For years, I pocketed a single piece of paper, folded in half, then folded in thirds, so it fit easily reachable but inconspicuously into a dress shirt pocket, behind a pen, an idea I got from the writer Joseph Mitchell. Sometimes, that piece of paper might last a week, or longer signifying a period of listening lassitude. Other times, I would need to replace a filled piece of paper daily. The used pieces, worn and frayed, smeared, unfolded and placed flat on the desk or table, yielded twelve rectangles of writing, six on each side, with no discernible sequence or connection: notes, names, places, lists, ideas, dialog, doodles, drawings, mini-calendars, music, reminders, abbreviations only I would ever be able to decipher, and sometimes even I could not, poetry, sentences, symbols. The pages filled desk drawers, old shoe boxes, compost for some writing spring.
These days, I allow myself the luxury of a pocket size Moleskin Cahier unlined journal book, which I slip into the left back pocket of my jeans, which I wear for three or four days running before the biweekly shave and shower. The book lasts much longer than that, weeks, maybe months. The used books, contoured like an old pair of pants, a few missing pages, each remaining page crossed out as having been used or declared not useful, like their folded page precursors, also fill the desk drawer or a shoe box.
The writing day becomes a writing life. The folding of a new piece of paper or the opening of a new journal brings a kind of joy. After a time, old papers and journals are discarded, tossed into the recycling bin. To keep them, to save them, would be too sentimental, soft, presumptuous. What nutrition they might have contained has already been burned. The hard edge of writing is on the front line, always something new. And yet, pictured, is me at my writing desk, circa 1974, at work on what would become, 40 years later, “Penina’s Letters.”
Writing is incremental, a process of addition, but also of subtraction, of awakening and sleeping, that daily rhythm, slowed to a pulse, a breath.
Joe Linker is the essay editor at Queen Mob’s Teahouse from Feb. 2020, having served as poetry editor from Feb. 2019. He’s lived most of his life on the US west coast within reach of the ocean.
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