Success! Now Check Your Email

To complete Subscribe, click the confirmation link in your inbox. If it doesn’t arrive within 3 minutes, check your spam folder.

Ok, Thanks
John Dickerson's Navel Gazing 3 min read

John Dickerson's Navel Gazing

A new podcast from John Dickerson on the wisdom collected in 30 years' worth of pocket notebooks.

By Cary Littlejohn

More great notebook-related content coming your way.

John Dickerson, of CBS News Prime Time, has always been mostly a voice to me. I've been listening to his dulcet tones for more than a decade now on Slate's Political Gabfest, and over the years, there's been any number of references to his notebooks.

Now he's created a new podcast, a series of audio essays really, that were essentially made for me in this moment of obsessing about note-taking, notebooks, writing, and creative pursuits. It's called Navel Gazing, and its first episode is wonderful.

Slate describes its newest podcast thusly:

Political Gabfest host John Dickerson has been a journalist for more than three decades, reporting about presidential campaigns, political scandals, and the evolving state of our democracy. Along the way, he’s also been recording his observations in notebooks he has carried in his back pocket. He has captured his thoughts about life, parenthood, death, friendship, writing, God, to-do lists, and more. On the Navel Gazing podcast, John Dickerson invites you to join him in figuring out what these 30 years of notebooks mean: sorting out what makes a life—or a day in a life—noteworthy.

There's so much in that description alone that speaks to me.

One is solidarity. I know he is a lover of Field Notes, and they have been my back-pocket notebook of choice for some time. In fact, my first purchase of a Field Notes product was inspired by Dickerson himself when he partnered with the company to make his version of a reporter's notebook.

I assume he carries the standard-sized Field Notes normally, as they are more easily stored in the back pocket. I know that accessibility is hard to beat; I've amassed a lot of them now, stored away safely in a pine box.

I love that his notebooks contain multitudes: "his thoughts about life, parenthood, death, friendship, writing, God, to-do lists, and more." It's weird to think about something as heavy as death could share a page with a to-do list, but that's what pocket notebooks are for and I'm learning to embrace that as a feature, not a bug.

The episode itself is a beautiful essay on life-changing moments, responding to loved ones, writing, and reflection. He quotes Johnny Cash and John Prine and Jason Isbell. He mulls over "Sunday scarves" and the curse of free time. This all stems from a note he wrote in the aftermath of a child going off to college and that empty-nester feeling that came over him and his wife that was amplified by the simultaneous loss of a beloved pet.

He wrote down what his wife said in response to that new reality, because "I had no hot take I could offer that could satisfactorily contain all that the moment suggested, but it felt like a place in the text that might become relevant later in the narrative, so I took note of it."

It's such a simple practice, one that would probably serve us all well: Taking note of something in the moment in order that we might make greater sense of it at a later date. Something as simple as a stray comment from a spouse can be hard to unpack, fraught in myriad ways, and by simply hanging onto it for later, our brains get a chance to catch up in a way we never could in the moment. We give ourselves a chance at eloquence.

His eloquence comes in the form of these new audio essays, a form I love and honestly wouldn't mind experimenting with myself.

"... I'd like to think I'm speaking asynchronously with you. I talk into this microphone, and you get to unpack it when you need, whenever that is. I don't know if there's just one of you, alone in some dark airplane under the cone of an inadequate light listening through the engine noise. Or maybe you're on a park bench ... Maybe you're on your morning run. Good for you ... Thinking about what you will think about what's in my head and how I can best convey that to you helps me arrange the furniture there."

That's what I'd like to create at some point. And his mindset, though for him probably tinged with a false modesty that's not required based on his profile, is a good one for me: Even if it's just a single person who chose to sit down and engage with something I've written or words I've spoken aloud, wouldn't that be nice?