Admittedly, it was a much younger me who wearily toted a heavy little case up the seven flights of steps to his apartment in France, finally balancing it on his knee while fumbling for the key and then the lock in the darkness. The door opened to a well-lit and ill-furnished set of rooms consisting entirely of a twin bed, a card table, three hard wooden chairs, a little kitchen table, and a fridge and stove.
I carefully laid the slightly moldy case upon the card table, clicked two snaps, a spring-hingled lid flipped open, and there it was: a children's typewriter.
Mind you, the keys were shuffled about in different places. The French use AZERTY, not QWERTY, and the previous decade of using English computer keyboards would prove to be a difficult habit to break. And then there was the ribbon. Apparently, no one expects a child to write very much. The ribbon had to be rewound every half page, and the fingernail of my pinkie finger was just barely small enough to twist the spool.
Not one to be easily discouraged by a few technical issues, I lifted the machine out of the case and set up my little writing space. A touch of hammer cleaning, a few squirts of machine oil, and my first sheet of A4 paper was wound up around and facing me, the sum of all my terrors: complete and utter blankness. Like my mind.
This weekend marks the first in a series of long weekends for us Americans. I'll be heading out tomorrow to the "Great Outdoors" with camp gear in toe for some serious camping. I'm excited! I love camping. Of course, I'll be bringing my trusty Moleskine journal with me and a few extra supplies to record thoughts and maybe some sketches of gorgeous Mt. Hood. So, this week, I'll leave you all with a little homework assignment. Don't groan, it'll be fun and you don't need to escape your home for the wilds of the Great Outdoors. You're going on safari!
First, you'll need to grab a few friends. Or not. But going on a safari is definitely more fun when you got a few friends to pal around. Discuss where you want to go, what to see and what themes to write or sketch about in your journals. If you like, make it more than one location throughout the day. The change in venue helps spark creativity and helps you to make multiple entries. Or go to your local museum and spend various days entering information about the various rooms your museum has. Point is, gathering friends up means you'll be making the commitment to attempt this fun outing and that you follow through with it.
I'm constantly looking for new ways to write. Sometimes, of course, paper is my first and most effective resource, but there are other times when I just want to pound away at a keyboard with a digital end in mind. I do have a nice shiny MacBook Pro, but between its bottom searing the flesh of my lap, its bevy of powerful applications, and the network access chiming the arrival of my email and luring me into the world wide abyss, well... focus becomes an issue. I've thought for years about getting an Alphasmart Neo or Dana, but I'm not sure the usage will warrant the cost.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about my new(-to-me) Apple Newton, and how I've recently become smitten by this ten-year-old technology. Since then, I've received a near-mint Apple eMate 300 Newton for roughly $10, and have decided to use it as a writing platform. In fact, this post is entirely written with its built-in word processor. Consider it a little experiment.
Picture this, you're reading a book and you come across a passage or page that you want to recall for later. Maybe it's for your college studies, or maybe it's a recipe you want to cook up later in the week. As you continue reading, you find YET ANOTHER passage you want to mark. What do you do?
So, you hunt down for a slip of paper, maybe you remove it from your planner or notebook. Or you grab a sticky note and start jotting down notes and comments about the pages you're bookmarking. Then the nagging starts. Slowly and silently at first... appearing in the farthest corner in the back of your mind. That environmentalist guilt trip that reminds you that all this paper, those sticky notes, will do nothing to help the environment. That using more paper just creates more waste. That you'll lose the slips and lose your place and never find it again. There, you sit... paper in hand, wishing there was a better alternative to keeping track of multiple spots than using junk mail, index cards or sticky notes.
One bookmark cannot possibly hold two places, right? Wrong. Instead of ripping up valuable sticky notes that you'll trash or recycle later, why not create a multi-threaded bookmark to save your places in those books.
Last weekend, while my husband and I were at breakfast with a friend, we discussed dreams. First, my friend told us about her's; using bright words and concrete images. I was amazed at how real and vivid she described her dream as being. It was almost like listening to a recap of a favorite television show. Then kender spoke up and described his dream and how weird it was. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to share in their storytelling. I knew I dreamt, but wasn't able to recall what I did dream about. And this bummed me out, so I decided to work on what I could do to recall my dreams and then write them down.
Why do so many of us have a hard time remembering our dreams? Is it because of the deepness of sleep we achieve? Does the inability to recall our dreams hinder our personal development? Or maybe some of us cannot recall because we just dream deeply and are cursed with the inability to recall fully. I know that I, personally, LOVE dreaming. There are times I try and sneak daily naps in just so I can have more dreams! I believe that anyone, given enough practice CAN recall their dreams. With the help of a dream journal.
Keeping a record of your dreams brings out the storyteller in all of us. And who doesn't love to tell a fun story? All you need is a journal (or your planner) and a pen and setting some morning time aside to get your thoughts down. The idea is, when you first wake up in the morning, you write down the story, symbols and scenes that took place in your head while your eyes were closed. The entries do not to be too long-- however, I've found that it's more fun to try and write dreams down as if they were fictional stories than it is to just list symbols and places and people. This includes being able to add as much colorful description and dialog as you can. Some people don't have any problems writing down their dreams. They're able to write full recounts of the storyline, recall things that were said and they even know exactly what each symbol in the dream meant and how it reflects back to their life. However, for some of us, trying to remember our dreams can be tough. And this requires a bit more ritual and preparation.
Growing up, I used to have this small square trunk with an airbrushed scene of lightly colored swans swimming in some fantasy pond. It matched my room and when I laid my eyes on it, I instantly knew what I was going to use it for. Storing letters. (No comments from the peanut gallery! I guess organization and storage toys *are* a part of my genetics.) When my best friend moved out of state, we started sending each other letters. At first, these letters were kept in a shoe box. But the letters soon outgrew the box and the trunk, was perfect to store the remaining years of letters we sent back and forth. Over 10 years worth of correspondence. We stopped writing when we went to college; our friendship getting lost in the hustle of classes and freedom.
That was 10 years ago. I don't know whether or not the trunk still exists somewhere buried in the basement of my parents' house. However, I've kept to my information hoarding habits and save almost everything I find important on my computer. Smudge (my Macbook) has emails dating back to 1998, all my college essays, random PDF articles from blogs or sites and lots and lots of downloads. I tend to go PDF and download crazy when I get bored at work. So I have quite the collection of PDFs, images and freebie downloads for various design apps I prefer to use. Of course, this doesn't include the things I keep on my home network server or the backups that exist there as well. Most of the time, these files get shucked away in my computer's filing system where searching and remembering what all I have stored there becomes a nightmare.
Honestly, I'm not sure I even know half of what I have digitally now. And it bugs me sometimes. Information is only as good as you're able to use and digest it, and I feel like I'm not using what I have on this system as much as I could be. Because of this, I've been researching digital information manager applications. I'm here to tell you there is a solution. One that threatens to replace a few existing applications on my beloved Macbook. It's called DEVONthink Pro and I'm in love. And it allows me to store, catalog, search and retrieve anything I feed into it.
Yes, we all love beautiful paper and pens and leather binders and every second item on the shelves of a stationery store. And yes, many of us tend to take notes, write drafts, brainstorm, manage our time, and sketch on paper. But sooner or later, there comes a time when what we write or produce has to wind up in a digital form for sharing with others. For example, my journal and index cards may be the foundation for the articles I write here, but sooner or later I have to put fingers to keys and pound out the words.
But, like most tinkerers attracted to shiny metal objects, it's hard to keep distraction at bay. For example, while I dearly love (though not quite in a carnal sense) my new MacBook Pro, all the bells and whistles conspire to turn my attention from writing. Each bleep of my Google Gmail Notifier, which word or idea or link I want to look up, each Amazon book I want to link to, each photo I need to take and resize and optimise....
What was I saying? Oh, yes... it's hard to keep on topic with so many distractions.
So, the paper angle is covered; I have plenty of focus there. What I need is some way to write without digital distraction.
There are some moments that I’d call picture perfect. These are snippets of time, that seem to defy the normal timeline and settle deep within my core. Hours spent on the sofa, reading a favored Neil Gaiman book, sipping tea while the rain outside gives the world a fresh spring bath. Knowing you nailed an interview for the all-too-perfect job at your dream company. Relaxing out in the backyard, enjoying the sun, as a squirrel or rabbit or bird hops by your side... these moments make life alive.
Memories like these stay in my head and become sources of my daydreams. I often wonder what I can do to recapture the feelings and moments more often. Repeating them over and over in your mind is one way to do it and a good way to romanticize the past. However, repeating them also creates longing and I've learned that it's never too good to dwell in the past. The best way I've found is to capture these moments, in words or in images, in your journals. Distill the feeling and picture of that time in your life down to it's core and immortalize it on a page.
Last week, I lost my day job. Now I'm not looking for sympathy, it's a part of my life as a writer (we're always the first to go, it seems), but I realized something. Today was the first day I spent looking at all the things I took home from my old office. Earlier today I carefully dragged the three boxes of paper, books and the colorful nicknacks that adorned my desk and bookshelf. I went through the boxes and carefully pulled out much of the bits and bobs that I wasn't going to be needing for the "next" job and set them aside. About 99% of that pile was papers. Papers from meetings, project planner forms detailing jobs and lots of one-on-one forms. Looking back at all those forms is like looking back at 50% of my life in the past year. I wrote manuals, created fliers, and had plans for brochures and newsletters. And like most people who leave their jobs, things like these papers get tossed right into the recycling pile. (Come on... we all know that these forms get tossed or recycled. I'm not the only one here.) Well, not today.
Instead of saying adios to my last job by unceremoniously dumping the papers into the trash, where they make a great THUMP sound, I'm keeping many of the project cards and one-on-one forms that helped me focus and stay productive on my job. I'm going to use these forms to decorate my walls or paste in my journals. (I'd rather turn them into journal covers than let them decompose slowly in the cold.) Those forms helped define and shape my career over the last year. In effect, they ARE journal entries and creative memories of what I did in my life to pay the bills. Who says your art and journal entries need to be clean and messy. You now have permission to reuse those forms, save them from the landfills and go make art with them.