Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Leonardo's Notebooks and My Journaling

Leonardo da Vinci, the famous scientist, artist and philosopher, has always been one of my role models. The man designed contraptions that were way ahead of his time (a flying machine, for example). His paintings were remarkably lifelike and anatomically correct. According to history, he was also a superb musician and a snappy dresser to boot.

As a consummate scientist, he kept observations about the world around him. Da Vinci filled notebooks with writing, drawings, name it. These entries were as varied and eclectic as anything, but unfortunately, he never got around to organizing it in any coherent fashion. Imagine what kind of index it would have made if he'd done so! He asked questions, formulated answers and tested hypotheses. He drew pictures of plants, machines and human bodies. Da Vinci was -literally- poetry in motion.

Some of these musings were written in mirror writing: backwards and right to left. Da Vinci was a natural lefty; it may have been simply easier for him to write that way. In all, reading his notebooks is a fascinating journey through the maestro's mind.

I hadn't known about Da VInci's notebooks when I first had the urge to write. If I'd known, I would have laughed at the irony. Nearly fourteen years later, I wonder why I hadn't done it much sooner.

It was during my first year of marriage and I was living in Charlottesville, VA at the time. Having to readjust to a new environment and dismal job opportunities had put me in a paralyzing funk. What was I going to do with the rest of my life? Was I going to end up as a resentful housewife for the rest of my days? Needless, to say it was a rough period.

I don't know what compelled me to go to the Barnes and Noble. I went straight to the gifts section and looked at the sketchbooks. I finally picked out hardbound, spiral one: blue, with a picture of stars and galaxies on the front; crisp, heavy white pages meant for color pencil and charcoal. After paying for it, I hunkered down in the B&N cafe' with a ball-point pen and started to write.

I poured out my thoughts, my dreams and my resentments. Eventually, I also little scenes of action and dialog, which I dubbed "snippets". Sometimes it sparked other scenes to take it forward, other times it hung there, suspended. I also scribbled poetry, dream recollections, quotes and anecdotes. Inspirational articles found their way into the pages: interviews with successful writers, how-to's and others. Favorite comics, advice from the business section of the paper.

As the years passed by, I filled notebook after notebook. Later, I started to sketch and drawings of my own. I finally overcame my embarrassment at my (poor?) artistic ability. There was no harm in experimenting with colored pencils, brush pens and charcoal. Still life, scenery and lots of beach scenes. My cats became unwilling models for my art.

It surprised me just how natural this felt after such a short time. Keep in mind that I'd already been writing in a regular journal for more than fifteen years prior to this. That journal was more of a "daily-time-tick-here's-what-I-did-where-I-was". The sketchbook seemed to allow me the freedom to expand my horizons, the room to write whatever I wanted, with no censure. I figured the only person who would see this rubbish was me, anyway. It must have been the white, blank page, no boundaries. I wasn't intimidated by it. I simply filled page after page with no second thought.

It was a safety valve through those initial years, a place for me to bent my feelings and build my dreams of a more fulfilling, more creative life. At first, I was reluctant to act on them: not practical, not intelligent. But  my notebooks insisted for years, until I found the courage to act upon it.

As of this writing, I have twenty-two of such notebooks (and twenty-five journal books, dating back to 1986). Paging through them is like sifting through a gold-silted river. Old ideas and new insights, old snippets and new connections. It's strange how coincidence and synchronicity had such an impact on my life...but I hadn't realized just how much.

Recently, I bought the book, "How to Think like Leonardo Da Vinci" by Michael Gelb. It was then I found out about Da Vinci's notebooks and his widespread creative efforts. I was struck by his genius and like Da Vinci did, I continue to record in my notebooks...the pieces of my existence.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

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