on being your own archivist

Some part of me is deluded enough to think people will care when I’m gone.

They’ll riffle through my desk drawers and file cabinets and papers and books. They’ll wonder how I spent my days and pore over my mad scribblings and doodles and insane notes in an attempt to understand the river of madness that once flowed from my mind.

Maybe this is a cocktail of ego and vanity, but I’ve done everything I can to be a good steward of my work, to archive my creations as they spring out of me. Each collage is dated. Every written page is filed away. Every notebook, once filled, is marked with the date, then placed on a shelf in my office, like a volume in a set of encyclopedias.

my library of pocket notebooks, dating back to fall of 2012
(featured alongside a collection of playing cards, a collection of zines, and a bottle of prayers)

If you’ve been reading my blog for the past few years, you no doubt know how much influence Austin Kleon has had on my creative work and practice. Watching how he uses a variety of notebooks to capture his memories and ideas has been an indispensable tool for me. With Kleon’s guidance, I’ve cultivated a unique approach to how I use my notebooks.

At any given time, I have three (sometimes four) notebooks going at once, each with a different function and purpose.

The first is a pocket-sized Moleskine, similar to the notebooks Hemingway, Picasso, and other artists used to carry. This notebook includes a ribbon bookmark and pocket laid into the back cover, where I carry a few personal and creative tokens (my vaccine card, my custom Michael Jordan Basketball card, prayers scribbled on scraps of paper.)

keepsakes tucked in the back pocket of my portable Moleskine

This notebook is for field reporting. It never leaves my side and is often tucked into the interior pocket of whatever jacket I’m wearing. It’s the vessel for catching stray bits of conversation, ambling doodles during periods of prolonged waiting, and the first drafts of many a harebrained scheme. This notebook is often my only companion on the nights when I take up residence on a stool at the neighborhood watering hole.

My second notebook is a sketchbook, a home for drawings and creative ideas. This notebook is typically a 5.5″ x 8.5″ spiral-bound Stathmore Sketchbook and is often where all bets are off. It functions as an empty sandbox for all manner of things: sketches before bedtime, drug-induced ideas jotted down while watching movies, notes taken during business meetings.

I started using Stathmores back when I was a kid, the first one a gift from an aunt who fostered my love of drawing. It’s only since college (I say that like it wasn’t almost ten years ago) that I’ve made a regular practice of keeping a Strathmore within arms reach. These notebooks typically take between six months and a year to fill and often function as the bucket where I collect ideas, one drip at a time.

The next notebook functions as a logbook, a place to simply record the activities of my day: the who, the what, the when of it all. Typically a Moleskine daily planner, this notebook serves as a kind of record of how my time is spent. Tracking my days this way proved a magnificent tool during the pandemic, as quarantine slowly ate the days.

I first started to keep a record of my days in the Fall of 2017, during a period of major upheaval and transition in my life. Tracking my daily routine has provided a sense of scope, allowing me to pore over previous entries for the sake of recognizing how my life has changed over the years.

May 23rd and 24th, 2020

Early in this practice, I added a dream journal component, tracking my subconscious expeditions as I recalled them each morning. While I’m not always great at keeping up with this, folding my dreams into my daily activities has allowed my waking and sleeping hours to exist side-by-side in my own personal record.

The final notebook is yet another Moleskine (What can I say? I’m a brand whore…), this time the larger variety. This is the place to archive ideas for a specific large-scale project, be it a novel, stage play, or screenplay. While ideas and sketches are often generated and stored in one of the other various notebooks, this is where ideas specifically related to the project are collected and allowed to exist side-by-side.

Each notebook is commissioned prior to its first use, with the lyrics to Twenty One Pilot’s “Kitchen Sink” serving as the invocation to my private muse. It’s always been my belief that creativity is a spiritual practice. Blessing each notebook with a private prayer has always been my personal equivalent to blessing a home before moving in.

While I’ve neglected to mention the Note app on my phone and the legal pad I use for morning pages (per Julia Cameron), these various volumes of once-blank pages have accrued into a record of not just my creative practice, but the shifting tide of my life.

It’s easy to imagine a future where someone cracks one of these notebooks and connects the dots between parallel ideas. Again, perhaps it’s ego to believe this, but I’m working diligently to make sure my work and my life is well recorded, even if the only person who cares enough to look back some day is an older version of me.