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Blanks: Trading Tech for Tradition

Ashley Gateless on

It might have started young, the early days of elementary school with the annual restocking of school supplies. Binders full of fresh loose leaf and number 2s delicately finished to a fine point. Who could forget the pristine potential of it all? Never mind that within a matter of weeks those same tools were covered in the unspeakable grit, grime, and mystery stickiness of a public school. Jammed into the back of desks, cubby holes, and lockers to slowly begin the decay into their next form.

notebooksLoose-leaf gave way to composition books in college. Books that never started out on a good foot - cardboard holding paper, subjected to various bounds of graphite, ballpoint, sharpie, duct tape, torn out pages, and eventually the lengthwise crease as it was folded over and stowed in my back pocket. A lover who had kept me in those days introduced me to my first “nice” notebook - a hardbacked, faux-leather number with a gloriously weighted paper and a spine that promised a flat lay no matter what.

By all standards, that particular notebook was perfection. So it was particularly rough when she dumped me a week later and therein promised a wealth of torment to fill the pages. Perfect book, imperfect memories. I survived it no less.

Even after I had filled the last page that book followed me around for years along with other books I had been collecting in a plastic shopping basket I had stolen from the local grocer (college, you know). Where the composition books had always been beaten to hell for a semester and then unceremoniously tossed into the first recycle bin I encountered, this next evolution of notebook stuck with me. Now every visit to a bookstore or gift shop I was drawn to the stock of books - thinking a replica of that particular notebook would be shelved there somewhere. It never was, but a worthy substitute would usually take its place.

The shopping basket would move with me from one apartment to the next, heavier with each move - more books, more ink in those books - until I would destroy completed notebooks in a ceremonious fashion. Reducing them to a pile of staples and steel spiral bindings as the pages went through shredders.

Last year I was gifted a premium membership to Evernote. The attempt was to move everything I had been doing in notebooks to the digital world. How could it fail? All the notes I had taken on paper during meetings could now be jotted directly to the cloud with a digital pencil on a tablet. Everything I encountered with half an interest on the internet was now saved forever in a personal archive. Typed out journals, receipts, shopping lists - never forgotten, archived forever.

The digital experiment failed for so many reasons - the handwritten chaos that is the digital pencil, the creative lockout that comes with composing anything on a keyboard, the arbitrary trust in something “syncing” to a cloud I'll never see, and the absurd idea of never forgetting anything, ever.

Trip Planning Notebook MiiR, David PenningtonSo I deleted everything (at least, I think I did?) and killed the little green elephant off my desktop. For all the things a digital note system could promise, the ability to forget wasn't one of them. Where digital offered tags and folders and searchability, there is a charm that I missed out of the basket of notebooks - pile them up, dump everything after a few months, and trust that anything ideas that needed to resurface would need to.  I remember the details of that first perfect notebook, but I don't remember much about the person who gave it to me. For all the books that I have recycled since then there are countless things I jotted down that I wanted to remember, but certainly don't miss.

With each new, blank book is an opportunity to let chaos back in. A fury of thinking expressed through a pen that can’t keep up, resulting in pages of nearly illegible script. I’ve relished in the idea of forgetting - in letting everything that peaks out front of mind fade back into nothing. The lapse of the burden of having everything remembered, following you around. Sure, my digital footprint may still be vast and far - but the shopping basket of books is gone now. Replaced by a routinely circulated four or five books - for the nightstand, the back pocket, the backpack - that are filled out, stacked high, and brought camping where they will eventually serve as kindling.

A thousand ideas and thoughts and reflections offered up to the flame of a campfire, left as ashes. A good a reason as any to go camping.

-from MiiR Contributor David Pennington-
David Pennington is a photographer and online content developer living in Denver. He likes all the things Colorado people like.