A bit more than twenty years ago I started carrying a spiral notebook with me almost constantly. I usually wrote in it while reading—taking notes, jotting titles and authors of other texts that I planned to examine, proposing theses, writing initial drafts of key paragraphs, outlining course syllabi, composing poems, …
The habit of always having a spiral notebook with me has ceased since computers have become ubiquitous. These days I’m more likely to carry a notebook manufactured by Gateway than one made by Mead. Still, I have not entirely abandoned the practice. My computer bag has room for a spiral notebook and a ballpoint pen, and I still use them. Too often, however, it is easier to open Word and start typing.
As created text morphs from rough notes to polished prose, much is lost. Some of the loss is beneficial, but not all. My initial condemnation of some book or article may give way to cautious acceptance of another scholar’s perspective, or exuberance for a fresh approach may become the jaded recognition that notions discredited long ago might be resurrected once their refutations have been forgotten. My spiral notebooks preserve a record of these journeys. Those saved as files, even when new drafts have new names, are quickly lost. I’ll never again see the notes I saved just a few years ago on 5 ¼ inch floppies, for example.
Sometimes notebooks from decades ago are painful to read because they reveal astounding ignorance. Such humbling reading, however, can put into perspective my frustration with younger scholars (or with aged ones still pushing discredited ideas that I too once cherished). Other times reading these old notebooks offer fresh recollections of knowledge I’ve lost.