I have been writing in notebooks ever since I was young. In elementary school I wrote stories about the adventures of characters I’d imagined after watching and reading X-Men, dreaming of a world where the impossible was possible. By the time I was a teenager, reality became captivating so I wrote about my own life, using the pages as a way to process the world around me, and to understand my changing self. What I hoped for; things I didn’t understand; people I wanted relationship with. Slowly but surely, I became known for my love of writing in notebooks and people began to give them to me as gifts. As I received more and more I slowly built a mental specification for what the perfect notebook was to me: its smell; the thickness of the paper; the way it was bound.

Then, in 2016, at the age of 23, I moved to the US, alone, to enroll in my Ph.D., and I was bombarded with newness. New school culture, new social culture, new religious culture, new people and ways of communicating. While the rush of being somewhere new was thrilling, it was also overwhelming. I needed to process my new life, my mind needed space to write about the world I was encountering, the stories I would tell, the stories that were making me a different version of myself every day.

Prior to my departure from Edinburgh, Scotland, a friend of mine gave me a notepad at my leaving party, a beautiful gift that I knew would be so very useful during that moment in my life. A hard-backed notebook with playful illustrations of kids toys parading across a dining table. It was whimsical and special, and nothing like any I would typically choose, but for some reason it was the perfect notebook for me.

Months after receiving it, I finally opened it and began writing. I wrote and I wrote, everyday, about the things I saw, heard, and learned about this new world that no one from my prior 23 years of life was privy to. As Charlotte Brontë famously said: “I’m just going to write, because I cannot help it.” Where I felt lost in translation with people from home and my new home, this notebook became a gift of belonging within myself. The art on the cover made me smile and remember how loved I was, as well as reminding me of the courageous creativity that can be unlocked when we put pen to paper.

This notebook became the place I learned what I loved about my new life; it reminded me that I contain multitudes and am allowed to evolve and grow. I learned that writing, art, whimsy and play, could be pathways to understanding, embracing, and even falling in love with the unfamiliar.

– Abena Boakyewa-Ansah (Ph.D Candidate)