My great white whale is a little black notebook.

On those lists of advice for writers, it’s always up there: keep a notebook.

This must be a generational thing by now – and I’d probably be even more upset if I’d lost my smart phone with its nifty note-taking app-bilities.

I don’t have a smart phone, but I did have a little black note-book. One in a long line. Just having one on my person keeps my antennae up. A stray word or image, an overheard conversation, an angel settling briefly on my shoulder and becoming voluble, are moments all too often forgotten if not jotted down. Besides, if I am ever caught waiting with only myself and my thoughts, I can look busy writing and not awkward.

Really, I’ll have to agree with those lists of advice, all writers should carry a note-book because in the worst circumstances you’ll at least have something to read. As Oscar Wilde noted in The Importance of Being Earnest, “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

But you don’t want anyone else reading it. Which is a small part of what concerns me now that I have lost the latest in the long line of note-books I have kept about my person.

And which brings me to another thing we should all have, not just writers. And that is pockets. I envy little boys and intrepid explorers with their cargo pants and surfeit of pockets for string and matches, pencils, gum, a 50 cent coin, Pokemon cards, a knife with the bottle popper hidden inside the handle, a lucky stone and another one not quite so shiny. So many clothes these days come without. Why bother making trousers if you are not going to allow for pockets? My current jeans have the shallowest nod in the direction of pockets. I shove my little black note-book and pen down as far as I can when I go for a walk.

The note-book was not there on my returned last week.

Thankfully, I have a system in place. The notes taken in tiny note-books that fit in tiny pockets are transferred into a bigger journal on my desk at home, a way station where ideas wait to be picked up and put into a larger train of thought – a poem, a story, a novel. So it was only a few notes and one poem I lost.

Even more encouragingly, there are no distinguishing features to my Reject Shop note-book. I put no name nor address above my notes, which could have been disparaging descriptions of colleagues or that sort of thing (but were not!). If someone else has found it, the scribbles can never be traced back to me.

I have retraced my steps every daily walk since the loss. I remember I did some weeding as I walked up the drive on the way home. It could have fallen out as I bent over. No black plastic cover noses out of the agapanthus. Maybe I should stick to gardening and forget tending words, as gardening is probably better for me.

The recent floods have left the path by the river dirty with mud. I stop at the last point I remember writing in the note-book. I cast a wanna-be-archaeologist eye into the undergrowth on either side of the path. Nothing manmade has shouted its presence.

I initially thought, maybe I can recreate the poem I have lost. Some lines have come back. Pockets of expensive perfume / Short-back-and-sides mothers favouring purple.

(It is amazing what you can dig out of your memory. What did I have for dinner last Tuesday? How should I know!)

But even if I get enough of the idea back, a few of the images to workup, it will never be the poem I was so happy with as I strode home. The one inspired by the moment, flowing with the rhythms of my walk, infused with caffeine and sunshine as I sat beside a pop-up café in a shipping container and shaped the notes into a poem.

The largest part of my concern at losing the note-book is that poem within it. The great poem that has got away. The great poem that was, at the moment of writing, the one, the best I’d ever written. The one I have chased and chased, the one I will never now catch.

The image in the header is from the Freshwater and Marine Image Bank.


2 thoughts on “My Great White Whale

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