Jean Croker Petke

Have you got one of these?

Have you got one of these?

Have you got a zibaldone?

“A what?” you say, somewhat bewildered. “What’s a ziba. . . however you say it?”

“Zee – ball – dough – nay. It’s Italian and easy to say once you get used to it.”

“O.k. Zibaldone. So what is it and why do I need one?” you inquire, still puzzled.

Zibaldone means a heap of things — or miscellany in Italian. It’s also known as a common-place book or a hodge-podge book. Giacomo Leopardi, a radical thinker of the nineteenth century, kept such notebooks, which were published in seven volumes in 1898, sixty years after his death. Many people of his day, and since, have kept similar notebooks of collected thoughts, quotes, recipes, tidbits of knowledge, remedies, sketches, etc., etc., etc.

Historically, zibaldone were small informal notebooks — nothing fancy or fit for public view — just scrapbooks that were unique to its creator’s particular interests. Unlike journals and travelogues, these are not chronological or introspective, but just collections of stuff peculiarly important to its owner.

It’s not surprising, that somewhere along the line, someone wrote a book on how to create a zibaldone. John Locke did such a thing in 1706. That’s how it is with new exercises, new trends, new goals, new practices — someone tells us exactly how to do it perfectly.

Creating a zibaldone is not about doing it a particular way, like having a certain notebook, specific pens or markers, lined or unlined or graph pages in the notebook, a schedule for making additions, or a system for categorizing entries. There are no rules.


When I first learned about having a zibaldone, I opened the drawer where I keep my excess notebooks. Some are leather bound, some were gifts, one has Buddha on the front, most are medium size, some are pocket size. Without thought, I picked the top one in the stack — bright red cover, corners worn, and already missing some pages. I made a sticker for the front: ZIBALDONE. I use any convenient writing utensil — ballpoint pen, pencil, marker, green or blue or black — it doesn’t matter. There’s no consistency. My zibaldone resides someplace near my desk, where I work and think and do research. Sometimes it’s near my chair where I read books. And it’s never far from my piano where I jot down practice insights.

My ongoing challenge is to resist using the same pen all the time, making all the entries neat, and categorizing my notes. My zibaldone reminds me to be spontaneous, creative, random, and to get out of my perfection box where I often live.

I am suggesting that you might want to begin a zibaldone of your own. Use it as a landing place for all the random things that roam through your head and cross your path — those things that touch you, things you want to remember. Once they’re in your zibaldone you can always find them on another day.

Zibaldone — a new word for a new way of gathering your stuff in a personal place.

Until next Tuesday . . .