Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Notebook Fetish

Yesterday, I attended at workshop at the college where I teach. I took along a new notebook and labeled it appropriately for the topic at hand. It’s a bright red, spiral-bound notebook. On the front I neatly wrote the topic with a black Sharpie, and in the upper, right-hand corner I affixed a return-address label, in case the notebook gets misplaced. The woman sitting next to me in the workshop smiled and introduced herself, then added: “New notebook, I see! Here’s mine.” She had a similar one in aqua blue.

Notebooks. I can’t own enough of them; I can’t pass up a sale on them. The back-to-school sales have begun in local stores, and I’m in heaven…because…well…I LOVE office stuff!!—paper clips, rubberbands, all types of pens and pencils, folders and files and those wire gadgets for holding them, labels and adhesive dividers (because I simply must categorize everything!), 3x5 cards, 5x8 cards, desk calendars, notepads, file crates and file cabinets, scissors, glue sticks, rulers, markers, highlighters…

You get the idea.

I do feel sorry for the kids, though, having all this school stuff thrown at them in mid-July when summer vacation isn’t even half over. Here in Washington, school vacation has barely begun! But I’m glad to browse the back-to-school sales and stock up on things I probably don’t need. Notebooks are 19-cents at one of the stores in town. I’ll buy a dozen or more.

I like spiral-bound notebooks with colorful covers. There’s an entire drawer full of them in my main desk, and lots of smaller types in the other office desk. The closet outside my office has a stack of notebooks. Then there are the various small notebooks and notepads and sticky-note thingies for keeping track of everything. The filled and partially-filled notebooks are saved…in files of related topics, in boxes, on shelves as if they are books. Sometimes I splurge and buy fancy notebooks with pretty scenes on the covers. I have many with lighthouse scenes and cats and flowers and dragonflies.

I’m wondering if anyone else out there has a notebook fetish. All writers probably have this harmless addiction; some have it worse than others. We dedicated scriveners like our “stuff,” and it’s usually made of paper. I have trouble throwing away anything with writing on it. So the notebooks collect and gather into piles, and fill boxes and drawers and filing cabinets; they sit in stacks on desks and in crates and on chairs. Ultimately, I turn to the keyboard to finish projects. But all writing starts with notebooks, even this one. (I have a notepad in my handbag I scribbled with these thoughts while waiting at the pharmacy last week.)  I could transcribe my notes into files on my computer, and sometimes I do; but, I’m mostly old-fashioned about the process. Pity the trees! I can’t give up paper and notebooks.
I’ve decided that my notebooks are extensions of my brain. I have dozens and dozens of them at any one time, and I get really excited when I can start a new one...like I did yesterday at the workshop. I collect notes like some people collect stamps or postcards or recipes. Those items get mounted in albums. I mount my notes in notebooks.

I have active notebooks, notebooks in limbo (who knows when the topics might come to life?), and retired notebooks. Every few weeks, I dig out a few notebooks and look through them…commune with the ideas and information they contain. I simply cannot throw away any notes and ideas.

What kinds of notebooks do you have? I'd hate to think anyone lives that celebrated uncluttered life, minus a notebook or two.

Here are a few of my notebooks. See if you have any of the same—

Ideas: There’s a little idea notebook in my handbag, for when I’m out and about and that Eureka moment hits or I stumble upon an important bit of info. I began this blog entry in my little handbag idea notebook. There's a small one tucked in the drawer of the nightstand by my side of the bed. I have a bigger idea notebook on my desk, and one by the sofa where I sit in the evenings. They are more formalized and more detailed. With regularity, I transfer the ideas in these notebooks to topical files and my Facebook/Blog/article idea notebook.

Assignments: I usually generate my own writing assignments, but sometimes editors send them to me. Either way, I start a notebook immediately. One part, usually the back, is jumbled thoughts and plans, very scribbled. The front is organized and outlined—a framework for the article or book or video or talk. Right now I have a notebook on Pennsylvania. It’s my workbook for a new eBook that should debut in August: The Itty-Bitty-Kitty Guide to the Lighthouses of Pennsylvania. Notebooks for the other two eBooks in this series are already retired. And in my large filing cabinets are the notebooks for my other books. I save these huge files and show them to my students, usually when they start grousing about having to write a two-page response to something I assigned them to read.

Daily Activities: I use a desk calendar as an at-a-glance scheduler, but I use a notebook to plan, track, and reflect on my work. Work needs initiation, action, and closure. The “DA,” as I call this notebook, is a running list of things I need to do each day, everything from emails I need to answer and write to organizational tasks (filing pictures is a huge one!) to actual hours of writing. Do I write a blog today? What will go on my author Facebook Page? How much time will I devote to my current book project? Is there an article I want to work on? Do I need to go to campus today to teach or attend a meeting and what needs to be done for that? I spend time each night reviewing the day’s activities in my DA notebook and making a list of tasks I want to do the next day. I prioritize the tasks and check off each one as I complete it, or jot down a note about what's left to be done. Every few days, I look back to see what I’ve accomplished. This notebook keeps me organized, on task, and motivated. I suppose I could use the planner on my phone or my computer, but I like a notebook. It feels more in the moment, and a page is more friendly to the touch than a screen.

Inventory: This is a multi-use notebook where I keep lists of things. I like lists as much as the notebooks that hold them. Some of my lists are trivial, as in a list of all the countries I’ve visited, a list of all the pets I’ve ever had, a list of books I’ve read, a list of lighthouses I’ve visited. Others lists are critical: all the things in the house that need re-setting after a power failure; dates bills are due; phone #s of credit card companies and billers; people to call if there’s an emergency; family and friend birthdays. I like to send birthday cards and birthday wishes.

Health Journal: I learned to keep this many years ago. It keeps me honest about what goes in my stomach and how many calories I consume, how many steps are on my pedometer, my weight, what my blood pressure is throughout the month, what meds and supplements I take, and so on. Years ago, I suffered from migraines and my doctor asked me to document them: how often, how severe, vision symptoms, etc. He emphasized patterns. They’re important, I know. Patterns tell a lot about anything and everything. I have to admit I don’t enjoy this notebook much…would rather skip writing in it.

Essentials: Maybe you have one of these. I call mine the "Little Black Book," because I'm a slave to it and I love it too. It keeps me in order! I’m forgetful, but I also think my life has become really complicated in recent years. There’s a lot of stuff to remember and keep track of…I can’t remember all the logins, user names, passwords, etc. in my life. I haven’t memorized account numbers. I can’t recall which bills go to which credit cards. I need pages of protocols for how to do things on my computer. I need step-by-step directions for how to get into Netflix, how to use features on my cell phone, how to send a package UPS third party, how to hook up my little RV to power; how to program the sprinkler system, how to start the generator if the power goes out, which gas cans in the shop go to which machines. This is my secret notebook. Don’t ask me where I keep it!

Minutia: Here’s where all the stuff goes that doesn’t seem to have a home yet. If I see or hear or read something that I think is special or inspiring or funny, I put it here. Often, a tidbit gets transferred off a sticky note or from my little handbag idea notebook, even a paper napkin or a receipt on which I’ve scribbled notes. For example, two nights ago there was a gorgeous sunset to the west of my house over the mountains, a bank of cantaloupe-colored clouds with gold fringes. Orange clouds comingled with lavender and purple ones. I could, in places, see curtains of rain pouring out of the clouds over the mountains. There were distant flashes and rumbles. I watched for about twenty minutes, until the colors faded and the mountains turned purple. (The glory of a sunset is too fleeting!) When I crawled in bed I was thinking about that tableau and how differentiated it was—some spots blazing with rays behind the mountains’ profile, some a mix of sun and clouds and virga, and other places dark, wet, ominous and noisy. I Googled “sunset” and found this quote: “There is nothing more musical than a sunset.” Claude Debussey thought. I scribbled it into my Minutia Notebook, because I like it. Sunset Symphony in three movements. I also looked up the lyrics to Judy Collins' song "Clouds." Who knows if these words will ever be used in any project. At the very least, they exercised my imagination.

And, then, there are all my topical notebooks, with research notes and clippings taped in them, sketches, lists of books and articles and websites and other sources, photos affixed… On my desk at this moment are topical notebooks on Pennsylvania, Europa Point Lighthouse, and redwood trees.

I can’t seem to have enough notebooks. A notebook hoarder, I am! When I’m gone, there’ll be so many of them to be cleaned out of my office. No one will want them, as they‘re hard to decipher. I scribble in invented shorthand. Many writers do that. These notebooks of mine will make a great bonfire, I suppose. But...possibly...perhaps...they are a record of sorts, of me. Documenting life isn’t all that bad. I don't think this is abnormal...


It appears I'm in good company!

I’ll wrap up this confession now. Those 19-cent notebooks are calling, and I suspect all the writers in my neck of Washington have already descended on the sale and grabbed up some of the best ones!

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