Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Top Bound Notebook and a Good Pen

My inner Luddite has been making an appearance lately.  Oh, he's usually pretty close to the surface, I would say.  I love email, certainly, and large portions of the interwebz, and while I wouldn't say I love my cell phone particularly, I find it useful more often than not.  But the Luddite (what shall we call him?  Don't you think he needs a name?  Something Quakerly and/or Biblical, I think.  Maybe Jeremiah?  That's a bit grand though, and more foaming-at-the-mouth than I typically am when in Luddite mode, so how about Jerry?  Yeah, let's go with that), excuse me, but Jerry has been piping up more often of late.  Some of this is tied up with another message/voice I've been hearing (I don't think it's Jerry, exactly), which has been telling me to SLOW DOWN.  At first I found that message perplexing.  I've been gallivanting around the country and globe in the past year, it's true, but I wouldn't say I've been excessively busy, really.  Yes there was work to be done in Twisp, and we did it, but there was also plenty of time for hiking, inter-tubing on the river, and having good long talks with friends over meals and wine.  And Ireland?  Maine?  Morro Bay?  The three visits I made to Indiana throughout the year?  Those were vacations, clear and simple, no ifs ands or buts.  So, um, I haven't been feeling overworked, exactly.  So naturally I asked for clarification on the 'slow down' message, at which point the voice sighed, rolled its eyes (shut up and just go with it) and said very slowly, like I was some kind of moron or something, 'if it has an off switch, turn it off.'   

Ah.  That was much clearer.  See, one of the side-effects of all my gallivanting was a bit of a technology diet.  My email/Internet access was limited, TV even more so.  As a result, I think a certain level of static in my head was allowed to dissipate.  That information overload thingy that frownie-faced experts periodically feel the need to pontificate on?  There might be something to it, at least in my case. 

There have been two effects of this that I'm aware of so far.  One is I'm being a bit more careful about my television watching even now when I'm no longer gallivanting.  Actually for a ten year period (1984-94) I was rarely around a TV.  There are big swaths of pop culture that someone of my generation is supposed to know, that I just, well, missed.  The Golden Girls, for example.  I knew of its existence, sure, but I don't think I'd ever seen an episode until my present roommate--who is something of a GG addict--moved in, and reruns became regular visitors in the apartment.  Northern Exposure is another one, and that is even weirder because I was living in Seattle at the time, some of my friends guest-starred on it and I still mostly missed out on it. 

Okay, before anyone gets his or her knickers in a twist, I'm not saying this like it's something to be proud of.  My abstaining from television wasn't any kind of moral stance, it just kind of happened.  Okay, so there was probably a point in Seattle when I and my roommates decided not to buy a TV, but it wasn't a big decision as I recall.  Mostly it was just something we didn't think about.  In fact during that period if I ever was around a TV, I found myself sucked into it completely, with the commercials just as captivating--if not more so--as the programming.  I'd sit there, slack-jawed and drooling, watching the pretty colors, listening to the swirling sounds, and lose hours.  Patrick like. 

But this summer, when I once again inadvertently just didn't watch any television, I was a bit more surprised to find that I didn't miss it, didn't even notice for quite some time that it wasn't there.  It's been a bigger part of my life the past twelve years, in large part because I moved into an apartment where a TV was already in residence, and I was given complete and sole control over it.  So, if I'd thought about it in advance, I would have expected a hiatus to be a bit of a trial. 

Probably a lot of the reason it wasn't is simply due to being in unfamiliar (spectacularly beautiful) surroundings, with other things to do.  Now that I'm back in my own apartment, prone to routines that drop me in front of the boob tube, I'm trying to be a bit less of a boob, and actually choose when to be there.  There are shows I like.  There are things I look forward to, would prefer not to miss.  My career means I could claim that I'm doing research, keeping an eye on stuff that might be sources of employment (there was a stretch of time where I only watched shows shot in NYC), but, um... that's a total crock.  At least for me.  And the static in my head gets substantially worse in NYC anyway, just from the sheer crackling, frantic, (neurotic) hum of the place.  Making myself do other things with my evenings has been a good idea. 

The other thing Jerry has me waxing nostalgic over is writing longhand.  Okay, that leaves out some key steps.  I've been recognizing how rare it is for me to write or receive longhand letters any longer.  My mailbox here ceased being a source of joy many years ago, since its output is almost exclusively bills, catalogues I didn't request and don't want, bulk mailings from politicians, and lots of random stuff for people who haven't lived here for over twelve years, if ever.  And I can't really complain, because I'm not writing letters any longer either.  I did for a long time after college.  I was still a pretty good letter writer even after I moved to New York.  Then email took over, and the instant gratification, coupled with the luxury of the word processing feature made it a much more attractive option.

That would be okay too, if that were still the case.  I've had some very satisfying email correspondances over the years.  But for reasons I can't quite explain, most people have stopped writing emails now too.  And I'm not so good at them any longer either.  Maybe Facebook and Twitter are to blame in some way I can't quite comprehend (I'm a FB addict, but have so far avoided Twitter, precisely because I'm sure it would take over my life).  So I'm missing epistolary relationships.

But unlike most other people I know, I still write longhand regularly.  Every day in fact.  Each morning I start off the day with three pages longhand.  I've been doing it since 1992, when I read Julia Cameron's book The Artist's Way.  At this point I may not buy the whole philosophy behind it, but I keep doing it because it's the closest thing I have to a meditation practice, and is pretty much the only thing I've done consistently for such a long time. 

For a very long time I had to do all my creative writing by hand first.  I couldn't type and think at the same time, basically I created with a pen, then became a stenographer.  The one-act I wrote in 2004, Ariadne's Thread, was the first creative project I composed entirely on the keyboard.  Probably it became possible because by that point I had about six years under my belt of composing emails on the keyboard.  I still think my brain works differently when I write with a pen as opposed to a keyboard, but my addiction to the delete button means I'm less likely to handwrite letters any longer. 

The thing I've been rediscovering recently though, is the sensual pleasures there are to writing by hand.  The slow down voice and Jerry's ranting have been making me pay closer attention to it, but it was actually triggered some months back by a discovery that changed my life.  The G2 Pilot bold point* black ink was the pen I didn't realize I'd been looking for all my life.  The line was satisfyingly dark, the ink flowed evenly and consistently without pooling, splotching or failing to write when hitting places my fingers had rested.  Apparently I'm such a greaseball that most pens can't write on any surface I have touched.  But the G2, baby, it never even hesitated, sweat, oils, it rolled over them without a hitch.  And miraculously, this lovely dark ink didn't end up getting smeared on the side of my hand.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, ask a leftie. 

Years ago I discovered legal pads with ring binders at the top (again, ask a leftie), but that didn't increase the pleasure of writing so much as lessen the annoyance.  Glass half full, half empty, I suppose, and at the time I was pleased at the discovery.  But these pens, whoo boy, they are a treat.  Combine them with one of the notebooks and it's heaven, so much so that my stream of consciousness (or 'bilge pumping' which is what my dad calls this kind of writing) can sometimes spend a little too much time writing about how fun it is to be writing.  How much I love the pen, the notebook, the way it makes my handwriting look, etc.  OH, that's another funny thing: in case you're thinking I have beautiful handwriting, let me hasten to correct that misconception.  Most people find it virtually illegible.  I have, on more than one occasion, been accused of writing with my foot.  It's probably for the best that my handwritten documents are usually for my eyes only.  That said, I do like my handwriting more when I'm using the G2.  Somehow the letters are just rounder, more even, more elegantly shaped.  I don't know how a pen would affect that, but it does.  My handwriting changes dramatically, at least to my eye, depending on what pen I'm using.  I think another aspect of the G2's ink is that it flows quickly too.  It keeps up with the speed of my hand more than any pen I've come across before.  It just feels good. 

No, Pilot is not paying me for this testimonial.  If the folks in charge (the pilots of Pilot, as it were) were inclined to send me free pens, a lifetime supply say, I certainly wouldn't take that amiss.  But no, this rave review is unsolicited, heartfelt and sincere.  I love these babies. 

These sorts of things are quite personal of course.  this summer, after seeing a cool drawing my friend Kathleen did with a pen, I showed her the G2 and raved a bit, but she had already used one and didn't care for it.  Drawing with a pen is different than writing with one I suppose, but she probably also just has different wants and needs from her tools.  Other things work better for her hand. 

So you may not find the G2 to be anything special, assuming you're even the type of person to get excited about this sort of thing.  But that's part of the fun in all this for me too, the personal, idiosyncratic opinions we develop.  We all may have different needs and wants from our keyboards too, how hard we want to hit, how far apart we want the keys, what we want the tilt of the board to be, that probably affects us all in very personal ways, whether we notice it or not.  But at least for me, it just doesn't give me the same satisfaction as a good pen. I can't help but wonder if key neural pathways, maybe some very old, important ones, get activated for me when I'm enjoying the act of writing itself.  Whatever else is at play, anytime I get this much pleasure from an item that costs less than $2 and can fit in my pocket, I feel pretty lucky. 

*The medium point is nice too.


Greg said...

Hey, Jerry. Nice post. I've been thinking about writing a nice long email the past couple of days, but maybe I'll break out a notebook, instead. Dust out your mailbox.

Patrick said...

How delightful. I'll get right on that. But let me add that I didn't mean to suggest my friends weren't writing me enough ('you never write, you never call...'). I seem to be as much of a culprit in the disappearing mail/email mystery as anyone.

But of course I look forward to your letter. They're always wonderful.

Birdie said...

I discovered the G2 about three months ago, and I LOVE it. I use the mini, which fits anywhere. The nub of the pen just glides, and my handwriting is far more legible. I have fancy handwriting, so ink flow is very important for legibility. The G2 is the best I've found.

This post has already produced one handwritten note to a friend, and I'm considering more. What have you done?

Patrick said...

Birdie: by a strange coincidence, as soon as I posted this entry, my supply of bold or medium points dried up here. For about two weeks I couldn't find them ANYwhere, and since I usually found them at Staples (not exactly lacking for space, in other words) this was very perplexing. I tried the fine points, hated them, tried a bold point from a different manufacturer, hated it more, and began to wonder if my search was going to start all over again. But I DID write a note to my mom, the one person who still consistently sends handwritten mails by post, and the very next day Staples had finally restocked. Undoubtedly there is a lesson here. You're a mom, I don't think I need to spell it out, do I? :)

Java said...

I have been looking for a good pen. This semester has been frustrating because I don't have a favorite pen with which to take notes. Last semester I used the TUL, which is a higher end product, and worked reasonably well, but it thinks too highly of itself and doesn't have a large ink reservoir. If I'm going to pay that much for a pen, it should have enough ink to last a while.

I intend to send you an email. It's brewing in my head right now, and hopefully will manifest in digital form soon.