Friday, 20 May 2011

The Joy of Paper

I know it's wrong in this day and age to admit being obsessed by paper. It's so analogue, so last century, and not in a funky retro way either. You can't go anywhere without being reminded of your carbon footprint, Amazon Kindle is on a mission to do away with paperbacks, and every email I am sent at work finishes with the message "Think: GREEN. Do you really need to print this out?" (to which I have always longed to respond "Think: you're two feet away from me. Did you really need to email in the first place?") It all makes me immensely sad, and even as I'm sat typing this on a blog, my real journal is pen and paper, stored in that ultimate cliché hiding place, down the side of the bed. Paper doesn't run our of battery life, hurt your eyes, or rely on technology that will one day become obsolete. It's intimate, personal, tactile, and a mile away from the self-obsessed self-promotion of online life.

It all started with school stationery. The joy of starting a new exercise book and the determination to keep it perfect for as long as possible. I was so much of a control freak that I would actually pretend to lose my books at the first sign of a ripped out page, bad grade, or ink blot. Eventually my favourite English lit teacher figured out what I was up to and taught me that perfection isn't healthy, not for individuals and not for the arts either. He taught me that great works come from knowledge, from experimentation and mistakes and dubious choices, and also that I'd need all those essays on Lord of the Flies come revision time. I got an A in that exam, but I have to confess that even now I have a cupboard full of half-used exercise books from various subjects. Still, they have come in handy for use in various reclaimed paper projects.

We'd often take family holidays in France, and I regret that one of my biggest highlights was visiting the Hypermarche near the end of our stay to stock up on back-to-school stuff. The average French supermarket stationery department at back-to-school time has to be seen to be believed. I'd buy homework diaries, composition books, journals and notepads, and feel so chic using the Seyes rule instead of normal, boring lined paper.  These days I keep a dozen or so journals to catalogue every little thing, which I'm sure I wouldn't do if it hadn't been for those made stationery shopping sprees.

My friend is even worse than me. She has dozens of beautifully bound books that she will never write in. To her, it's not the point. She would never sully what is, to her, a work of art, with something so mundane as a thought. I am the opposite. I have moved on from the days when a 9/10 was enough to see me abandon a notebook, and from the day when, aged 21, I burnt all of my teenage diaries because they were full of angst and bad poetry and unrequited obsession. I have developed more confidence in my 'voice' (as the English teacher would have put it) since then, and have discovered the amazing Mass Observation archives, the histories written by David Kynaston, and particularly the journals of Nella Last. For years I knew that my interest lay with the peasant, not the king, and that I cared more for the ephemera than the artwork, and the food people ate more than the wars that they fought. Even the most mundane record of the most average life has a value; in fact, the more average the better, one could argue.

I have only one that I could never bear to write in; it is the one, that illustrates this post. It's bound up in hand marbled paper and memories. On the last holiday I took with my father, we were in Florence, and I was drooling into the window of Il Papiro. The journal wasn't so expensive, not considering the quality and history and craftsmanship, but it was beyond my meagre student budget. My dad asked me what on earth I could need another blooming book for, he'd never been keen on my holiday paper binges, and I can remember feeling a surge of anger and resentment - that teenage angst again - as I slouched away from the shop. Five months later, on Christmas day, I opened a small parcel to find this perfect little gift. He admitted he'd been excited about me opening that particular gift since the day he bought it - right up until the moment I picked it up. Would I even remember what it was or where it was from? Nothing I could commit to paper will ever compete with the love that that journal already holds. And I doubt I could have ever felt the same way about some gadget, even if I had wanted it just as badly.

The paper has changed slightly over the years; from French-ruled to Student Union to Moleskine to whatever I can salvage to bind for myself. But I don't think that I will ever change. I'll always be a paper-and-pencil kind of girl.

Even as I sit and type.

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