Tears of ink: Notebooks from abroad
Liam Price | Friday, November 10, 2023
I’m writing in my third notebook of this semester, which I’ve spent abroad at Notre Dame’s London program. For the life of me, I can’t write anything of use, whether it be for my website or The Observer, but writing pointlessly in my notebook is pretty easy for me.
Three notebooks take up a lot of space, and most of this space is just meandering writings about my day. I also allow myself to indulge in brevity, like this entire page entry I wrote Sept. 25: “I write so much s**t. My roommate just farted again, and it smells like oranges.”
But this is also what feeds my addiction to notebooks. It’s low stakes. I use them to write down YouTube recipes, doodle, make to-do lists, cry tears of ink and let my thoughts ramble. And despite the low stakes, when I go back in time to re-read my notebooks, there are usually one or two entries in each that I think an audience might (key word: might) also enjoy. The rest is, quite frankly, absolute garbage.
Sept. 5 — Thinking two ways
It’s funny to me that Joan Didion considers writing to be an aggressive, hostile process. To write, she writes, is to impose your will upon the reader.
But perhaps this iconic skepticism and self-questioning of Didion’s isn’t the only way of looking at it. Perhaps writing can also be a form of empathy, too. A good writer must put themselves in their audience’s shoes, whether that audience is children, academic researchers or anything in between.
Now, of course, it is equally valid to accuse me of imposing my will upon readers by forcing them to think I’m empathetic. All I’m saying is both lines of reasoning can be true, and both are equally important to be aware of.
Sept. 21 — Butterflies
My first thought when I’m feeling happy, 99% of the time, is “Who do I cold-call right now?” The other 1% of the time, I write. I usually write when I’m sad. And because I’m sad when I write, I hate it.
But right now, I’m not sad. I’m happy. That’s because today is my girlfriend Teagan’s birthday, and she just opened my gifts.
She was so genuinely pleased with her gifts while on our call that I got butterflies in my stomach a whole ocean’s distance away from her. I’m happy we can still have moments like that.
(For those familiar with long-distance relationships, studying abroad is like a long-distance relationship on steroids. Time zones and extra time apart are a unique challenge for a couple to deal with. But I’m here to tell you that it is possible if you’re really in love. Kelly Clarkson said it best: ”What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”)
Nov. 5 — Writing on the train to Amsterdam’s airport
I’m probably just a regular of my generation, but I recently realized that half my personality is simply referencing TikToks that I have seen. I get very annoyed with myself about it, but TikTok provides an easy way to describe what I’m thinking.
The trains — especially the sleek, clean subways of Amsterdam — make me want to cry tears of joy like TikTok’s favorite “railway enthusiast,” Francis Bourgeois.
Compared to the piss-stench of the Philadelphia subways that I’m used to, the Dutch infrastructure is mind-blowing. You can use data on your phone while underground, it’s quiet and unbelievably clean! The 5-second rule actually might apply when you drop a piece of food on the ground here.
I’m going to stop writing before I cry happy tears of my own about it.
Oct. 20 — Endings
I often think about the reported exchange between Miles Davis and John Coltrane where Coltrane asked Davis how to conclude an improvised solo, and Davis just told Coltrane something like: “By taking your mouth off the damn mouthpiece.”
Endings don’t need to be a white ribbon tied in a perfect bow for you. It is simply when the writer takes their pen off the page and says “This work is over with.”
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.