Doug Bruns

The whirlwind about my head.

In Creativity, Writing on April 12, 2012 at 5:29 pm

What is to be done about the notes and observations, the history and thoughts, collected over the years, indeed, over the decades? It is a swirling whirlwind of muted information, everything I’ve forgotten but wanted to remember, just out of reach, a torment. Montaigne lamented that he read everything then promptly forgot it all. Like Montaigne, my mind is porous. I pour into it, and everything trickles out.

For those practicing the alchemy of turning experience into something–and that exactly is the trick–the content of our notebooks represents an archive of notions and ideas. Therein sleep our gestating projects, our dreams and most important observations. With love and patience and a practice spanning great lengths of time, we capture and compose these records. Yet they sit on the shelf, lonely sheafs, disrespected and forgotten.

The sorting and sifting is impossible. As a photographer who preferred film, I had a system. Sleeves of slides fill my cabinets, sorted by year and country and subject. If you asked me to print my night photo of the Prague Castle taken five years ago, the shot I took at 2:00 in the morning, in February, while standing on the Charles Bridge, worried that my film was going to freeze, I could put my hands on it in three minutes. But ask me where I stashed the note made while reading Moby Dick regarding Melville’s notion of happiness and I am lost. I am compelled to rectify this.

I have a project. A big project. And it represents a full and unconditional embrace of technology. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but the time has come to forsake feelings and get to work.

I began using Evernote a few months ago. I’m not going to explain it, other than to say it is the software by which I intend to take control of this matter. (I’ve linked it, you can check it out if you wish.) From my Mac to my iPhone to my iPad, it will all be there, at my fingertips, sortable and ready for use. And so, with the cracking of a stiff spine, I open the first journal and set to work.

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  1. Old damn problem. I got to organise my notes in .doc files, with quite a complex yet clear folder structure. Works just fine.

  2. vlt ~ Thanks for stopping in and commenting. My notebooks and journals are extensive and must first be digitized. I’m sure .doc files would be helpful, but first things first: gotta get ’em opened and transcribed. Thanks for reading.

  3. Opened AND transcribed! Will you be doing this on the plane to Nepal? I did check out Evernote. That seems reasonable, but it is the “transcribe” part that is daunting.

    I have frustrated myself trying to find specific notes in one of my notebooks. The number I have in use at any given time is in the double digits, so I can’t even depend on chronological order. However, I am willing, at least so far, to sacrifice efficiency for the pure sensuous luxury of a physical notebook. Opening to a blank page, pen in hand, centers my brain. Looking back provides a history of interests or experiences. The hunt for a particular entry may fail, but sometimes what comes to the forefront is even better.

    On this month-long Retreat of mine, I have six active notebooks and an intention to minimize time spent in front of a screen (except for your blog, of course). I probably won’t be able to find my written reflections, but it sure is fun obscuring them.

    • I too enjoy, dare I say “love,” to use a journal. The feel of it in the hand and the way pleasure seems to fall from the pages when opened. Years ago I came across a note by Chatwin (you’ll notice a recurring theme in these “pages”–Chatwin and more Chatwin) made mention of his gathering up his Moleskines before another adventure. I did some research and found that Moleskines were journals make in the UK. It wasn’t long after that we were in London and I spent fruitless days trying to find the Moleskin, only to discover that they’d gone out of business. Years later the company was started up again and now is generic for journal. I can’t imagine every having one by my side. But to use them is another matter. Putting it all down there is something altogether different than simple recording keeping. Putting thoughts to paper in a journal is an act of faith, a belief in a future life in which all comes back to life and all those little note children and relatives will encircle us in a glowing white light of completion. I think I am now agnostic on the subject–and we’ve had that conversation before…
      If Jung had used Evernote rather than the Red Book the world would be a lesser place.

  4. A lot of folks recommend Evernote. I had a lot of luck with a custom series of text files (I wrote a Perl script to organize them) – but, after years of experimenting – there’s nothing like a moleskine or other good notebook and a vintage fountain pen. Nothing.

    • I have a friend who collects vintage fountain pens. He’s not a writer by any stretch, just likes pens. I look at them and hold them and think what great writing I might accomplish with a fountain pen, that link to the tradition. Maybe I should use a quill to really get close to the source.
      I really don’t care for a digital world and have resisted repeatedly, despite being attracted to the glimmer and shiny silver and black things. Yet, that is were I live mostly, in the digital world. I’ve worried that such a turn from tradition is a further disconnect from one’s roots and identities. Yet, this is the world we live in. I get comfort thinking of Thoreau revolutionizing writing with his patented pencil and graphite improvements. Such is the challenge of modern existence.
      I can’t imagine replacing my moleskine, ever. But I need a better way of mining their contents.
      Thanks for reading, Bill.

  5. Pens are, of course, the luxurious compliment to the notebook. I like them in many colors and of varying widths.

    RE: Melville’s thoughts on happiness: While perusing a notebook today, I discovered a **’d notation which is not properly cited, but which, I believe, comes from Moby Dick and perhaps sheds light on his philosophy of Melville’s theory of happiness. The notation is:

    **”Attainable felicity” ..find happiness in what is.

    I could never have found it if I were looking, but find it interesting that it presented itself shortly after your lament…and maybe I am wrong, but I think it is from M.D.

I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading.

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