Paper trails, paper trials – a meditation on why notebooks are important

Summer has been an on-again, off-again affair so far and now Perth is at the start of a heatwave. In these past couple of days, I feel I’ve been crisping and melting by turns.

The blessing of hot days in Perth is the sea breeze that tends to arrive in the afternoon. The heat doesn’t always seep away with nightfall, but days often end with some relief. On Friday evening there was time with family by the river with the bonus of dolphins. This morning I planted myself in front of a fan while I sorted papers and the general clutter of desks.

Colours and patterns

While I was sticking close to the fan I took some time out to do some colouring in. This might seem like a small thing. Kids colour in. How hard can it be?

heatwave colouring
Cool mindfulness

The current craze with adult colouring in promotes the potential for colouring in to promote mindfulness, to be meditative. I have a chequered history with colouring in. I’m not sure how relaxing it is.

I remember being in Year 1 and the first line of most pages being given over to making patterns. I wanted my workbooks to be beautiful, my patterns to be perfect. Spiral after spiral, mountains and arrows, patterns that repeated and were expected to be even before being coloured in after the work was done. The teacher in me understands the point of hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness. The residual five-year-old me remembers stress.

In Year 2 there was some sort of an issue with my handwriting. The solution? The teacher recommended colouring in. My mum got hold of a roll of pages for a colouring book. The same set of images, repeated. I can still see the mushroom house I dutifully coloured … and coloured and coloured. In the end I walked away with quite nice handwriting. Looking at my recent efforts with coloured pencils, I see I need to work on pressure and control.

I’m finding colouring in has its stresses. I’m working on breathing through the scrappy bits and where I’ve misunderstood the patterns. With summer raging outside, I’m trying to use colouring in to engage with the same sort of processing that can happen on a walk when my thinking has become stuck. Colouring in is cooler than a walk but I don’t think it is as ‘cleansing’.

Paper nests

Part of my reason for anchoring myself to the paperwork at home this morning is my search for a scrap of paper. Not really a scrap. It is a double page from an exercise book I had folded to be quite small. You can fold a sheet of paper seven times? I think I went with six.

Six, seven. Whatever. The page is now quite small and, now, lost. I suspect forever.

Pieces of paper come and go. I try not to be wasteful but I admit I sometimes quietly apologise to trees; there are days when I think it is probably best not to sit under one. I was thinking about this as I worked through what could be recycled, what could be composted and what needed to be filed.

All the while, I was looking for my scrap. Why? I gave myself an hour for poetry on the recent public holiday I sketched out seven (and a half) poems, four of which made it into my computer. I know there were seven (and a half) because I made a note on Facebook. The poems are on the scrap of paper. They’re nowhere near finished but I was happy with them as a start.

I took a photo of the front of the page. I had used a mechanical pencil with a fine lead and enjoyed shaping the letters on the page. The poems sat in boxed off blocks and snaked around the page when I ran out of space. The image was too sharp. I didn’t want anyone to read the poems in their rough form if I posted the photo so I deleted it and took another with a deliberate blur. This was, obviously, a foolish move.* I can make out most of what is on the page but I’m struggling to remember what was on the back of the sheet. I know that what you can’t see always seems better than it was in reality. I have pieced together bits and pieces but I’ve missed something. It might come back to me.

It’s the same with writing for uni. I keep everything in notebooks and in my computer. I love sticky notes because they tend to be hard to lose. I avoid loose pages, but it can be tempting to grab a clean sheet and start writing. I spend my days surrounded by paper. The pages pile up. I think of them as a nest for ideas. Page after page in a type of feathering the nest with multiple versions of drafts as I work out what I really want to say about my topic … and when to say it.

Peacock tail feather resting in front of desk
A writing nest

I share my uni desk with another part-time student.  I suspect the scrap would have been safe if I’d left it on that desk.

*It was also unnecessary. I didn’t end up posting the photo.

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4 thoughts on “Paper trails, paper trials – a meditation on why notebooks are important

  1. I relate to many thing in this blog, Jo. Like poor hand-eye coordination. When I was a kid, I don’t think people used that language. Instead, poor handwriting was a punishable offence. Punishment didn’t cure my writing. I was actually glad a few years ago when i could use arthritis as an excuse for almost illegible writing. Thank goodness for computers.

  2. I’m always amazed at what you fit into your days! But colouring is a Google heatwave pastime. Good luck finding the poems x

    Sent from my iPad

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