What Lewis almost said: some thoughts on quoting carefully

lewis-hamlet-quote
Detail of page 99, _Selected Literary Essays_, C. S. Lewis, ed. Walter Hooper. (Cambridge University Press, 1969).

I’ve ranted in the past about C. S. Lewis misquotes. So has the C.S. Lewis Foundation, Essential C. S. Lewis,  and a host of other Lewisians.

I’ve often wondered why I care about this so much, why it rankles me so deeply when someone tosses around a quote offhandedly – or heavy-handedly, as the case may be – and then takes special care to note that it is from none other than C. S. Lewis, implying that it (the quote) is nearly scriptural and therefore they (the quoters) are entirely trustworthy and authoritative.

Does it really matter?

I think so (for reasons mentioned here). I think it speaks to something about how we use language, words, and ideas, how we view authority, and how we tend to accept (often blindly) what we are offered by Those-Who-Know, whether in virtual conversations, printed text, or spoken word.

We often let others do our thinking for us. But to make it look like we’ve done our own thinking, we buttress it with a quote by Someone Really Important and Smart, like C. S. Lewis, or countless other dead people whose words have been dissected into convenient sound-bites that make us look good.

Sometimes the quote is nearly-right, as in the case of this popular one:

The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live among those who are.

This quotes gets almost 3 millions hits in a Google search. Bravo for Clive on being viral, a thousand times over.

Unlike many of Lewis’s other misattributed quotes (including: “Humility is not thinking of yourself less: it’s thinking less of yourself,” and, “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream,” and, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”), this one is almost spot on. What Lewis actually wrote was:

The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are: that good fortune I have enjoyed for nearly twenty years. (C. S. Lewis, “Hamlet: The Prince or the Poem?”)

If the misquoters knew that the original included “in a circle of” as opposed to “among,” I suspect they would love it even more. We are all about circles these days – circles of friends, circles of life, circles of prayer, circles of circles.

[“Circle” is a very strange word if you look at or say it over and over and over again.]

The problem with this quote being used as it so often is – i. e. to say that if one’s friends have common sense and real-world wisdom, then so will you – is that Lewis wasn’t talking about that at all (which isn’t to say he wouldn’t agree).

This quote is from one of Lewis’s literary essays, “Hamlet: The Prince or the Poem?” You can find it in at least three places: Proceedings of the British Academy (Vol. 28, 1942), They Asked for a Paper: Papers and Addresses (Geoffrey Bles, 1962) and Selected Literary Essays (ed. Walter Hooper, Cambridge University Press, 1969). It appears rather unexpectedly about two-thirds of the way into Lewis’s argument that Hamlet is best enjoyed for its poetic power and prowess rather than being critiqued along various theoretical and critical lines. He tips his hat to Owen Barfield, not for being a friend who helped Lewis navigate the difficulties of daily decision making (though perhaps he did do that) or for being a friend whose mere presence deepened and expanded Lewis’s own daily wisdom (though perhaps that did happen).

Instead, he tips his hat to Owen Barfield specifically and his other literary friends generally for being the kind of people who kept Lewis grounded as a reader and critic, for being people of deep intellect and smart ideas who challenged Lewis as a reader and critic, for being people who thought carefully and thoroughly and creatively before spouting off about nothing in particular.

For those who are interested, Lewis tends toward a reading style that embraces the poetry, the lyricism, the words, the essence, the donegality, and the visceral responses rather than a reading style that hacks and dismembers texts into lifeless blobs of intellectual blubber. Lewis believed that the many critics who had examined Hamlet’s character through every lens from every angle had missed something important. He warns that our own reading of Hamlet (should you choose to read it, which he would strongly recommend) will also miss something important if we approach it in the same clinically sterile way.

Perhaps I should rather say that it would miss as much if our behaviors when we are actually reading were not wiser than our criticism in cold blood. (“Hamlet: The Prince of the Poem?” in They Asked for a Paper, pp. 68-69; Selected Literary Essays, p. 103)

Lewis’s famous quote about wise friends is assuredly about wise friends – but not in the sense that most people use it.

And perhaps that’s not a very big deal at all. Perhaps if the quote is powerful and good and true, it has limitless applications.

But maybe it is a big deal. Maybe we need to be very careful about what we write and say and quote. Maybe knowing the context is as important as knowing the words.

If a writer doesn’t know absolutely certain where a quote is from (which includes almost every wildly popular [uncited] internet quote) but the words are good enough to stand on their own without the weight of Someone Really Important and Smart behind them, then simply say so. “As someone once said: … ”

Don’t claim the words as your own if they aren’t. At the same time, don’t attribute them to someone else if you have not checked and confirmed their source. Language is too important and powerful, too beautiful and poetic to be flung about lightly and carelessly.

 

Language (in which I present Sayers’ sage and timely warning about words)

Dorothy L. Sayers (image from Bodleian Library)
Dorothy L. Sayers (image from Bodleian Library)

[From an address Sayers gave in February, 1942 (“The Creative Mind” in Unpopular Opinions: Twenty-One Essays, Dorothy L. Sayers. Gollancz Ltd., 1946. p. 57). These words are as true now as then, but even more pressing because of how immediately and how widely words are today cast out into the world.]

“It is as dangerous for people unaccustomed to handling words and unacquainted with their technique to tinker about with these heavily-charged nuclei of emotional power as it would be for me to burst into a laboratory and play about with a powerful electro-magnet or other machine highly charged with electrical force. By my clumsy and ignorant handling, I should probably, at the very least, contrive to damage either the machine or myself; at the worst I might blow up the whole place. Similarly the irresponsible use of highly-electric words is very strongly to be deprecated.

“At the present time we have a population that is literate, in the sense that everybody is able to read and write; but, owing to the emphasis placed on scientific and technical training at the expense of the humanities, very few of our people have been taught to understand and handle language as an instrument of power. This means that, in this country alone, forty million innocents or thereabouts are wandering inquisitively about the laboratory, enthusiastically pulling handles and pushing buttons, thereby releasing uncontrollable currents of electric speech, with results that astonish themselves and the world. Nothing is more intoxicating than a sense of power: the demagogue who can sway crowds, the journalist who can push up the sales of his paper to the two-million mark, the playwright who can plunge an audience into an orgy of facile emotion, the parliamentary candidate who is carried to the top of the poll on a flood of meaningless rhetoric, the ranting preacher, the advertising salesman of material or spiritual commodities, are all playing perilously and irresponsibly with the power of words, and are equally dangerous whether they are cynically unscrupulous or (as frequently happens) have fallen under the spell of their own eloquence and become the victims of their own propaganda.”

Lord, help us all – especially those of us whose vocations are language-centric – be mightily careful of the work we do, never forgetting the power and import (and sacredness, for did you not speak the universe into existence?) of the tools we wield.

From social media to Sacred Mediator: reclaiming “follow me”

So.

Here we are in the two-thousand-and-teens, all of us thoroughly networked, connected, and socially mediated.

Theoretically, things should be nearly perfect because, you know, we are all so desperately in need of being networked, connected, and socially mediated.

[We are also desperately in need of eye contact, sincere empathy, meaningful conversation, and maybe also unstrained opposable thumbs, but we’ll save those for later, shall we?]

In fact, we all know that things are not quite so nearly perfect as many would like to believe.

[Nor are they quite so absolutely desperate as others would like to believe because, let’s admit it, Google and Skype have, on more than one occasion, proven extraordinarily useful.]

I take issue here with neither the staunch proponents nor the strident naysayers of social media. Nothing and nobody is going to change either of their minds.

Rather, I take issue with the linguistic loss that socially mediated connectedness has wrought on our discourse. Specifically, I mourn the fact that follow has been co-opted, flattened, emptied, and sucked dry of all its inherent power, depth, and gravity.

For the first time in history, follow denotes passivity rather than activity, and follow me is a plea for shallow popularity rather than an invitation to disciplined humility.

Rather than try to minimize the linguistic damage, we instead add to it our own unique brand of self-centrist carnage: “Follow me, I follow you. Unfollow me, I unfollow you.” Mm. It simply drips with relational grace and kindness.

I do sometimes wonder how technology is reshaping our lives, how smartphones are rewiring our brains, how Facebook is redefining our relationships, and how Twitter is re-energizing our addictive tendencies.

But of more import than my periodic wonderings are my increasingly persistent concerns:

  • that an obsession with gaining more followers will divert attention from the only One worth following ;
  • that carefully counted likes will obscure infinitely expansive Love;
  • that the demands of social media will clamor more loudly than the grace of a personal Mediator;
  • that the need to constantly refresh will weigh more heavily than the need to be continually refreshed;
  • that a vast web of virtual friends will crowd out a small circle of close community;
  • and ultimately, that follow me will no longer be heard as the radical invitation of a loving Savior but merely as the needy plea of a lonely (but fully networked) soul.

I know that we will never wrest follow me away from its two-thousand-and-teens context. To try would be decidedly futile.

But please, let’s never allow its newly mutated form to replace – or even minimally influence – its two-thousand-year-old meaning. To do so would be desperately fatal.

Of water bans, words, and privileged nonsense

Confession: I am a soda snob. I like it out of a fountain, in a 32-ounce styrofoam cup, with my choice of crushed or cubed ice, with the option for free flavor shots. And if at all possible, could the straws please be orange?

I gave up caffeine a while ago (all on my own) and sugary drinks long before that (dental necessity) which presents a real problem because not very many places have caffeine-free diet soda in the fountain. (Speedway and QT are two notable exceptions. I can spot either of them from miles away.)

Just a few days ago while driving 750 miles back home to Indiana, I needed (and when I say “needed” I mean “needed”) a fountain pop. My husband needed coffee. In America, if one person needs pop and another person needs coffee, they stop at a gas station, the epicenter of all good and necessary things.

So that’s what we did. At about midnight. Walked into a station fully expecting to walk back out again just moments later with the purchased necessities. Which we would have. Except for this:

No soda No Coffee

Excuse me? Is this possible? Is this allowed? Is this a bad dream?

Shocked. Speechless. Mentally paralyzed. That was me. Mostly because I really, really needed a 32-ounce fountain pop. But also because the sign’s wording was so very wrong, which particular burr rubs me quite raw under my wordsmith saddle.

(Too, I Get A Little
Agitated
When All The
Text
Is Center-Aligned
And All The
Words Are
Capped
And The Line
Breaks Are
Illogical.
No
One Talks Like
That.
Ev-
Er.)

This is what I learned about me that night:

One – sometimes (or maybe always) I care about words more than the situation warrants.

Two – I’m not really a soda snob. Rather I am a rottenly spoiled child. I live in a protected bubble where, if I want a fountain pop at midnight, I expect to get a fountain pop at midnight. Period.

In a world where over 780 million people don’t have access to clean water, I exposed my nakedly narcissistic core when I stood in that gas station, mouth agape, distraught and disgusted by the inconvenience and appalling lack of regard for my pressing needs.

Meeting myself face to face, whether in a gas station at midnight or in my own soul at dawn, is sometimes just the hardest thing ever.

Tiny journals – from old and used to new and useful

I love journals. Unlined journals. Lots and lots of unlined journals. (You can read my relevant confession here.)

Lately, besides loving unlined journals, I’m also loving small journals. Mini journals. Little journals. Tiny journals. Journals that fit in the palm of my hand. Journals that force a person to choose her words very, very carefully because the tiny books neither offer non-essential empty space nor allow non-essential empty verbiage.

Tiny journals force a person to plan out her words. To think carefully about what she will write on the limited pages. To stop and consider what she is doing rather than rushing into a rambling reflection. (And maybe also to wear extra-strength reading glasses.)

Unlined journals are hard to find. Tiny unlined journals are even harder to find. So I must either fall out of love with them or make my own. I don’t know how to fall out of love, so I have no choice but to make my own, and in the process give new life to limp and worn leather goods.

It’s always gratifying to give new life to an old thing. It’s even more gratifying when the new thing is delightful and wondrous and has a purpose. Thus, while making my tiny journals, I glimpse ever so slightly the joy of the Creator when he remakes an old thing (such as me) into as new thing that has a purpose.

Such is the miracle of tiny, remade, repurposed things.

Mini-journal supplies   Mini-journal supplies

Mini-journal   Mini-journals

These book signatures (top left) are 2″ x 2.24″ and 1″ x 1.5″. I decided to punch the sewing holes (read: skewer them) on a princess coloring book (top right) for what I think are obvious cultural reasons. Note my new bookmaking awl (top right). It’s amazing. Splendid. Stunning. You should probably get one. Today. These little books (bottom left and right) are the remade offspring of a purse (orange), a datebook (navy), a wallet (teal), a coin purse (black), a checkbook clutch (brown), and a skirt (fuscia). The larger of the tiny journals are just the right size for copying out Romans 8. I tested it. The smaller of the tiny journals are just the right size for a favorite Psalm or poem or song or fable or alphabet (regular or runic) or note to a special someone, which would require giving up the tiniest of tiny journals, which would require a long pep talk to self about generosity and sharing and friendship and love.

 

 

Of daisies, waves, and bridges across the bay

Though a wordsmith and a talker at my core, I readily concede that sometimes a picture says what words cannot.

And so, these pictures from the past days:

Cabrillo (Photo: CKirgiss)
Sun-kissed (Photo: CKirgiss)
Cabrillo (Photo: CKirgiss)
Wind-blown (Photo: CKirgiss)
(bath)room with a view (Photo: CKirgiss)
(bath)room with a view (Photo: CKirgiss)
Up the lighthouse (Photo: CKirgiss)
Up the lighthouse (Photo: CKirgiss)
Down the lighthouse (Photo: CKirgiss)
Down the lighthouse (Photo: CKirgiss)
Ocean grace (Photo: CKirgiss)
Ocean grace (Photo: CKirgiss)
Walk with me (Photo: CKirgiss)
Walk with me (Photo: CKirgiss)
Orderly bridge (Photo: CKirgiss)
Structured order (Photo: CKirgiss)
Disorderly bridge(s) (Photo: CKirgiss)
Constructed disorder (Photo: CKirgiss)
Peace above the clouds (Photo: CKirgiss)
Beyond the clouds (Photo: CKirgiss)

Sometimes when we are far from home we see more – not because there is more to see, but because our eyes are more widely open and more clearly focused.

Such far-from-home seeing — if we allow it — helps recalibrate our spirit and soul so that when we are finally home once again (and home is such a very, very sweet place to be) we continue to see widely, clearly, carefully, joyfully.

Our souls may have been blind once, but now they see. And what they see, if they really look for it, is a world filled with faith, hope, love, and beauty beyond compare.

Groundhog Sonnet

Photo: CKirgiss
Photo: CKirgiss

Groundhog Day 2013 is fairly mild in the heartland. The snow is dusted sugar. The air is misted grey. A person can breathe without shellacking her nasal passages into a frozen wasteland.

But in northern Minnesota, Groundhog Day is never mild. Never sugared. Never shadowed.

It matters naught what Punxsutawney Phil does or does not see in faraway Pennsylvania. If he were brave enough to live in the northern tundra, he would always be quite shadow-free on February 2.

Truth be told, most northern tundranites like it that way. Cold and snowy, that is. Cold and snowy and beautiful. Cold and snowy and beautiful and substantial. Cold and snowy and beautiful and substantial and magical. Cold and snowy and beautiful and substantial and magical and real.

Still – every now and then, sunbeamed shadows on February 2 in the northern tundra would probably be most welcome.

Like when there’s been snow on the ground since Halloween. Like when the collective preschool population is riotously climbing the city walls. Like when the ice-fishing villages have become so established that it’s hard to distinguish whether their sprawl is seasonal or permanent – or whether they will ever yield up their devoted inhabitants (who hopefully still have jobs and families somewhere on the mainland).

I’m long gone from the northern tundra and suspect I would not survive another of her winters. But at one time, her frigid air was shellackingly familiar. Sonneteering was one of several (quirky) strategies to survive the season. And so this, from 1999:

SPRING? ME THINKS NOT

Hark! What sound doth I hear out my frozen
Window payne on this early and frigid dawn?
A scraping, snuffling, earthy noyse; chosen
Claws and whyskers scratching the earth upon.
Ah! thinks I, ’tis the February’s moon
Day two – Candlemas, Purification –
A day whereupon northerners cry, “Soon,
Oh dear God we beggeth a vacation.”
But the scraping, snuffling, earthy thyng laughs
Softly in its fur, yawning at the syght
Of a dark and shadowless land what hath
No shine, no thaw, nor any ‘morrow’s light.
Up here are froze our fannies and our cars.
But in their sacred course, we’ve still the stars.

Wishing you and yours a Blessed Groundhog Day. Go ahead. Have a party.

Subjunctive – schmunctive

subjunctive

Just to clarify: I am not the grammar police. Not even after 20 years of being a professional writer and 8 years of being an English teacher. It’s too frustrating. And heartbreaking – it’s to show possession, Smith’s to indicate plurality, and their to contract “they are.” There are just no words for it. Though if you were Trumpkin, these might do: Beards and bedsteads! Thimbles and thunderstorms! Cobbles and kettledrums! Weights and water-bottles!

Which brings us to the English verb – 3 simple tenses, 3 past tenses, 6 progressive forms, the emphatic “do” form, and hey, how about that modal trinity of can-must-should – and LUCKY LUCKY US, beside all those tenses, let’s not forget The Many Moods of Verbs (which rather sounds like a title of a 70s soft-listening LP).

“If you were Trumpkin” is a prime example of one such mood: the subjunctive.

Of or pertaining to that mood of the finite verb that is used to express a future contingency, a supposition implying the contrary, a mere supposition with indefinite time, or a wish or desire.

Yeah. That thing.

We’ve all heard it.

If I were a rich man, yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.”

If I were king of the for-eheheheheheheheheheh-st.”

From these, one might reasonably conclude that the subjunctive mood has more to do with lyrical freestyling and jabberwocky antics than with a verbal mood.

If I was. If I were. Does it really matter?

To some people, yes. They argue that if we were to subjugate our subjunctives so as to use them less subjectively and more submissively (in respect to grammar rules) and more subliminally (in respect to rhetorical flair) our speech would more accurately reflect our progressive civility and refinement (or maybe our panties-scrunched-in-a-bunch-ness) and the world would be a better place. For you. And me. You just wait and see.

Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know.

But I do know this: if I were a rich woman and also were queen of the forest, I would be able to buy more books and store them in my ever-expanding royal library, which would definitely make the world a better place. For me. For me. You just wait and see.

C.S. Lewis, Lore, and Love

Photo: CKirgiss

It seems presumptuous to join all the other Lewisians today in celebrating what would have been his 114th birthday.

But I’m going to do it anyway. Perhaps not brilliantly, but oh well – we can’t all be Lewis.

Set aside for the moment that Lewis and Tolkien had a serious falling out, in part because of Lewis’s decision to join the Church of England after his conversion.

And that his writing sometimes echoes faintly of British snobbery.

And that he occasionally leaves you guessing as to what he really thinks and believes about specific doctrinal points (purgatory, for example).

And that Robin McKinley, one of my favorite young adult authors, who recently converted to Christianity, is quite thoroughly allergic to him (as stated here).

And that Hollywood has made a flozzergnashing priddlyshnotz of Narnia (there are no words for it, really).

And that HarperCollins has ignored all textual evidence, literary logic, and scholarly output by INCORRECTLY renumbering the Chronicles of Narnia (which many of us have ranted about in the past for all the reasons outlined here).

And that Tolkien pooh-poohed his Chronicles in part because they included Father Christmas.

And that many of his colleagues felt he’d sold out to the world of commoners via the BBC and popular publishers (or maybe it was just jealousy).

And that sometimes you have to read his sentences several times over to really digest all of the truth and logic and brilliance packed into them.

And that his literary scholarship can sometimes make current literary scholars feel incompetent.

And that he often leaves readers hanging with, “In a book I read one time – I can’t remember which one…” (the price of possessing a searchable-PDF-high-quality-flatscanner-like memory).

And that he smoked (this one really gets some people).

And drank (now I’ve really done it).

Set it all aside because it doesn’t matter; the fact remains – C. S. Lewis was a brilliant writer. Since his writings are all I personally have of him, they are all I can speak to.

And they are indeed brilliant. Delightful. Unexpected. Rich. Deep. Profound. Playful. Reflective. And so many other things.

The Lewis Society to which I belong does, on occasion, genuflect a bit more than necessary. And a friend of mine sometimes jokes that I adhere to the doctrine of the Quadrinity. But I recognize my sometimes excessive adoration of Lewis for what it really is – sincere admiration (with a dash of awe) for a man who wielded language like a warrior’s sword, waved words like a magician’s wand, and rang truth like a chorister’s bell.

He did this as an expert of literary scholarship.

He did this as a devout believer of Jesus Christ.

I am glad to know him, even if just through his books. Those are more than enough.

________________

[Lewis is so very much more than his Chronicles; even so, many readers only know him as the man who created Narnia. And so here are some of the best lines from that land where we all want to be.]

“Then he isn’t safe” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”  –The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.” “That is because you are older, little one,” answered he. “Not because you are?” “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”  –Prince Caspian

“If they’ve said it once, they’ve said it a thousand times. ‘Puddleglum,’ they’ve said, ‘you’re altogether too full of bobance and bounce and high spirits. You’ve got to learn that life isn’t all fricasseed frogs and eel pie.”  –The Silver Chair

“My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.”  –The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

“Was it all a dream?” wondered Shasta. But it couldn’t have been a dream for there in the grass before him he saw the deep, large print of the Lion’s front right paw. It took one’s breath away to think of the weight that could make a footprint like that.  –The Horse and His Boy

Then there came a swift flash like fire either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children’s bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying: “Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”  –The Magician’s Nephew

“Come further up, come further in!”  –The Last Battle

______

Okay, just one more, from Out of the Silent Planet, basically summing up the entire doctrine of the fall and our subsequent need for Christ’s redemptive work on the cross:

They were astonished at what he had to tell them of human history – …

“It is because they have no Oyarsa,” said one of the pupils.

“It is because every one of them wants to be a little Oyarsa himself,” said Augray.

Lewis at The Kilns

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…