Blotting paper

Its brand story is an inspired conception; a narrative crafted to knead and unknot that part of the consumer’s brain responsible for decision-making.

So as someone who once studied that kind of thing to pass a few exams, I know that Hemingway and Picasso didn’t actually soak up their genius-vomit with the same oilskin-bound acid-free papers I see in Exclusive Books and hear with angel-song accompaniment.

But I buy them anyway, as overpriced as they are, because they’re well-made and I’m sold on their minimalist practicality. And I have an abnormal fondness for notebooks. Any brand, even those ones from the government stationers we used to get in school on first days; pages hinged together with a sturdy cover, fuck, that just speaks to me!

The bamjee-beaten one you see in the photo (fourth from the top) was my first moleskine ever. A gift from a friend, it lasted almost three years, and would’ve been in action today, had I not run out of pages. It’s not that I’m not a prolific writer (well, yes, there is that), I’m a forgetful one. There’s never just one notebook, but several at any given time. So perhaps their longevity can also be attributed to the fact that my mind is literally in so many different places.

Some of them are still in their wrappings. I haven’t filled enough of my current notebooks to warrant me opening any new ones. And they make great gifts, so maybe I’ll pass some on. (I’m also one of those people who leave the protective plastic covers on their gadget screens until they absolutely have to be peeled off because they just start looking gunky.)

Right now, I’m leaking onto the brown leather-bound and the spiralwire-spined one (right at the bottom). The wire hinged one was an emergency buy at the airport before I left for Malawi. I had to have a notebook with me. It had nothing to do with the fact that my job description has journalist thrown in there somewhere. I needed the notebook because, without it, I feel kinda lonely.

This is where you laugh and feel better about yourself.

Anyhoo, my notebook is the place where my mind gets to lay its head down. In it I make stuff up and figure things out. It doesn’t matter if I spill my deepest and darkest, very few can read my handwriting anyway. In the picture below is a sketch I did of a window overlooking the Vatican City. It was a long queue to get in, and time was sweating itself slowly out of my skin. I don’t usually sketch, because, well, I’m crap. No, seriously, it’s obvious. Don’t even try at amelioration in the comments. One must always be cognisant of one’s shortcomings children. Below the sketch, is the rendering of an arcane script from a long-extinct civilisation. Seriyaas! The Ahelaas of Eejmab.


I had a notebook jacked from me in Std4. It was held to ransom by a bunch of boys in my class outside my house at my 11th birthday party. My mother invited them all inside, and all I heard after that was, “Oooh… Saaleha had boys at her party.” I crossed the line between nerd and cool, and to this day, I still hover above it.

There was nothing personally incriminating in that notebook. Just the random observations of any 10/11 year old. In it was a list of home phone numbers (cellphones were stuff we awed at on Beyond2000), under my own made-up codenames, belonging to some of the more popular boys. Numbers I would never call by myself, because I wouldn’t know what to say. I probably made up the list with some girlfriends, for when we played stupid funny prank games like “Is your fridge running?”

I once found someone’s notebook. I was walking back from madressah, and cut through an alley close to the flats behind what used to be Ruwaida’s Hairdresser. The rain had fused some of the pages together. In it were copied poems in neat female handwriting. Curving lines, their roundness spelling out why boys with brown eyes were better than boys with blue. Something like that. I left the notebook where I found it.

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I am a writer and photographer (look up my work on based in Johannesburg, South Africa. I have an MA in Creative Writing from the university currently known as Rhodes. My writing accolades include winning the 2014 Writivism Short Story Prize and the 2020 Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize for my debut collection, Zikr.

11 thoughts on “Blotting paper”

  1. OMG! sory, i stumbled on this old post of yours while searching notebooks online now.
    why i say OMG!, is because those exact books on your pic there, is the ones i am drooling over and so want, but always feel guilty about buying, cos of the price. For the past 3 days, Ive been drooling over it and ended up buying a cheap thing elsewhere. Reading this post, makes me want to go back and buy one now:) I, too, love all types of notebooks.

  2. im the same.
    i collect for no apparent reason. and the prettier they are, the more i think il write in them.
    i have the most beautiful one that i kept for so long, just for a baby journal.
    theres something special about finding journals in your cupboards, and that lovely oldness about them.

    can magazine cuttings and pastings be a journal? …

  3. I would just cry if i lost a notebook, like having children abducted.
    Have any of you found that years of typing have made your hands sluggish for scrawling?
    I know exactly what you mean Tamara, that first line in a new notebook always feels like it has to be something really good to be worth the defacement.

  4. I always feel like I’ve ruined the purity of the paper once i’ve used the first page. Odd, right?

    Love the story of the boys who stole your notebook and ended up making you the coolest kid in class 😉

  5. cool sketches… i love non lined notebooks cos they allow the creative doodle along with the scrawl of words in prose and poetry that tend to happen every once in a while 🙂
    my fav notebook is a rough brown papered one that feels great to scribble in with a pencil… it has that something earthy about it. no matter how much we ‘online journal’ and digitize, the notebooks of old will have that eternal pull to something tangible and grounded. Literally speaking.

  6. He he he…and here I thought I was the only one with a penchant for paper…

    I love my notebooks…but the problem with me is that I never seem to actually use the whole book. I seek and llke perfection…so I don’t ever want to destroy the aesthetics of a new notebook with its fresh crisp pages and distinctive scent. But I acquiese and begin writing in the notebook…filling the first few pages with neat and beautiful handwriting…but then as time catches up and life becomes more hurried and frantic, so does the handwriting and eventually before I can even get to the end, I feel like I’ve desecrated my beloved and usually end up burning the book. Then I begin all over with a new one. I know Im crazy 😛

  7. trail of thoughts and memories walk along with me. in moments where a thought is just revealed, i dont want to punch it in my cell phone unless absolutely able the situation is… being an srtist has helped me carry my set of notebooks all around me wherever i go.
    i was once an addict of roman and greek mythology and art. i could not sit idle without puttin in my piece of thoughts. your post just brings back more than the brand sense. it tells me i havent been stupid and i should let them all know.

  8. I used to have loads of note books at school. Pages filled with teenage angst and random dribblings. But now i have 3 A5 and smaller ones for those thoughts that whisper

  9. There’s something so beautiful about this post and I just can’t put my finger on it.

    I love notebooks. I share your passion for them.
    I’m always on the search for the perfect specimen.
    I’m currently working between 3 at the moment.
    They’re filled with quotes, business ideas (i’m such a charou), half-finished children’s fiction, an entry for some POWA writing competiition, etc.
    I’ve bought notebooks at the CNA at the airport. In fact, I’ve found my Hajj diary the other day 🙂

    Blogs are one thing, but getting your thoughts down on paper just cannot be beat.

    My next moleskine search is for the collage notebook. In red. 🙂

  10. Notebooks are awesome 🙂
    I remember my first: A Lion brand one, with the wire binding, the flapping up kind.
    I was heartbroken when I lost it after a year, was in bag that got stolen at the beach. All the amazing moments and pure emotions that had been captured in it’s pages .. somehow gone forever.

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