Tag Archives: notebooks

Final Pages

Whenever I get toward the end of a notebook, I become edgy. The completist in my wants to fill every page before moving onto the next notebook. But another part of me wants to get started in a new notebook. There is something refreshing about cracking open a new notebook and scribbling on the first page. This happens, most frequently, with my Field Notes notebooks. I can fill one of those notebooks in a month or less. And I have so many new ones to choose from. When I get toward the final pages of one, I am eager to start another. I’d say that half of my Field Notes notebooks are filled to the last page. The other half, well…

Last pages in my Field Notes notebooks.
A few last pages in my Field Notes notebooks

I use large Moleskine Art Collection sketchbooks for my journals, and I fill the last page on every one of those volumes. Even so, when I get to the last couple of pages of one, I get eager to unwrap the next from the cellophane it comes packed in, and cracking open the thick pages. I get a little worried that an entry might carry over from one volume to the next, and that might be confusing in the future, but so far, I’ve managed to avoid it, filling every page in those notebooks with little or no margin.

The notion of coming to the end of a notebook is lost in the digital world. You can’t come to the end of a notebook in Evernote, for instance. You just add more virtual pages as needed. There isn’t a hard and fast limit, and of course, in some sense that is good because you can add as much as you need without taking up space. But at the same time, there is a loss of dimensionality with digital notebooks. There is no thickness to an Evernote notebook. There is are no frayed edges on the pages of a OneNote notebook. There is no texture to a page in DayOne. I’ve used Evernote for years, and I use OneNote exhaustively at work, and there is not the same kind of joy in creating a new OneNote notebook as their is in unwrapping a Moleskine, or flipping through the various unused Field Notes notebooks on my shelf to figure out which one I want to use next.

Sometimes, just completing a page feels good. I use a Leuchtturm1917 notebook to track all the books that I have read since 1996 (1,033 of them as of today), and as I get to the end of one page I look back to the completed page with nostalgia for the books I’ve read over the last month or two. But I also look eagerly to the blank page beside it, wondering what books will fill that page over the month or two to come.

The most recent pages in my reading list notebook.
The most recent pages in my reading list notebook

I don’t feel the same sense of possibility when looking at the digital version of my reading list. All I can see is the past, with no blank page promising the future.

I look forward to final pages because, like a tree shedding its leaves, it is a sign of completion, and the excitement of starting something new.

Catching Up on To-Do Lists

Today, in a pique of nostalgia, I found myself flipping through the 24 Field Notes notebooks that I have filled up since 2015. I’ve had this feeling lately of an accumulated mass of things I have not yet crossed off my various to-do lists.

The first unchecked (or in this case, un-crossed-out) item on the list is from June 2015. It simply reads: “Checkbook on stairs.” That’s okay, though, because even half a decade later I remember exactly what this scribble meant. It meant that I’d left the checkbook on the stairs so that when I headed up to the office, I’d see it and put it back in the drawer. The problem is, we have since sold those stairs, and for that matter, the office at the top of them. I imagine all of the checks that once resided comfortably within that checkbook are now comfortably deposited in other people’s bank accounts.

Here is an item. It says “Code bloopers” which is code to me to write a post about the bloopers one makes when writing code. This particular item remains unchecked 5 years later because I never wrote such a post. I was never able to figure out how to convey they hysterical humor one can find in the absence of a semi-colon, and the hours of hair-pulling havoc that ensue because of said missing semi-colon.

(Much later, I thought it might be amusing to take a look at some of the more outlandish Git commits I have made over the years, but I don’t think I ever put that idea on a to-do list.)

Here’s a note to myself from the summer of 2015 as it appears on the page it iswritten:

In case you can’t read my handwriting, it says “Condoms prevent unwanted minivans.” I saw this on a bumper sticker and thought it was amusing. It may have been intended as a subtle to-do item, but clearly it is not crossed out. In a rather remarkable coincidence, about a year after I scribbled this note, we bought a minivan. We thought the extra room might make our frequent road trips a little easier, what with the baby that came along around the same time.

Ah-ha! Here is one I can cross off. Sometime in August 2016 (before I was dating each page of my Field Notes notebook) is this incomplete task: “Sandman.” It is a reminder that I should obtain and read that Sandman graphic novel that Neil Gaiman created. As it happens, I ordered and received a copy of said graphic novel a few weeks ago. Looking at the list of books currently ahead of it on my to-be-read list, I imagine I’ll get to it sometime in the next 8-10 years. But I obtained it, and that is enough to warrant crossing it off the list.

Quite a few of the incomplete to-do list items in these notebooks appear to be blog post ideas that I never wrote, either because I lost interest, or thought the ideas were not good enough (I have some standards). Here are a few of them:

  • Science fiction’s growing pains (I think this has been done plenty of times by better writers than I).
  • My Wikipedia References – a post illustrating that while I don’t have an entry in Wikipedia, I am quoted in it several times.
  • Simplicity in Technology – I can only thing this was me running away with my imagination since nothing in technology is as simple as it seems.

It occurs to me that some of these notes are not to-do items, but things I jotted down that the kids said that I found amusing. For instance:

  • Referring to her handwriting, the Little Miss said, “I have good penguinship.”
  • Referring to silent reading, the Little Miss said she was “reading in my brain.”
  • Referring to her baby sister in the bathtub, the Little Miss said, “Will she look ugly if she gets her hair wet?”

I could never remember how many bags of mulch I bought each spring to put down in various places around our house. Well, to refresh my memory, on July 1, 2017, I wrote down how many bags of mulch I needed: 16 bags. Too bad I didn’t write down which notebook and on what date I wrote that particular note, making it perhaps, a little easier to find.

There is an unchecked note to myself to take notes on paper. It seems rather meta to add such an item to my to-do list, but as I have been doing this for years, it seems safe to cross off now.

Here is an interesting item: “Clean up house for cleaners.” After several months without our cleaners, they returned today, and boy was I glad they did. After they left, the house looked great. It smelled clean. The kids rushed inside and immediately took everything that had been put away and spread it across the floor where it belongs. It provided a small sense of normalcy in these anxious times.

One of the to-do items in book 11 is a number: 17,162. There is no context for it and I no longer have any idea what it meant. I’m crossing it off. There is a note reminding myself to read more John McPhee–I think I am nearly caught up on that one.

I don’t know why, but whenever I jot down someone’s name–a waiter, a tour guide–I always put their name in quotes: “Josh”, “Evelyn”, “Kyra”, “Jess.”

There ‘s a note from May 11, 20119 that the “first soloist was off key” but I don’t remember what soloist I was referring to, and I don’t know how I could have gotten them on-key after the fact. On the same day is a note to read David McCullough’s speeches, which I did do, and simply forgot to cross off the item.

On 5/14/19 the main to-do item that day is to sell our house and buy a new one. That, being taken care of, can be crossed off and marked as completed.

Flipping through the most recent pages of my most recent Field Notes notebook are the following items:

  • “Asking for it, wasn’t he?” — there to remind me of the punchline of a funny joke.
  • “Uncle Buck/John Hughes” — there to remind me to watch Uncle Buck, which I hadn’t seen in years until shortly after writing down that little to-do item.
  • “Post on catching-up on to-do items” — and with that, I think I’m call caught up!

How’s your to-do list looking?

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.

Who Needs a Scale?

Life goes on, even amidst the chaos of moving. Back in April I gave up caffeine. On May 28, I started a diet in an effort to lose weight again. For this effort, I followed the same plan that worked so well for me the first time I tried to lose weight: I limited myself to 1,600 calories a day. I took lessons I’ve learned from my first (and second) attempts at this and it seemed to be working, but I couldn’t be sure. That’s because of the move.

The fancy digital scale I’d bought a while back was packed away. I had not other means of measuring my weight to see if the diet was, in fact, working. Over the weekend, while unpacking some boxes, I located the scale–and the batteries were dead. The AAA batteries we had were packed away in other box, and I had no idea where that box was located, so off I went to the store for some AAA batteries.

But the batteries (and the scale, for that matter) failed me. Something within the scale’s digital mechanism had given up the ghost. No matter how many fresh AAA batteries I tried, the scale would not work. I decided I had to get another scale. I further decided that this one would be purely mechanical.

In the meantime, life went on. We unpacked. I worked. We attended soccer games, and end-of-year school picnics. Each time I ate or drank something, I diligently wrote it down in one of the Field Notes notebooks I carry around with me. I felt like I was making progress, but I couldn’t know for sure, not without a scale to tell me one way or the other.

Then I had to go into the office for a training session. I mostly work from home these days, but I headed into the office. As I passed through the office toward the desk I’d reserved, someone I hadn’t seen in a while, said hello, and then, tilted their head, raised and eye brow, and said, “Did you lose weight?”

A sample size of one is no indication that the diet is working, not in absence of physical measurement. But when I arrived at the training session, the person leading the training, who I also hadn’t seen in a while also asked me if I’d lost weight.

Two people, in completely separate circumstances, asking me if I lost weight was promising, especially in absence of a scale. I started to hope for three, but didn’t want to press my luck.

This did get me thinking that perhaps I don’t need a scale after all. Perhaps the best way to know if my diet is working is not to worry so much about the daily measurements. Instead, I’ll just occasionally visit with people I don’t see on a regular basis, and wait for some comment. The frequency of such comments are probably just as good as any scale’s measurement might provide. And more rewarding, too.