Why Notebooks?: The Origin Story

moleskine Nirvana notebooks origin stories paper

Since starting Story Supply Co., I’ve been asked on numerous occasions about my stationery “thing.” So, why notebooks?

Usually, the question is more like a suspicion the person is trying to prove. “So, what’s up with the, um, notebooks?”

The truth is, for most of the population, paper and analog writing tools are simply part of normal life that, while tremendously useful, are not often thought about. They’re cheap. They’re disposable, and, for some reason, people never feel the need to return them (pens). Chances are, if you’re reading this now, you probably aren’t one of those people.

Many of us have an origin story when it comes to stationery. For me, it started in high school. In the early nineties, my friends and I had fallen hard for the grunge scene. We were in ninth grade, and after having spent a few years unsuccessfully trying to connect with urban hip-hop culture, grunge made much more sense to us suburban white kids growing up in a mill town. I should probably mention here that it was, in fact, a paper mill.

Long story short, I began taking all of my style, hygiene, and artistic cues from Kurt Cobain. Tattered cardigan sweaters, long, unwashed hair, Converse All-Stars, you get the idea. Like Cobain, I also played guitar, and I also wrote songs, albeit pretty terrible ones. One thing I caught on to almost immediately, though, was that Cobain always carried a notebook. From that day on, I always had a notebook nearby. I’ve never been one to archive or collect things very well, but somehow, that original notebook still exists. That’s a lie. I hardly ever throw anything away. It’s the organizing part that gives me trouble.

The original

After high school, I continued to have a notebook always on hand. I wrote terrible song lyrics and poems in them. Sometimes I wrote misinformed political rants, and eventually, I filled them with songs I was writing to woe the girl who eventually gave in and married me. I’d like to think she didn’t say yes just to stop me following her around with a guitar. During that time, the chosen notebook was a big, blue, Mead 5 Subject, which I also still have around here somewhere.

So, in the beginning, my connection to notebooks had less to do with paper stocks or quality and more to do with the personal relationship I could have with the page and the ability to buy them at a nearby Rite Aid. That all changed once I stumbled into college and proclaimed that I would become a writer.

The requirements of being a writer, as far as I could tell, were drinking lots of coffee, smoking cigarettes, carrying a notebook, and speaking profoundly about books, films and bands we assumed most people had never heard of. The notebooks, of course, couldn’t be just any notebooks. The days of marbleized Meads and standard grocery-store spiral-bounds were over. Many of you, I’m guessing, can see where this is going. Long before we started griping about paper quality issues and our mixed feelings about their availability in big-box stores like Target, there really was only one choice for the somewhat pretentious aspiring writer. The little, hardbound, black Moleskine.

The thing about Moleskine is, at the time, they were somewhat difficult to get, and hadn’t quite caught on yet, and that made them partially more appealing. Only one place nearby sold them—a Border’s on the other end of the county. Borders was, of course, also a huge chain, but they sold books, which made them okay.

There was something about a Moleskine—the off-white smooth paper, the way it fit in your pocket and held up to various abuses. The pocket in the back cover for receipts and business cards. All of this was of course secondary to the fact that these were the chosen notebooks of Hemingway. Did you hear that? Hemingway! And so I walked with a little extra bounce at the thought of a future Farewell to Arms or “Hills like White Elephants” potentially being scribbled into the very pages of my little black notebook. And when someone would ask why I’d spend that much on a notebook I’d mumble through the copy included in the Moleskine packageing. “Hemingway, Chatwin, Italy, centuries… ”

For better or worse, Moleskine changed the way I would view writing tools forever. The notebooks suggested a level of seriousness and professionalism that told people, in my eyes anyway, “Here is a writer, and he is the real deal.” I took myself quite seriously at the time. Moleskine serious. So, my love affair with the brand lasted a long time. However, in time my snobbery for stationery objects took another leap forward.

Stay tuned for part two, where I discuss how I saw the light and moved one step closer to alienating the people closest to me and coming to terms with stationery addiction.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your origin story!

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