The Notebook

About once a week I have my breakfast at Panera. It’s on my way to work so I like getting there early, while it’s still quiet, to eat my oatmeal and read. Creature of habit that I am, I sit at the same table, and have gotten used to seeing a bunch of other regulars, also in their same seats. There’s an older gentleman who sits at a nearby table and always orders coffee and toast. After he finishes his toast, he scrolls through his phone, props it up, and starts sketching on a napkin. Without fail. I circled by on my way to the trash one time so that I could catch at peek at what he sketches. Cars. He sketches cars. On napkins. One day recently I had an idea. I wonder if he’d like a pocket notebook for his drawings. (You may recall I have a few.) Is that weird?, I wondered. To offer a stranger a notebook? Maybe so, but Thursday morning I did it anyway. At first I got a a gruff little “huh?” out of him, then I explained that I noticed that he’s always drawing and I have all of these notebooks and maybe he’d like one. To draw in. Or for grocery lists or something.

He LIT UP. We talked about the “olden days,” when there were things like party lines and wonderful little stores downtown. I heard about his hernia surgery, and how he’s originally from Frankfort. And did I remember The Windsor beauty shop in South Utica because that was his aunt’s.

Thanks to a simple pocket notebook, I made a friend.

His name is Bruce and he’s 77.

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Never underestimate the power of a simple notebook.

 

Diving In

The weather wasn’t the best today—a drizzly rain settled in after lunch—so I decided to take a longer stab at tackling the stationery decluttering project than the few minutes I’ve spent on it during the week. In a fortunate coincidence, the well-being practice for the Whole Life Challenge (I’m starting week #3 of the six-week wellness challenge) is to avoid all social media for the week. Had that not been the case, I KNOW I would’ve been running to my phone as a way to procrastinate and soothe my overwhelmed nerves. But I’ve removed the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram apps, so without that pull, I dug in for a few uninterrupted hours this afternoon.

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The starting point

Step one is “macro” sorting—grouping like items together. I’m separating pencils, notebooks, fountain pens, ballpoints, gel pens, pen sets, Retro 51s (they get their own category), etc. into separate cartons. This isn’t their final destination, but it’s giving me a better sense of how much I have of each major category.

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The tip of the Retro 51 iceberg

So many thoughts are passing through my head as I tackle this project.

  • How did this get so far out of hand?
  • My notebook/pencil stash will certainly outlast me. (Fun thought.)
  • Ooooo…I forgot about this pen! (Repeat about 15 times. Maybe more.)
  • What do I do with all of these empty pen boxes?
  • How can I ramp up my use of all of this?
  • Should I put some notebooks and/or pens up for sale?
  • Should I toss a match into the room and call it good?
  • And the critical one…DO NOT ACQUIRE ANY MORE STUFF!!

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Midway through the afternoon, I cancelled my Log+Jotter monthly subscription (despite how much I enjoy their notebooks), because really, there is no justification for adding to this.

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I’m still hanging onto my CW Pencil subscription for the time being because I truly enjoy the quarterly, beautifully curated surprise, but, I dunno, does that make sense when you are already knee-deep in pencils?

Right now I feel very much like a toddler at the dinner table who’s pushing peas and carrots around their plate to make it look like they’re disappearing. The vegetables are in different places but are all still there.

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It’s kind of a shell game.

Progress? Maybe?

 

 

A Public Declaration

I’m fixing this.

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I know it’ll take time, and that I’ll have to make a bigger mess to make it better, but I’m tackling this…uh…situation. The Easter basket should be easy. (???) I’ve made this pledge before and taken half-hearted stabs at restoring back order to this corner of the dining room, but this time I’m sticking with it (like that morning journaling in a previous post).

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Sorting is step #1. I took a baby step forward tonight and already found something I was missing.

I’m doing this. Want to come along? I could use the moral support.

Expect monthly updates. Ahhhh…this feels better already.

Dearly Departed

CLINTON, NY- The bullet pencil affectionately known as “Mr. Bear,” passed on to the eternal desk drawer on September 11, 2019.  Though approximately 80 years of age, Mr. Bear was still living life to the fullest at the time of his passing, with no thought of retirement. Created as a souvenir for Crawford Notch State Park in New Hampshire, Mr. Bear enjoyed life with a variety of owners and worked tirelessly without complaint. Eventually worn to a nub by this fierce work ethic, Mr. Bear was lovingly restored to full vitality by the expert hands of bullet pencil aficionado Randy Ragan. Most recently adopted by Mary Collis, Mr. Bear was happiest knocking around in a pocket, always ready to jot down a note, write out a grocery list, or to sketch out an impromptu idea. In his spare time, Mr. Bear was fond of solving Cryptogram word puzzles, where his beefy eraser came in particularly handy. He was so proud of that eraser. Whether attending a departmental meeting, logging workout details into a pocket notebook, or balancing a checkbook, Mr. Bear gave and gave without any thought of himself—never fearing the uncomfortable grind of the pencil sharpener. If there is any consolation in his passing, it is that the end came quickly. Crushed by a maintenance van after being accidentally dropped, Mr. Bear never knew what hit him, and that brings a bit of peace to his heartbroken survivors.

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Warning: Graphic injuries!

“If there ever comes a day where we can’t be together, keep me in your heart. I’ll stay there forever.” —From Winnie the Pooh (a favorite book of Mr. Bear’s, for obvious reasons)

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In happier times, with other pocket friends.

Stickin’ With It*

* With credit to Ted Walker and Adam Webb, hosts of the Take Note podcast.

I recently started listening to Take Note, thanks to Tim Wasem’s recommendation on a recent episode of the Erasable podcast. I especially enjoy how the hosts chat about what they write rather than focusing so much on what they write with or on. Sometimes they feature a segment called “Stickin’ With It” where they talk about the things in their lives—sometimes stationery, sometimes not—that they find themselves enjoying over and over again. As someone who, for the most part, has the stationery attention span of an eight-week-old puppy, this has been inspiring. Instead of constantly flitting through pencils, pens, and inks, maybe I should try a less frenetic approach. Rather than becoming enamored with the newest and shiniest thing, maybe I’d enjoy some consistency with what I’m using—a single pencil (à la Caroline Weaver), or just one or two fountain pens instead of the herd that I currently have inked. Oh attention span, I hardly knew ye.

Just as I was feeling guilty about all of this stationery polygamy, I hit a milestone worthy of my own “Stickin’ With It” segment. On Thursday morning, I filled up my fifth Nanami Paper Seven Seas Tomoe River Notebook. That’s 2400 pages since June 2016. I wonder how many milliliters of ink I’ve used and how many miles of words I’ve written by practicing “butt in chair” (to quote Anne Lamott) at 4:45 am.

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This is my morning practice—my writing meditation—the one place in my life where I am truly stickin’ with it.

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Oh that Sailor Grenade sheen! That’ll perk you right up!

Without fail.

 

 

A Pocketful Of Bullet Pencils

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From pens to pencils to bullet pencils, this is yet another example of how one thing leads to another and suddenly you’re sitting on a healthy little collection. It’s like decluttering in reverse. I seem to be exceptionally good at that. The anti-Kondo method. Maybe I’ll write a book.

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I’ll call it Why Have One When Eight Will Do?

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There are plenty of practical reasons to use bullet pencils. They give new life to those too-short-on-their-own pencil nubbins. They make pencils pocketable while preserving a perfect point and protecting your legs from graphite stabbage. I have one of Randy Ragan’s expertly restored bullet pencils tucked into a pocket all day every day, and use them often for jotting down notes, working on a brain-teaser puzzle, or capturing an idea for a poem that pops into my head during my lunchtime walk in the woods.

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But if I’m honest, a lot of the appeal of bullet pencils is not practical at all—it’s all about those vintage graphics. The colors. The fonts. The attractions. All of the bullet pencils I own represent places I’ve been—most of them as a child. Okay, I’ve never been to the Bennett Stock Yards—that would be a weird vacation—but I have been to St. Paul, Minnesota where they’re located and I especially like that pencil’s purpley-blue color. They remind me of the those childhood vacations that didn’t require even a moment of work. No planning. No packing. No mapping out routes. No cursing about traffic. You just showed up with your pillow, settled into the back seat, shoved the seat belt out of the way (we weren’t particularly safety conscious back then) and off you went. I’m not sure I appreciated how great that feeling was but I sure do now.

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Travel today is such a mixture of preparation, stress, and rushing that’s it’s easy to forget the fun parts. Using a bullet pencil as I navigate through unfamiliar airports and crowded security checkpoints always makes me feel better by reminding me of those simpler times—when I wasn’t carrying so much mental weight. It’s the perfect tool to jot down a gate or seat number, but also a little reminder to lighten up and enjoy the journey.

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Bullet pencils—a vintage souvenir and the perfect stress eraser. Pun intended.

All of the bullet pencils pictured here were purchased from Randy Ragan who can be found in the Erasable Podcast Facebook group. Episode 101 of the Erasable Podcast features an interview with Randy. Very much worth a listen.

Stationery In Real Life: Making Do

 

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Pittsburgh from the overlook

I attend a work-related conference every year, so to make things easy (well…easier) I have a packing list at the ready in Evernote. No need to rewrite the thing from scratch every year. I just make a few edits, print it out, then pack and check off each item as it goes into my suitcase. The week before the conference was a doozy, with very little breathing room. Every day I had “Pack for conference” on my to-do list but didn’t find time to get to it until zero hour. Packing under pressure is not my favorite thing.

Despite the list, mistakes were made.

I discovered the first mistake minutes after arriving. As I unpacked, I rummaged through my suitcase desperately searching for the third pair of shorts I was sure I’d packed. Despite the fact that “Shorts” was dutifully checked off on my packing list, I quickly realized that somehow I’d left that third pair at home. (Note to my future self: Do not check off an item until ALL of said item are actually IN THE SUITCASE.) Oh, well…I’ll make do, I told myself. No other choice, really. (It was a HOT week so shorts were not the best thing to forget. But whatever.)

That same evening, as I walked around downtown Pittsburgh, enjoying the energy of the city, time with a friend, and the prospect of a week away from my normal routine and responsibilities, my brain happily relaxed. For a moment. Then it remembered the notebook I wanted to bring for all of my conference-related note-taking. The perfect notebook. The one that is neither too thick nor too thin. The one that handles fountain pen ink like a dream. I used a Nock Co. A 5 DotDash notebook at last year’s conference and it quickly became my go-to conference notebook. One problem, that notebook was home in a desk drawer, and that desk was 396 miles from Pittsburgh.

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The Desk Which Was Not In Pittsburgh

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The Notebook Which Was Not In Pittsburgh

I confessed all of this to my friend (who is well aware of my deeply rooted stationery quirks) then ducked into a nearby CVS to find something suitable for note taking, but their notebook offerings were picked over and just plain sad. With an obscene number of notebooks on hand at home, I couldn’t bring myself to buy a drugstore brand wide-ruled spiral notebook.

I had plenty of paper with me—a Tomoe River pad for letter writing, my Hobonichi, a Seven Seas Nanami Paper journal for my morning pages, a couple of in-progress Field Notes for work and personal to-do lists, a Levenger Circa notebook holding all of my master lists and a few blank pages—but none of that made sense for use during the conference. (“Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.”)

Then it hit me, I’d tossed a couple of Log+Jotter pocket notebooks into my writing kit, for no real reason—just a last minute whim. They might work!!

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Suddenly the pit of forgotten stationery that had lodged in my stomach eased and I knew everything would be okay. I could make do.

As it turned out, everything worked out perfectly. I had a great week, and almost filled a 40-page Log+Jotter notebook with notes from a week’s worth of meetings and conference sessions. I had a whole pocket notebook to spare!

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A happy ending. I love those.