On Keeping a Notebook
That woman Estelle,'" the note reads, "'is partly the reason why George Sharp and I are separated
Dirty crepe-de-Chine wrapper, hotel bar, Wilmington RR, 9:45 a.m. August Monday morning
Since the note is in my notebook, it presumably has some meaning to me. I study it for a long while.
At first I have only the most general notion of what I was doing on an August Monday morning in the
bar of the hotel across from the Pennsylvania Railroad station in Wilmington, Delaware (waiting for a
train? missing one? 1960? 1961? why Wilmington?), but I do remember being there. The woman in the
dirty crepe-de-Chine wrapper had come down from her room for a beer, and the bartender had heard
before the reason why George Sharp and she were separated today. "Sure," he said, and went on
mopping the floor. "You told me." At the other end of the bar is a girl. She is talking, pointedly, not to
the man beside her but to a cat lying in the triangle of sunlight cast through the open door. She is
Here is what it is: the girl has been on the Eastern Shore, and now she is going back to the city,
leaving the man beside her, and all she can see ahead are the viscous summer sidewalks and the 3 a.m.
long-distance calls that will make her lie awake and then sleep drugged through all the steaming
mornings left in August (1960? 1961?). Because she must go directly from the train to lunch in New
York, she wishes that she had a safety pin for the hem of the plaid silk dress, and she also wishes that
she could forget about the hem and the lunch and stay in the cool bar that smells of disinfectant and
malt and make friends with the woman in the crepe-de-Chine wrapper. She is afflicted by a little self-
pity, and she wants to compare Estelles. That is what that was all about.
Why did I write it down? In order to remember, of course, but exactly what was it I wanted to
remember? How much of it actually happened? Did any of it? Why do I keep a notebook at all? It is
easy to deceive oneself on all those scores. The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive
one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way
that any compulsion tries to justify itself. I suppose that it begins or does not begin in the cradle.
Although I have felt compelled to write things down since I was five years old, I doubt that my
daughter ever will, for she is a singularly blessed and accepting child, delighted with life exactly as life
presents itself to her, unafraid to go to sleep and unafraid to wake up. Keepers of private notebooks are
a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children
afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.