New (old) notebook day

I have just reached the last page of my previous notebook so rather than crack open a brand spanking new one I’m returning to one that I started using about a year ago but for some reason abandoned in my locker at work. This is a Moleskine ‘cahier’ lined pocket notebook, they are readily available and this format is an ideal pocket size.

I waver between using lined, unlined and dot grid notebooks. Unlined obviously offers the most flexibility, but I typically write short notes rather than drawing stuff and my writing is small enough to comfortably fit within most lines and grid layouts. In the end my main reason for choosing a particular layout is often just wanting a change from whatever I was previously using.

Another factor which can be important to me is the type of paper in a notebook. If I’m in the mood to be using a fountain pen I opt for Clairefontaine notebooks which are also great value for money. Pencil works well on most paper (but not well on the Clairefontaine coated paper!), with the Story Supply Co. paper being particularly good. Moleskine has mediocre quality paper, it is awful for fountain pens, OK for pencil and OK for ballpoint and gel pens.

Because of the middling quality of the Moleskine paper, and mainly because I haven’t been using it much lately, I’m pairing up this notebook with my favourite ballpoint pen. This is a Lamy 2000 multi pen, actually the most expensive pen I own but excellent for carrying around in my pocket. I’ve replaced the Lamy D1 refills with Zebra JSB 0.5 refills in royal blue, black, carmine red and emerald green. The ink in these flows immediately and is nice and smooth to write with. They are not very economical refills because of their small size but for the way I use the pen it is an ideal set up – four colour options, no skipping or false starts and no problems with accidental leaks in my jeans pocket.

 

Another idiosyncrasy of my notebook is that I taped a ‘pencil board’ (shitajiki) inside the front cover to stiffen it a little. This particular one was designed for a larger notebook so has been trimmed a little to fit. It does make writing notes while on the move a bit easier, I forgot I had done this so am glad to have found this notebook again.

Disadvantages of always carrying a notebook

For at least the last five years I have carried a small notebook in my back pocket, a habit I highly recommend. I very seldom use my iPhone to capture short notes, anything I want to remember goes into my notebook.

However, I’ve discovered a few downsides to always having that notebook in my back pocket:

notebook pocket

I always keep my notebook in the same pocket, with the result that over time it has worn a hole in that pocket of my jeans. I would have thought my phone would have worn a hole, but I must carry the notebook around more than the phone.

This last weekend I was working in our back yard and got a bit wet at one point, with resulting damage to my previously pristine notebook:

sad-notebook

It dried out OK so I’m continuing to use it. And the advantage of having used pencil in this notebook is that there were no issues with ink running.

Perhaps I will find more downsides to pocket notebooks as the years go by, but compared to the headaches I’ve had with smartphones over the same time span, old fashioned paper and pencil is remarkably robust.

My current notebook

This is a bit of a geeky post. I thought I would start keeping tabs on the notebooks and writing sticks I use. I already have reasonably strong preferences in what I like to write on and with, but over time it could be interesting to see what I actually use most as opposed to what I think I like to use. My guess is that non-aesthetic factors such as price and availability could play a bigger role than I presently account for.

The notebook currently in my back pocket is from Story Supply Co. It is one from a pack of three that I ordered from the US in 2016 when I was placing an order for a few other items. I’ve already used one of them and found it a good notebook with nice paper for pencil (hence the pencil in the photo).

story-supply-notebook
Pocket Staple Notebook by Story Supply Co.

The pencil I’m using is a General’s Cedar Pointe HB (or #2 for Americans). It actually seems a bit soft for an HB but is an OK pencil. I like the natural wood finish and the eraser on the end is handy when carrying it around in my pocket. Because the point wears down reasonably quickly (and I prefer a sharp point), I often also have a small brass bullet sharpener in my pocket too. The plastic pencil cap is by Tombow and keeps the lead point from snapping off while doubling as a pencil extender by sticking it on the eraser end when I’m using the pencil. Another centimetre or so and I will retire this pencil to use in my bullet pencil.

ssc-pencil

Note: These notebook posts won’t be particularly frequent as I take a while to get through each notebook (from 3 months to almost a year in some cases).

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A gentle tree

My well of inspiration for post topics has run dry today so I am going to emulate a friend and write about trees.

My favourite tree is the Kowhai, especially the sub species with very fine leaves (Sophora microphylla). To me the kowhai is a gentle tree, welcoming spring with a spectacular burst of bright yellow flowers for the tuis and bellbirds to feast upon. Then once clothed in its summer leaves woodpigeons love to munch upon the new leaf shoots, teetering their bulk on fine branches.

At each of the two houses we have owned I planted kowhai trees. The best seedlings came from an old chap in Owaka who raised seedlings from his son’s farm in the Catlins and sold them for a song. These were hardy plants, well suited to a coastal climate but slow growing. I also managed to grow some from seeds, first soaking the seeds for a week in water to get the hard outer shell of crack open.

The seeds of kowhai are actually poisonous, containing a compound which mimics the effect of nicotine and in amounts sufficient to make a person quite ill. However, the seed coat is so tough that it resists degradation in the human digestive system so fortunately actual poisonings are quite rare as only the green seeds are soft enough for a person to chew and release the toxin. It seems a little incongruous that a tree I view as being ‘gentle’ would have poisonous seeds, but perhaps it is just as well for it to have some defence against opossums.

Another interesting thing about kowhai trees is that they are legumes. They have nodules on their roots containing bacteria which can fix nitrogen from the soil, making it available for the tree to use. This enables kowhai trees to grow in low quality soils such as sandy, gravelly areas with less organic material in the soil.

I’m not sure exactly why I consider kowhai trees to be gentle, it may be due to the softness of the leaves and it’s wiry delicate shape when young. But to me even mature old kowhai trees have a gentle dignity about them. They are not one of the mighty giants of the New Zealand forest, but they provide food for some of my favourite birds and have some of the most spectacular flowers of all our trees. There is a kowhai beside the bus shelter where I catch my morning bus to work and in the spring it leaves a carpet of fallen yellow flowers, making a great contrast of yellow softness against the black harshness of the asphalt footpath.

A hot day but a storm is coming

Today reached a high of 34°C in Dunedin and even now at 10:30pm it is still 26°. But that’s due to change in about an hour when a deep low left over from tropical cyclone Fehi hits with lots of rain and a southerly change. We are not likely to see much of it, but there is also a lunar eclipse tonight.

Distracting gifs

Prompted by this annoying little gem

I know that many people love to use animated gifs in blog posts and web articles, but I find them extremely distracting. The ones that bother me are those which keep looping endlessly while I’m attempting to read a web page. The movement grabs my attention away from what I’m trying to read and frankly the image cheapens what is otherwise a good article. Just my opinion, and I do have ways around it.

The flow of our habits

The flow of water carves rock, a little bit at a time. And our personhood is carved, too, by the flow of our habits.

This quote comes from an essay by Jonathan Safran Foer in the New York Times titled: How Not to Be Alone (published 8 June 2013). The essay is about technology eroding human connection, but this one sentence is what I want to focus on.

The nature of habits is that they are shortcuts around the hard work of thinking consciously about every little thing we do, how we act, the expressions we use, how we speak, even how we think (see Unhelpful Thinking Styles). In many ways we are, to other people at least, the sum of our habits.

Initially, to form a habit we shape our behaviour, consciously choosing certain actions and thoughts over others. With sufficient repetition a habit forms, a preference is established of resorting to the habit rather than the hard work of something that is new or different to us. Each habit we have causes slight changes to our brain, reinforcing the neurological pathways which cause the habit to occur and reducing the threshold to trigger the habit so it runs efficiently given the appropriate circumstances.

The sum of hundreds of habits we all perform every single day wears a groove in the matrix of society. Multiply this by hundreds of thousands of people each running in their habitual groove and social norms arise, trends occur such as the generally bad attitudes of Dunedin drivers, the laid-back nature of most Polynesians, the brashness of Americans.

Because our habits wear a groove through our lives, they are very difficult to change. Obstructions can be ground down by the persistence of following a habitual track which requires less energy than altering course. This is most obvious in older people who have deeply ingrained habits that they are not even aware of. But it is not impossible to change habits, it does take great persistence and determination to make any changes stick

My typical approach is to go through each day without giving much thought to my habits. But if I consider the effect my habits could be having on the person I will be in ten years time, I need to decide what aspects of me now I want to nurture and what needs to be deleted. Then I need to look at which habits cause the attribute I don’t like and how I could change my habits to support better attributes. (There is a good bit of unfinished thinking here!)

I don’t want to know the future


The notebook I’m currently using for writing has some notes in the back of it written in mid-2008 when I was trying to find a way forward from being in a state of burnout. Looking back on the almost ten years since then I’ve come a long way, yet am now glad I could not see much of the path ahead at the time.

In June 2008 I applied for a job as a technical writer for a software company but was unsure if I would get the job so tried to plan how to cope with the next six months in the job I already had. As it turned out I did get the new job, which was a real blessing and gave a reprieve from the stress I had previously been carrying. What I didn’t see but is now obvious to me reading what I wrote back then, is the warning signs of depression.

The change in work enabled me to recover somewhat but two years later the black dog returned and this time there was no denying it. At least his forced me to seek help, beginning a long journey of trying to find a medication combination that worked for me. By this time I’d moved on to what in many ways was a dream job for me, but it came with the downside of a 24/7 roster. In time the shift work messed with my body clock enough to make the next cycle of depression much worse than any before, necessitating a week’s stay in a psychiatric hospital. Recovery that time was long and painful, at least a year before I could consider myself ‘normal’ and not a joyful normal at that.

This is why I’m glad I could not see the future for me in 2008. If I could have seen what was ahead I probably would have given up or run away and hidden from the world. But if I had known what was to come, could I have taken steps to avoid it?

On this I’m not sure. Certainly I’ve learned signs to watch for  so now seek help sooner than I did in the past. I also know some of the circumstances and situations that can precipitate depression so take steps to avoid or reduce the effects of those situations. However, life always carries a certain amount of stress and my depression has a definite cyclic pattern so I doubt that I could have completely avoided it.

The approach I now take is to have fences to keep the black dog out, a stick handy to push if back if it gets too close, and I try to live as fully as I can when it is not around. Yet I still hear it barking in the distance.

Current notebook

This is the notebook I have been carrying around for most of this year. It is by Clairefontaine, made in France. With high quality paper for fountain pen use it has been a really good notebook to use, the paper is smooth and takes ink well without smudging. Initially I was worried that it might take too long for ink to dry for quick notes, but I find that by the time I’ve written something and capped my pen the ink is dry so have had no issues. There are 48 sheets of paper in this book (i.e., 96 pages) so it lasts a long time – hence the beaten up appearance of this notebook. I bought this notebook from the University Bookshop in Dunedin for less than $5.

clairefontaine-preppy

The pen is a Platinum Preppy extra fine nib. For a cheap plastic fountain pen I think these are fantastic value and really nice to write with. You can buy these in NZ for just under $10 which makes them excellent for carrying around because even if it were to get dropped and broken or lost the loss is not catastrophic. I’ve had this particular pen for two years now and often carry it around in my pocket. There have been no leaks, it always starts well without skipping, and writes nicely. I’m cheap and refill the empty cartridges from a bottle of ink, so it’s economical writing.


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On bullshit

I just wasted about 15 minutes reading an essay by Harry Frankfurt on Bullshit. Why? I followed a link from Venkatesh Rao’s ‘Reading Now’ page out of curiosity. I have included a link to a PDF of the essay below, if you really want to read it I recommend looking at the last two pages first as they sum up what to me seems a tenuous argument.

Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. (One sentence I found worth quoting from On Bullshit)

What is more interesting is the page on the Faversham Stoa philosophy discussion group’s site about the topic of bullshit. From there I followed a link to an article in Slate magazine at the bottom of which was a few paragraphs about how much bullshit was emanating from the Bush administration.

The Bush administration is clearly more bullshit-heavy than its predecessors.

In the shadow of Trump that comment seems quaint.