I’ve started reading, The War of Art. Last night, while lying in bed, I noticed that I found the aesthetics of the book appealing. Not the cover— the cover is drab and white and almost perfunctory. I ran my hand over the inside pages and thought, “Margins! Yes, that’s why it’s making me feel happy.” On each page of the book, the version I’m reading at least, has a small grey margin on the left-hand side. Beautiful.
My first experience with margins (the ruled kind), was memorable enough to make me take notice of them from that day forward. It was my first day of school, circa 1981. I was all decked out in my tiny maroon uniform, I had my little brown suitcase which held my lunch box and my brand new pencil case. In that pencil case, were some pencils, a pair of scissors, a rubber (eraser) and a ruler. A ruler. I had never used one before, and I had no idea how or when I should use it.
At some point during that morning, Mrs Nickleson asked us to take out our pencils and our rulers, open our new jotters (workbooks) to the first page and practice making margins. What followed was several minutes of intense confusion, what is a margin, horror, everyone can do it except me, and then finally satisfaction, straight lines are beautiful!
For the rest of my junior school career, the first thing I did on every new page was draw a left-hand margin. In high school, our books came pre-margined. Not so satisfying, but I appreciated the red border regardless.
Margins are purposeful. It is meant to be used. A margin is the invitation to think and comment on what you are reading. In school, my teachers used that space to encourage or correct my work. Don’t you remember getting a piece of homework back, and scanning the margins for the teacher’s red pen? I do. I do it now with every piece of writing I submit to my lecturers.
I’m not sentimental about books. When I buy a used book, I fan through the book before purchasing it to see if there are notes left in the margin by the previous owner. I’m disappointed if there are not.
You see, margins are the home of the good stuff; space where the interesting thoughts belong. Notes in the margin indicate that the content of the book, the main text, is worthy of your time and your consideration. Scribbles down the sides of a page say: HEY! TAKE NOTE, INTERESTING STUFF TO BE READ.
Life also has margins. They may be invisible, but they’re definitely there. Society draws them in for us when we are very young, and we instinctively stay clear of them. Most of us do, anyway. Some of us don’t. I love the people who can’t help but run around making social scribbles all up and down our culture’s margins. Those people are the ones to look out for. They’re the red ink, indication that life has more to say than what’s neatly placed between the lines.
My favourite social margins are not invisisble— they are yellow, or white (depending on where you live in the world). I’m talking about the margins painted down the sides of the road. When I’m driving alone, I love scanning the shoulder looking for the out-of-place person, walking along where they shouldn’t be.
I pick up hitch-hikers often. My parents and my husband hate that I do it, but I can’t help myself. You see, I can’t drive past the person in the margin and not stop to find the treasure there.
I picked up a man the other day who lives in the bush next to the Guelph Lake. Such an interesting man. He obviously had mental health issues (he insisted that he was fighting World War three), but his take on life is A-MAZING! We had a conversation that lasted about twenty minutes, and we spoke about living off the grid, planting trees for future generations and The Walking Dead (as in, the TV show). We also spoke about how much we loved living in Guelph.
Now, if I had driven past him, I would have missed out on all the beautiful red ink that has been walking up and down the main road. I promise you, more often than not, the people who live in the margins of your community are the most interesting people you could meet. And their lives reveal epic stories! Don’t miss out by ignoring what is hanging out on the shoulder.
The next time you buy a book, please, write your thoughts in the margin. Let us, those readers who pick up the story after you, hear what your thoughts were while you read the book. Don’t be sentimental about the paper— Scribble away!