to inclusivity, and she believes that some of these practices may be disheartening to those who could ultimately benefit from them because they feel a sense of failure when they don’t do it “right” or don’t have access to the tools they see on social media in the many hauls that are shared. As for the amount of money that is spent, she thought about how many people in the world are starving. When I said “who knew notebooks could be political,” she responded, “Please. Everything is political. Everything in my life is political.”
This is when I realized that not only is Clementine one of my “notebook people,” she is a kindred spirit because I would agree with her – everything is political. Notebooks are also the common thread that brings us all together. We love paper. We know the difference between a Traveler’s Company traveler’s notebook and a Leuchtturm notebook. We know which paper is fountain pen friendly. We know what a Jibun Techo is, even if we don’t necessarily know how to pronounce it. We may have, at one time or another, used washi tape. Even with all of these things in common, though notebooks and writing practices can actually be inclusive or exclusionary, and therefore political. This is something profound to think about.
I am so grateful to Clementine for sharing her time, insight, and wisdom with me.
Oh! I wondered how she’d found my Instagram site, so I did ask, and interestingly enough, it was the Baum-kuchen website that brought her to my page. It was there that she was drawn to my MindMosaic technique and remembered it when she was dealing with something stressful. She found it worked well for helping to break things down. You can follow this link for information on my MindMosaic technique. And you can find Clementine on Instagram @ClementineFord.
Much love, Clementine.