The Ugly Notebook

When I was younger, I found an old book that used to belong to my grandmother – a hardbound, one-inch, burgundy-colored book with yellowing pages. It was filled to the brim with her handwriting, detailing how to cook one dish after the other, newspaper clippings of recipes, and little scribbles of flowers in every one or two pages. I wasn't too interested in what it really contained, but I was absolutely fascinated by the idea of having a notebook to keep all of your worldly knowledge in.

Fast forward to high school, I stuck with the same creative writing class all four years. Our teachers changed year after year, but there was one who started her class by asking us to bring in an empty notebook at our next meeting. Without thinking about it too much, I brought in one of my extra wire-bound ones and called it a day. It turned out that it was supposed to act as our “ugly notebook” for the rest of the year – a sort of commonplace book and diary rolled into one, where I would write anything and everything in it. Very apt, since the notebook I had wasn't pretty, to begin with.

At first, it was hard to get started – I would constantly forget my notebook at home. I used to have a diary, as did any other 5th grader, but it was years since I had written down one coherent thought. Stories (fanfiction) seemed to take on a different route and poured easily out of my head, but inner thoughts? There were days where there was nothing to write, no new knowledge or interesting thing to put in it. Sometimes I felt that it was useless to have it even. But as the months went by, with a bit of practice, I found myself reaching for it more and more. I realized that it's absolutely not true that there's nothing “new” to write – what it really is is a matter of constantly censoring myself, again and again, refusing to acknowledge that my thoughts existed or thinking that they were “dumb” and unworthy to be written down.

I now realize that my teenage years were absolutely riddled with insecurity and self-doubt. Before anyone put me down, I had already crossed that line mentally, thinking that I wasn't good enough. I wish my younger self, the one who's hopes and dreams were only starting to find a voice on the pages of an ugly notebook, felt more confident, more empowered.

The year ended and my teacher left, but the ugly notebook remained.


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