Another one of those times has slouched closer: There are only four more blank pages left in the seven-and-a-half inch by five inch black sketchbook I am currently filling with words and pictures and plans. A new blank replacement, its virgin pages pressed together in solidarity, has already been purchased.
The first, once-white page in my old book has a date: October 9, 2007. Underneath are the following words: "If you find me / do not place me on the shelf / of forgotten dreams." Next to these words is a circle of dots around an arrow pointing at a star. The rest of page is scuffed but blank. Yes, it's high drama.
Before a friend gave me a new book with a leather, reusable slipcover, my previous sketch books would get beat-up -- sometimes falling apart before I could fill them. The black covers would separate from the spines. Or the magazines would hang on by threads; packs of pages waiting to come free with further handling. Now, the used books have battered -- but mostly whole -- spines, and the bindings still manage to keep the pages in bound in order.
I love the slipcover for what it does, but also for how it looks. It is thick brown leather embossed with a renaissance wood-cut of a sage peering underneath the heavens in order to glimpse the celestial mechanics beyond. Actually, that's not quite right -- when I paused to look, I re-discovered the sage is on the back cover. The front cover is a huge radiant sun rising over a sloping countryside; its rays seem to be pushing a moon and stars away. A button and lace act as a clasp to keep the book closed.
I open the book and turn through the pages; there's a map on page two for a story I wrote. There's a map of our back yard a little farther in. There are pages of fantastic alien temples, labyrinths, and notes from alternate histories. Geometry: Euclid's method for constructing a pentagon within a circle; a method for using a number of divisions of a circle's diameter to draw a polygon with the same number of sides; a reproduction of a small stellated dodecahedron from the Bascilla of St. Mark in Venice, attributed to Uccelo (1420). A detail of a faun from an old Roman sculpture from the MET. Steampunk spider diving bells. Robots. Fey women. Halloween costumes. Mostly in red, purple, or green ink; sometimes in colored pencils.
I wonder what Mark's sketch book would look like. He's better at freehand drawing than I am, and he likes to draw when he goes on vacation to help him remember details. So I imagine that his sketchbook would be filled with buildings and people he's actually seen, as opposed to mine, which is filled with things I've imagined.
My very first books were lined, spiral notebooks, and I'm pretty sure they were continuations of middle- and high-school classes. I switched to unlined journals because I wanted to have pictures without horizontal bars running through them. Over the years the content moved from journal entries to story imaginings. Quick pictures of fictional characters and maps to imaginary places help me to write about how the character moves, what they might think, and how they navigate through the story. Sometimes I'll imagine I hear the character saying things to me. This is good because it helps me to get into a character's head. It's also bad because it turns the story more easily into a talking heads story.
I flip through more pages and see when I got the patio furniture for Café John, and also what short story I was working on at the time. When I look at some of the dates I worry a little. Some of the characters have been waiting a while for me to tell their stories. I am reminded of a detailed maze for our yard -- never realized -- along with the calculations of how many linear feet of brick would be needed. That's a problem with making things up: sometimes what is imagined stays imagined.
I take the book out of the slipcover. Out falls a green plastic template for drawing straight lines, triangles, squares, circles and hexagons. I mostly use it for measuring and the straight lines. The other object that falls out of the book is a map. Judging by the train schedule written along the top, it's a map of New York City I made to navigate to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I smile and fold the map into the old book.
Then I place the slipcover over the new book. I will inaugurate it with a train ride to a museum's library, filled with books on art which do not circulate. I wonder what, if any, forgotten dreams I will find there.