I know exactly what happened on this day last year, and the year before that, and five years before that. Since 2010, I’ve been keeping up with twelve notebooks: one for each month. Each year, I work my way through all twelve of them, returning to them month by month, writing and comparing. What started out as a random project in middle school has evolved into a way for me to keep record, and to keep a running conversation with myself between the years. I can flip through pages from 2011 and remember what my world looked like (hint: not great, considering it was middle school). Or I can look to 2015 and read about what it was really like to get settled at Cornell. After seven years, my twelve notebooks have managed to collect mundane stories, photographs and ticket stubs alongside the most important details of my life. They’re also almost full. Yesterday, I found myself with only one page left in my “October” notebook, meaning it’s time to start some kind of “Volume II.”
Finishing up my original notebook is interesting because there’s so much uncertainty about what I’ll be writing in the second one. Volume I followed an informal pattern: in middle school, I knew I would go to high school and in high school, I hoped I’d go to college. But now that I’m in college — as seems to be a theme among people my age — I’m not completely sure what happens next. After Cornell, that predetermined structure gives way to my own decision-making. I don’t know what city, or what country, I’ll be living in in October 2022. I don’t know who I’ll be eating dinner with or what will make me laugh or what will completely stress me out. Thankfully, I have these notebooks as a space to keep track along the way.
After seven years and thousands of words, I’m still not completely sure where the impulse to write comes from. It’s not really about remembering things, per se. I don’t write about what happened today because I think that two years from now it’ll be imperative that I remember. That being said, it’s really interesting to look back on some of the things I wrote when I first got to Cornell, and see the first mentions of people who would later become my best friends. It’s also really comforting to look back and read about things that once seemed like the end of the world, and realize they’re so insignificant now that I would have forgotten them altogether had I not written them down. That perspective can be refreshing.
Joan Didion wrote “I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.” And while I wouldn’t ascribe that level of sophistication to anything I wrote in middle school, or really anything I write now, I still find it applicable to the practice of keeping a notebook.
In a world where it feels like we’re constantly sharing (and often oversharing) information about ourselves, it’s nice to have a space with total privacy. I love writing for The Sun, but it’s different. I have lots to say, but only a few viable topics to choose from once I factor out things I don’t want to “get into” and topics which are too personal. When writing in a notebook, there’s no such selection process. There’s no pressure or self-censorship; it’s genuinely regenerative. An audience is a privilege, but so is the ability to write – or do anything – for just yourself. Some might call this a waste of time, but I think getting the ugliest and most interesting parts of your life onto paper, alongside mundane details and concerns, is one of the most practical things one can do. I probably have at least a thousand pages written that nobody (including myself) will ever have the time or desire to read in full. Still, I’d recommend the practice to just about anyone.
Jacqueline Groskaufmanis is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Dissent appears alternate Mondays this semester.