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A Note from Marcy

The Journal Journey, July 2005 Essay from Marcy
(A profile of leather journal companies follows)

I always kept a diary. It started when I was about my son Ben’s age (13) and I continued off and on until I got married. Then, for whatever reason, I stopped.

In those days, a journal was called a diary. Then it became known as a journal and of course, if you are into online writing (reading or contributing), they are called, not logs, but Blogs and rather than write or be a writer, you are now blogging or a blogger. I suppose they would have called it logger but that word is taken. Mind you, I am more whiney about the being called a content provider, these days, rather than writer or a blogger but that’s off track.

Then, a few years ago, having exhausted all my friends in the dim state of my personal affairs at the time, I started journaling, via my computer keyboard. For someone who writes all the time anyway, how did I find time and why ever for? Good questions. For one, writing for ‘moi’ is different that writing A Salute to Polenta. This time, as they say, it’s personal. For two, if you love something, you’ll find time.

I was enduring a rather stormy time and my desktop journaling was on most days, a neutral to a positive. Alright, fine then – it was more like a literary barf bag that contained all sorts of choice words for ex partners, various divorce lawyers, an editor here and there, give or take a publisher and community hockey people. Like meditation or prayer (even if you are skeptic), writing daily, inner, personal weather reports, is never a bad thing. Don’t ask me why but it helps. It saves at least two friends. At one point however, I was typing things with such speed and fervor that instead of it being a relief, ‘taking it to the sheets’ as I call it (versus taking it to the mattresses; sheets being sheets of paper), I became even more distressed and het up. The very speed of reportage the keyboard permitted me (an expert touch typist), kept me churning. And that is when, (timing is everything), I read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and her credo that insisted, you write three pages, daily, by hand. By hand! Cameron calls these Morning Papers.

I really resisted the ‘by hand’ part of this exercise. I cannot write for squat. I can maneuver a pastry bag and make mince meat out of chives with my Sabatier but my penmanship is insufferable. Still, I persisted. I got a big 5-Star notebook a few July’s ago and diligently started scribbling the usual:

Date (whatever)
Time (whatever)

Minutia of Life (whatever)

I hated handwriting! Mostly, I discovered,  I hated being still. Writing by hand took far more time. I also realized that if I was to hand write this thing, spewing out all and sundry stuff was no longer possible. I would have to pause and selectively decide what I would commit to the paper, an act that makes you very mindful and chases the hypers away real quick. Writing with discernment slows you down and quells the emotional torrents which can run amuck. You want to ‘splat’ much like people do verbally, onto the paper but you can’t and have something decipherable. So, you learn and get a tad wiser in the process and dare I say it, more reasonable.

Years past and it got easier and one day I realized – with a sense of sheer joy and warmth, that those 5-Star notebooks were my special refuge. The first year, I used up one book. Then two books a year were consumed, sacrificial stationary to the cause. Starting a new book, let’s say in September (the Jewish New Year) or January, and was like a fresh start in life. My journaling revealed inner evolution and in a most positive way but mostly, it is my Walden Pond, wherever I go. I am never alone or without someone to listen  - there by for the grace of pen on paper.

When you journal – much like whittling something from a large block of wood, it takes awhile for the sundry, aimless thoughts, or ‘bills to pay, life is tough’ entries to where the magic begins. The magic begins when the spirit tires out of the mundane and must be stated for the record stuff, and creative thought, freer emotions coyly weave their way into the lines. But more than this, recording your own thoughts and feelings is about bearing witness to yourself.  Bearing witness is often the line between joy and despair. Turns out all that validation stuff rings true because logically speaking, who would ever think such a simple task would be emotionally landmark. But it is.

Now, of course, you can type your journal it all into your desktop, and file it something like “Private’, madly typing at the same velocity as I used to. You can also, in this age of Indecent Disclosure, become a blogger (or journal on paper, and blog –why not?) and share what you hope is incredibly sad or irreverently funny with the anonymous cyber world. Or you can, create a world for yourself by slowing down and hand-writing, much as you hand bake, a journal that becomes a kingdom – a personal, psychic, literary Camelot.

The first protests about journal keeping people have is always the same.

“Someone might find and read it”

The good news is that few people listen to the most ardent confessionals. They do not hear you when you say anything! Trust me, no one wants to read your journal. That would take time.

“I don’t know what to write or I am not a writer’.

Journals are equal opportunity employers. You do not have to wax poetic.  Journals are truly about being present and that is, trust me, hard to do but well worth it. Writing well, is not a requisite to keeping a journal.  It is not for show  - it is for you. Writing a journal, much like natural childbirth, is not something you have to do well. You just have to show up.

One of my closest friends laments one last, familiar protest on journals. It is that she would never want to write on a ‘sad day’ lest she have to read such an entry at another time and be reminded of a less than stellar mood. My feeling about that is – we have to be able to stand ourselves –on our good days and bad. Not recording a bad day doesn’t mean it did not occur. Allowing the documentation of such a day or mood or sucky hour in our lives to be – is courageous but it seems to say, we are all acceptable and at least, palatable to ourselves.It is a way of kindly giving ‘space’ to all parts of yourself.  It is human to go up and down. As you journal, your moods travel and you can, for the wonder of accrued entries, see, how you do indeed rise from the ashes of one mood to another. It is as natural as….turning a page.

At any rate, a few months ago, something happened. I looked at my 5-Star, 300 page notebook and realized, this is hardly aesthetic. I loved my pens (I use these wonderful, wonderful fountain pens you do not refill. They turn my penmanship into the script of angels and make me feel like it is 1820), my writing tablet, in a word, sucked. I went to great bother to have someone make a suede leather cover, which never fit and looked like used car chamois and was a lint magnet.

It suddenly occurred to me, in this age of journals, there must be something online I could find that was more fitting, more romantic, in journal-eze. Why not making the very writing tablet part of the whole journal experience. I made beautiful breads, beautiful scones and cookies – why ever was I being so utilitarian about my writing habits?

And that is when I fell down the proverbial rabbit hole of journals.

There are many companies that make them and oddly, they are all so amazingly different, it is unreal. Each company here is generally personally run by their founder. Each has a philosophy about writing and writing accouterments and each makes a product you fall in love with. As the journals loaner samples arrived, I became beguiled anew each day. My 5-Star notebook was reluctantly abandoned mid-year (reluctantly because each journal becomes a home of sorts you are loath to leave) and I became to investigate, much like Cinderella trying on new shoes, each new journal.

At first I insisted on an 8 by 11 size journal, of lined paper. That was my model and I was resistant to change. But no, said Rebecca Smith of Oberon Design, unlined paper offers free, unblemished space to let thoughts flow.

Most journalers prefer that freedom and do not want to be contained.

Ted Gilmer of Leelanau Trading Company stated his own preference for great paper and visits estate sales to find stacks of unused, vintage paper, feeling such paper offers a very unique energy to the writer.  Smith also contested the attributes of refillable versus non-refillable journals. “Sometimes, once a journal is complete, you want to move on. Each journal takes on a life and energy and when it is done, you really (and especially considering the price), want to start with a new journal, not just slip the old cover over a fresh pad of paper you insert inside”.

You will find by the way – that hardback, blank book journals that come with a cover are easier to write on if your lap is your main desk. If you are sitting at a desk or have a café table, you will find soft journals (like Leelanau Trading Company) soft and comfortable and the stack of paper in the journal is usually an amble hard surface.

So, where am I now journal-wise? Well, I am fickle. I had intended to adopt one journal out of the lot and use it and then refill it. Instead, I am slowly going through journals like various Eras of Me.  I have a red suede small journal with pristine white pages. That one records my perfume and scent receipts. It is a book of potions. I also have an old rose leather, medium sized journal that I take to Starbucks. At first, I found it too small but now it is filled with whimsy, things I want to get, to bake, to write and if I am in the mood, it gets to receive a journal entry while I sip my coffee. Example: I am at Starbucks. Again….which is the best place to be alone but not alone. The café is sociable solitude versus hermit-in-the-attic and too many cats solitude. The coffee is charred but the mug is rather fine. I think I see someone I know  - no – it is a lookalike. Those Ebay tango shoes finally arrived and the scent of the new leather is totally Buenos Aires. Gotta go” You get the picture. It is just fun.

I have a leather, large journal I use at home and it has my most continuous thoughts and I use it- usually early morning or wee small hours of the night, and write by candlelight. It does indeed, slow me down.

I have a chunky little journal with a blue marble Italian estate look to it that I use to I record books I want, cd’s to buy, make-up or ideas and that one I keep in the car. Page one says: Saw Cinderella Man and Mad Hot Ballroom – both fantastic.
Got Laura Nyro CD, should think about Janis Ian CD, really think a new tulle skirt is in order. Etc.

If you do go to a café with your journal, you will be competing in a world of shirts and skins, i.e. laptops (computers) versus the original laptops: journals, or the ‘skins’. I go with the skins. We are more real. But there is a time where the clickers (laptop people) and inscribers (journalers) look up and stare into space. It is that place of human convergence. And then it is sip of coffee, another click, another dotted ‘i’, and the recording of our lives, our little dramas, the ups, the downs continue. The pages of our lives swell beyond what the pen can record. Only the mind’s eye and the heart does a better job. But a journal makes for a better companion. You can touch and hold it, like a friend, it bears witness and best of all, it never talks back.

Marcy Goldman Journal Company Friends
These are the companies we heartily endorse. Each makes an exclusive, unique product, expressive of their founders. Each company is quick to respond and share information on the product – a pleasure to find efficiency, warmth, and response on the net at all times! Their product lines are very, very different from each other and you will spend a good few hours getting acquainted with journals and each company. It is a whole world.. Within each line, there are choices as to size (you will also find larger journals are called artist’s pad or sketch pads or extra large journals), finishes, tied or not tied, refillable journals versus leather covers for new journals or blank books you insert, mostly blank paper (AND paper choices) and sometimes, some companies (reluctantly) offer lined paper. I use smaller journals to take with me to my café writing days, or the park. I have tiny journals to record my to-do lists for the car and medium size ones to record thoughts, poems, and ideas for recipes.

I suggest you start with two journals –one for home, and one to take with you, while traveling or café hopping. I begin the list with my favorite journal -the one I return to over and over, Journals. Read on.
These journals definitely say ‘Robin Hood’, Renaissance fair, olden times. They are one of the few to offer lined paper (but pretty, lined paper), feature bound journals, self ties, thick, distressed leather and refills. Their smaller journal comes with a lovely fabric bag to keep the journal from wear. These are keepers and great for journal or travel writing and would appeal to men or women and any age. The leather is the first thing you notice about Renaissance products -it is soft but wears like a trooper - meaning you can tote this journal to and fro, from home to cafe, and it still looks gorgeous. It comes with refill paper or some of their journals can be used a covers around a more standard notebook, if you prefer. The workmanship is unrivaled, the design is perfect but they will 'tweak' your order or customize as you wish. Beyond aesthetics (and prices reflect quality which is to say they are accessible but not inexpensive - great pricing for the product in essence), these journals (as well as new product line including totes and other leather products) carry a unique energy that comes from their concept and workmanship. Journals are trendy but this company has been tried and true way before the journal trend started.
Founder Ted Gilmer is a craftsman and designer who offers photos, kayaks, sleights, luggage and canoes, and yes, leather and wood bound journals. These journals convey a feeling of the frontier West and an era of American history when the most valuable things were made by hand. Gilmer’s books are made in Northern Michigan, using scrap wood of sustainable growth forest products. If you enjoy cream colored, parchment paper to write on, tucked inside the softest, tufted, thick leather you ever saw, tied with soft cords of matching leather, these are for you. It was the first journal to arrive and we are still totally smitten.
When you visit Aspinal of London’s site, a creation of Iain Burton your immediate thought is that they must be purveyors of fine writing products to Buckingham Palace for the last century. Surprise -  the company is only a few years old and yet, it is undisputedly the most elegant offerings of leather bound English saddle leather journals as well as fine Italian books. Aspinal (as most journal companies) monograms their items if you ask. But what will strike you are the range and the quality – there is no size, leather finish, color, or format lacking. The items arrive, boxed like jewellery from Tiffany’s, tucked in tissue and swathed in grosgrain ribbon.  Each Aspinal item is an experience. You will find yourself simply touching the book spines and finishes for a long while before you ever manage to write your first entry. They are breath taking. Of particular note is the special recipe book, which is leather and Italian marble parchment finish. Inside the pages are neatly indexed in recipe categories. I put my own favorite recipes for my family, by hand, in this book – something akin to how recipes were recorded years ago and nice to return to. Based in England, you can also reach Aspinal  via their toll free USA number 1-888-325-3302 (fellow Canadians can visit their site or email
Nick Daffusio, owner of Rogue Journal divides his journals into two types:
Permanently Bound Keepsake Journals and their Refillable collection.  Any Rogue Journal is in fact, a keepsake. I ordered a leather covered, hardback book of blank pages. The deep, cognac hued leather journal has a beautiful self-tie, that features a silver filigree pendant on the end. This journal is hefty (tons of beautiful, textured paper inside) and I like the solid writing surface the hardback book offers. This feels a bit like Romeo and Juliet meets Merlin in ton –There is a sense of romance and magic in this particular journal. Of course the embossed leather with a discreet but lovely heart on the front jacket doesn’t hurt. My journal from (how can you not like that name?) is a one-of-a-kind in quality and design. It is also tough as nails and looks great –despite being toted here and there and opened, and re-opened and written in.
This brother-sister run company out of Santa Rosa, California makes stunning leather journals and sketchpads with a definite Celtic sense to them. Oberon’s designers have created a line of journals that befit their sense that ‘observations and reflections’ are valuable and deserve a quality book to preserve these things. I reviewed their dark lavender and black large journal. It is a beautiful cover of a Celtic motif that houses a hardback, blank page book. It has a self-tie and matching Celtic design, silver filigree button you wrap the tie around. The paper is slightly creamy and thick, and smooth – a fine writing surface. These are beautiful for men or women but gals will particularly like their floral design and the lilac hues or greens.
A Canadian contender – a great little company that does spunky, funky, chunky journals and sketchbooks at a great price point. Written up in Oprah, available at Chapters Indigo in Canada or contact them, their Orchid Blue Jumbo Journal is able to take your heaviest thoughts; the Great Canadian and American sketchbooks do double duty for art of writing and the Love of Food Themed Journal is a great gift for yourself or a fellow foodie. These are fun, serviceable and hardwearing, and priced at a point that allows you to lavish a few on yourself.
Original Moleskine notebooks were recently written up in the New York Times, and are the classic notebooks for journalist, travelers and students, from the ‘small French bookbinders’. Find out why Hemmingway and Picasso preferred them and why they sell over four million a year in 40 countries. Available via their website or Restoration Hardware, these are simple but classic, Catcher in the Rye sort of fare.
This is another Canadian company. Their products are good and well priced and imported from all over the world. At the time of this feature, they have not yet responded but you can visit their website to view their products. Their quality for the price is very solid and represents a good starter, leather journal if you are feeling the waters.
We have yet to see these products but had several nice chats with the owner Chuck Pinnow offers a fine line of non-leather journals that are fair trade and environmentally mindful. These are hardwearing, specialty paper made journals that apparently sell out as fast as they are produced.

Gallery Leather Products, Trenton, Maine
No website, products available at Barnes and Noble, Chapters,

Gallery Leather offers journals as well as photo binders. My old rose, pink, small leather journal from Gallery Leather is my “Starbucks’ journal and is already replete with ideas for recipes, poetry, bird feathers I find, and whatnot. It also comes in lime green. We will be finding out more about the Gallery Line soon and updating.

Cavallini & Company
A renowned company, known for their fine Italian leather journals, available through selected markets. Despite our several attempts at contact, we have yet to hear from them but the products are stunning, if you find them.

Previous Monthly Essays from A Note From Marcy:

Essays to tickle your funny bone, wake up your inner baker, twinge on your heartstrings, or make you smile and say, ‘I’ve know the feeling; I know the place”. If you missed an essay, or a season in baking or inner sensibility, we invite you to stroll through our archived Notes From Marcy.

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