Opinion
5:47 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

The Simple Joys Of An Old-Fashioned Datebook

Originally published on Sat December 31, 2011 10:05 am

What if you could hold on to time in your hands? You can, you know. You can crack open, on this New Year's Eve, the unsullied, unhurried, un-trammeled pages of an old-fashioned datebook — the kind that still arranges seven days into a week; the kind you write in with a pen and which never, ever, beeps at you to remind you of a meeting or errand.

I have two friends, who have been making date books, by hand, for 30 years. Their small company Purgatory Pie Press, in lower Manhattan. They set the wood type by hand; type that's over a century old, in a tiny studio not much bigger than the printing press.

They can even run it without electricity, cutting and printing and binding by hand. It's a precarious existence they lead, centered around a tall Dutch Vandercook Press from the 1930s. My friend, a paper artist, along with her designer husband is sometimes asked: Why would you waste your time?

Her answer: "Let's say I can't remember what I did in 1988 or 1991," she says. "I return to my datebook. I open it, and that entire year does comes flooding back. I can flip it open in the face of skepticism and doubt. When I see my handwriting, my ticket stubs, a swatch of fabric, an envelope: All these things remind me of the glory of the day that was."

Once, a time-challenged David Letterman bought their Purgatory Pie Press datebooks for his entire staff.

Another friend is addicted to the Quo Vadis datebook and also loves the sense of a visual cue. She says, "I use writing to anchor things on the page. Months go by. In my mind's eye, when I flip through, I see something blurred. And then I remember I spilled my gimlet, so it must have been hot if I was drinking gimlets. And I flip through the pages until I find the ginny one. And there is the phone number."

That's why some of us want to inscribe in a datebook in the era of the Google calendar. The Mayans and the Egyptians knew that a calendar was a sacred, ancient text and a way of measuring the passage of time. And on the eve of a New Year, a blank page awaits. No beeping digital data has that power. Only analog time transforms.

Is there really anything else that matters quite as much, as the unblemished promise of a blank page of your own life — the particulars of which are written for and by you? And then, as the year ends, put into the scriptorium of your own existence.

That's what a datebook gives you: the script of your own life, in your own, sweet, time.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

What if you could hold on to time in your hands? You can, you know. You can crack open, on this New Year's Eve, the unsullied, unhurried, un-trammeled pages of an old-fashioned datebook, the kind that still arranges seven days into a week; the kind you write in with a pen and which never, ever, beeps at you to remind you of a meeting or an errand. I have two friends who have been making date books by hand for 30 years. Their small company, Purgatory Pie Press, is in lower Manhattan. They set the wood type by hand - type that's over a century old - in a tiny studio not much bigger than the printing press. My friend, a paper artist, along with her designer husband is sometimes asked, why would you waste your time? Her answer: Let's say I can't remember what I did in 1988 or 1991. I return to my datebook. I open it, and that entire year does comes flooding back. I can flip it open in the face of skepticism and doubt. When I see my handwriting, my ticket stubs, a swatch of fabric, an envelope, all these things remind me of the glory of the day that was. Another friend is addicted to the Quo Vadis line of datebooks and also loves the sense of a visual cue. She says, I use writing to anchor things on the page. Months go by. In my mind's eye, when I flip through, I see something blurred. And then I remember I spilled my gimlet, so it must have been hot if I was drinking gimlets. And I flip through the pages until I find a Ginny one. And there is the phone number. That's why some of us want to inscribe in a datebook in the era of the Google calendar. The Mayans, of course, and the Egyptians knew that a calendar was a sacred, ancient text and a way of measuring the passage of time. And on the eve of a New Year, a blank page awaits us. No beeping digital data has that power. Only paper time transforms. Is there really anything else that matters quite as much as the unblemished promise of a blank page of your own life, the particulars of which are written for and by you? And then, as the year ends, put into the scriptorium of your own existence. That's what a datebook gives you: the script of your own life, in your own, sweet, time.

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LYDEN: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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