One moleskin notebook gives way to the next…

Posted: November 5, 2007 in Blog

“The best stuff you ever write comes from a place you don’t understand.”

I read that line in the obituary of journalist R.W. (Johnny) Apple, Jr., who passed away in Oct. 2006, and immediately knew I needed to write it down, because it expressed that exact feeling you get when you’ve written something that clicks. It’s a sort of “Hey I never thought of it that way before, but I like it” feeling.

Luckily, I had my moleskin notebook nearby to jot down the obituary quote. Okay, maybe it wasn’t so much a case of luck. That little notebook has a knack for being there when I most need it (other lines from that obituary that made it into the notebook: “Drama, and a lot of dash, followed Mr. Apple as night follows day” and “He looked like a wrinkle bomb had hit him.”)

Flipping through the now-full notebook, whose first entry is dated just over a year ago, I am reminded of the places I visited, and people I was with when something— an idea, a quote, a reminder— presented itself. There are lists of books to read, itineraries for reporting trips, ideas for planned afternoons with friends or a friend and certain phrasings I stumbled across reading articles and books that I wanted to remember (such as describing a winding river as being “all elbows”).

In fact, I happened to be writing in the book when I got the call offering the opportunity to drop everything and move to East Africa. “UGANDA!!!!!!!” is written in huge lettering across that page.

One entry still intrigues me: taking the train back to Toronto from Montreal, we passed what looked to be an abandoned train station with very little around it. In shaky, I’m-writing-this-while-riding-a-train handwriting, appears the note “Ernestown, west of Kingston. Abandoned railway station with a few houses. Ghost town? Jan. 30.07”

Anyone know the answer to that one?

About half the book is filled with notes from here in Uganda. There are a few interviews with residents of IDP camps in Northern Uganda: “Man hid under shea nut tree during massacre. Has bullet wound on left wrist (showed me). Told villagers to run away as the rebels stormed from the far side. Today he wears torn knit sweater. He left his home at 5 p.m. that day. Going to harvest honey at nearby village. But met rebels on the way so turned and ran back. When he arrived he was asked by the military why he was running. They wanted to know where the rebels were coming from. He told everyone to run east. The military went to meet the rebels but rebels had since moved and so entered the village while military was out looking for them. Three groups of rebels attacked from three fronts. When he was pointing people to run, the rebels shot him in wrist. Government forces were on one side, rebels on the other. He was caught in the middle under the only tree. So started praying to Job (Why Job?). Then he tried to run (says he did it unconsciously). Can’t explain how he got away. Fell in a hole and shell exploded nearby, covering him in dirt. But jumped out of trench and ran. They were shooting at him. He came back next morning and there were dead bodies everywhere, and all huts were burned.”

At the end of this entry is the man’s name, “Tom Omara”, written in his shaky penmanship. So shaky that I had to ask him to verbally spell his name so I could re-write his name above his writing of it to make sure I had the spelling correct.

On the next page, the testimony of a 16-year old boy who three years ago survived the massacre described above. But not before witnessing the execution of his older brother and then being abducted by the rebels. Here, he describes the forced march through the bush: “They were killing people on the way using pangas and spears. They didn’t want to waste bullets.”

There are, unfortunately, a fair number of entries like that in the last half of the notebook. But they’re not all so tragic.

There are notes about words and phrases in Luganda that I was told and now try to remember. There are e-mail addresses and phone numbers of fantastic and wonderful people I have met along the way and random jottings of wild travel ideas that have come up in the company of others here.

But with the jotting of one final wild travel idea, and a couple more books I want to read, I have reached the end of one moleskin notebook.

When a Canadian flying here asked me if she could bring anything from home, my answer was “Yes! Bring a moleskin notebook!”

And so a new, fresh notebook, still in its wrapper, waits for its pages to be filled.
From one moleskin to the next

  1. Karen says:

    I experimented with the reporter flip-up version, and it is a pale imitation of our ol’ faithful. Note for when you return: stick to the notebook style.

  2. Andrew says:

    Wow — crazy! I too experimented with the flip-up, and was just about to caution you of the same…
    I’m making good headway through a non-Moleskin just now, writing five times as much just to finish it off and get back into that minimalist black delight…

  3. mattroberts says:

    Surprisingly enough, I bought a new this morning.

  4. cmason2 says:

    A.T., are your to-do lists now written in size 25 font just to finish off the notebook? I shall clip my pen to my t-shirt collar today in your honour, friend.

    Glad to see I’m not the only moleskin addict.

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