4 Years of Field Notes

If you have seen me in the last four years, then you know that I am rarely without a Field Notes notebook in my back pocket. I can no longer recall exactly how I discovered these wonderful notebooks, but they have changed my life. A few days ago, I turned to the first Field Notes notebook I ever used, and saw that I started it on June 24, 2015–just about four years ago. In that time, I have become a subscriber to their quarterly notebook list, collected probably around 100 of their notebooks, and filled nineteen of them. These volumes sit on a shelf by my desk where I keep all of my important reference volumes.

My Field Notes volumes

One volume (not among the nineteen) I used as a simple index of the others. Looking at that one, you can see that it took me a while to fill those volumes at first. I filled five of them in 2016, five in 2017, and five in 2018. I’ve filled three so far in the first half of 2019, but that number is going up more rapidly these days as the way that I used these notebook has evolved.

My Field Notes index

When I started, these notebooks served as a kind of short term memory for me. I’d jot down things so that I wouldn’t forget them later. Flipping through the first volume, for instance, I see ideas for blog posts, scribbles from visits to the dentist, and bumper stickers I found amusing (“Condoms prevent unwanted minivans.”) There are some things that I no longer know what they are for. Numbers like 27.975. I think it was for some code I was writing because there’s a reference to a GitHub repo. There’s a surprising amount of math worked out longhand in the pages.

In those early volumes, I rarely dated anything, other than the date I started and finished the volume. It wasn’t until volume 7 (12/20/2016 – 3/18/2017) that I regularly started dating the pages. By then, I’d become more accustomed to pulling out my notebook without feeling embarrassed. Not only are there restaurant names, there are server names (so that I don’t forget). I even occasionally write down what I plan to order.

There are lists of all kinds, including lists of books that I plan to read so that I don’t forget. I don’t always get to the books right away, but I do eventually. Some pages have notes from meetings (before I started using Composition Books for that purpose), more math being worked out, and fairly detailed notes from historic sites we visit. (I am the one on the guided tours, scribbling in my notebook as we move through the 300 year old house.)

The two most recent notebooks have taken yet another step forward in their evolutionary development. I filled these much faster–within about a month, or a rate of 12 notebooks a year. With these, I start each day scribbling the date on the next blank page. Then, my day gets logged as it happens, and the various random lists, math, memory aids is right there among it all. A typical day now fills 2 pages. This has been a great aid for helping me with more detailed journal entries at the end of the day. Since I have been logging what I eat again, that finds its way into the mix. Here’s what today’s entry looks like, so far:

A page from 6/16/2019

I always have a Field Notes notebook in my pocket, along with two pens, one black, and one blue. On rare occasions when I have set it aside, I feel the way I do when I’ve left my wallet at home. I love the variety of the notebooks, and the themes that the folks at Field Notes come up with. Right now, I’m carrying around one of their Mile Marker editions.

Friends and family have grown used to me pulling out these notebooks to jot things down. They only make fun of me a little. But when they want to know something about what happened a few days earlier, I occasionally here them turn to Kelly and say, “Ask Jamie, he’ll know. He probably wrote it in his notebook.”

And I probably did.

2 thoughts on “4 Years of Field Notes

  1. I like your idea of using it also as a day journal. That makes a great record for family to look back on some day. I started using a pocket notebook (Moleskine for me) earlier this year due to some stress in my thumbs from writing on my phone. It’s been really nice, and I feel less conscience pulling it out in a meeting to take notes, since there’s only one thing I can be doing.

  2. I always carry a small notebook too. Sometimes I don’t use it for a week, sometimes multiple times a day – but it’s always there, and I enjoy looking through them.

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