Weighing My Words


How many pens had to be sacrificed for this notebook?

It was the color that got me, a light purple with a tinge of pink: the color of the Dannon raspberry yogurt I used to eat as a kid, before I realized any color that vivid should not be eaten in one’s yogurt.

I plucked the raspberry yogurt-colored notebook off the shelf and examined it. It was a Moleskine with a soft, leathery cover, and it was more expensive than any notebook I’d ever bought before. But I had just read a blog post by a writer — some writer, I can’t remember whom — professing the joys of using a Moleskine. Maybe, I thought, owning this notebook would inspire me to write more.

I know that logic is flawed. Proof: I bought a bike two years ago, hoping it would inspire me to ride more, and instead it’s been sitting on my porch and wasting away in the elements. But it came recommended by a real writer somewhere on the internet, and besides I liked the color. What the hell, I thought.

There’s something very intimidating about a blank notebook. That first page — what do you say?

Luckily, I was in a reckless mood, having just dropped $20 on a notebook, so I wrote the first thing that came to mind, an observation on the day. It wasn’t elegant. In fact, reading back, it was probably the least inspired thing I wrote in the whole Moleskine. But it got me started, and I had to admit — there was something nice about the way my pen moved across that high-quality paper.

Soon, I was writing in the notebook every day. Sometimes it was a musing on life (a would-be blog post that never made it online); sometimes it was a to-do list, or a mildly self-conscious poem, or excerpts from books I was reading. (From Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir: “There is a place in hell for writers who quote themselves.”)

But more often than not, I was simply journaling. I didn’t intend for the notebook to be a journal — I had never been able to keep one consistently in the past — but I had recently ended a five-year relationship and was still working through every nuance of the breakup and recovery. I had a lot of angst to process.

My original intention was to carry the notebook around with me, just in case literary inspiration struck, but it quickly became far too personal to risk losing in public. One time, I was writing in it on an airplane and realized during descent that I couldn’t find it. I frantically pawed around the seat until my neighbor suggested unhooking the seat-back tray table. There it was, flat against the tray, waiting for some future Southwest Airlines passenger to inhabit my most vulnerable thoughts.

There’s a fitting quote from Harry Potter, right after Harry accidentally discovers a magical object — a bowl filled with a floaty white substance — that allows him to relive some of Dumbledore’s memories. Dumbledore explains what it is:

“I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind.”

“Err,” said Harry, who couldn’t truthfully say he had ever felt anything of the sort.

“At these times,” said Dumbledore, indicating the stone basin, “I use a Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure.”

I reread this passage recently, and it occurred to me: Who needs a Pensieve? My notebook does the same thing.

So I siphoned my excess thoughts into this raspberry Moleskine. Instead of a floaty white substance, I used ink.

It was after my third or fourth pen ran dry that I began to wonder just how much ink I was using. After all 192 ruled pages were filled, how much heavier would the notebook be? How much would my words weigh?

I began to hunt for an identical notebook. It turns out, there are many, many variations of Moleskine (hardcover! squares instead of lines! extra-large!), and finding the exact one you want is nearly impossible. But I needed the same kind for weight comparison purposes — and if I was being honest, I was worried that if I bought a different kind of notebook, I would lose the magic and stop writing.

When I finally found one, I took them both over to a friend’s house to use her postage meter. I placed my brand new, blank notebook on the meter first. 234 grams, it read.

Then I laid down my beloved, recently completed one. 238 grams.

Six and a half months of excess thoughts, memories and words = 4 grams.

I wrote the measurements on the last page, and I closed the notebook.

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