The Joys of a Pen and a Blank Notebook


By Emma Talkoff

I love writing. I love ordering my unruly thoughts into measured words. Writing thoughtfully and with time allows me to discover unexplored connections, and I find myself turning phrases with confidence and ease. There is nothing so wonderful to me as sitting down with a pen and an open book—in short, I’m a word-wielding nerd.

So why are so many of my notebooks and journals blank?

I never seem to have time to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Ostensibly, mountains of homework stand in the way of my creative endeavors, precalc and chem keep me chained to my desk. It’s easy to point to last week’s APUSH test or a perpetual stream of French verb conjugations as culprits, honestly, I don’t think it’s fair to say that my insane academic schedule has kept me from exploring the written world. In fact, I would say the opposite.

As we approach finals season and all the anxieties that come with it, I’ve lately found myself more and more interested in the things I’m learning at Tam. To me, the best moments are the ones where cumbersome topics suddenly become more clear—when a new piece of information or way of thinking unlocks a mental door. A shift in how I view my classes has lately effected a slightly different point of view. Sitting in environmental science one day, I considered the rather bleak consequences of the increased urbanization which has been a trend on our planet for centuries. Among garden-variety socioeconomic and environmental outcomes—the formation of urban heat islands, raised infant mortality rates, indelible loss of biodiversity—an alternative victim of our over-developed planet came to mind.

“With increased urbanization comes a loss of unique perspective,” I said to my slightly perplexed group members. My off-beat answer was a product of recent conversations I’d participated in in english and history class. Through samples of writings by Emerson and Thoreau, we’d been introduced to transcendentalism, and the idea had apparently taken root in my mind more deeply than I’d realized.

In transcendentalism, a truly unique and enlightened perspective can only be achieved through quiet, independent contemplation in nature. The only way to become informed and thoughtful—about politics, life, and yourself—is, somewhat paradoxically, through solitude.

I say paradoxically because I was initially very skeptical of this school of thought as I had come to understand it in class. How is one supposed to achieve political or personal enlightenment wandering around in the woods? Trees, after all, are not usually considered to be excellent conversationalists.

But this brings me back to that day in science, and my unfulfilled love of paper and pen. Thinking about transcendentalism from the point of view of an overloaded student, and a citizen of our super-urbanized world, I began to wonder if maybe I didn’t see some validity in this point of view after all. In our increasingly techno-connected world, it can be impossible to find a moment of empty solitude. Between the constant connection provided by glowing screens, and multitude other ever-present distractions, it doesn’t surprise me that I rarely have the time or, perhaps more accurately, focus required to write. It doesn’t surprise me that I rarely have the presence of mind to make the kind of interesting connection that pleasantly surprised me in science class.

Maybe assuming that I will become a well-informed voter or inspired philosopher by taking a walk in a forest is unrealistic. But alone and out of doors, free from the distractions of connectivity and the overwhelming anxieties of academics, I could certainly find the time and peace of mind to write.