Last month, I made a quick post on my Sparks page about what I call “covetable copy” —a piece of writing I wish I’d written.  I wanted to put up another one, so I started leafing through my little notebook with the red brocade cover. It’s probably Chinese.  This one is old but I think you can still get them downtown at Pearl River. The pages have pale reddish lines, and some have a small sketch of a bird or flower in one corner. The paper is so thin that some inks bleed right through, making it necessary to leave the reverse side untouched.

This is one of many blank books I’ve bought or been given over the decades. They’ve been anything from the size of a deck of playing cards to 8×10″ schools notebook, with pages stitched, sewn or spiral bound. The covers have been hard and soft, made of anything from banana leaves to recycled roofing tin. I’ve actually used most of these. Before there was even my ur-device (my original Palm Pilot of beloved memory), I used to carry one in my bag at all times in case inspiration struck. Each of my plays and all my early book ideas had a notebook carefully matched to it. There was always something momentous about finding the perfect book and writing the title on the first page, in my neatest hand; a kind of blessing on the project. I’ve never been much for journals, but many of these notebooks turned into what can best be described as commonplace books. They hold random notes: lists of things to do or see; topics to research; skeletal maps of how to get from vacation hotels to sites of interest; sketches of motifs from ancient pottery or the shape of a sleeve; nearly-lost memories.

The little red book is a commonplace book with nothing but quotes. As well as “covetable copy,” I’ve saved quotes that I find inspirational and a couple of verses I didn’t want to forget. Some have been transcribed in an attempt at calligraphy, or in other deviations from my usual hand or ink, with the intent of adding another layer of meaning. The sight of purple faux-copperplate or round print in rainbow pencil lead can raise as many memories as the words themselves.

Today I noticed this:

“Novels are against randomness. They’re against the idea that nothing happens.” Jayne Anne Phillips, in a 2000 interview in Mirabella magazine

Sometimes the thoughts triggered by flipping through notes you’ve kept for years and years are surprising. For example, I very much like what Ms. Phillips says here. Her words make me think, and then nod my head in pleased agreement. But when I paused on this page today, what jumped out at me were the words “Mirabella magazine.”

My memories spiralled back to the 90’s, when former Vogue editor-in-chief Grace Mirabella created a glossy monthly publication for smart women. Smart. Mirabella had beauty and brains, combining fashion coverage with high-quality writing. It wasn’t only about style, it had style. And it had confidence. Not since I was an eleven-year-old reading Seventeen had I been so excited at the arrival of each new copy of a magazine. I loved reading it, and I aspired to someday being interviewed for it. When it died, after several years of being torn apart and eventually sold, I’d renewed my subscription so far forward that it still had three years left to run. The publishers informed me, with no option for protest (though I made a number of attempts) that they would “fulfill” the remainder of my subscription with More, which is like being told that the vacation to Paris that you paid for will be replaced by a pass to the French pavilion at Epcot center.

I miss that feeling of aspiring to things of quality.  Most lives are about the striving, not success. I think we lose something when the unattainable is commonplace.