CT Journal: Write a dialogue in which someone interviews
you about your commonplace
book and/or your essential questions.
- Megan A.
Q: What do you feel the purpose of your commonplace book is?
A: I'm using it to explore a question that I have been pondering for a really long time.
Q: What question is that?
A: Well, you know how there are a countless number of religions in the world? Well, I've always wondered which one of them is the right one to follow.
Q: That's really interesting. Have you come close to finding an answer?
A: Actually, I think I'm really far away from that because what I want is hardcore and physical evidence that I can see and touch. So far, I've only found one, which supports the Buddhism religion and if you want to know what it is, you can go ahead and read the entry. I think the entry is really interesting and can really change the point of view that some people have on Buddhism. You see, that's what I really like about this book. It allows me to write down thoughts that I have about things and issues that matter to me and lets me explore them. I guess it gives me more of a focus of what's really important to me in life.
Q: What other purposes does your commonplace book serve?
A: This book is more of a commonplace/exploring book to me because within the entries that I have written so far, all of them I've done have some form of exploration in them.
Q: For instance?
A: Well, sometimes we are asked to read a work of literature (poem, short story) and write down some thoughts that we have about it. It's like an open exploration of that work because I can write down whatever ideas I have about it. It let's me express ideas that I have, which I otherwise might not say out loud. because it doesn't need to matter to others what I write in my book, it only needs to matter to me.
Q: Well put. What was the second of the two essential questions you have?
A: It is: Why is American culture so dominant compared to other cultures in the world?
Q: Have you explored this question yet?
A: No, and I don't think I want to because it's not a question that I'm interested in or even matters to me, it shouldn't even be one of my essential questions. What matters to me most is the first essential question that I had because I've been contemplating that question for quite some time. Now, because of my commonplace book, I have more of a focus, direction, and likeliness of finding an answer to my question.
Q: Is there anything you plan on doing with your commonplace book in the future?
A: Actually, yes. To spice things up a little and not have everything be so serious, I think I'm going to try to, as often as I can, find interesting pictures and write what I think about them. I don't know if this will work out, but we'll see.
- Adriann G.
Interviewer: What are your three essential questions?
Me: My first question has to do with English and my life. It is, "How can I better understand good literature, and writing that is considered to have depth and meaning?"
Interviewer: Why is this important to you?
Me: Many times when I read writings in English, I understand the main plot, and usually scratch the surface in terms of getting the depth of the story. I always seem to have a hard time actually going deep. Sometimes I can point out something that can lead a path to something, but I hardly go anywhere with it.
Interviewer: Why do you think you have a hard time doing this?
Me: Well I read the literature almost like data; if something is not stated, I don't consider anything new. I also have a hard time of inferring things.
Interviewer: If you do understand the writing better, and see the depth it has, how will that help you?
Me: I can appreciate the writing, and maybe I will look at somethings differently.
Interviewer: What do you mean "differently"?
Me: I might see people who have similar character types in a new way. I may think of people in a new way, or I may think again about how I act because of that writing.
Interviewer: What is another one of your questions?
Me: How do I fulfill the time in my life to make it worthwhile?
Interviewer: Are you asking what types of activities specifically you should do?
Me: No, I am asking what should I seek to make me happy, like doing what makes me happy, what makes others happy, what will make me successful. I want to know if it may be what I do, how I act, how I think, or all of these that will make me look back and be satisfied with my life.
Interviewer: Have you found anything so far?
Me: From a couple of entries in my book I am starting to realize that from events that are thrown at me, especially ones with my friends, I should just take advantage of them and have the best possible time. I just now thought that even by reflecting back on times I enjoyed would make be cherish and be happy with what I have. Reflecting I think will help me realize that it is worthwhile.
Interviewer: What is another one of your essential questions?
Me: Why are relationships so important to me? I do not mean boyfriend relationships. I mean family and friend relationships?
Interviewer: Why is this essential to you?
Me: I am always thinking about the ties I have with people. I unconsciously think about how close I am with someone and why I am not closer or rarely, why am I so close with them.
Interviewer: How would finding the answer or exploring this question help you?
Me: I think by finding and exploring this, it would help me understand more about myself. By realizing why they mean so much, it may explain why I may act certain ways around people, and may even help me find how I may fulfill my life to make it worthwhile to me.
Interviewer: Do you think using the commonplace book will help find the answers?
Me: I'm not sure if there are real answers to my questions, but hopefully the book will help me sort things out about these questions, and also explore and discover new things about myself and my questions.
- Alli Y.
Interviewer: Starting off with your essential questions, do you think your goals as English student are too specific or complicated?
Me: At times, yes. I feel the need to be as broad as possible without becoming too vague and losing sight of my goal. If I can create an essential question that is succinct and clear, I am able to approach my essential question from many different angles. However if my questions are "complicated," the specificity of each allows me to focus in on a certain goal.
Interviewer: So did you form your personal goals in the same way?
Me: Not quite. Usually my personal goals come quicker to me than my academic goals, due to the fact that my academic goals are often my personal goals. Usually I know exactly what goals I want in life.
Interviewer: What do you write about in your journal?
Me: Just ideas that I have throughout the day or unfinished thoughts. I put many of my arguments with friends in this book because during our conversation, many deep and interesting thoughts come up.
Interviewer: So you have quite a few arguments with your friends?
Me: Yes. I love to argue. Although I secretly hope that I change the other person's mind (a humorous optimism), I think that having a clash of opinions is very beneficial; it encourages the other person to take your point of view, and vice versa, and allows new ideas to be discussed. Basically, everything would be pretty boring if everyone had the same opinion.
Interviewer: So what types of arguments go into your book?
Me: Well, anything that I feel comfortable with and that isn't vulgar. Some of my arguments included opinions on guns (on many aspects of the topic), God, and humor (like practical jokes and how they are received).
Interviewer: I can't help but notice that you seem to focus mainly on writing in your book. Do you have any artistic interests, or have you included any art?
Me: As a matter of fact, I enjoy graphic design and art very much. I might see a design for a webpage in the architecture of a building, or plant or animal life. Although I do find many things like postcards or magazine ads intriguing, much of the art I see is in my head. At this stage, I usually transfer these ideas for art onto a computer where I can manipulate it to my desire. At the moment, nothing has caught my eye as something to put in my book, or I am just not able to physically cut and paste.
Interviewer: But surely you must have found at least a couple interesting pieces of art?
Me: I have, but sometimes I get too involved in it to remember to save it, or simply forget about it physically but absorb it mentally. Also, I must add that in my writings, my poetry and writing are also forms of art, just not heavily visual.
Interviewer: How do you structure your commonplace book?
Me: Well, I model my commonplace book as I model my thinking. I allow my thoughts and writing to flow and make connections, but I aim for a semi-structured and organized process. For example, when I have an idea I will write down my first thoughts as I think of them, but return to them later to "make revisions." Sometimes I will completely forget to write something down and not include the thought. Either I just forget about my commonplace book or I have an idea that I still need to work over.
Interviewer: As a final question, is your commonplace book all that you want it to be?
Me: At the moment, no. In order for it to be a central source for what appeals to me and what ideas I have, I need to keep it as a priority along with my thoughts. I also need to not only reflect personally upon images, opinions, and events, but catalog these things for future reference and guidelines. When I accomplish this, it will fulfill my idea of my commonplace book.
- Greg K.
Scene begins with Joe sitting at the news counter, talking to a camera somewhere downstage. He is neatly dressed and sits primly, with his hands folded and resting on the countertop.
Newsreporter 1 (Joe): Throughout this month, we will focus the majority of our coverage on "Celebrity Commonplace Books," a documentary that recently highlighted names such as Barbara Walters, Tom Hanks, Celine Dion and the world-renowned Mr. Schauble, the creator of this widespread fad. As a part of our Literature Marathon, these interviews will hopefully enhance what surveys prove to be the most rapidly diminished form of art in society today--the art of writing. (turns to screen) We will now turn the camera over to Julie, who is with our special guest, Justin Lo at this very moment. Julie?
Scene changes over to Julie, who is with Justin L. in an interview. They are both sitting on chairs positioned like a talk-shaw.
Newsreporter 2 (Julie): (appears on screen) Yes, thank you, Joe. I'm here with our guest this evening--a patron of the arts, Mr. Justin L. He currently resides in Honolulu, Hawaii, and works in various theater and musical productions--including some chamber music groups. I hear you've been quite successful in your field. Am I right?
Justin: I try, Julie. I've been very busy lately working on a few theatrical productions in the islands.
Julie: But, we're glad you could join us. . .out of your hectic schedule I'm sure.
Justin: No trouble at all. I'm glad to be here.
Julie: Well, let's cut to the chase, shall we? The question we've been most wanting to ask so far is this, "What started you on the Commonplace Book bonanza?" (crosses her legs)
Justin: I guess, well, I just felt I needed some space to express my ideas. Being very busy on a normal basis, it seemed too demanding at times. But, as days went on, I grew quite used to the process itself and was able to collect my thoughts through some quiet, effective writing time.
Julie: Was it a personal decision?
Justin: Personal decision? Most definitely. Although, a great deal of Mr. Schauble's underlining points added to its appeal. Somehow, I felt that I, too, needed somewhere to.. to write what I needed to say but just didn't seem to have time to say.
Julie: That seems to be a high point, doesn't it?
Justin: Undoubtedly. (pauses to drink some water on a side stool) Sometimes we all need a little time to ourselves. And, c'mon, why not spend it on something that really allows you to be yourself? Amidst life in general, it's so easy to get lost and so easy to wander away from who you truly are--you begin to lose your identity. The journal allowed me to keep focus of what I value and what I find is most important in my life--and not to lose sight of it.
Julie: It seems that lately, in the school systems, writing and art, in general, have fallen to substandard levels. The stress on these areas seems to have been taken all too lightly.
Justin: Well, not only that. In some cases, I'm not even sure that those who pursue their studies in any form of art, whether it be writing or music, truly have some purpose as to what they do. Writing becomes more of a chore nowadays. It's pretty disappointing that students don't seem to hold any interest or passion towards what they write about! And, it's partially our fault as well, mainly due to our presentation of writing merely on a system of grading. Our generation should be advocating and supporting personal expression in writing, making it worthwhile and meaningful on an individual basis. By downsizing areas of personal reflection, we are basically turning kids away from writing.
Julie: How would you go about altering the system, if you were allowed the chance?
Justin: Well, the Commonplace Book is an excellent place to begin. Instead of pressing topics upon the student, the journal allows them to really reflect upon what they want to reflect upon. It creates a whole new feeling towards the possibility of what writing can be--a true expression of our individuality. And, that's what it should be.
Julie: (nods) Let's take a question from the audience, shall we? (looking at note cards) Let's see, we have a Mr. Dan Druff from Dallas, Texas on the line. (talking to Dan) How are you, Mr. Druff?
Dan: (on phone) I'm fine.
Julie: What question do you have for our guest here tonight?
Dan: Well, I'd like to ask, if it's not too much trouble, what is an example of something you've written that really means a great deal to your life?
Justin: That's a valid question. I'm glad you brought that up. Well, Dan, in an entry I recently wrote, I reflected on the art of acting and how it pushed me to develop a perception of the human soul that I would never have considered otherwise.
Justin: It seems almost as if we're too used to living with ourselves - almost getting to a point where all we know is who we are. Of course, in many cases, even that gets lost among daily hustle and bustle. But, the fact is, my work on character portrayal has, as I reflected on, really given me the chance to see things from another person's perspective - to understand how they see life, to walk around in their shoes for a minute. It's really an eye-opening experience. Sometimes, it's hard to empathize with someone if you can't understand their point of view, you know what I mean?
Justin: So, Dan, I hope that helps you somewhat.
Dan: It sure does.
Justin: So, are you already thinking about starting your own Commonplace Book?
Dan: Actually, I've already begun. I'm just looking for some ideas as to how to approach it.
Justin: Well, I want to wish you the best of luck Dan.
Dan: Thank you.
Justin: All right. Thank you, too. (phone clicks off)
Julie: It seems as if you strongly support the idea of the Commonplace Book.
Justin: Definitely. If you choose meaningful questions to explore upon, it can really turn your life around.
Julie: Do you have any last minute thoughts before we close this interview?
Justin: I just want to say to the audience that it doesn't hurt to try it. I guarantee that, once you get started, you just won't want to put it down. Find your essential questions and really try to develop them. Don't hesitate. Start now!
Julie: (pause) Once again, Justin, I'd really like to thank you for your time. It was a pleasure.
Justin: I was glad to do it. Thank you.
Julie: (to screen) That's all for now. Back to you, Joe.
- Justin L.
I: So what's in your commonplace journal as of now?
Me: So far, there are a couple things I've been thinking about, including an entry for one of the essential questions. I also drew a couple sketches, and pasted in a page of pictures. There are some entries that aren't really my thoughts at all, but rather stuff that happened to me that I want to remember.
I: What do you want to have in your commonplace journal by the end of it?
Me: I guess it would be cool to make it like Da Vinci's book, except that it'd destroy the fun if I have to give away the code to Mr. Schauble so he can read it. In truth though, I'd like it to be a medley of things, a whole series of topics and drawings, that seem random in a sense but are all connected, too. I also want it to be more of a journal of 'thoughts' rather than a journal of what happened to me everyday. I'd like to move from 'what's happened to me' to 'what do I think about what happened to me?' So far, we've just started, so the diversity isn't all that great, but I want to branch it out really far in the future.
I: Do you have any specific plans, like stuff that you already have in mind to put in your journal?
Me: Yeah, there are a bunch of thingsóso many that I'm forgetting a lot of them. I kind of want to make a computer game, inspired by World of Warcraft, so an MMORPG, or massively multiplayer online role playing game, but I want it to be really expressive, following beloved fantasy archetypes but weaving a unique story that's different from other storylines. I was planning to sketch out concept art and stuff in my journal, dictating a sort of feel I want for the towns. I'm also planning to add art I see that I like, and things that I learn that I find interesting. I also want to write a novel or something with cycle papers, because writing scripts for books requires the books to be checked out too long, so I also want to map that out in my journal. There were a whole bunch of other things I wanted to add that slipped my mind, so I'll add them as I remember them.
I: Can you give me an idea of what your second entry, the one called 'wasted time and devotions' is about, and maybe what inspired it?
Me: It pretty much came from being told that I was playing too much on the computer during break. I had to think of something to justify it, and what I ended up thinking of turned into that article, pretty much, or at least that train of thought. Last semester had been pretty packed, especially with Asian History and huge amounts of homework, so the break was pretty eagerly accepted, on my part. Studying would have ruined it for me. But the train of thought, starting from the dragon's perspective in Grendel , thinking about what the purpose of life is when it doesn't make a difference what you do in the universe as it won't change universal history or anything, had me wondering 'why does it matter what I do, if I had already found my gold and was sitting on it?' It was a really pessimistic thought, and definitely not what I'm wondering now, as I've already got an answer to 'what's the purpose of life?'
I: You're sounding very inconsistent in your response for the last question. Is there a reason?
Me: Yeah, I haven't fully found my stance on the subject. I kind of hope I don't decide what I think on it, though, because that would make me narrow-minded, which is not one of my priorities, and would limit my intake of knowledge and thoughts in the future.
I: Can you talk a little bit about the essential question that you discussed?
Me: Oh, it's something I dread and speculate about at the same time. Sometimes, you can split people into two categories, those who want to unite, despite their differences, and those who want to divide and blow themselves up because of their differences. The future depends pretty much on who wins out on the whole thing nowóif the 'blow each other up people' have their way, we'd be in a terrible situation, but if the 'unite' people win, it's easy to see armed forces becoming obsolete, except for maybe as policemen. We'd be able to continue living, until we become stagnant in ideas, as it is (was) with large empires. I'm not exactly sure what'll become of all this though. I personally hope I get to live a decently long life, without ever having to experience any of what I talked about.
I: Why such a morbid outlook?
Me: From what I know, and everyone probably agrees, we aren't in the best situation as humans, with constant conflict and fighting. If we don't stop soon, we'll probably escalate the conflicts to a much worse rate. I personally think that somehow, it'll be all right, but a lot of people predict that we might not be around for the next hundred, or even fifty years.
I: What about the other two essential questions?
Me: I'm not set on these, (the first one, by the way, is 'what will the earth be like in 20 years,' except looking ahead), but the other questions are 'why do people act the way they do?' thinking, why is it that people do the things they do, act the way they do, and like the things they like. The last question is pretty close to 'how should we live our lives,' except that it's 'how should we spend our time.' I'm not sure if those are the questions that I'm going to do.
I: So you've talked a bit about the 'how should we spend our time.' What about the other question? 'Why do people act the way they do?' Can you elaborate on what it means, and what you were thinking when you thought of the question?
Me: It's a badly worded question. I haven't thought much about this, and it might change a bit. I was thinking more about why people like certain things over other things, like, why certain books are on the bestseller lists, why is Harry Potter so beloved worldwide, and such questions. Looking beyond the criteria of good writing, what makes certain topics or subjects more popular, if popularity dictates good writing, or if it doesn't, what makes writing good besides the criteria for good writing? In other words, what makes some 'good' writing better than other 'good' writing?
I: Are there any other comments you would like to make?
Me: I kind of don't want a 'dark' theme in my commonplace journal, so I'm not going to focus on a 'dark' future for the world, really. I'm hoping to encompass a wide variety of possibilities, also to keep the commonplace journal more diverse. That's pretty much it.
I: Thanks for your time.
- Chris D.
Friend: I've noticed that you have been writing in that little black book that you carry with you now. What exactly is it? What kinds of things are you supposed to write in it?
Me: Well, it's for English class. We were told to keep a commonplace book for the semester. It is almost like a journal, except we aren't limited to simply retelling our activities. We can put in clippings from magazines or newspapers, or song lyrics, or questions that we think up. I like to put some pictures that relate to what I am writing about, because it makes it more interesting to look at.
Friend: Your entry on the first page looks like a song. Why did you decide to put that particular song on the first page?
Me: It is a song. It is called "Swimming to the Other Side," by Pat Humphries. She is a folk singer who lives in Washington D.C. The song is about living together with everybody in peace. I like the lyrics because they make sense, and they are words that a lot of people could learn from. I put the lyrics on the first page of my commonplace book because I like to think that that will make me think of them every time I open the book, and I really like their meaning.
Friend: That sounds really interesting. I really like folk music. Now I want to hear that song. Maybe I'll get it off iTunes tonight. Anyway, what other things have you put in your book?
Me: We've only been keeping it for a few days now, so I only have three entries in it right now. After "Swimming to the Other Side," I have an entry about the statewide select band that I was in last weekend, and a few more.
Friend: What did you write about the select band? I heard the concert was pretty good. I was going to go to the concert, but I ended up being busy.
Me: Actually, the concert wasn't very good at all, but thanks for the confidence. The experience of being in the band was better than the actual performance, because of the guest conductor that the OBDA brought in. His name was Kazuyoshi Akiyama. He's a really famous conductor from Japan. In Japan, he is known as "Mr. Band," and everyone who plays a wind instrument knows him. I wrote about how he was able to help each person grow as a musician, which is pretty impressive, since he only had six rehearsals. My favorite part of the entire experience was watching him conduct "Block M March," which we played as our encore. I smiled so much that I almost stopped playing. He stood in front of us with his head thrown back, conducting us by barely moving his hands. He did this cool conducting maneuver, where he moved his elbows back and forth for up- and downbeats, like he was power walking. It felt really good to see him so happy.
Friend: That sounds like fun. What else do you have in your commonplace book?
Me: I only have one other entry, though I am already thinking about tonight's. The other entry deals with some essential questions that I was considering.
Friend: What is an essential question?
Me: Didn't you do them in English? They are questions that are significant to your life. They can be different for each person. We did this cool activity where we were given a list of a bunch of questions, and we had to pick three ones that were "essential" to us, and three that were irrelevant. It was interesting to see how different people valued different things.
Friend: Oh. You said that you put a few questions in your book. What were they?
Me: My first question is "Is it more important to strive to be successful or virtuous?" I thought of it because at the end of my Bar Mitzvah, my mom and dad gave me a speech about lots of things, which I don't really remember much of, but I remember a quote by Albert Einstein that my mother said. It goes "Strive to man of virtue rather than a man of success, for a man of success receives more from life than he gives, while a man of virtue gives more than he receives," or something close. So I thought it would be interesting to explore the question in more depth. My other question is 'Is it truly possible to 'forgive and forget?"' I am not sure how I came up with this one, but it just popped up in my mind.
Friend: Did you write anything about the questions yet?
Me: I didn't do any reflecting by writing anything down, but I Googled the questions and found some interesting answers. For the first one, I found an excerpt from a response to Teaching the Commons, by Paul Theobald. It briefly discusses the difference between success and virtue, and the merits of both. For the second question, I found a section of a Psychological website. It said that it is impossible to forgive and forget, because forgetting is actually repression, and when you repress emotions that might want you not to forgive someone, you are actually unable to truly forgive someone, because the emotions just linger in your unconscious.
Friend: Wow. That's really interesting. Do you have any plans about what you are going to put in your book in the future?
Me: Actually, I already have an idea for tonight's entry. I found a really cool picture of an eight ball being dropped into a glass of water, so you can see the air pocket and the splash formed. I am going to write about how there are so many things that happen too quickly, or are too small to notice, but they are very important. It should be interesting.
Friend: It should. I want to look at your commonplace book when it's done and see where you go with it. But now I have to go, or I'm going to be late. Bye.
Me: I'll show it to you when I finish. See you later.
- Peter G.
So what was the essential question that you found the most interesting?
A: I think that the most interesting question I thought of was, "Do morals exist, and if they do, are they subjective?" That question is the one that makes me think the most.
What are your initial thoughts about morals?
A: Well, the main question that I was asking was whether morals actually exist. I mean, when the universe came into existence, were there morals there, or were morals created by humans as a code of conduct for their society? Are they an integral part of human personality? I think that you have to do a lot of thinking about the nature of morals before you can say whether or not they're real or not.
And what about whether they're subjective or not?
A: If morals were created by humans and aren't an important component of human nature, then it is possible that morals differ between people because human diversity. This would make the concepts of "right" and "wrong" subjective or relative to each situation and person. However, they could also be strict, objective rules that are similar or identical among each and every person.
So what's your person opinion about the question?
A: I think that I'm leaning toward the idea that humans created a moral code as part of the development of their society. I also think that morals are probably subjective, as different people have different concepts of morality and the distinction between good and bad varies pretty drastically between cultures.
Do you think that only humans have morals?
A: I think that animals sometimes act in ways that we interpret to be good and bad, but that these actions are mostly instinctive. Maternal animals are protective of their children because it is instinct to protect the future of an animal's species. However, it is interesting to note that the human concept of morality may be based on instinctive concepts such as maternal care and parental protection.
What are your other two essential questions?
A: I asked, "How can I become a successful, capable writer?" and "When is society right and when is it wrong?"
Why is becoming a successful or capable writer an important issue for you?
A: Well, I think that the most realistic career path for me to take will be something to do with writing, and I want to write fiction, so I want to make myself the best writer that I can so that I have money to eat as an adult.
What do you think about your third question, "When is society right and
when is it wrong?"
A: This is a question that I've found myself asking very often lately. After reading several books such as Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and Brave New World, I've noticed how modern society has degenerated and has become frighteningly reminiscent of some of the settings described in the famous dystopias. There seems to be a very real pressure to conform to societal norms, and I think that that's dangerous. I want to address issues like this in my writing, so thinking about this question allows me to improve my understanding of the issues facing modern society.
Q: How do you think that you'll address issues like conformity in your writing?
A: I'll probably try to be subtle about it, using metaphors and similarities between modern times and the setting of the writing. I don't want my writing to seem like it's obsessed with political and social commentary, and I want the actual writing to formidable, so I'll try to create lessons for the reader to absorb while they read a normal story.
How do you think that your essential questions will help you as you write in
your Commonplace Book?
A: I think that the questions will guide my train of thought along the right path so that I can uncover new ideas and concepts during my use of the journal. The questions are interesting to me personally, so using them as guidelines will make my Commonplace Book more enjoyable, interesting, and intellectually lucrative.
- Devon G.
It was a warm, quiet day in Boston. I had come up to visit a good friend of mine and her family that lived there. I didn't really feel like imposing on them so I rented out a suite in the Charles Hotel that was located in Harvard Square. They had a lovely little cafe by the name of Henrietta's Table there. I sat in a booth and looked out in to the street while sipping my strawberry banana smoothie and contemplating on what to write in my commonplace book. I have to say that it did give me quite a fair amount of exceptional ideas for the books that I wrote. To be quite blunt, I was a famous author. I wrote seven books, five of which were New York Times best sellers. I had worked hard and feverishly to reach where I was. I chewed the cap of my pen and proceeded to touch the tip of my pen on to the paper, when suddenly, I was brought out of my concentration with a tap on my shoulder. I testily whipped around, annoyed by the fact that someone had distracted me from writing. Honestly, I hated that. I looked up to face a girl of about the age of thirteen with almond eyes and brown' almost chestnut colored hair.
"Excuse me, could you please sign my book, Ms. Kwon?" she asked, handing me a copy of my own book, Watching the Ocean Bloom . I really do have to say that I was quite proud of it, it being my first best seller. In my head I wished that she would go away so that I could write down my idea in my commonplace book, but diligently, I took the book with a smile that I hoped was friendly. I signed it and said, "There you are," and handed it back to her, hoping that she would now go away, pleased with her newly acquired signature. I have to admit, I was very groggy that morning. I started to turn back to my writing when she sat down at my table and looked at me with her almond eyes.
"Is there something else you needed?" I asked.
"It's just that, I've never really met a writer before. I've read all your books. I really have."
At that point I was beginning to be amused by this girl and put down my pen on the table, losing all hope of writing anything in that book in that period of time.
"Well, thank you for reading them. I hope you enjoyed them." I said, gratitude in my voice. She gave me a wan smile and that's when she noticed my book.
"What's that you're writing in?" she asked.
"It's my commonplace book." I replied coolly.
"What's it for?" she asked, eyes opening to now resemble chestnuts.
"I write my ideas and thoughts in it. It's a habit, because I started to write in it since my sophomore year in high school and I just got stuck to it."
"Wow. That must have been a long time ago. You're thirty, aren't you? I
read it in your 'About the Author' page."
By God, I wasn't as old as she made it sound.
"Yes, I am thirty years old," I said annoyed.
She gave a small apologetic smile. She quickly changed the subject and asked, "Do you write ideas for your books and stories in
"Mmm. When I get an idea for a story or I see a quote or some writing that I like, I put it in there for ideas or something nice to read when I find I have nothing better to do."
"What else do you write in there?"
"Well, when I feel like I have to get something off my chest, such as a problem that I have, or a secret, I put it in here. It's a sort of release from the waking world, and I get lost in my writing, because the problem is something that I want to talk about." I took a sip of my smoothie and placed in on the napkin, now decorated with a moist ring from the cup. "I also like to put in questions about my life, and just life in general. It gives me a map, let's say, that shows me where I want to go and where I don't want to go in life."
"What's one of the questions that you put in there? Could you tell me?"
"Well . . ." I flipped through the pages to look for a question. I found one and read the little passage that sat on the crisp blue line. "What is true love?" I said with a hint of satisfaction in my voice.
"That's a hard question. Did you come up with an answer?"
By this time, I was getting to be irritated. What was with the third degree?
But, being the trooper that I was, I answered her question without protest.
"Well, I thought a lot about it, yes. I thought, is it when someone gives you their last bite of ice cream? Is it when someone whispers romantic somethings to you? Is it when they hold your hand and give you hugs and kisses? I came up with the answer, yes. It could be all of those things and more. What real love is depends on the person who is perceiving it. Everyone has their own mind and thoughts and what they think to be love is what it is. It's just a matter of putting all those thoughts together to make up the ultimate true love." I closed my book on that note and she nodded her head in an understanding way. She seemed quite intelligent.
"So, what it is, is that you put thoughts that you've been thinking about for a long time in there?" she asked.
"Well, in some ways, yes. I like to put in the questions that weigh down my mind so that it would ease the load on to the paper. Like I said, it's a release and I find comfort in it. But that also doesn't mean that I don't put down other questions. I put down "little" questions too."
"Like . . . ?" she piped.
"Like, is there really such thing as a crab that can move backwards and forwards? How can I be a better writer? How can I be a better person? Those kinds of questions." I took another sip of my smoothie and yet again placed it on to the napkin. I really wanted to write in my commonplace book now.
"Oh my gosh I'm sorry! I didn't realize that I was keeping you from your work." she suddenly said. "It was so great to meet you. I think that I want to start a commonplace book now. You've inspired me.Ē
She stuck out her hand and I took it.
"That's great. It's really a good deal of help and very calming."
We shook hands and she smiled. I smiled back and she started to turn away when she said, "Thank you for signing my book." And with that, she sashayed away.
I smiled, thinking that I had another event to write about in my commonplace book.
- Jean K.
Q1: Why did you decide to use that book to write in for your commonplace book?
A1: I had wanted to use a composition book. I thought a composition book might fit my needs the best, with one of my main ideas to use this as a journal. It also happened to be the only one I had left in my school supply stock.
Q2: Do you plan on doing anything improve the exterior looks of it?
A2: I was considering spray-painting it... I personally do not like this purple, marble look of it. One of my hobby-type pastimes is to modify the looks of some of my belongings, by doing things such as painting. Like I painted a flaming skull on my calculator, and cut out flames in my computer case.
Q3: What do you currently have in it?
A3: I so far have three entries in it. Each entry is based sort of on a journal 'what happened in my day' layout, but each with a larger idea that occurred to me during the day. I also put in my three essential questions.
Q4: What is in your first entry?
A4: I really didn't know what to put in it, so of course, I procrastinated. One of the things I do when I am supposed to do homework is surf the net, just reading about miscellaneous things that interest me. This time, I was on a computer modeling message board, and I found a thread about love... love from the computer geek's point of view. So yes, it went in.
Q5: Any real reason why you wanted to make that your first entry?
A5: I don't exactly like to admit it, but I guess I am sort of a nerdy geeky type (explaining how I found myself on a computer modeling message board). Also at the same time, I am a teenage boy, looking for a 'significant other'. Toss the geek and the love in the big blender of life, and you get the entry. And I felt I might be writing quite a bit about this word called 'love'.
Q6: What are your three essential questions?
A6: In my English class last semester, we all had to come up with a 'big life question' that we would hang up in class, and refer back to them throughout the semester. My question was "Why do we seek the love of a lifetime partner?" It never really did get answered during that semester, and I decided to hang onto it. Since I might be writing many entries about 'love', I figured this might be an appropriate question. Question number two is another question we all drag around: "What happens after we die?" We will probably never know this answer to this, until after we die. My last question was "What would life be like if you never failed?" This one struck me as interesting, because no one is perfect. It is impossible for a human to me perfect. But, what if? Would it cause happiness? Would it just take out the fun of life?
Q7: Have you covered these questions already in your current entries?
A7: I feel I have scratched the film of the surface of two of my questions. I ever so lightly touched upon the issue of the word 'love', and have delicately touched the topic of being perfect.
Q8: What are your current conclusions/inferences about those two?
A8: Well, I had shared very little of an experience of having just another face in the crowd turn into a face that has a special radiance about it. This is related to the idea of love, yet does not really explain anything. On the other hand, I realized that there are certain situations that being perfect would lead to a happiness advantage in life.
Q9: What do you plan to do to touch bases with the 'after death' question?
A9: I really don't know any everyday situations that can relate to what happens after you die. But, there are some times - times where it feels like the only solution is death, which may spark some inspiration there. After all, right now is the closest I've been to death. Right now, is the absolute closest you have ever been.
Q10: What do you want to put up to compete with Leonardo?
A10: I am really not sure offhand. . . It seems that something can be really good, but it would mean giving up some secrets I may not want to share with the world. On the other hand, it could be something to share with anyone, but would be crap. So I just need to find a balance of these two.
- Ryan N.
Chichiri-sama (the interviewer, a character from the show Fushigi Yuugi by Yuu Watase)
NChan: (normal Chan): the Chantelle that isn't on a sugar high!
CChan: (Crazy Chan): the Chantelle that is on a sugar high and is getting in touch with her local, ghetto Waipahu side!
Chichiri-sama: So, Takata-san, tell me about this beautiful notebook (Points towards the notebook.)
Chan: Well, brah, dis bugga is dis ting dat my fren got me long time 'go...you know like birthday kine thing. Get this cool cover wit' like' da red and da green and stuff. . . supa like exotic! (Points at the cover's different colors.)
NChan: Well, to put it in terms that most people will understand, it is a tribal designed notebook that is bound together with an ancient technique. The tribal design is comprised of fake sequins, gold line motifs and red and gold backgrounds. This is where I write down things that are on my mind, things that are interesting or just some little doodles.
Chichiri-sama: Good. Now what do you plan to write in this commonplace book of yours?
NChan: Well, I plan to write short reflections on my day and maybe a few of the dreams that I've been having since those are usually the basis for some of my cycles papers and short stories. I also plan to maybe express my love for different languages in this book by perhaps creating a language of my own here in this journal based off of different languages.
CChan: Wat you stay talking 'bout, eh? Brah, dis one little thing with paper brah! I goin' for go and write dis kine stuff bout like identity and stuff cuz like kina hard yeah, fo' go dis kine big school yeah...when you like from like plantation country so...
Chichiri-sama: Okay, very interesting. So, what are these lyrics on the inside covers of your journal?
Dis da Japanese song lyrics and stuff and dere translations. See, brah, I like
Japanese by like blood yeah. . . along wit' da Okinawan in me so I like my culture
and stuff you know. Good fun dis kine song, dats why I put um in.
Chichiri-sama: (in unbearable confusion)
NChan: Well, to put it in better terms, I think my unbearable, obnoxious self is trying to say that these lyrics represent my love for the Japanese culture . . . no my pride of my heritage.
CChan: No, you mean MY love . . . not YOUR love . . . idea stealer. (Gives NChan the death glare)
NChan: No, you idiot...we're the same person just in different mental states. (Whacks CChan on the head and knocks her unconscious and smiles innocently towards Chichirisama) Oh yes, and these lyrics also give a look into my life, since I love these two Japanese singers.
Chichiri-sama: (Nods) Okay then, how do you feel about keeping a journal?
NChan: Well, it was a bit awkward at first since I've never done something exactly like this. I did reflect on it briefly in one of my first entries, but I guess I can emulate on it now! I've always expressed myself through art rather than through writing, so this is a bit of a drastic change for me. But I figured that I could accompany my writings with pictures to better record my thoughts. So, this is mildly odd, but I'm beginning to get accustomed to it all, which I'm proud of!
Chichiri-sama: Why do you really want to change from art to writing in this journal to record your thoughts rather than just drawing and such with a bit of writing?
NChan: Well, besides the obvious reason of it being for an English class versus an art class, I thought that a bit of change would be betting and perhaps even help me with my art interpretations of my life since words can sometimes give a whole new meaning to some visuals.
Chichiri-sama: Um. . .who writes in this journal? You or your other self ? (Motions to the unconscious CChan on the ground)
NChan: Well, I think that we'll both be making our appearances in the journal. I guess that I chose this since a journal of mines would have to reflect the madness and the saneness of myself in order for it to really be mine.
Chichiri-sama: Well, will CChan be able to write after this?
NChan: Well, of course! I didn't kill her! Hehehe...just suppressed her for a little while that's all!
Chichiri-sama: Do you like this idea about keeping a journal?
NChan: Yeah. I think that this is a great way to record a part of my life on paper. I especially think that this is a great idea since it allows us to be able to record a small snippet of our adolescence, which is a big turning point in our lives.
Chichiri-sama: How much of this do you plan to fill up?
NChan: Well, my goal is to fill up the entire thing. I would really love to have a full journal of thoughts and ideas after this semester before I start the hectic life of a junior!
Chichiri-sama: Thank you so much.
NChan: No, thank you!
CChan: (Drooling) Tasuketeonegai... Please help me!
- Chantelle T.
Joe Smith: Interviewer
Blaine B: Interviewee
Note: This interview takes place one year from now. Joe Smith is a sophomore that is in Mr. Schauble’s class. A few days ago, Mr. Schauble gave his students the assignment of keeping a commonplace book. Joe Smith asks Blaine B. what he put in his commonplace book.
Joe Smith: Blaine, English is now my least favorite subject. Mr. Schauble told us we have to keep a commonplace book. Between each class, we have to write in it at least once. You had Mr. Schauble, right? How did you like writing in it every day?
Blaine B: You know what, Joe? I had the same feelings you have when Mr. Schauble told my class we had to write in it every day. At first, I hated it. It was so hard to remember to write in it daily with other things on my mind, such as sports and other homework. But, once writing in your commonplace book becomes a habit, it’s a very beneficial experience. You become a better writer because you’re writing every day. You also start to answer your essential questions. You don’t have to write a lot in your commonplace book. Half a page each day should be sufficient. I would only recommend you writing a full page if Mr. Schauble assigns something in your book for homework.
Joe Smith: You make the commonplace book sound very important to sophomore English. But the problem I have is I don’t know what to write about. Could you tell me what you wrote about in your commonplace book? I need some ideas.
Blaine B: Well, whenever I read, saw or heard something either interesting or related to my essential questions, I would jot it down briefly in my book, and then expand on it when I had free time.
Joe Smith: Could you also explain to me what essential questions are and what were your essential questions? I heard those words in class yesterday, but I wasn’t paying attention. I was looking out the window and observing a few birds.
Blaine B: Joe, you have to pay attention in class. Teachers know when you’re not paying attention to them and they hate students that don’t listen to them. Anyway, an essential question is a question that is important to you or a question you don’t have the answer for. My essential questions were, Will the world be fit to live in 20 years from now?, Should everybody make more of an effort to help the needy people?, What do I need to do to be happy?, and What is the purpose of my life?
Joe Smith: Those all sound like thought provoking questions, but which is your favorite? I will probably use your favorite one because I can’t think of a question I can use.
Blaine B: Don’t just choose a question because I chose it. You should choose a question that’s important to you. Writing about something important to you will make your entries meaningful. My favorite question is the one about helping out needy people. The reason why is because in class, you will read a few essays about donating money to charities. These readings made me think about what I should do to help out the needy people of the world. I wrote about this question the most in my commonplace book.
Joe Smith: So, were you able to find an answer to this question during the semester?
Blaine B: I was able to find an answer to this question. But, my answer to this question rose up a few more questions about this topic. I was able to figure out that everybody needs to help out the needy people in the world. The two new questions I asked myself were, How should I help the needy?, and how much should I help? I actually tried to answer these new questions in an entry in my commonplace book.
Joe Smith: Could you tell me a little more about this entry?
Blaine B: My class just finished reading two essays related to helping out the needy. One was by Peter Singer, which was about Singer telling his readers that they need to start making an effort to donate money. The other was by Ian Parker, which was about a man named Zell Kravinsky. Zell Kravinsky gave away his 45 million dollar fortune to charities. But, somehow, he didn’t believe this was enough. He decided to donate one of his kidneys. This entry was about how much I should donate to charities. I realized it should be somewhere in between Kravinsky, who donated everything he had and more, and donating no money. A reasonable amount I decided on is five dollars a week. It isn’t a lot of money, but at least it’s something.
Joe Smith: I think it’s noble of you to donate five bucks a week. It’s not as much as that crazy Kravinsky guy donated, but like you said, at least it’s something. Man, what’s Kravinsky’s problem? I would never donate my entire fortune. He then takes it a step further by donating a kidney. That guy is nuts! I can’t wait to read that essay.
Blaine B: I actually respect Kravinsky’s decisions in his life. I would never do something like that, and I know many others wouldn’t either. He should be rewarded because he’s such a giving person.
Joe Smith: I see what you mean. Do you mind sharing another entry?
Blaine B: I’ll be glad share another entry. This next entry was a homework assignment. The assignment was to define quality in my own words. My definition of quality is an item that is the best of it’s kind in both performance and appearance. I explained that quality items need to perform and look good, but performance is more important than appearance. Appearance is the deciding factor if two items perform as good as each other. I also said that quality usually takes a long time to achieve. You have to want quality to achieve quality. Since it takes a long time to achieve, quality items will usually be expensive.
Joe Smith: Do you have time to tell me about one more entry? I desperately need ideas.
Blaine B: Trust me, ideas will come easy if you look for them. I got the idea for this entry from an assigned reading. I copied a quote from the reading into my commonplace book. The quote is about a lady who enjoys reading. She said she enjoyed re-reading books so she could feel the out of body sensation of being somewhere else over and over again. This relates to my question about being happy, but I can’t relate to this. I don’t enjoy reading. I never read books when I have spare time. I rather watch T.V. or play video games.
Joe Smith: I agree. I don’t like to read or write. I don’t like anything that is relevant to English. That’s probably why I don’t want to keep a commonplace book. It’s full of writing. Can I put things other than writing in my commonplace book, such as artwork? I love to draw.
Blaine B: It is important that you have entries other than writing in your commonplace book. Mr. Schauble will be bored when he’s grading your commonplace book if you only have written entries. So, I would recommend having a few visual entries in your book. Good examples would be drawings, pictures from magazines, and cartoons.
Joe Smith: Show me some of your artwork, Blaine.
Blaine B: In the beginning of the year, I decided to illustrate my favorite quote. The quote is, “What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” I like this quote because I’m not very big. I believe it represents me well. I illustrated it by drawing two dogs looking at each other. One dog is big and one dog is small. The small dog has a bigger heart than the big dog. The size of the heart represents the fight in each dog.
Joe Smith: Blaine, I have to admit, that is a pretty cool drawing. Thank you for helping me understand the commonplace book. I’m gonna write an entry right now.
- Blaine B.
You: (Your hands are folded on your desk) So…what’s in your commonplace book?
Me: Actually, can I just call it a book? (Holding up a black and white composition book) I mean, commonplace makes it sound so...ordinary. But really, these…books aren’t ordinary at all. They’re actually unique, and mean something different to everyone. So a “book” sounds better.
You: Oh. Okay. I sort of see your point. So…what’s in your book?
Me: A lot of stuff. (Flips through pages) I have a lot of writing…mostly writing in pen actually. And some pictures. A doodle section that’s pretty interesting. And…oh yeah! Song lyrics.
You: Why do you write in pen? (Noticing the black ink entries)
Me: I don’t know. Or I guess I do. (Looks down) I’ve started to think that I write in pen because of some of these…not really psychological issues, but reasons, for why I do stuff. Like I’m a perfectionist about some things. So I think that by writing in pen, I’m addressing that part of my brain because you know, pen is permanent. So when you write either you get it right the first time or you have to make this big ugly cross out mark on your paper and write it over again. (Looks up, makes eye contact) That’s kind of how I view life. Like if you don’t have it right the first time, it’s acceptable, but that big ugly stain is always going to be there to remind you of how you messed up.
You: …Oh. Wow…
Me: Yeah, I’m a little OCD about some things I guess. Or not OCD. I don’t really know.
You: (Interested, eyes widen) You’re OCD?
Me: I don’t think so. I hope not. But then again, I asked my homeroom teacher about developing brain disorders and he said that it was probably possible. (Shrugs) Sometimes my friends think I am though.
You: Does that relate in any way to your book?
Me: Yeah…actually it does. (Sits up straighter, flips to first page) One of my essential questions was “Who am I?” So in that sense, if I do turn out to have OCD, then that is a part of who I am. Just like how I need to write in pen and how I like to doodle. It’s all… me. (Smiles)
You: Is there anything else in the book that deals with that question? The “Who am I?”
Me: (Cocks head to the side) Hmm…Well in a sense, I think that all of it has to do with that question. Everything in this book deals with that. (Brow furrows) I think that you can start to understand a person from their belongings and habits and what kind of quotes they find interesting, or even just their random thoughts. And my book is like that. (quick smile) Everything’s pretty random. Well, for example, I have this picture inside. (Flips to a page with a picture glued onto the bottom half) It’s a picture of the sunrise from a morning on the Rapture Boat Trip. It’s one of my favorite pictures. And it means a lot to me.
Me: (Leans back into the chair) It just…does. I don’t know…It’s hard to explain why. I mean, I could take a picture of a sunrise over the ocean anywhere, anytime, anyplace, and that picture wouldn’t necessarily have the same meaning that this photo does for me. (Sits up again and makes eye contact) Maybe I like this picture so much because of what I’m reminded of every time I see it. (Laugh) Not because I’m such a great photographer. (Flips the page over) Oh yeah! And the other day, I was looking through my room and I found this book of stickers. Like, it’s actually called “The Great Big Book of Stickers”. So I found my favorite ones inside and just kind of stuck them on the page anywhere. I like the feeling of randomness they add to my entry.
You: (Laughs incredulously) Is that an old man with a…a…bonnet? Or something?
Me: (Chuckle) Yeah. He’s definitely a keeper.
You: (Still laughing) Right…So did you answer any more of your essential questions anywhere?
Me: Well, a little. My two other questions were, (reading from the first page) “Will I make a difference in the world?” and, “Is it possible to live without regrets?” (Look up) These ones are important to me I think, and they both concern my future, which I just realized. (pause) Huh. Interesting.
You: What’s interesting to you?
Me: Well I find it interesting because I just realized both questions concern the future. It makes me think that maybe I’m worried about college, or growing up and getting older. (Becomes excited) I’ve always had this wish that I could see what I’d be like in I don’t know…about 10 years. I want to see if I’ll turn out to be the kind of person I’d like to be in the future.
You: Well, how do you want to be in the future?
Me: Hopefully making a difference in the world? Possibly trying to live a life without regrets? I’m not too sure actually. I guess I’ll focus more on that for my entries. Trying to figure out what I want from life. (Is flipping pages randomly and stops) Like this quote, “The first step in getting what you want from life is figuring out what you want.” I’m not sure who said this, but it really resonates with me. And maybe that’s what I’ll try to do more of this semester. Think of what I want for my life. (Sits back)
You: I guess I’ve never really thought of that either.
Me: Kind of scary isn’t it? Growing up? I’m pretty amazed that we only have two more years of high school after this – and then college – and then (gesticulating)…life.
You: Wow. (Takes a deep breath) Oh, wow.
Me: I’m kind of happy that we have these books to write in. Like, as a homework, but homework that will help us find out who we are and let us just express freely. Like doing art and writing poems and sticking stickers in…It’s fun.
You: (Laughs) Yeah. Stickers. (Laughs again).
Me: Hey. (Sits up) Don’t tease my stickers. (Smiles) I think they’re cool.
You: (Big grin)
Me: But anyway, yeah. These books are really helpful. Then again, I don’t know if anyone knows who they really are. (Ponders) I wonder if by the end of the semester I’ll be able to define myself. Like, Jenna (noun): blah blah blah. That would be so weird. But so…(laughs) wicked! If we could make a class dictionary, that would be awesome.
You: Hey, that’s a pretty good idea. I don’t know what words I’d pick though.
Me: Well that’s the whole point of having our books. Duh. (Glances at clock) And it’s your turn.
You: Okay. (Repositions body, takes a breath) Ready, set, go.
Me: (Folds hands together, makes eye contact) So…what’s in your book?
- Jenna L.