New Office, New Theme

After trying out one of the newer themes here on the blog for a couple of months, I decided that I liked what I had before better. Today, I’ve reverted it back to the original theme, with a few tweaks for added clarity.

I figured that since I have a new office, the time was right for a new (old) theme. I may continue to tweak things over the next couple of days. But I don’t think the overall theme will change much again for a while.

My New Office

We moved into our new house on Tuesday and one of the first things I did was get as much of my new office setup as possible. I had to be able to work on Wednesday, and I needed my office to do that.

Our new neighbors mentioned that they were impressed with how quickly the books filled my bookshelves. I neglected to mention that, at this point, I put the books on the shelves in the order they came out of the boxes. It would be difficult for me to find a particular volume.

But the office is shaping up, with half of it—the working half—more or less functional, if not a bit messy.

The working part of my office
The “working” part of my office.

The other half of the office is another matter. I still have eighteen boxes of books to unpack, with no place to put the books as of yet. At some point, I’ll get some more bookshelves, but it will be a close call as to whether all the books will actually fit in this room. All of the pictures that hang on the walls throughout the house are also being temporarily housed in the other half of my office. It will be a while for that side to be cleared up.

The other, cluttered part of my office.
The other, cluttered part of my office.

With the new house, comes a new network, and this one is fiber, and I can tell the difference. We had good download speeds at our old house, but nothing like what we have here. We also have good coverage throughout the house, but even so, the two laptops in my office are connected via ethernet when I am in here to give me the fastest possible speeds.

Sitting at my desk, I am surrounded on three sides, which is something I’ve wanted for a long time. Now I have enough surface area for my laptops and notebooks. Nothing matches at this point, but over time I plan to replace my current desk with stuff that matches throughout the office. It is low priority. I need to be functional, and what I have rigged up in here is good enough for now.

My 3-sided desk area.
3-sided desk area

There’s so much to do I don’t even know where to begin:

  1. I need to organize the stuff on my desk to be functional. I want things that I need at arm’s reach.
  2. Organize what I have in the drawers. They are a mess right now. I purged a bunch of stuff last night, but I can do better.
  3. Hide all of the cables. I rushed to get operational, but I really want to hide as much of the cabling as I can manage.
  4. Add French doors to the entrance. It opens into the living room right now, and that has already proved tricky when I am on calls.
  5. Put all my books back into order. I may wait until the rest of the family heads to the beach for a few days later this summer to tackle that project.

All of that aside, I love this office. I love the light I get from all around. I love being able to look into the park that our house backs up to. It is a great place to work. I am hoping it will be an equally great place to write, to think, and to read.

Five Phases of Home Buying

There are five phases to the home-buying process. Having just completed this process I thought I’d share these phases with you. Had I known about these phases in advance, I would have been better prepared for the experience. But in the end it would have made no difference.

Phase 1: Excited!

Anything new has an element of excitement to it. You’ve been living in the same place for ten years, and now you’re going to move to something new. All kinds of good things will come from this move. This is a promise you make to yourself. You’ll quit smoking, start going to gym again, cook instead of eating out. Everything will change with your new house.

Your real estate agent will help generate excitement in this phase. In the “excited” phase, everything is theoretical, so looking at those million-dollar houses will seem practical. You’ll worry about how to pay for it later.

Phase 2: Disillusioned

It turns out that buying a house is not like buying milk at the grocery store, and this is mildly upsetting. You find the perfect house. You can see yourself living in that house. You are mentally arranging the furniture to support your new, healthy lifestyle. You put in the offer.

The offer loses out to 17 other offers, and you learn that yours was the lowest of the batch. No one can actually tell you what the other offers are, for reasons that boggle the imagination, but you ultimately learn that the winning bid was all cash, and no contingencies whatsoever. This is what you are up against.

Now it is difficult to drum up enthusiasm for any house. Why fall in love with a house if you’re certain you’re going to lose it? All of the initial excitement is gone. You wish you hadn’t sold your old house because now you are trapping. You put an offer on two more houses. On the second one, the agents look at your offer and snicker.

Phase 3: Hopeful

Your agent finds a house that is close enough to what you wanted (although still miles from the map of perfection you’ve made in your head). You are desperate, and the house is good enough, so you put in an offer—and it is accepted! Now you are hopeful. All that’s left is the paperwork, and in 45 days, the new house is yours.

Phase 4: Frantic

The lender suddenly needs all kinds of documentation. You have the highest possible credit score, no debt, and some savings, never missed a payment in your life. You provide the papers.

This is followed my more requests for information. Time is ticking. Now it’s a month to closing. Now a week. Just one more clarification need on this PayPal statement. Now two days. Are you going to make it? It’s like a footrace and you are frantic, running flat out just hoping you’ll cross the finish line in time!

Phase 5: Relief

The day before closing you get an email that everything is set. You slide out of the chair and curl up on the carpet. You’ve had at least seven dreams that something has gone wrong. All that’s left is to sign some papers and the new house is yours. Moving will be a breeze compared to this.

The irony is that now that I know what to expect from the process, I’ll never have to go through it again. The information is useless. Nothing will pry me out of this new house. Nothing. Winning ten million dollars in the lottery couldn’t get me to put myself though these roller coaster phases ever again.

If buying groceries was as harrowing as buying a new house, we’d all starve.

The Jamie Todd Rubin Papers

In our increasingly digital age, it is remarkable what still survives. Reading Working by Robert A. Caro a few weeks back, I was impressed by the sheer volume of the Lyndon B. Johnson papers Caro referred to. Of course, Presidents produce lots of paper. Then, too, I’ve read about Isaac Asimov papers collected at Boston University. John and John Quincy Adams papers are collected. And I recently came across a reference to Andy Rooney’s papers collected at a university in Texas.

All of these papers made me wonder about my own papers. So much is digital these days that it gives “papers” a new meaning. I have most of the emails I have ever written or received. I have been working to build a chronological collection of all of the fiction writing I have done since I started to write for publication way back in December 1992. But I lived a good portion of my life before digital. What about all those papers?

Taking boxes down from the attic over the weekend, I came across three Sterilte containers of paper. Back when my parents moved houses a few years ago, my mother sent me boxes of papers. I looked through these papers over the weekend and can officially say that these make a good portion of what I optimistically imagine will one day be the Jamie Todd Rubin Papers.

My mom saved everything. There are papers in there from the day I was born, notes with a doctor’s wretchedly scrawled instructions for how to care for a newborn. I found notes that told me that I took my first solo steps on November 23, 1973 (Thanksgiving Day). There were papers with schoolwork from preschool right up through college. There were drawings I made, and stories I wrote on those old gray newsprint sheets with the dashed lines that helped you form your letters. There were report cards, and test scores.

And then there were the letters I wrote. The earliest of these that I found in my cursory searching over the weekend dates back to the early 1980s. Most of the letters were written to my grandparents, and they are long. Six pages of single-spaced type was not uncommon. I tried to read one and had to stop for fear of dying of extreme embarrassment.

At some point, I will scan in these papers, purely out of habit. I’m not really sure that scanning is necessary, though. After all, the papers have survived this long, and I have trouble locating computer documents from a few years ago. With our kids’ papers, we tend to scan them in and get rid of the originals. I never felt bad about this until I rediscovered the boxes of papers in the attic. Just what are these papers used for, anyway? How often have I needed to refer to a letter I wrote to my grandparents in 1993? How many times have I suddenly needed my 9th grade report card? The truth is that these papers, like photographs, are fun to rummage through from time-to-time. They provide a delightful insight into my youth. Most notable, these papers provide a humbling reminder to myself that I was not nearly as clever a child as I like to think I was.

Digital Pack Rat

I wish clearing up my digital photos was as easy as clearing out the house for moving. There are a lot of things I am unsentimental about. I get rid of old clothes without a second glance. Marie Kondo would be proud. I look at something that’s been stored away for ages and dump it. If I haven’t needed it for the last six years, I’m not going to need it now. Digital photos are different. There are 23,465 digital photos in my photo library as I write this. I don’t think I’ve deleted one.

My logic is always the same: it costs nothing to keep the photo. It doesn’t occupy physical space the way 23,465 Polaroids would. So why get rid of them? They provide an unedited collage of my life for the last twenty years or so.

The problem is that I am not organized about my photos the way I am in other parts of my life. I’ve made reluctant attempts at organization now and then, but my heart was never in it. I’ve had all kinds of great ideas for photo taxonomies that would allow me to put my finger on a photo within seconds. These ideas never pan out. I just don’t have the interest. And yet the photos accrue.

Look at all of these screenshots I’ve captured! I don’t even get rid of these. I think, for some reason, that I’ll need a particular screenshot at some point in the future. This is preposterous, but the screenshots are still part of my photo library.

I must have dozens of pictures of a barn in Maine. The barn doesn’t change much. But I have my phone, so I take the picture, even though I know I already have plenty.

That barn in Maine
That barn in Maine.

Digital photography has created a crisis and turned me into a digital packrat. I find myself wishing that we still had to put film in a camera, or that there was some equivalent cost to a digital photo. I think I’d be more careful about what pictures I decided to snap, and what I chose to keep.

I’ve been taking fewer photos these last two months. Many of the photos I had taken previously were taken spontaneously with the thought, “This would make a good post on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram.” But when I gave up social media and found myself pulling out my phone to snap a photo of the two deer munching away at shrubs alongside the bike path, I made a decision. I slipped my phone back into my pocket and decided to stand there and watch the deer. No photos necessary.

The deer that I didn’t photograph When I started thinking about this post, I snapped a photo the next time I saw her. Actually, I snapped three.

The 23,465 photos in my library will only continue to grow and continue to be disorganized. Whenever I get the idea to purge and organize the photos, I break out in a cold sweat. The number alone—23,465 (and counting)—terrifies me. If I managed to look at, and make a decision on, 100 photos a day, it would take me nearly 8 months before I finished. And by then, who knows how many more photos will have appeared.

Thinking about how difficult it is to purge all of those photos make it so much easier to get rid of the physical stuff around the house. The more I can get rid of the, the less I have to move to the new house.

Which reminds me: I need to get over there next week and take pictures of all of the rooms so that I know where everything is going to go.

The Mirror in the Bedroom

We spent several weeks clearing out our house to properly stage it for sale.The house sold on the very first day it was on the market, which was great, but it made me feel that all that decluttering was wasted. Now the house is beginning to take on that pre-move cluttered look, and before long I suspect it will be in complete disarray.

For instance, there was a full length mirror behind the door in one of the kids’ bedrooms. We’d taken it down and stuffed it into a closet. It was gone last weekend when I needed to check my tie in the mirror. It reappeared lasted night, leaning in the space between two closet doors in our bedroom.

That mirror has some kind of magical power. No one in the house can walk by it without stopping in front of it and striking a pose of some kind. I was laying in bed reading last night and was distracted by what seemed like a parade passing by that mirror:

  • Kelly would stop in front of it to see how the new Vineyard Vines apparel she got on sale at Target looked. There wasn’t time to do that at Target because there was a line just to get at the stuff.
  • The Little Miss would stroll past and strike a pose, while lip syncing to some song or other.
  • My youngest would walk right up to the mirror, grip both sides of its frame, and start blowing kisses at her reflection.
  • I stopped in front of it to look at my eyebrows. The barber was supposed to trim them the last time I got a haircut and forgot. So I decided to check to see if there were any strands particularly out of control.

I knew the mirror was going to be a problem. I was certain that I wake going to wake up in the middle of the night, catch reflected movement off the mirror, and think that someone was standing by the closet.

A thunderstorm passed through around midnight, and one clap exploded right overhead loud enough to jolt us out of sleep. Still half asleep, heart pounding a little from the abrupt awakened, I climbed out of bed and padded the short distance to the bathroom. I do this more often in the middle of the night than I used to. My doctor assures me that at my age, it would be a problem if I wasn’t doing as often.

I took about three steps, and caught motion off to my right. I startled, jumped back a little, and saw someone else jump back in surprise. It was that damn mirror!

I turned the mirror around so that it wasn’t reflecting everything that was happening in the room. I thought if no one saw their reflections, they’d stop pausing in front of it. When I came back to the room a few hours later and caught sight of myself, I realized that someone had turned it back around again.

I can’t wait until we are in the new house and the mirror is back behind the door where it belongs.

You Say Tomato, I Say Blah

I can no longer remember what a good tomato tastes like. Every tomato I’ve consumed over the last ten years or so has no discernible flavor. This came to a head on Thursday when I ordered my usual sandwich for lunch. I order the same thing for lunch every day. I do this because I like it, but also because I know exactly how many calories the sandwich has, and because it is one less decision I have to make. On Wednesday, the tomatoes on the sandwich were so tasteless that on Thursday, I ordered the sandwich without tomatoes.

I like tomatoes, and I recall a time when they were sweet and juicy. Now, it seems, all of the flavor has been engineered out of them. I’ve tried organic tomatoes from the grocery store: same result. And I’ve tried “farm fresh” tomatoes from the farmers market. No luck there either. It makes me skeptical about just how farm fresh those farmers market veggies really are.

The strange thing is that things made from tomatoes taste the same as they always have. Spaghetti sauce, ketchup, tomato soup: these haven’t changed. Perhaps there was never much tomato in them to begin with, or perhaps the other ingredients have a stronger taste than the tomatoes. I suspect that some tomatoes are grown specifically for these products, and these tomatoes still have their flavor. Those are the tomatoes that I want.

My dad used to drink tomato juice, and I’ve often wanted to like tomato juice, but it tastes just awful to me. I tried it recently, and it still tastes awful, but even that has more flavor than the bland slices on my sandwich, or in a salad.

Other vegetable still taste good to me. At least, they still have flavor. Tomatoes seem to be the big exception. That’s too bad because I love to make the occasional B.L.T. sandwich, and nothing makes the B.L.T. as much as the perfect tomato slice. That means gone are the good B.L.T.’s

There will be people out there, I’m sure, who will attribute the tomatoes loss of flavor to genetic modification. Tomatoes have been tinkered with to the point where they last forever, and the side-effect of this is the lack of flavor. Perhaps that’s so, but I have a different theory. I think the tomatoes just got fed up with us, and decided the best way they could avoid being eaten would be to lose the one thing that made them edible.

Laugh Out Loud

I am prone to laugh out loud at something that amuses me. I’ve lost count of the times Kelly has said to me, “What’s so funny?” because I am laughing. Not chuckling, you understand, but laughing from the gut. I thought I would make a list of things that make me laugh out loud. These are in no particular order.

  • Reading. I often laugh at something I read. This is especially true if it is something written by Andy Rooney or E. B. White. After calming down, I have this terrible habit of reading aloud what made me laugh to whoever is in earshot. I call this a terrible habit because I would hate anyone who inflicted such misery upon me. This is how I know Kelly has a good heart.
  • Bloopers. I could spend a large chunk of my life doing nothing but watching bloopers from classic television shows on YouTube. Whenever I am feeling a bit down, I’ll watch bloopers, and come away with tears in my eyes. Not from sadness, but from laughter. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve fallen off my chair laughing at bloopers.
  • Pride before the fall. Although I should be ashamed of this, whenever one of my kids does something stupid and then falls down because of it, my first reaction is to laugh. “Don’t run around in there!” I’ll shout, “the floor is still wet.” Off the kids go, running, until the legs go out from under one of them. I am helpless with laugher at this point.

There are things that should make be laugh out loud but only make me chuckle. Here are a few:

  • Most jokes people tell. I think this is because most people are lousy joke-tellers, or are excellent joke-tellers, but tell lousy jokes.
  • Television sit-coms. I will mostly chuckle, with a rare laugh out loud. The bloopers are usually much funnier than the sitcom. I wonder if it has ever occurred to someone to produce a sitcom, but never air it; instead air only the outtakes.
  • Stand-up routines. I chuckle at these as well. Here the jokes are better, but these days, they are cleverer than they are funny. Clever only gets a chuckle.

There is one thing that made me laugh harder than anything I’ve ever laughed at in my life, but that I will never laugh so hard at again: my grandpa’s laugh. His laugh is indescribable, capable writer though I am. I am not even going to try. But when he got going, it was a phenomenon that would reduce me to jelly. I try now and then to recall the sound of that laugh, but as time passes, it fades more and more.

There is only one joke I have ever heard that produced a similar laugh out loud reaction and reduced me to jelly. No, I’m not going to tell you the joke. Why? Because it is an excellent joke, and I am a lousy joke-teller.

New Beginnings

New Year’s resolutions are convenient because they are tied to the calendar. A fresh new calendar means a fresh new beginning, a way of wiping away the past and starting from scratch. I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. I prefer, instead, using my birthday as a time to start something new. After all, in the world of me, my birthday is my New Year.

There is, however, an even better time for putting new resolutions and ideas into practice: moving to a new house.

We are moving to our new house in June. It is the house that, at this point, we plan to be in at least until the kids are all off to college, which means at least another 16 years. It seems like after that we could reasonably downsize. By then, of course, the kids will be coming home for holidays, and bring with them significant others, and eventually, perhaps, kids of their own, so maybe we’ll have this house longer than twenty years. Certainly the bank hopes we will.

I have been looking over my cluttered desk in my office here, and daydreaming how wonderful my new office will be. My current office is a spare bedroom, that’s about 115 square feet. There is a single window looking out back into the tops of some trees. None of my books are here, as they won’t fit. I have this small desk, and it is constantly cluttered. My new office is nearly three times the size of my current office. I like having a lot of sunlight when I work, and my new office has window on three sides. In that respect, it is more like a sun room than an office. All of my books will fit in the new office, although I’ll need to get some half-sized bookshelves to go along one wall.

I think that my new office will solve all of my problems. I’ll write better in my new office. I’ll have a desk that can handle a bigger screen, and they’ll be no need to hide the mechanical keyboard in a tray beneath the desk. I will separate the areas that I work and write. On one side of the office, I’ll have desk where I do my work. On the other side, I’ll have a desk at which I can sit and write. That desk will face toward the backyard, which overlooks the trees and woods of the local park. It’s important to be able to stare out at nothing when I am writing, and the trees make a pleasant nothing to stare at. I imagine that once I am setup in my new office, that bestseller that I’ve been meaning to write will finally take shape. Traffic here on the blog will increase a hundredfold because of the improved quality of my posts thanks to my new office.

Of course, the office is just one part of the new house. There is, for instance, a large space in the utility room that can be used for storage. Instead of tossing all of the junk in there haphazardly, I plan on putting in shelves, and stacking things neatly on the shelves. I plan to keep extras. One shelf will have a supply of every kind of light bulb we need for the house. On another shelf we’ll stock the toilet paper. The tools will be neatly organized, and some of the more frequently used ones will be hung on the wall. I will install bolts that can hold the ladder so that it is no longer stored in the guest room.

Moving into the new house seems like the best time to reorganize the kitchen so that is it more sensible and functional. I am always preparing food far away from the dishes and utensils I need, so when we get into the new place, I’m going to figure out where I will prepare the food and put the dishes and utensils there.

This is a great opportunity to clean out the closets. I give clothes I no longer wear to Kelly when she takes things for donations. We’ve filled the car with these donations, and yet the closet seems as full as ever. This time I’m really going to purge. The closets in the new house will be empty when we arrive, and should appear only half-full once we’ve moved in.

The new house has a big deck in back, just off the kitchen. The deck overlooks the woods to the local park. We generally eat dinner together as a family, and I am going to resolve that we try to eat outside more than we do inside, at least between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Yes, moving to the new house will be a new beginning, and I can already feel my life improved by these big changes I intend to make. I explained all this to Kelly, and she reminded me of a few things:

  • We’ll need to put the table the kids use to do their homework in the office for the time being, so I’ll need to work on just one desk instead of two.
  • Until we get that shed, all of the bikes will need to go in the utility room. That’s better than in the living room where they have been, but it means I’ll need to hold off on the shelves, and thus, the organization of the junk that goes on them.
  • Kelly reminded me that I never know where anything goes in the kitchen, and besides, she prepares dinner more than I do, so she should be the one to organize the kitchen for peak efficiency.
  • The closets in the bedrooms are somewhat smaller than what we have now. I’ll have to use a closet downstairs in the family room for my clothes, no matter how much I manage to get rid of.
  • May thru September is peak mosquito season. Eating dinner out on the deck every night sounds nice in principle. In practice, it may be more irritating than it is worth.

Except for all that, boy I can’t wait to move into the house, and get started on this new beginning!

For Want of a Paperclip

I was helping the Little Miss with her math homework the other day. This second-grader of mine is learning statistics. I don’t recall learning statistics in second grade. The thing I recall most about second grade was learning to churn ice cream. The page she was assigned in her math book had a circle divided into four equal parts. Two were shaded black, one white, and one grey. The instructions said to spin a paperclip in the circle twelve times, and note how many times it pointed to each color. These results would then be used to complete a set of fractions.

A paperclip is a wonderful invention. Even its shape is elegant, rounded as it is on both ends. This led to the first problem. The instructions, presumably written for a second grader to understand, did not explain how we should know which end of the paper clip was pointing to color in question. Both ends look the same.

This would have been a serious showstopper, but we were saved this embarrassment because I could not locate a paperclip to save my life. Where have all of the paperclips gone? I went about the house in frantic search of a paperclip. I spent twice as long trying to locate one than it would have taken to complete the entire assignment.

Usually, I can find a stray paperclip or two in a desk drawer. But my desk no longer has drawers, and hasn’t now for five years. There is almost always a paperclip attached to the back page of the Field Notes notebook I carry in my pocket. Alas, my current notebook has no paperclip. It was lost at some point, and I haven’t replaced it (probably because I haven’t been able to find a paperclip).

I used to keep a paperclip in the car for reasons that now elude me. Out to the car I went, but no paperclip there either. There is often a paperclip or two along the floorboard behind my desk, but since we had the carpets replaced, that carpet is pristine and free of paperclips.

The funny thing about paperclips is that I almost never use them for clipping paper–Field Notes notebook excepted. Often I bend them out of shape and use the pointy end for resetting a device, or scrapping dust bunnies from the charging port on my iPhone.

According to a 2011 piece in The Atlantic, Americans buy 11 billion paperclips a year. That’s close to a hundred billion paperclips in the years since, and not one to be found anywhere. I couldn’t even find a paperclip to photograph for this post! Who’s hoarding all of the paperclips?

The Little Miss eventually reminded me that she needed to get this homework done. To do it, we needed to generate 12 random numbers between 1 and 4. Since I couldn’t locate the paperclip we were instructed to use, I did the next best thing. I ran downstairs to the game shelf. The Little Man had a new (and so-far, unused) Dungeons & Dragons starter set. I figured I’d grab the 4-sided die and use that. But the games had already been packed away for our upcoming move.

Frustrated, the Little Miss and I sat at the table and twelve times, we asked Alexa to pick a random number between one and four. What could have been done with a paperclip, now required an entire neural network.

I started to worry, as I finished writing this post, that “paperclip” might not be spelled as one word. I reached for the dictionary, forgot that it was packed away (probably with the Dungeons & Dragons set, and all of the paperclips) and with a reluctant sigh, pulled up the Merriam-Webster site and looked up the word. Turns out, it is two words: paper clip.

I’m not going to change it though. I’m too worn out from running around the house in a failed attempt to locate a paperclip.

My Cluttered Desk

There are some things in life that you just have to accept. For me, it is that, no matter how much I will it otherwise, my desk will always be cluttered. Each spring, I de-clutter my desk. Each spring, I make a solemn vow that this time, my desk will remain uncluttered. Thus envowed, my desk remains uncluttered. I think the record is about a week. Then it resumes its natural state of clutter.

My cluttered desk, today
My cluttered desk, today.

I’ve come to accept this as one of those things about myself that I cannot change. I remind myself of that clever epigram:

If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, what is the sign of an empty desk?

What, then, can I change? Why, the desk of course! I used to have a great big wooden desk. Despite its size, there never seemed to be enough surface area for my needs. I got rid of it years ago, and switched to a smaller, glass-topped desk. This made it easier to have two computers, but still, there is never enough surface area.

The problem is that I don’t use both computers at once. But I often have a notebook open to take notes. Meanwhile, books and things pile up. My spare glasses are there. A stack of critiqued manuscripts that I got back from my writers group two weeks ago. Atop one pile is the smoke detector from our bedroom. The battery began to give out the other day, and is sitting there awaiting replacement.

I tried solving this problem a while back by adding some wall-mounted shelves above my desk. Frequently used things went there: my dictionaries, The Elements of Style, my Field Notes notebooks. What happened was that within a week, those shelves were cluttered too.

At the end of the month we’ll be moving to our new house. There, I’ll have a brand new office, more than twice the size of my current one. I plan on giving this cluttered desk to the Little Man for use in his room. I will buy a new desk. I need one with a lot of surface area. I started browsing around for possibilities: there are small desks, large desks, sit-stand desks, computers desks, executive desks. But I have yet to see the one that I am looking for.

That would be the Uncluttered Desk.


Bookmarks are hard to find. At least, I am seeing fewer and fewer of them floating around. Of course, with so many books available in e-book form, it’s no wonder that there are fewer bookmarks.

I like bookmarks, but often use anything but a bookmark to hold my place. The most frequent object I put toward this use is a business card. Business cards have the same thickness of a bookmark. They fit squarely between the pages. They do the job very well. I also feel less guilty about them sitting on my desk or in my wallet, going unused.

We are packing up for a move to a new house, and when I went to look for a business card for the book I’m reading, I couldn’t find one. The book is a hardcover, with a dust jacket, and that is like having a built-in bookmark. I just slide the end of the dust jacket between the pages I want marked.

Dust jacket bookmark
My dust-jacket bookmark.

Most things make terrible bookmarks. In a pinch, I can tear a sheet of paper and slide it between pages. It used to be that a piece of mail would do the trick, but there is so little of that around these days. Then there’s always the possibility of folding down the corner of a page, but avoid that kind of sadism.

E-books have fancy bookmarking capabilities which I rarely use. I don’t know why that is. My Kindle app allows me to place as many bookmarks as I want. Before e-books, the most bookmarks I ever used for one book was two: one to hold my place in the text, the other to keep my place in the endnotes, if they were particularly interesting. I have never found a reason to use more than one bookmark in an e-book. They are no even needed for endnotes because you can jump back and forth between the endnotes and text.

Audiobooks have the worst bookmarks. I love audiobooks but the bookmark system is virtually unusable. The reason for this is that I don’t know I want to mark something until I’ve heard it, at which point I’ve past it. It is complicated and time-consuming to back up to right where I want the bookmark. If I feel the need to bookmark (or annotate) an audiobook, I usually listen along with a copy of the print or e-book.

The thing I miss most about bookmarks is the nice collection I grew from used bookstores. More e-book reading and audiobook listening, combined with fewer used bookstores means fewer opportunities for new bookmarks.

Most magazines come with built-in bookmarks: those annoying cards that ask you to renew your subscription, or send a gift subscription to a friend. When a new magazine arrives in the mail, I rip out all of those cards, and toss all but one–and then use that one as a bookmark until I am finished with the magazine.