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In digital age, notebook fosters community

Mystery surrounding the book revealed a bit of magic on the Cornell University campus.

Spencer "Spoon" Beswick and his notebook that he lost over a year ago | Source: Lucy Calderon
Spencer “Spoon” Beswick and his notebook that he lost over a year ago | Source: Lucy Calderon

Cornell History Ph.D. candidate Spencer Beswick this past October received a shocking Twitter direct message from a Cornell librarian who shared a Twitter thread with him and asked if he was “Spoon.”

“My first thought was ‘Oh shit, what did I do because only my housemates know me as Spoon, am I in trouble?’” Beswick said.

Instead, the thread revealed a search to find the owner of a mysterious notebook circulating around Cornell’s campus for over a year, in and out of the hands of strangers.

As he read through the thread, Beswick realized that the person they were looking for was him — and it stirred his emotions.

“Reading through it, I teared up right away,” Beswick said. “I was kind of having a bad day at the time, and to just feel this sense of connection with a bunch of strangers online, who, you know, we’re all interested in this mystery, and could all take a little break from our bad days.”

A small decomposition notebook that Beswick lost around August 2021 organically became a Cornell diary. And when people stumbled upon the notebook, they wrote a message in it and then left it for others to find.

The found notebook first connected dozens, and ultimately hundreds, of strangers.

Rescue mission


Software developer Krzysztof Hochlewicz and his girlfriend Cheryl Qian were near the A.D. White House on the Cornell campus when they noticed a plastic bag containing a notebook and a pen.

“SPOON” was written on the waterlogged notebook. There was no contact information. The book contained notes but then the pages transformed into diary entries clearly made by different people.

“A couple of the entries are pretty depressing with people writing how they are tired of life and are using the notebook as a means to express their frustration,” Hochlewicz said.

“But I think even in that sense it still served a really valuable purpose,” he added, “because it was an outlet for something that maybe someone felt they couldn’t tell their friends, so I think it’s a really interesting glimpse into the daily lives and minds from just 30 random people who found this on campus.”

That evening, with the help of some paper towels and a hairdryer on maximum heat, Hochlewicz spent three hours drying out the fragile notebook page by page.

Hochlewicz and Qian combed through the notebook in search of unique and identifying life details that could help them find Spoon. After searching Google, Qian found someone she thought might be Spoon – Marshall Project reporter Keri Blakinger.

A graphic of the details Hochlewicz and Qian came up with to identify Spoon | Source: Lucy Calderon
A graphic of the details Hochlewicz and Qian came up with to identify Spoon | Source: Lucy Calderon

Search party

When Blakinger, received an email with the subject line “Are you ‘Spoon’? Found something in Ithaca that might be yours,” she wanted to help.

She isn’t Spoon, but Blakinger was intrigued. She wrote a book, “Corrections in Ink,” which made her a candidate for the notebook’s owner. She spent time in Ithaca working on the memoir.

She tweeted to her followers and the response was immediate. Within an hour of posting, Beswick was found.

Former Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick even retweeted the thread.

The Twitter thread had multiple comments from people trying to solve the mystery, and some simply said that the thread made their day or that they wanted to start a Spoon notebook on their campus.

What transpired moved Beswick.

“To just have something that could purely be good and joyful,” he said, “I felt connected with all these people on Twitter.”

A graphic comparing Spoon details to Blakinger | Source: Lucy Calderon
A graphic comparing Spoon details to Blakinger | Source: Lucy Calderon

Preserving the magic

For those few days, Hochlewicz was invested in the mystery and what to do with the notebook.

“Before I knew who Spoon was, I already thought that this was something really cool,” Hochlewicz said.

“A lot of the entries are really inspiring, or people saying like they had an awful day and finding this notebook and seeing what everyone else wrote in it brought a smile to their face,” he added.

Hochlewicz said he was heartened that this little notebook was making its collective authors consider disconnecting from technology — or posting it to Instagram — until they read through it and decided to simply to leave their own entries.

“I didn’t want to break that tradition,”  Hochlewicz said.

He decided to digitize it, share it on Reddit and then write his own entry and send the book out to circulate on campus once more.

Hochlewicz digitizing the notebook | Source: Krzysztof Hochlewicz
Hochlewicz digitizing the notebook | Source: Krzysztof Hochlewicz

Beswick loved this idea and reassured Hochlewicz when they met in person that he did the right thing.

There’s a worry that the magic will be lost, but I think that we need examples of magic,” Beswick said. “We need this kind of window into a new world, a window into new possibilities that can inspire people, even if that is simply leaving a journal on a campus.

Something beautiful

A little notebook containing Beswick’s personal thoughts transformed into a community of thoughts. A support system for strangers.

Beswick said if he could lose the notebook again, he would. The difficulties people are having due to politics and the pandemic have distanced people from one another, and he feels this notebook has been an antidote to that.

“Something like this becomes a way to connect in the real world with real people. ”

The digitized Spoon notebook can be found on Reddit and contains a downloadable pdf of the current entries.

If you ever find yourself on Cornell’s campus, you might just stumble upon a decomposition notebook and pen in a Ziploc bag.

“It’s the community possession now,” Beswick said. “I don’t own this; other people don’t own it. It’s something that is a collective creation.”

“Yeah, there’s something beautiful to that,” he added.

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