I love notebooks. I have had one at hand since I started my first one about 25 years ago. Since then I have always carried one with me no matter where I went in case I needed to jot down an idea, draw a picture or make a list. Even in this digital age when so much of what I once jotted down in my notebooks is now tapped into an app on a smart phone I still carry a notebook.
I am a writer. I would be lost without blank pages to scribble across.
Yesterday morning I happened to look through an old notebook that wasn’t mine but which now belongs to me.
It belonged to my father who died last year, and about 90% of the pages are blank. It’s no writer’s journal so any stories I seek to read must be inferred.
Dad got this red spiral-bound notebook after he got a computer in the late 1990s. At 75 years old he was long retired but the computer had been bought with a payout from his job as a post-office technician. The government of the day had done a swifty when they sold off Telecom, failing to include the rights to free phone-calls for ex-employees included in many redundancy packages. Dad was part of an action that resulted in a payout of about $5,000 to each of the claimants, as long as they told no one.
I was quite surprised by his interest in the internet at the time but he was keen to learn so we had many sessions getting him up to speed and the notebook was part of his methodical way of writing down a step-by-step guide to navigating the digital world.
The first page has a key to all the functions on the tool bar and what they mean.
Pages 2 and 3 are covered with the addresses of all the websites he liked to look at. They are crammed in making a patchwork pattern added to as he found more sites. He clearly didn’t understand the concept of bookmarks.
Page 4 has a step-by-step guide to forwarding a message followed by a guide about how to restart in safe mode.
Page 5 is how to surf with Explorer. Page 6 is about Microsoft Works.
Pages 7 and 8 give detailed instructions about defragging and clearing the cache.
All is written in Dad’s characteristically left-leaning hand. Whether he was writing in capitals or lower case, it always leaned to the left.
Apart from a list of personal email addresses at the back (and some other addresses I shall, er, address shortly), that’s all he wrote in the 12 or more years this notebook sat next to his increasingly antique computer.
It’s tempting to see the sudden halt in his meticulous note-taking as a sign of the on-set of the disease that would take so long to kill him.
They say that Alzheimer’s takes about 12 years to do its thing, and for half of that time it does quite well at remaining hidden.
My sister talks fondly of noticing that Dad really was far gone when he happily sat in the computer nook in the lounge looking at internet porn while she and Mum sat behind his back watching the telly.
A list of his favoured girly sites is written inside the back cover, explaining in retrospect the numerous viruses that kept infecting his computer.
At the front of the notebook, on the first page added after Dad stopped writing, is a full page written in my sister’s hand. It leans to the right (as we were taught at school) and is a mix of upper and lower case, and includes pictures and symbols.
It’s a 1-page guide showing Mum how to use the internet now that Dad was in full-time care. A grand-child has scribbled all over it in pink pen at some stage and Mum has written my sister’s address and phone-number in Australia once she returned there.
Mum didn’t take to the internet like Dad. Although my sister’s instructions were clearly written Mum just didn’t get it. When I tried to help her her eyes would endlessly hunt the keyboard looking for the key I was telling her to punch. It just wasn’t her thing.
Her one contribution to the notebook came immediately after my sister’s guide: recipes for White Bean and Chorizo Soup, and Savoury Pinwheels, both of which I got to eat. Both were delicious.
The other story unwritten in the notebook is that Mum got to visit my sister at that new address in Australia, having a blast before the disease that would kill her in a few short months made itself known.
There are 2 other random notes added amongst the overwhelmingly blank pages. One is written softly in pencil in my youngest sister’s hand: a step-by-step guide how to look up Russian adoption. Since my sister clearly would need no such guide I can only surmise that she wrote this out for Mum so she could follow what my sister was investigating.
The other is a single word, written at an angle on the bottom right corner of an otherwise blank page. It simply says “experience”. It could be a random note jotted by my mother, or either of my sisters, maybe while on the phone, but when I saw it I immediately thought of that man who spent decades writing “eternity” on the streets of Melbourne trying to communicate something larger than the 8 looped letters did.
Does this random word in the lost corner of a notebook have a meaning? As much as eternity.
I couldn’t throw out this notebook when we divvied up my parents’ things last year.
I can be quite sentimental, and I realise you can’t keep everything, but the writer in me knows that notebooks aren’t for throwing away. Like everything, they contain stories and moments awaiting a curious eye and the gift of meaning.