Writing an unlined life

Photo: CKirgiss
Homemade journals. **Details at bottom of post.

Confession: I’m a journal freak. A blank-book maniac. Whatever.

I like journals. I need journals. I crave journals. (And pens to go along with them. Lots of pens. Lots and lots of pens.)

Over the years (like every other journal-freak-blank-book-maniac-whatever) I’ve worked my way through more pages than I can count, shifting from composition books to sketch books to notebooks to whatever happens to be on sale.

In the process, I’ve learned there are only two non-negotiables for this slice of my life.

One: no lines. I want the freedom to write sideways, crossways, or diagonal; to doodle, sketch, or chart; to meander, march, or stall; to shout, chat, or whisper; in short, to write or draw in any direction and in any size I want. I totally get that lines help keep things straight and neat and orderly. Not interested. That’s what closet organizers are for. And calendar apps. Journals are for life, and life is usually unpredictable, messy, spontaneous, and slightly (or greatly) out of control. A journal is meant to reflect that, not cure it.

Two: sewn binding. I want to know that my pages aren’t going to fall out. (Journals are meant to reflect life’s messy spontaneity, not mimic it.) I want my pages to lay conveniently flat. (Just because I want the freedom to write up, down, sideways, and around doesn’t mean I want to write over the side of a tumbling paginated cliff or into a valley of stiff binder’s glue.) I want the comfort of knowing my pages are each connected to another page just across the row of signature stitches. (If journaling is an exercise in solitary discourse, it’s reassuring to know that the pages upon which the discourse lives are not themselves solitary but rather sewn permanently into a larger community.)

If this sounds weird or obsessive or (gasp) even a tad neurotic, well (cough), yep.

It is.

Too bad for me, unlined sewn-binding journals aren’t easy to come by. At least not if a person cares even just a little bit about style and flair and appearances. And cost. Which means there are actually two more non-negotiables for this slice of my life.

Three: looks matter. At least a little bit.

Four: cost matters. A lot.

Even more too bad for me, cheap, stylish, unlined, sewn-binding journals aren’t easy to come by. So I’ve started making my own.

If this sounds silly or time-consuming or (gasp) even a tad snobbish, well (cough), yep.

It is.

But it is also thrifty, rewarding, and even a tad delightful. Wrong. A ton delightful. Oh my, yes indeed.


Photo: CKirgiss

These journals are made from the boards of old, discarded, rejected Readers Digest Condensed Books. You can find them anywhere. Everywhere. Often for free. Free is good. Spines are made of Tyvek tape (right) and duck tape (left). People who know what they’re talking about say you should never use duck tape for this. I used it anyway. (And my needle got kind of sticky.) Innards are made of printer paper, folded, cut to size, sewn into place.

Photo: CKirgiss

These journals are made from old leather wallets. You can find them at thrift stores for cheap. Cheap is good. Gutting them takes a while. A long while. To do it right you really need to rip out all the seams and then resew the edges neatly. Innards are made from printer paper. My good friend Joanna Benskin gave me this idea. (Her innards are made from lined composition paper. We are still very good friends.) This idea is probably out there on Etsy or Pinterest, but I don’t look at those sites. Sensory overload. I’m sick just thinking about it.

Photo: CKirgiss

Inside view of wallet journals. (I should mention that part of the motivation for these is that a good piece of leather shouldn’t go to waste. Ever.) Endpapers may or may not adhere. I left the pink one plain because really, what screams competent-and-independant-jeanswearing-thrifty-egalitarian-nonprincessloving-moderndaywoman more than a PeptoBismal Pink Journal-Wallet free of any design distractions?

Photo: CKirgiss

Confession: I didn’t make this journal. It’s a Moleskin skinny, which is neither cheap nor stylish (non-negotiables #3 and 4). But since I already owned it and didn’t go out to buy it in order to retrofit it, it’s sort of like I got it for free during the makeover stage. Really. This idea wasn’t mine. I saw it at a craft fair. Which had only ten exhibitors due to torrential rains. Ten exhibitors was enough to send me into sensory overload. No, that’s not the original old photo sewn onto the cover. What do you take me for? And yes, I know the people in the photo. The one on the left is an amazing mother and grandmother. The one on the right is a journal freak. A blank-book maniac. Whatever.

**Top photo: these journals are made from covers of old books. Look – I love (adore, collect, cherish, fondle, drool over) old books as much as anyone I know. I would never sacrifice one if it had even the barest hint of life, value, or that delightful fusty smell so many of us love. But these books were on their past breath – cracked, torn, crumbling, and unhinged. Really, their covers were all that remained of their former glory. I like to think I saved them from the grave and gave them a brand new life. Innards are either printer paper or unlined-and-sewn innards of cheap sale journals with seriously bleh covers, sliced out of their sad and sorry homes (which will be remade into happy, schnazzy book boards at some point), then rebound into these delightful covers from long ago. Spines are made from (variously) Tyvek tape, duck tape, or scraps of leather salvaged from thrift store stuff – you know – jackets, pants, vests, boots, bags…

12 thoughts on “Writing an unlined life

  1. Lori wright September 22, 2012 / 11:56 pm

    Remember writing and re writing our names over and over in different styles during college?? I have more journals then I can count and now I’m becoming a journal app freak!!! So strange!

    • ckirgiss September 23, 2012 / 12:06 am

      …on notebooks…on scraps of paper…on NAPKINS…on whatever was handy… Yes. I remember.

  2. Laura Hope September 23, 2012 / 5:07 pm

    This is one of the many reasons why I like you so much.

    • ckirgiss September 23, 2012 / 7:16 pm

      Aaah…a fellow unlined-er? I thought as much. It somehow makes sense. Hope you are WELL and JOYFUL.

  3. leslie Leyland Fields September 24, 2012 / 1:58 am

    Crystal, all these photos of journals is making me drool! But—if I have unused journals lying around (a lime green leather journal comes to mind) I feel so guilty! I feel like i”m wasting them . . .. I’m sure there’s a charity of journal-writers-lacking-journals that I can send them to (1 problem–this one has my name on it!) Thanks for these lovely reflections!

    • ckirgiss September 24, 2012 / 9:17 am

      Leslie – as a fellow journal-drooler, I sympathize. As someone who has had many unused journals lying around (either because they’re the wrong size, wrong look, wrong feel, or LINED-received-as-gift) I also sympathize. Guilt. Deep set guilt. I recently gave away a stack – to college girls, nieces and nephews, neighbor kids. They were thrilled. I was thrilled. All is well. I’ve also on occasion started a journal, decided I dislike the cover to a ridiculous degree, so slice out the innards and rebind it. Or reversely, love a cover but hate the innards and so reverse the process. Really, it’s all quite inexplicable to my family members. But they tolerate it reasonably well.

      • Topher Endress October 5, 2012 / 3:47 pm

        Crystal, any chance you’d like to add “poor seminary student” to your list of journal recipients??? I would love to try my hand at making one of these, but until then I’m stuck trying to organize various strips of paper and old envelopes into a coherent stack of thoughts.

      • ckirgiss October 6, 2012 / 9:27 am

        Chris – you would be only my second recipient (journals being personal kinds of things) but yes, of course, I would love to share a journal with a seminarian who is immersed in Biblical Hebrew translations which reminds me that Stuart Robinson says ‘hi’ and asked whether you chickened out and started back at 101 or took the plunge and went right into the second year courses (see how I strung all of that together in one mighty sentence?).

      • purduephitau October 8, 2012 / 11:29 am

        Speaking of Hebrew, I must confess that I am not enrolled in any Hebrew classes at the moment – ordination requirements and core curriculum have dictated that I needed to start Greek instead. I am, however, using my background to translate chunks of my Hebrew Bible (OT survey) course readings, as well as fact-checking my professor during lecture. Perhaps I will see you in person to actually let you and Mark know how seminary is this coming weekend – I’ll be back for Homecoming and plan on being at Riverside on Sunday morning.

        As a side note, Hebrew is infinitely superior to Greek.

        – Christopher

  4. Jonathan Vanderbeck September 24, 2012 / 12:49 pm

    I’m preparing a presentation for Jay Lindell’s youth ministry class, and we’re talking about the “lines” of sin and salvation. Thanks for giving me another awesome reference to use [YOU!] 🙂

    • ckirgiss September 24, 2012 / 1:09 pm

      Ah yes…and for that part of life, I’m very thankful for the lines. They are a gift, in fact, without which we would all be criss-crossing over each other’s lives in all manner of destructive ways because of course, left to ourselves, we would like all the other people to have lines they closely follow (so as not to make my life unpleasant and painful by their out-of-line-living) but please, not me, I will live unlined. Such is our nature. Unlined journals are good for me. An unlined life would be disastrous. But such is the great paradox of following Jesus that it 1) FREES me from a life of proving myself by staying within the lines while also 2)ENSLAVING me to the only lines that matter – love God & love others. This enslavement, though, is rooted in love for Christ so it is – paradoxically – freeing. I am freed (from sin) to be enslaved (by Christ’s love and righteousness) to be freed (from self-righteousness). It is the only life worth living.

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