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The Simple Joys Of An Old-Fashioned Datebook

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 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit


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