I’ve been going through my old computer files and notebooks lately hoping to find some encouragement. It’s always interesting too look back, be it in a diary, an old collection of photographs, or even old posts on a blog. Pages and photographs fortunately have a stronger sense of permanency than timelines or twitter feeds, and even if you can find everything online, the nostalgia is physical when leafing through the old pages written in slightly different handwriting and in faded pencil or ink.
Aside from my newest Moleskine and a collection of my newest fascination as a writing medium, yellow A4 lined paper, I believe it’s called legal pad, I have all kinds of paper and notebooks scattered around the bookshelves and packed in boxes around the home. All of these have served some function in my scattered and impotent career as a Nobel laureate.
I don’t really write much here about poetry, as it’s something that I consider myself far from an expert on. But it drives me crazy to the point that sometimes I lose sleep over it, or I am a useless conversationalist. More than anything, I’ve always looked to excel at writing poetry, as to do it well is more than art, it is pure craftwork.
My poems to me are mostly biographical, at least in their instance, and reading back over them reminds me of how I was thinking at that time.
The thing is, I’ve never been one to keep a diary, and this blog certainly doesn’t serve as one – it least not in the day-to-day sense – so reading through notebooks I’ve written in serves odd reminders of what I’ve done in my life over the past few years. There are peculiar connections and many of these start with the actual medium itself, be that the notebook or the loose sheets of paper I wrote on.
Many pages are neatly organised together and appear like a final draft, or as close as I got to one, and then many are roughly folded with the edges frayed from being kept too long in the bottom of my bag. Some I recognise from the time I wrote them, such as white printer or copier paper, which often suggests to me that I wrote this while I was teaching in class (say nothing), or possibly at my desk on a break. Of course I can’t recall when and where I wrote whatever it was, but these scattered sheets are equally scattered memories.
Unity comes from between the binding of my notebooks. Each starts with a flourish infected by the desire to spoil the freshness of the recently freed paper, and ends slowly and unconvincingly as enthusiasm wanes with the final few pages, and I look to start a new notebook before the older one is even finished. This has always been the way I’ve used a notebook, from my primary and secondary school copies to my newest much underappreciated Moleskine which I seem to needlessly carry with me everywhere.
Every page in these old and new notebooks of mine is like an old cryptic diary arranged around some thoughts I had at some stage. Often these memories are vague and cliché, with nothing more than the impression that I was living in a big city and I was utterly appalled by the post-modern condition of urban habitation, or something unoriginal like that. Sometimes there are bits worth keeping though.
I have one of those cheaply made notebooks with plastic covers which you see being sold on the side of the street in Seoul. They are always too big even for the most ambitious writer. I bought mine back in 2007 at the top end of Insadong and I ended up writing in it right up until 2010, and maybe even 2011, but there’s still room for more. It wasn’t my only place to write, but it is without a doubt the one notebook I will reach to if I am looking to raid my memories for new material, or a simple dose of nostalgia.
But there are glimpses of the moment too. There are times when I travelled around the country with herself, there are poems from our honeymoon, such as this one which was published by Wordlegs:
“The wind has been blowing here
for three thousand years
and it will not stop
just for your honeymoon”
the fisherman told us,
soaking and shivering
from the gust laden tides;
the Aegean not as warm
as the guidebook
had optimistically implied
(As a gesture of goodwill and decency, please give Wordlegs a visit and have a read of some of the other excellent poetry and prose on their site)
There are poems from the creative writing module I took while doing my masters in Southampton, and there many, many poems and stories and comments on all other aspects of life. There are also a few poems I wrote to Herself, although I won’t post any here. There are notes for articles I wrote for magazines in Korea, and even the first couple of drafts for a post which still attracts a certain amount of attention here (just checked the super-sexy and detailed WordPress statometer and it’s ranked #8 all time most clicked post – what the fuck is up with that?). There are doodles, lists, phone numbers, and even email addresses for people or places I have no memory of. This is all just from one notebook, and I’m sure there’s more elsewhere.
If I were to stack all my notebooks up I’m not sure how high they would reach. If I combed through every page I’ve written I don’t think I’d fill even a small notebook with anything worth keeping. But as a good friend and mentor explained to me, undoubtedly as we were drunk in Itaewon late at night back in the day (or night), for every piece you’re happy with there is bound to be ten more you’ll never look at again but you have to keep writing because you’ll only know the difference if you have plenty to compare them against. The same ratio is probably true for anything I write which would be deemed good quality by an editor other than me – even here.
But that’s what writing is all about. The more you write the more you put down into a more permanent and physical kind of memory that can be actually picked up and looked back on. Unlike a photograph, words written down in an apparently random situation force you to think and force you to remember and recreate that situation. For me this is essential for any and all future written efforts.
Right now I’m half way through a new chapter of memories like this. There may be less words, but there are other things which act as a flint, such as a wireless password for a guesthouse in Langkawi, a picture of me that looks nothing like me drawn by a friend of Herself’s, and a several lists of things I should have done but I seem to have crossed very little off. That’s just me. Soon I’ll finish that and move on to the next one and soon those pages will be vague memories for rekindling. I look forward to the fire where I will bring this notebook and all those other notebooks too.