My Beautiful Little Notebook
If you've seen me IRL in the past couple years you've probably seen me bust this out and maybe I even pointed out some of its features to you but it's a little red notebook from MUJI, it's a B7 page size, meaning 125x88mm or about 5 x 3.5" inches. It's a pleasing ratio, 1:√2, which a great ratio for paper goods because it's self-replicating- a single sheet has the same ratio of long side to short side as a spread of 2 sheets or a stack of 4 sheets (2 spreads), or a singe page cut in half. I don't utilize this zooming ratio in any way whatsoever, but it is nice to think about. It fits in the front pocket of a shirt nicely, and in t-shirt weather it moves to the pants butt pocket. I'm sure it would port well to the front pocket of a hoodie, or a small bag. I keep a pen clipped to the cover, except in butt pocket season, when the pen moves to the front pocket. The pen varies.
At just 24 sheets (48 sides of a page) it's pretty slim, which I like-- smaller size is better security. If I should ever lose it I'm only losing 48 sides, not some massive tome. Besides if it were bigger it'd mess up the way my shirt hangs. I buy them in bulk and burn through them. There's a special shelf in my room for the finished books, of which there are currently fifteen, and the one I have now is almost kicked.
One side of the book is a sketchbook/notebook, although it isn't my main "drawing" sketchbook, it's just a little guy. I do draw in it though. Mostly it's for notes to self, things to remember, what I said I'd do, stuff like that. I also put notes for things that don't seem like they have a clear purpose-- things I overheard, funny turns of phrase, or that the price of a burrito went up (last week of February 2020, from $5.95 to $6.42). In January 2019 I walked past a blonde wig full of red clay on the sidewalk. Later in the month I had an idea for a crime drama TV show that's just 90210, every episode, but only showing what the parents are doing, and they're all doing crimes. These are all ideas and they all go in my little book. Similarly, some of the drawings in the book are just lines or blobs, which are still drawings even if they aren't drawings of anything. There is no distinction between notes and drawings, they both crowd the page at will.
I also put stickers in it, because I found I was collecting stickers without putting them anywhere, just keeping them on the sheet, which is bad energy. They're stickers and you gotta stick them somewhere. In addition to regular "autocollant" stickers that you might get at a sticker store, I include anything flat that has an adhesive side- price stickers, fruit stickers, bits of packaging, colorful tape, etc.. Sometimes I glue things in with a glue stick. If I'm around rubber stamps, I put some stamps in. One goal with the stickers is to keep things fun and lively, but the main goal is to make more readily accessible the wonderful and goal-less "I don't know what I'm doing but I'm doing this" energy, from which so much in my life seems to blossom and grow.
If you flip the book over when it's closed, keeping the spine on the left, and open it from that side, it's a calendar. I draw a 4x2 grid across 2 pages and note the days in red with stamps I got from Michael's (99 cents). There's an extra rectangle in the spread, which I find sometimes helpful, but its use is undeclared. When I set up a new book I draw out 4 weeks on the calendar, and then I draw in more as I need them. If I need to remember a date that's further in the future than my calendar allows I write it on the inside cover on the calendar side, and then add it to the calendar once that week appears. If I finish the book without getting to that date I add it to the upcoming dates list in the next one. No problem.
Both sides, the notebook side and the calendar side, march inexorably towards each other and eventually meet. Sometimes I have to X out a few pages in the middle so I can start a new book on a fresh week, that's not a big deal. If I find that I'm returning to the calendar side to add more and more weeks to a book, that tells me that I'm not putting things down as much as I should be. "Should" is a dangerous word but in this instance I'm referring to levels derived from my own perceptions of interior states. One book every 4-6 weeks is great-- if a book goes 10 weeks that generally means I'm not talking to enough people or incurring enough events, and these factors are often linked to unpleasant low energy states.
Sometimes in a conversation a topic will come up that I want to expand in an email later-- I'll write it in my book and then when I'm at my desk I'll go through my book, see the note, and email the person a note. Usually it's "here's a link to that thing we were talking about". Multiple times in the past month it's been "MASONNA LIVE VIDEO TO [name]". I know that it seems like you could just whip out your phone in an instant and share the link without leaving the conversation-space, but you really can't, and it's not worth trying. Once the phone comes out everyone goes into phone-mind, it's a drag. In a similar way I've taken to including links at the bottom of things-- it doesn't particularly "drive engagement" but I think it's nice.
In addition to not looking at the phone in the middle of a conversation, I'm also trying not to look at my phone in the bathroom, an attitude I have written about previously. In those moments I take out my little book and look through my notes, and regroup. Of course that's not etched in stone, I'm not a monster-- some times I read a book of poetry or whatever, some times I just look at the floor pattern. I also turn to the book when I'm bored or irritated or just plain waiting around anywhere, and find it again to be a great improvement over the phone. "Waiting for Shingo outside some shithole" was fun to write, and then later, to read, and if I had spent that time in the parking lot looking at other people's life broadcasts, it'd be a different equation. For the record Shingo was on time, I was early, and once he showed up we went somewhere else, somewhere nice.
The critical technology involved in both the notes side and the calendar side is that which allows me to open directly to a blank page without fussing. I've never seen anyone else do this, and to be honest I feel like this is maybe the single greatest thing I've ever invented. I cut a little section off the bottom corner of the cover, then when a page is done, I cut its corner to match, or fold it over and tear it. To open directly to a blank page I put my thumb on the corner, where it touches only the blank page, and open, and that's it. My other ideas have been fun, joyous, maybe whimsical, at times clever. Thinking about this makes me feel like I just invented the inclined plane, or the chocolate orange.
Since my book opens from both sides I do this on both sides, but I cut the angle different on the notebook side and the calendar side, so I can feel the difference immediately. The calendar side opens to the current week.
The calendar side has another innovation which is that I recently started putting these little stamps in them. Each stamp stands for a habit that I'm trying to acquire, or even more simply, a good thing I could be doing-- exercise, meditation, writing in my journal, etc.. When I do one of these things, I stamp the corresponding stamp on that day. I know I should be doing these things for their own reasons, but I find that the thing that draws me to do any one on any given day is that I want to put a stamp in my book. Some stamps are easier to get than others-- the one that's noodles stands for "stretching and vitamins". In my experience you have to have some easy ones to get started-- if I do my stretches and take my vitamins it draws forth the energy needed to tackle one of the other items, as a bucket draws forth water from a well.
On Sunday night I add up the stamps and write the number on the blank section. I've decided that the number can't go down week to week, it can only stay the same or go up. In this way I'm casually getting closer to doing all the things every day. I'm only a few weeks in with the stamps thing so I don't really have results per se, I'm still in the honeymoon phase. But the hope is that I'm on a slow soak for long term change.
When the book is done I put it on my little shelf and set up a new one. Set entails cutting the corners, drawing the calendar, and putting tape on the cover. The reason for the tape is it helps me differentiate between them whenever I need to refer back to an old one. The more immediate utility is that it lets me know which side is the front. I have three colors of tape that I use in sequence, with a trinary number system. The first book had a piece of green tape, the next one had purple, the next one white. The next one was green green, then green purple, green white, purple green, purple purple, purple white, etc.. I should've used more colors of tape-- I don't want to put more than 3 strips on and I'm already at green purple purple. Maybe after white white white I'll go buy different tape.
Another critical set-up is writing my name and address on the inside front cover, and lately I've been writing "if found, please return to:" just to drive the point home. I also include an email and a start date. Under the start date there's a space for an end date, which I fill in when I finish the book. I used to also keep a list in the front cover of which Kirby "Fourth World" books I need, but the ones I need now are so few that I haven't made any advancements in a while. Also they're so few that I can just remember without having to write it down. I also had a list of which Sun Ra records I had so I wouldn't accidentally get a duplicate, but now I have enough that copying them over doesn't really feel like a good use of my time and also those nice $12 bootlegs from a few years ago have dried up in the wake of official reissues (that are $20), so I'm getting them less frequently. FWIW all I need for the comic books is Jimmy Olsen 134, New Gods 2, Mr Miracle 4, and Forever People 1. I know this is unreasonable but I refuse to pay more than $4 per issue. I'm not in a rush, I can wait for these books to come to me. The only Sun Ra I'm really "looking for", with similar caveats to the Fourth World books, is Jazz In Silhouette.
Once a few books have collected on the shelf I scan them in to my computer. I keep the files in one big folder but name them all very consistently with the tape colorway and page number. Once the scanning is done I run a kustom one-liner in the folder, which generates a local html page with thumbnails of each page in order, and when you click on a thumbnail it shows you the full size image. It's a website but it doesn't go online, it just lives in the folder with the images, and I can open it up with a browser and see everything. This might all seem like an arduous task but it's really just a couple minutes' work to do a few books. For a variety of reasons I find it really helpful to be able to quickly visually search through all the books at once, and zoom in to a specific page immediately. And in addition to being practical, I find it very satisfying to behold an impossibly flat pile of goofball shit scrolling noiselessly out of the frame into infinity. I mark the spine of each book that I scan with a little dot of whiteout so I know that it's in the system, and put it back on the shelf.
None of my past little books are better than any others, it feels like a category error to even suggest the possibility. I don't look back on previous books as a snapshot in time that I long for-- every past book presents something I can use in the present or discard without judgement. I have other books where I take notes on specific topics, or ongoing projects, or just writing, or just drawing. My little book is in conversation with all of these other heavier books but stands alone, just a fun little helpful guy. It's just my little book!
NB: Most of the spreads here are from the inside cover / front page, where I tend to put the least writing and the majority of the stickers. I didn't feel comfortable publishing interior pages, or even thinking about what's a good page vs a less-good page. Similarly, if you see me with my little book, it's OK to say "there's your little book!" but I'm not going to hand it to you to go through. It's my little book. If anyone finds me please return me to me.
Links / misc
- When I think of record keeping, this song by Sister Gertrude Morgan is not far behind. It's called "Let Us Make A Record" [youtube]
- Here's that link to Masonna live that I sent everyone else. there's a lot of great live Masonna gigs on youtube right now, but this is the one I return to. Tom said: "it's a masterclass in tactics... he makes reverb, silence, voice, noise, wiggling, flopping, short set, precarious gear, and beautiful hair all look effortless. not everybody can do one or even two of these well". 3min 59s [youtube]
- OK here's another one. 2min 31s [youtube]
- I wrote about not using your phone in the bathroom when I had a gig writing weekly articles for The Outline. I probably got fired for being very nearly late 100% of the time or for just not fitting the vibe ("internet article"). But the straw that broke the camel's back was writing about not looking at the phone in the bathroom, which I didn't realize until later was against their business model. They chose not to run that one but it's here: [link]. All of them are listed here: [link]
- The bathroom shelf right now is: the Satyricon by Petronius, the Masnavi by Rumi (translated and abridged by Whinfield), the last 2 issues of King Cat by John Porcellino, Catallus (super fun translation by Frank O Copley), and The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin by Idris Shah, which is extremely enjoyable. It's like a joke book about a guy and his donkey but every 5th one is a glittering jewel you can rotate in your mind endlessly. For Lent this year I gave up Reading More Than Two Books At Once, but reading poetry in the bathroom doesn't count.
- here's my one-liner for making a local website from a folder of images. This is my default way of scanning through folders of images, though most of the time I use a quicker version that just loads the images full size. thumbnails version (takes a minute):
full size image version:
mkdir -p thumbs ; echo "<html>" > thumbs.html ; mogrify -sample x200 -path thumbs/ *.gif ; mogrify -sample x200 -path thumbs/ *.jpg ; mogrify -sample x200 -path thumbs/ *.JPG ; mogrify -sample x200 -path thumbs/ *.jpeg ; mogrify -sample x200 -path thumbs/ *.JPEG ; mogrify -sample x200 -path thumbs/ *.png ; ls | sed 's/^.*$/<a href\=\"&\"\><img src=\"thumbs\/&\" style=\"float:left\" title=\"&\"\>\<\/a\>\<p\><p>\n/g' | grep "\." | grep "\.html" -v >> thumbs.html ; echo "</html>" >> thumbs.html ; firefox thumbs.html
echo "<html>" > index.html ; ls | sed 's/^.*$/<img src=\"&\" style=\"float:left\;max\-height:700px;max\-width\:100\%\;\" title=\"&\"\>\<p\><p>\n/g' | grep "\." | grep "\.html" -v >> index.html ; echo "</html>" >> index.html ; firefox index.html
- Sun Ra - Jazz in Silhouette [youtube]
- If you want to trade stickers send me some of your extras and a SASE, and I'll send you some of my extras. Everybody with stickers has extras. Stickers for your band or project are nice to have but don't count, sorry!
- This is going to make me seem truly notebook obsessed but I ordered 50 UNRULED composition notebooks online. It's a different book than my little book, this is just a composition notebook but the pages don't have lines, they're blank. Anytime I'm somewhere with composition notebooks I check to see if they're ruled or unruled, even though I've never seen or even hear of unruled, it just seems like something that should exist. I never thought to look online but I did the other day and lo and behold. Unfortunately the price break was at 50 so I got 50-- if you want some and live near Providence I'll have them at Analog Underground record store this Friday, they're $2 each. No shipping at this time-- locals only!
- My new band "Strawberry Band" is playing our second show this Saturday the 7th, at the Lily Pad in Cambridge MA with Electric Street Queens and Kremlin Bats. It's $10 and starts at 10pm.
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