This May marks my 99th month of keeping a daily journal electronically.
Before this, and ever since I graduated from college, I used notebooks for this purpose (college ruled, five subject, I’d tear out the dividers). There are boxes upon boxes of these in my uncle’s shed upstate. Someday, I’ll need to revisit them and see what needs to be kept and what needs to be destroyed.
I started to keep my journal on the laptop when I started traveling a lot, and didn’t want to lug a paper notebook around the world. Keep your expectations low, but here’s the beginning of my very first entry:
March 22, 2007. In Nanjing, I wake up. This town –city, really — has never seen the likes of me, or at least not often, men almost fall of their bicycles staring at my chest. Women stare too. I look weird here. I feel weird here. I feel a long away from home.
I immediately took to journaling on the laptop. The benefits went beyond lighter luggage. At home, I had to concede that I was running out of storage space for all my
whining incredibly valuable literary raw material. Also, I can type much faster than I can write by hand, and the ability to search my journals for keywords has proven very useful indeed.
Excited by all the upside, I stopped keeping notes on paper and exclusively went electronic. I started taking my field notes on my phone – a BlackBerry at that time. I felt smart, modern and efficient. I loved that my notes were already typed up when I got home, no more transcribing!
The new system worked well until a few days into my trip to India, when a waiter carrying a tray of panipuri tripped, spilling an entire bowl of tamarind-infused water on my phone.
This created an intermittent short circuit which could not be repaired. For the rest of the trip, the phone sometimes work fine, and sometimes typed random letters, numbers and symbols all by itself. I bought a small notebook to use while Shiva took possession of my phone to make his own notes. (Which is what I’d concluded was happening, obviously.)
When I got home, I was able to compare the quality of notes I’d taken by hand and with a keyboard, on the same day. I was struck by the difference. My handwritten notes were more lyrical and thoughtful, my typed notes more matter-of-fact and brief.
I think the difference has to do with the speed, unlike with an interview, where you really do want to just go as fast as possible, with certain kinds of observation going slow is a virtue.
Since I prefer the word “and” to the word “or,” I decided not to make a choice, and to keep notes both electronically and on paper. And in the past couple of years, as my interests have shifted and I’ve started to study visual art, I still keep my daily journal on the computer, and I have almost 2,000 notes on Evernote, and I also now carry around a sketchbook, which also functions as a scrapbook.
So given all that, you’d think there would be nothing of significance in my life that’s gone unchronicled. But here’s my big duh moment.
As I’ve hinted at around these parts, I’m in the process of launching a new enterprise, a jewelry business — about which I’ll have much more to say another time.
In the past year I’ve put myself through an intensive educational experience – In 2014, I took 32 classes, at six different art and jewelry schools in New York City; this year so far, I’ve hit a cool dozen. As you might imagine, I’ve been making a lot of jewelry, and of course I’ve been taking some notes along the way.
One day not long ago, in my enamel class, a far more advanced student (and a professional jeweler) generously allowed me to take a look at her sketchbook. This woman had kept track of each piece she’d ever made: her inspiration for it, the exact steps she took to make the piece, what worked, what didn’t. And, being a thorough sort, she’d also pasted in a photo of the finished product.
I immediately felt like a total moron.
Because, in addition to all I’ve said of my own note-taking behavior above, any student who’s taken a writing class with me knows I make a giant, all-fired fuss about journal keeping. I mean, I’m tough about it. (“Write it down. I mean now. I’m not kidding.”) But when I stepped just a few steps away from my familiar writing ground, I utterly failed to make the connection between the creative process I’ve spent my entire adult life practicing, and my new endeavor.
Just think of it: I was blithely going around investing serious time making things, while taking only the skimpiest of notes recording my process — either digital or actual. What the serious fuck? What could I have been thinking?
I’ll have to take a look back in my journals and find out.