Lessons from Montauk: The Art of the Paper

Montauk Lighthouse, circa 1900
Montauk Lighthouse, circa 1900, Photo: Courtesy East Hampton Historical

Last spring, I paid a visit to the Montauk Lighthouse for the first time in years. Though I frequent Montauk’s downtown on a regular basis, the additional six miles to The (actual) End always seemed like an ambitious task.

My grandma, who had moved back to Long Island a few months prior after spending 25 years in Florida, was the impetus for the visit. We wanted to go on a quick trip together with my mom, and I loved the idea that the Montauk my grandma last saw was completely different from the one that exists today. Yet through it all, the lighthouse, the oldest in New York State, remains a constant.

We walked around the property, taking in the intoxicating views. Before leaving we were drawn to the gift shop.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the store far exceeded my expectations for a tourist destination gift shop. Where I assumed overpriced trinkets, ready to be scooped up by a fanny-pack-wearing family, would live, I instead found artisan-quality gifts. I perused the store’s inventory, drawn to many of the nautical-themed items, and purchased a spiral notebook filled with about 500 pages of crisp, thick white paper.

The notebook has become one of my favorite possessions, for the simple reason that it’s incredibly fun to actually write things down. On the very first page, I wrote a packing list for a trip I took to Iceland last year. The next few pages are devoted to a “where will I be in 10 years” analysis that my friends and I all made while we were eating dinner one night. Random phone numbers, drafts of emails I want to send, notes for planning a bridal shower, all exist in the confines of this book. It’s not a diary, but it contains small bits of my daily life.

(If I ever want to turn a page into a “diary page,” I’ve realized that if I write in cursive, it’s a lot harder for people to read over my shoulder.)

I’ve started writing all of my Dan’s Papers columns in this notebook. Yes, I now write in longhand first, my computer safely tucked away. I love that I am in control of the book, and that is comes with zero distractions. There’s no temptation to check Facebook or social media or the weather. The words only go missing if I lose it. The book isn’t going to crash, the book isn’t going to “encounter a problem that forces it to close,” refuse to back up to the iCloud or punish you for not hitting “command + s” every few minutes.

I am by no means anti-technology, but in a heavily digitized world, it’s fun to take pleasure in such an analog item. Writing is soothing. Writing in cursive lets you spill all of your thoughts out onto a paper, stream-of-consciousness style. And writing letters still seems so much more meaningful than emails. Especially when the letters come in thick, lined envelopes. It’s not a fast process, but being forced to slow down and to think about what you’re going to say before you say it is enlightening.

So, this column is a big thank you to the Montauk Lighthouse. For always staying the same, for giving me the gift of less screen time and for reminding me that the best trips are ones whose effects last long after you’ve left.

The Montauk Lighthouse reopens on March 21 for weekends only. For more information, visit montauklighthouse.com.

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