I’ve decided the Moleskine is the perfect notebook.
Someone said, ‘if you don’t write it down, it never happened’. That’s my life. But my life is also photocopying years’ old piles of napkins and post-its at staples, so I can scan them in, or pulling out less portable but dirt cheap notebooks, like the bound composition books that go for a dollar or less, ripping pages out, and scanning those. Those are great for studying Greek. They’re great for pursuing a subject. Not for what I need them for right now. Filofax (or Daytimer)? I switched off of that when I became so online with my business and writing that my google calendar is my daily friend. My office is my home, and I work in the virtual world, so I’m not carrying my Filofax to meetings anymore. I’d rather carry a netbook, and use many different kinds of online documents for work – calendar, docs, spreadsheets, e-mail, etc. And then there’s social media. A filofax isn’t social – it doesn’t collaborate. You have to offload it into something else to do that.
When I look at a moleskine, the miser in me says ‘too expensive, decadent, not sustainable’. But then I haven’t looked for knock offs. The moleskine is flexible in its cover. That’s huge. You get a kind of subtle portability off of a soft, flexible cover that doesn’t come from a hardback lined blank book, which is cheaper. The ribbon marker is hugely important. You might think it wouldn’t be, but it just is. The size is crazy important. The smallest bit too big, and it’s not going with you just when you need it. The smallest bit too small, and you won’t use it. Moleskine size variations are wonderful. It’s not that you might not find a blackberry useful, for instance, but it’s not useful for every kind of writing activity. The moleskine is very netbook like, as a paper object. It says ‘write in me’, not ‘play games on me, set me to vibrate, play with me on a subway’. Also, I could throw 10 moleskines into a manila envelope if I needed to move them – a moleskine doesn’t beg to be offloaded/scanned – it’s made to keep a record of your thoughts in between its covers and nowhere else. The kind of thoughts that either become something else in a different venue (like a book or blog) or aren’t meant to be shared – only used.
And if it’s used for what it’s designed for, it won’t be offloaded in that way. It’s designed for hashing up ideas that will take a different form elsewhere – at least that’s my take on it. You write out that bit of insight that must go into a book, but it’s not the book. So you don’t have to rip out the pages, and it’s actually kind of nice to think you could go back to your notes somewhere, and peruse or research them. Because it’s not a napkin or back of a business card or sheet of paper in my leather covered folio lined pad cover, it doesn’t pressure you to do something with it immediately, or threaten to pile up and become a fortress you have to demolish. It never becomes clutter – and filling it doesn’t make it an idea brick – something that you never really revisit that just takes up space in a file cabinet.
A moleskine says fill me, I can save these ideas for you as long as you like. I’ll be here. You might even enjoy flipping through me and reading me, even before you’re ready to use some of them. It’s OK, you can open up. Tell me. I’m a moleskine.
So I’m looking at this as a piece of technology, and I want it. B&N has them when I walk into the store, which is where I’m absorbing this out of the corner of my eye, not looking directly at them. But I need what they can do, and don’t have an alternative. I need a place to form ideas – ideas that won’t form unless I’m writing them in order to form them. It’s not a diary or a journal – it’s an idea clarifier and extractor.
Thing is – no matter how much you wish it, you just don’t always have an electronic device, and an idea won’t always come to you when you can use the device, and the idea won’t always stick around while you turn on and log in to the device, or while you’re fiddling with it. And then, importanly, where is the idea? It’s a file among many files, it might sit as an attachment among e-mails about your vacation or your dog or your day at the office. It doesn’t have a context that gives it the life of an idea. It needs to sit among other ideas in an idea context. It needs to live in a place that you visit to get your ideas back, review think, think about them and have more, and not just become a digitized, numbered file.
There’s something else. Nothing reads like a paper book. When I want to cram a bucket load of knowledge into me, I don’t want to use PDFs. I don’t want to scroll. There’s something about the rapidity and flexibility with which you can scan a physical page, and flip back and forth, mark something, etc. that no device, no device, can match. There’s something that tactile touch against the edges of paper won’t approach until someone loads up a truly leather-like flexible netbook-like cover with 250 individual e-paper pages (until the monitor is a series of paper thin physical windows), and gives you a stylus, and adds a ribbon marker. There’s something about the tactile communication with a book that can’t be improved upon, I think, or won’t be for a very long time. And this is coming from someone who loves his e-books, has an e-book reader (Nook), uses a netbook, and likes technology.
In the same way, for writing, for getting down an idea extremely fast, stream of consciousness, even a tablet and stylus can’t match paper of exactly the right size, width, situated in relation with other paper in a cover. Again – a moleskine. Handwriting recognition is really cool, but no matter how fast it gets, it’s not the same. Even with virtual lines on the virtual page, texture and tactile relationships to paper are so innately human, so grounded in the physical universe, that I think it’s safe to say that some ideas beg to be let onto paper, to dance at the end of a flowing, liquid, ink-pen, to receive pressure as part of their mental construction, so that the flow out of the ink actually helps shape the idea, to receive tactile inflection – gesture, before they’ll allow themselves to be dressed up for the digitized ball. I think that even the act of holding a pen in hand changes and contributes to the type and character and subtle dimensions of thoughts we have, in a way that’s perhaps not better than, but certainly different than hovering over a keyboard. I think one way with touching my chin and cheek in a thinker’s gesture, and another way when I’m typing – I just do – the inflection is different enough to change what I’ll say and how I’ll say it. I point this out as someone with a militantly paperless office who sees his computers as an extension of himself. Moleskine.
I’m looking at [alternatives] now to see if anything is more affordable, but if I have to get them off amazon.com at $10/each, that’s what I’ll do. A bundle of 5 will last a while. Alternatives would have to meet the subtle criteria for integrity (internal consistency), aesthetic feng shui, and the elements of tactile genius that make up a moleskine. Someone with a sense of what I’m talking about will have to have made them, or else just done a good job of copying. But I see genuine moleskines in my future, too. There’s no substitute for being able to grab another one of the shelf and keep going.