For Christmas this year, my father-in-law gave me a beautiful leather journal. It’s bound in thick black leather with a brown Celtic knot inlaid on the cover. It is classy, heavy in the hand, the pages are thick and blank, and to me it screams that I’m not good enough to write in it. I’m a little sad to admit that, but that’s where my mind when for a moment. This is the second beautiful, intimidating, perfect leather journal I’ve received in my life, and it seems like a good time to contemplate the significance I have placed on these types of items, and my idea of worthiness.
When I graduated from college, my sister, Sherri, gave me airplane tickets to Europe out of Seattle, her hometown. It was the most astoundingly generous gift I’ve ever received, and a testament to the support and friendship she has always offered me. The plan was for me to leave from Seattle, so we could see each other before I left and right when I got back. I was over the moon with excitement and gratitude, and spent months planning my trip and gathering gear. When I left Portland, my best childhood friend, Melinda, gave me a beautiful Italian-made travel journal bound in brown leather with a world map cover secured with leather ties.
It was a luxurious and lovely book. I had seen journals like this over the years, but never dreamed of buying one for my scribbles. I’d already planned to take my current journal with me. It was more utilitarian; spiral bound, ruled, and wrapped in corrugated cardboard. It felt much more appropriate for my prolific and messy journaling.
The travel journal was a thoughtful gift from a friend I’d shared everything with since we were eight years old, and I thanked her profusely. She wouldn’t listen to my objections that it was too pretty to write in, and inscribed it with the instructions to keep track of all of my adventures in it.
So I packed it, along with it’s lesser twin, in my backpack, and set off on a seven-week solo trek through Europe. It was arguably the biggest adventure of my life. I met other travelers in hostels in Amsterdam and I bumped into friendly locals over breakfast in a crowded London cafeteria. I took guided ghost tours in Edinburgh and checked out recorded audio tours in the Louvre. I skipped Barcelona when my bag was stolen in Nice, but I met Kristin in Rome and we travelled together for a week. With so much time to myself, I documented everything in my journal – the cardboard one to which I felt so attuned.
As I wrote this post, I searched my bookshelves for the leather travel journal, but I couldn’t find it on display. I had to think for a minute to remember where I might have stashed it, and from the filing cabinet in our guest bedroom closet, I pulled a yellow ditty bag, packed full of seven weeks worth of maps, train and museum ticket stubs, brochures, business cards, and two travel journals from my European Adventure. The cardboard version is filled, cover-to-cover with my notes, experiences, and a meticulous record of all of my accommodations during the trip. The leather journal is in decent shape, the four corners a little worn from sitting inside the ditty bag for so many years, and eighty percent of the book is still blank. The first entry, dated April 24, 2000:
As my first entry in my new journal I find that I want to write something tremendously important or noteworthy. Just look at this book. It is beautifully hand bound in Italian leather and it came all the way from Firenza to find me. Funny that I should bring it back to Florence with me on my trip to Europe, but I never wrote in it for the entire seven weeks. I believe I was too worried about marring its beautiful finish.
But here I am, writing the days thoughts down without care for penmanship or spelling. All in all, it is my book, my tool, and my weapon. I will be the only one to look at it until I am long past caring who sees it.
There it was in black and cream: I received it as a gift and carried it on my back for thousands of miles, but I never dared write in it for fear of ruining it. And t top it off, it was eighty percent blank, so I hadn’t even drank my own Kool Aid.
I could spend some time analyzing where this idea of my unworthiness came from, but I doubt that naval gazing of that nature will be as helpful as simply changing my mindset. Because I do think it’s part of the human condition to feel not good enough, at least sometimes. The question to ask ourselves is: who makes that determination? And the next question is: who says we have to take them as an authority? So I’ve eighty-sixed the unworthy critics in my head, and I will continue to work on evicting them whenever they make another unwelcome appearance.
And this is one of the steps I took to assert my own worthiness: After receiving my wonderful Christmas gift this year, I determined I was not going to place it on a pedestal, or myself in a subservient position unto it. I cracked it open the day after Christmas, one lovely blue felt tipped pen in hand, and proceeded to write a tidy little journal entry complete with one word I struck through just to break the spell of perfection over it and claim it as my very own.
Then, it occurred to me that I did not need to be bound to just the written word in this beautiful book. The pages were unlined, so I could doodle and scribble to my heart’s content, and I went a little wild doodling artistically (in my own small way) on a few pages. Then I went really crazy and wrote some new years resolutions down really large, at an angle, with a lot of exclamation marks. From the outside all beauty and presentation, and on the inside, it’s a party too, just my style.
And now it occurs to me that these journals are just pieces of paper on which to write. They are just a vehicle, and there’s nothing sacred or unholy about any of them. Whether I write on paper bound in leather or in cardboard, it doesn’t make the work any better or any worse. The words are mine, for what that’s worth, and for me, I’ll do my best to make them matter.