The Golden Notebook

by Jenny Rough

Golden_NotebookAbigail Thomas wrote about her socks. Of the books of hers I’ve read—all of which I adore—that’s the scene that sticks out most. She sat on the ground in a bookstore and changed out a pair of socks that didn’t match her new shoes. The socks were black with red peppers. Her writing captures ordinary life moments with such beauty and emotion that I’m compelled to keep turning pages.

A couple years ago, I traveled to Thomas’ hometown, Woodstock, New York, for a magazine assignment. I was writing about infertility (and going through it myself), and was attending a fertile heart workshop. Before I left, I typed out an email to Abigail introducing myself. I told her how much I enjoyed her writing style, and asked if she would meet me for coffee Monday morning. Then I agonized over whether to hit “send.”

I’m shy.

I clam up around strangers.

I’m the type that skips parties in favor of staying home to read books.

When I make phone calls, my heart pounds, and I pray for voicemail.

I’d say this is true of most writers. I am part of a large online writing community, and one day the organizer decided to have a picnic for the group. I didn’t go (too nervous to show up at a place where I didn’t know a soul), but I asked the organizer about it later.

“How was the picnic?” I said.

“Imagine twenty-five introverted adults hanging out in a grassy park on a Saturday afternoon,” he said.

Awkward.

Maybe not all writers fit that category, but there is a reason we prefer to share our thoughts and emotions on the page instead of face-to-face. Staring at my draft email, I feared if Abigail accepted my invitation, we’d sit at the table in uncomfortable silence. Then again, I wanted to improve my skills as a writer badly enough that I’d do whatever it took to meet other professionals in the field. I wanted to thank her for her books and learn about how she did what she did, and there was no other way to find out than to ask her. I sent the message.

No response—not a word during the weekend workshop. Packing my bag to leave on Monday morning, I hopped on my email one last time. And there it was: a message from Abigail Thomas. I was away this weekend and have much to do this morning so can’t grab a cup of coffee with you today, she typed. Then she thanked me for my kind words and wished me well.

I felt a mixture of disappointment and relief.

I decided to walk around town a bit before I hit the road. It was freezing rain, and I forgot an umbrella, but I parked my car on Tinker Street and browsed the shops that were run by local artisans. The stores sold items like tie-dyed yoga pants and the shops posted signs on their door that said: Open by appointment or luck. It seemed like an Abigail Thomas sort of town. Quirky, but in a good way. Eventually, I stumbled upon an independent bookstore, The Golden Notebook.

I browsed for an hour and saw a display of Abigail’s books. But I already owned them all, so I bought a Susanna Sonnenberg book instead. Back outside, I began to walk away from the bookstore toward my car. Out of the blue, a sensation overcame my body and prodded me to turn around. A lady was gazing at the window display.

Abigail Thomas?

I glanced at her feet. She wore a pair of unlaced boots with funny looking socks sticking out the top. Yep. I took a step forward to introduce myself, but changed my mind. She’d already turned me down for coffee—why corner her? She disappeared inside the bookstore. Let it go, I told myself and walked to my car. I sunk in the driver’s seat and gripped the steering wheel. After ten minutes, I turned the key in the ignition. It was too late to go back. I drove to a gas station and waited behind a long line of cars before I could fill up. As each second ticked by, I second-guessed my decision to leave. But there was nothing I could do. Now it was really too late to go back. I headed out of town, south on 212.

Driving out of Woodstock, I couldn’t believe I’d walked away from a chance to meet Abigail Thomas, my favorite writer. I began to wonder: In the notebook of my life, how many pages would be blank? Full of empty reflections because I was too scared to live? To engage with people? How often had I missed connections? Lost potential friendships? How much of my life was a story that never got told because I hadn’t made an effort to be with others? And if I wanted to change things…how could I begin to create a new notebook? One full of real moments? A golden notebook?

You know what? If Abigail Thomas was anything like me—if she loved books the way I loved them—she is still in that bookstore.

In a split second, I swerved the car onto the shoulder and made a U-turn.

Peering through the bookstore window, I saw Abigail Thomas at the check-out counter. Once again, my inclination was to crawl away. I didn’t want to bother her while she was in the middle of a transaction. So instead of interrupting her, I climbed up a set of concrete steps next to the bookstore and sat down on a bench. I waited in the cold. I was beginning to feel like a stalker. Finally, she appeared on the sidewalk.

“Excuse me, Abigail Thomas?”

“Yes?”

“I love your writing,” I blurted. “I’m the one who emailed you about coffee today.” I covered my face with my mitten.

She smiled, reached for me with both her hands, and held mine in hers. We stood on the sidewalk in the rain and talked books. We conversed about Woodstock, and when I told her what brought me to town, she shared the story of someone she knew who was going through the pain of infertility.

Our chat came to and end when Abigail had to go to a meeting. And I had to head back home. She took my hand again to say goodbye, and we parted ways. When I drove out of Woodstock for the second time that day, I was happy our talk had gone well. But I also realized it didn’t matter if our meeting was good or bad. It mattered only that I turned the car around and said hello.

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About Jenny Rough

Jenny Rough is a lawyer-turned-writer whose essays, features, and profiles have appeared in publications ranging from SalonThe Washington Post, and Yoga Journal, to MoreWriter's Digest, and AARP, where she is also letters editor for AARP Bulletin. Her work has been included in a number of popular anthologies, and she blogs about nurturing the creative spirit at www.jennyrough.com.

Jenny Rough

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