A while ago I remember seeing a hashtag or photo that mentioned #onenotebook something or other. It might’ve been July. I think it might’ve been something that Ana of The Well-Appointed Desk posted. Anyway, the idea is to use one notebook for everything for a month. I Imagine that sounds quite simple but it sounds like a challenge for those of us who often have 17 notebooks going at one time.
The idea dove-tails nicely into my interest in zibaldones, or commonplace books. A zibaldone is essentially a catch-all notebook; it’s a scrapbook of ideas and experiences. I first learned about zibaldones from this great Atlas Obscura post although (unbeknownst to me) I’ve been keeping commonplace books for years. Though I gave up “journaling” quite a while ago, I’ve kept up the habit of commonplacing. Writing things down helps me remember them, and I like things I can go back to for reference or research purposes. While I do keep some notes in Google Keep, I prefer pencil and paper. My notebooks hold ideas for creative projects, recipes, quotes, random facts, memories, ephemera, books to read, places to go, etc.
I have occasionally tried to organize all these things by dividing them into different notebooks. I have a lot of notebooks actually* but am less apt to write things down when they’re not all in one place. One book at a time, lovingly and usefully worn-in page by page, is such a smarter idea.
So I’m going to do #onenotebookNovember wherein I use one notebook for everything for an entire month, flying in the face of my monkey mind that bounces around thinking that more notebooks is better. I’ve got a beautiful new Cognitive Surplus notebook (with lined AND graph paper; so clever!) that’ll be my go-to for all my commonplacing in November. My mind is abuzz with ideas and plans for next year so I’m sure the notebook will be a chaotic mess in no time.
*I’m going to tackle this problem by putting notebooks on my No Buy list for 2017. More on that later.
Over the past few days some articles of the importance of staying vigilant against the creep of cynicism have made their way into my periphery. It seems a fairly obvious observation to suggest that cynicism helps you successfully function in this world not one iota but as with most common sense we often need it pointed out repeatedly.
It is the tenth anniversary of a wonderful project and resource called Brain Pickings.
This week its author Maria Popova shared ten things she’s
learned from ten years of reading, curating, and writing about how learning how
others view the world through different disciplines helps us to understand our own role and perspective of the world. The tenth item on her anniversary ‘lessons learned’ list addresses cynicism head-on. She calls it out as ugly, lazy, and corrosive, and she’s right. Quite simply, it’s unhelpful.
This is a sentiment echoed in a piece on Medium called Cynicism Sucks by Hanna Brooks Olsen. Hanna’s done a lovely job of bringing the focus of the unhelpful nature of cynicism on to this political season. Whilst I’m not keen on discussing politics here* I’m struck by how easy it might be to not be cynical when we give people the benefit of the doubt. Conversely, consider the notion that the people whose motives you’re side-eyeing are mired in ignorance.
Cynicism is negativity. Our response when it’s clouded our thoughts should be amped altruism: first in reflection, then in action. Fight against the mental noise that is neither restful nor enriching. As Maria says, “model its opposite” because behavior often communicates more clearly than words.
*though for the sake of transparency I’m capital L Left.
I deleted my GoodReads account this week. It was a little liberating spark to end what was most always an experience somewhere between neutral and loathing. I hadn’t used it in a while. The design of the site feels quite outdated and I found the functionality to be increasingly glitchy. Mostly I wasn’t interested in doing reviews of the books I read and that’s a big part of participating on the site. So yeah.
My lovely friend Hayley wrote a post yesterday that piqued my interest because OMG WHAT IS CRACKER TOFFEE PLEASE SEND ME SOME but also because creativity and its practice is a deep common interest of ours. The gist of it is that our practice usually doesn’t look like what we might hope.
I’m fascinated by creativity. I like it as a concept so much that I sometimes find it intimidating. I interrogate my friends with unanswerable questions about their own creative work: how, when, why, to what end!? I’m probably looking for some kind of road-map to begin and an explanation of what it’ll feel like when (if?) I get it right. Every now and then I think I’ve got it down but self-doubt strides in and I spend precious time trying to replicate the exact conditions of when it worked out before. (That doesn’t work, by the way.)
Thing is, you can’t really do creativity wrong. It’s quite meta in that being creative is in itself creative. But I think part of wanting to practice creativity a certain way, at least in my experience, is procrastination. The reasons can vary: paralysis by perfectionism, fear of failure, comparing yourself to others. All of them are rooted in having expectations but any expectations, at least in the early stages of the creative process, are restrictive. Some of us don’t respond well to being restricted so we avoid and procrastinate; it’s a cycle in which nothing but fretting gets done.
I suspect the foundation of all the aforementioned reasons for procrastination is feeling like a fraud. It’s much easier to share the experience of fretting than it is to email a friend a poem for critique, or posting a portrait to Instagram, or listing a painting for sale on Etsy. Because I fear being discovered as the fraudulent writer I feel I am, I do nothing or share nothing. And because of all that nothing, I don’t feel like I can call myself a writer. It’s a self-feeding disappointment factory.
All the friends who graciously field my questions tell me mostly the same thing: Stay out of your own head, don’t self-censor during the process, make shitty stuff now so you can make better stuff later, there’s no such thing as perfect, just try.
A few years ago when I extracted myself from calling any man mister I didn’t expect it to take so long to get back to doing the things I want to do. The task of setting things right seemed overwhelming; there was a lot to do. It took a while to organize and figure out how to balance fun with purpose.
I discovered that the things I value and the things I enjoy intersect on many levels. My health is related to my savings account, and both are related to my ability to travel. Travel almost always involves seeing friends and family, but also provides for the break from Real Life that for a long time I didn’t know I needed. My interests in supporting local organic food producers and crafts people are related to my budget, my role in minimizing waste, and to my responsibilities as a global citizen. My understanding of the Dharma acts as a thread that connects ideas & behaviours within the big picture. Being an arts patron is related to my own creative practice and to the relationships I have with friends and family. Every interest and value is amplified by the importance of maintaining my mental health. Every interest and value is also intertwined with my desire to be prepared for the unexpected.
Through some self-reflection I’ve come to realize that I’m happiest when I’m planning for a transition or in the midst of a project. I loved the process of applying to universities years ago: the pre-requisites, the checklists, the shift in mind-set. I love the ritual of coordinating a travel itinerary, of learning a new skill step by step, and of gathering & sharing information. To be a part of a friends’ project in any capacity is a joy.
So as it is with most things, everything’s connected. It’s my birthday seven months from today. Knowing that I want to travel next year, and with the understanding that every other concern is to some degree tied to that goal, I intend to use the next seven months to develop the intersections of my values with everyday life. There’s lots of work ahead…
Thursdays are my Saturdays and I treat them as such; I’m so very lazy. Double or even triple lazy when the temperature is upwards of 85°. Quite often I waste most of the day berating myself for wasting most of the day as I binge-watch some crime drama and scribble nonsense in my notebook. Thing is, there’s nothing wrong with doing day-off things on your day-off. Time spent unwinding from the ridiculous knots that bind us up in modern life is not wasted time. Nevertheless, with the clock creeping toward evening and having accomplished little, I feel a bit broody.
Instead of uselessly whinging about my (totally acceptable!) down-time, and encouraged by my lovely friend Hayley, I thought I’d peruse the delightful little things that made today a good day just the way it was.
- New jack o’lantern stamps were released this week. My usual branch didn’t have any (and oh yes, the management will hear my grumbling) but I got two sheets at another. They’ll pair beautifully with my Evil Supply Co. stationery.
- Lyrical dispatches from a Notts-bound coach. Any day that I receive pieces of works-in-progress from my dearest Daniel is an especially good one.
- Peppermint essential oil helped clear up the sinus headache I woke up with this morning.
- Pencil rotation and sharpening ritual. I have a large collection of pencils and I use all of them. I have a Ball jar on my stationery cart that holds all the pencils currently in rotation. I use them randomly and write with them until they need sharpening. I put them back in the jar point-side up, and when there are more points up than erasers, I sharpen them all and swap some with the surplus in the lilac memory box. It’s silly but it’s a nice little ritual; I think of some neat ideas when sharpening pencils.
- My sugar MK shared a beautiful picture of a Buddhist monastic ordination ceremony in Dharamsala. She knew the picture would warm my heart and it did.
- My friend Stacia shared her idea for a short story collection with me and we agreed to encourage each other in our writing practice.
- Treated myself to a new notebook. I recently got a little gift card from my employer on the occasion of my 5th anniversary with them. I used most of the money for charitable things but with the last $20 I got a new notebook from Cognitive Surplus. Lined pages and graph pages are just what I’ve been looking for. Outstanding bonus points for the books being recycled and recyclable. I’ll do a review when I’ve had a chance to spend some time in it.
Simple things are good things, and it was a good and simple day.
I’m quite keen on the idea of my friends pursuing their creative interests. I can be a cheerleader, a patron, a sounding board, and a social media cog. But mostly I’m relentlessly encouraging. Yes, I want to hear your song demo, and yes, I want to hear about your first day of class, and yes, of course I want to see the work in progress. I want you to know that it’s a joy to be a participant or observer in your process and that’s because I know you have the option of doing nothing.
You can opt not to write the song. You can opt not to register for that class. You can choose to not write that manuscript. You can decide that your fear of criticism and experience of self-doubt outweighs the benefit of action. But you don’t.
You choose to draw 1,000 pine trees so you can get one right. And you write 1,000 words to get the perfect combination of just 500. You play the same series of chords every day for weeks to master the finger-work. Something in you wants to spend time and effort (and even money) on those creative activities. You enjoy it, are challenged by it, benefit from it, struggle with it, hate it, love it, whatever…
But you do it, and I’m encouraged by your example. I opt to no longer do nothing.