Scrapbooks make me nervous. Diaries, even more so. In a childhood bedroom in Scranton, still, piles of my unfinished diaries sit on a shelf. Unlocked — no need for security — blank pages. Empty. Started, never in earnest, the entries were more interesting as fancy penmanship practice rather than as content. Stories trailed off, while the cursive z’s in my name: perfection.

I’ve always heard you can tell a lot about a person by what is on his or her desk. Are there personal photos? Toys? Books? Or is it serene and stark? Does it serve as a memory and inspiration or a quiet place for what will be?

Scrap books

As I look around my desk, piles of books heap up around it. But look closely and you’ll see it’s not really the books that matter as much as what’s scratched in the margins. Notes. Exclamations. Anger, confusion. Hope. Odd lines and stars. (A lot of stars.) These notes are the closest I’ve come to scrapbooks. The closest I’ve come to a documented record of time, just told through marginalia.

See also:
Why you should write in your books. Or, Talking Back to Aristotle and Loewy

Memories, more than any other content, inspire us, ground us, teach us, and revisited years later, provide guidance home. We keep coming home to worn-out stories to try to look again. What memory represents, not clearly, in full gray tones, is hope. Hope that life moves on, that forward motion is inevitable, that we learn, that we will be.

Where they take us is just writing in the margins.