writing life

What writers do: Obsess, recall, wonder, question, and record (an example)

I once lost a journal, left it behind at a breakfast diner in the heart of Boston... I didn’t sleep for two full days worrying about it. ...Had it been noticed or unwittingly swept into the trash? ...did anyone read it? Did they laugh? In the good way? Or cry? Did they see any potential? Did they like it? Boston is a literary city, after all, so there was a lot at stake for me.

On the first page—the title page, if you will—of my new Moleskin journal, a pre-printed,  practical suggestion beckons to me (see photo above):

In case of loss, please return to: __________________

As a reward: $_____________

I can’t get started writing in this journal, because I am stuck in fascination on this otherwise pristine French vanilla page. I’ve owned other Moleskin notebooks—though admittedly this is my first 8″x10″ one—yet I don’t recall a page like this. Has it always been there or is this an innovation, a carefully researched product development advancement?

The practicality of it appeals to me. I once lost a journal, left it behind at a breakfast diner in the heart of Boston (and it wasn’t even my breakfast diner where it might have been safe). I didn’t sleep for two full days worrying about it. I left it during Sunday brunch, I realized it after 2 pm closing, and the diner was closed on Mondays. Had it been noticed or unwittingly swept into the trash? Who found it—employee or patron? Did they turn it in to “lost and found”? Did the diner have a lost and found? Or did the finder keep it? Wouldn’t I have kept it if it were me? Probably I would have had the heart to turn it in with a qualifier: I get this myself if no one comes back to claim it. I wondered if anyone read it? Did they laugh? In the good way? Or cry? Did they see any potential? Did they like it? Boston is a literary city, after all, so there was a lot at stake for me. What if it was found by a publisher, an acquisitions editor, an agent? What if…

I showed up an hour after the diner opened on Tuesday. “I think I left a notebook here on Sunday,” I said to the server at the counter.

“Oh yeah,” interrupted a different server—but not the one who had worked my table on Sunday. She motioned with the coffee pot in her hand. “You were sitting over there, in the booth by the window?”

“Yes,” I confirmed, almost looking her in the eyes, unsure whether to feel elated or embarrassed. At that point in my life, I was still too naive to understand that emotions are not mutually exclusive.

“It’s in the back,” she said to the server I had approached first. He left the counter and retrieved it—begrudgingly, I’m fairly certain.

As I walked out, my small leather journal hugged tightly in my hands, the other server called after me. “Good luck with that.”

My heart sank, pulling my chin down as my eyes met the floor. “Thanks,” I mumbled.

Clearly, she had opened it and had read at least part of it. Or someone had done so and told her about it. She was nothing but kind and encouraging; still, I never went back to that diner. I was too embarrassed.

Nearly 20 years and zillions of technological advances later, the manufacturer of my new journal seems to anticipate incidents such as this and implies that I should not only print my name and address on its title page but also assign a monetary value to its contents and make a promise of reward that I’m not certain I’ll be in financial position to deliver?!

I’m not sure if this prospect motivates me, angers me, or saddens me. On one hand, hell yes, my notebooks are worth something. A lot. At conservative estimate, it will take 192 hours to fill these pages. Even at Indiana’s minimum wage, that’s $1,392. But if there’s an actual book in this journal? $10,000? More if I publish another one or two books first? What if a Harry Potter winds up in that notebook…no wait, that question is easier to answer. If a Harry Potter ends up in my notebook but I lose it and you return it to me, I’ll reward you quite generously, but you’ll have to wait roughly 10 years post publication, which might easily be 10 years post showing up in my notebook. So you’ll get an IOU payable in 20 years. It seems Moleskin hasn’t given me a big enough blank line to write all that.

Seriously, Moleskin, why the “$”? Why can’t I write, “My eternal gratitude”? Or “Your clean conscience”? Why does it have to be about $? Reward: A role in contributing to literary culture and the teaching of writing. No? Doesn’t sound enticing enough to the average citizen? Shame on us, then.

Bam. That’s it. Project #6 for 2018: the story of a lost artist’s notebook, its contents, and what happens when an average citizen makes an above average effort to return it to its owner. I guess I’ll make some notes about the possible storyline in my new journal.

Thanks, Moleskin. This is why I keep a writer’s notebook, after all.


Julie Patterson strives to make the writing process visible to students and teachers in grades K-16. You might enjoy these additional posts that allow us to peek inside her notebooks: I Have Lived (and Write about It) and Inside my Writing Notebooks: Julie’s 5 Most Frequently Used Notebook Strategies.

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