As you may have gathered, I'm a bit of a gadget guy. One of the reasons I blog is for the opportunities it gives me to mess around with cameras and PDAs and laptops and the various ways you can use them to produce text, sound, video, etc. This very night, in fact, I'll be trekking out to the Verizon store to get a Blackberry to replace the Treo I use for work. That Blackberry will be, as my Treo is now, a place for working with e-mail, my calendar, my contacts, as well as providing another browsing platform and a backup camera. Oh, yeah, and a phone (although I use the current one least for that).
But at the moment I am most enchanted with a piece of low-tech, retro equipment that my youngest daughter was so thoughtful as to give me for Christmas, ignoring my hint for a new insulated coffee travel mug. She gave me a Moleskine notebook — specifically, a Moleskine Reporter Ruled Notebook. You may have seen them in bookstores. They're advertised as the notebook of Hemingway and Picasso. In years past, I had thought of buying one (I was a great admirer of Hemingway in my youth, and he had something to do with my choice of career). But I couldn't justify the expense. After all, I get all the reporter's notebooks I need for free at work, right?
But I misunderestimated, to use a bit of Bushspeak, the magic of a really nice, classic, classy notebook in one's pocket. I just started carrying it yesterday, and it's already affecting how I work — for the better, I think. Since the notebook itself is special, it makes me think a little more carefully about what I choose to jot down. And it also makes me WANT to come up with stuff that's worthy to write in it. It's a motivator in the way a blank screen on a laptop or a PDA is not. It's like, I don't know, working on a painting or something — the sense that what I write here stays here, is permanent, has a life, and if this notebook is dug out of an old box in an attic by one of my great-grandchildren, they will read what I am writing today.
I find myself thinking I need to get a better pen to write in it with.
The book itself is esthetically appealing — you can see why Hemingway might have wanted to carry one around the Montparnasse or to the bullring or the front or whatever. It's a perfect size for the hand and the suitcoat pocket. It's black. The paper is of high quality. It has that cool, built-in elastic band to secure it with, giving a feeling of completeness and accomplishment when you finish a note and get ready to put it back in your pocket. Using it is just an appealing tactile, visual and interactive experience all around.
And it's making me more efficient, of all things. Y'all know how I tend to start my day with breakfast downtown, where I pore over The State and The Wall Street Journal and whatever I else I have time to look at over my coffee. Well, I get a lot of ideas while doing that, but too often, by the time I get back to the office, and have my morning meeting, and then start dealing with the e-mail that has to be read and the copy that has to be moved and talking with Robert about a cartoon and so forth and so on, next thing you know it's past lunch and my ideas of the morning are long forgotten.
This morning, I had a column idea for Sunday of the classic ephemeral sort that would be likely to evaporate long before I had time to start on it — bits and pieces from different stories I was reading in the paper. Wanting to hang onto the thread, I thought of sending myself some notes by e-mail on the Treo. But that is cumbersome at best, typing on that little thumb keyboard, and it lends itself only to the shortest of reminders. But then I remembered the notebook. So I sent myself an e-mail that simply said:
See Moleskin notebook
Then I opened my notebook and filled two pages with an outline for the column, an outline that would be just waiting for me to flesh out at my first opportunity (which, as it happens, did not arrive until mid-afternoon). Since I all too often don't write the first word of my Sunday column until midday Friday, this put me more than a day ahead on one of my must-do tasks of the week. Consequently, I might have a chance to write an extra column to run Tuesday (a page that has to be done this week because of the MLK holiday), one that occurred to me as I was doing the final editing on the Tuesday editorial (about the Obama inaugural).
A classic, simple black notebook. What an ingenious device for enhancing personal productivity. What will they think of next?