Day 222: Another day, another newsletter

Issue No. 17 of The 10,000 Days Newsletter goes out tomorrow. Here is the essay from No. 16. If you wish to sign up, click up top where the complex instructions say "click right here."

© Aaron Burden

Selections from my Notisbücher Leuchtturm

  • When I was in my 20s, I wanted to be Bruce Chatwin. At least, the next Bruce Chatwin. (In my 50s, I made him the subject of my master’s thesis.) I read everything he wrote, and was especially enamored for many years of The Songlines, especially the numerous excerpts in that book from his many notebooks. This was Bruce Chatwin, who liked to make a show of anything, so the notebooks could not be cheap and everyday mais non. In six paragraphs of The Songlines, he extolled the virtues of a specific black notebook with an elastic closure that he called carnets moleskines, available from a papeterie on the Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie (well, of course). For years, to no avail, I sought facsimiles so I could take Chatwinesque notes of my own. Then, one day in a Baltimore museum shop, there it was—an honest-to-god carnet moleskine. No, a Moleskine®, because a company in Italy had begun manufacturing and marketing them as the notebooks favored by the fabled Bruce Chatwin. I bought one straight off. My mood improved. My prose did not.
  • I had no way of knowing what that discovery portended for notebooks. What used to cost $3.00, with a wire spine that always snagged your best sweater, is now $25, no longer wire bound (fortunately), and available in a half-dozen sizes and 20 colors. Near my Dupont Circle apartment in Washington is the one brick-and-mortar store of Jenni Bick, an online retailer of all things notebook, and do I love that place. Strolling its aisles the other day, I was bemused by how many companies have staked their fortunes on the carnet moleskines template of stiff covers, elastic closure, ribbon bookmark, back pocket, and 200+ pages of not-very-good creme stock. Moleskine®, of course, plus Stonit, Archer & Olive, Rhodia, Ciak, Midori MD, Semikolon, Leuchtturm 1917. (The latter is my favorite. Buy one, pull it out at your favorite coffee shop, and when someone comments on it, reply, “This is the notebook used by Dale Keiger, you know.”)
  • Last Thursday, front and center at Jenni Bick was the shop’s rainbow LGBTQ Pride Day merchandise display, notebooks and pens and literary tchotchkes arranged in a proper spectrum. Pride Day is a big deal in DC, and a couple of weeks after the June 8 festivities, one business after another still had rainbows in their windows and on their merchandise tables. All of which got me to thinking—and this is where I’ve been going with all of this—about how much the cause of queer rights has been furthered by the realization on the part of American business that there’s money in it. I’m not dismissing the commitment to LGBTQ rights on the part of U.S. companies. There are thousands of retailers, bars, restaurants, and corporations that are genuine in their support of the queer community. But walk five or six blocks down any street in the business districts of DC neighborhoods like Dupont Circle or Adams Morgan or Logan or U Street and you’ll see ample evidence of how much it helps the cause that LGBTQ support is profitable. If you’re an elected official or bureaucrat in an American city of any size and you express anti-gay sentiments, you are going to find the local business community in your ear advising you to find some other minority to push around.
  • And I would not be surprised if that drives some African-Americans crazy. They would be justified to wonder, Where are the Black Pride parades? When is African-American Pride Day? When will every tavern on my block fly their AAPD flags? In what year will I walk into Jenni Bick and find its Juneteenth display? When do black Americans get their Pride bottles of cava brut?
  • I have no data to support this, but I suspect that within the city limits of places like Washington, gay and trans and bi people have, as a group, prospered more than African Americans. In cultural politics, if you can afford a $30 entree, a $12 cocktail, or a $25 notebook, your cause will find support. Prosperity begets clout. Jot that down in your Moleskine®.

Day 105: Elisa Gabbert

Have just begun The Word Pretty, Elisa Gabbert's newest collection of essays. I can't remember who or what put me on to it—someone mentioned it in a podcast, maybe? I dunno—nor do I remember when I bought it, though that had to be recently. Whatever the story, I'm taken with the first entry, "Personal Data: Notes on Keeping a Notebook," and if the rest of the book is as good, be forewarned, I'll be writing more about it here.

The first paragraph of "Personal Data," and thus the book's opening paragraph:

Writers’ habit don’t just emerge, we cultivate them—it’s first aspirational, then superstitious. Years ago, in graduate school, I noticed how certain poet friends would casually, but with intent, remove a small notebook from their jacket pocket or bag and jot something down. I noticed it the way you notice how someone smokes—the glamor in the gesture, and how it isn’t personal but referential; it aligns one with a tradition. I started keeping notebooks so I could be a writer who keeps a notebook.

That seems sharply observed to me, wry and true. I also like this bit, from the same first page (the book starts strong), which makes me want to meet Gabbert's mother:

… When I was seven or eight, I confessed to my mother that I couldn’t stop narrating my life back to myself; I thought it meant I was crazy. No, she said, it means you’re a writer.

Well, yes.

In a subsequent essay, Gabbert notes that her mother has a recurring dream of flunking a sociology class. Definitely want to meet her.

Elisa Gabbert's site lives here.

Day 57: Notebook entry from March 19, 2005

Sage oil is reputed to be good for the memory. In research conducted at universities in Newcastle and Northumbria, sage oil elevated a chemical in the brain often depleted in Alzheimer’s patients.


Sage advice is smart advice; a sage was an experienced, judicious, wise man, and wisdom requires memory of experience. Speakers of Middle English might refer to the sage Robert or the sage Jane. First citation in English from 1297, The Chronicle of Robert Gloucester, which is the 93rd-most cited source in the Oxford English Dictionary, the source for anlace, “a short two-edged knife or dagger, broad at the hilt and tapering to the point,” the verb forsloth, “to lose, miss, neglect, spoil, or waste through sloth,” and plud, “a pool or puddle.” (Robert apparently wrote only the last 3,000 lines of the chronicle, which is a vernacular history of England.)

The word also appears in Piers Plowman. From Latin sapere, “to be wise,” the present participle of which is sapiens, as in Homo sapiens. The plant name is from the Old High German salbeia. No apparent connection.