Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea forever. ~Will Self
Many years ago, I attended a typical committee meeting as one does in higher education. A beloved colleague leaned over and said, “You really should ditch that paper notebook.” He paused to wrinkle his brow to look like he smelled something awful.
“People in technology won’t take you seriously if you write by hand,” he said.
People In Technology.
He meant people in The Field, of course. Ed-tech. EdTech. Educational technology. The field of Education in technology. Of technology. With technology. Alongside technology.
I tried to take his advice to heart. I begrudgingly typed in boxes to record “Events” and “Tasks.” I made lists on electronic documents. It lasted for about two weeks and the next thing I knew I had piles of bar coasters with notes in my purse. Matchbooks from gas stations with quotes in the glove compartment of my car. Notes on the back of grocery stores receipts.
Then I tried to not carry a pen. That lasted for two days.
I can’t give up the paper notebooks I’ve now have kept for decades.
Over the past several months, I’ve been getting to know my new job and how this position connects with educational research, courseware creation, curriculum development, and open education. And lucky for me, all four of my interests collide during the work hours. And still I carry the paper notebooks.
Here’s the thing.
I took two really intense yoga classes this past weekend, I struggled to do three of the poses well because I injured my leg earlier in the week during a mountain bike ride. It was a stupid crash–a slow-motion-over-the-handle-bars-knee-slam-into-a-rock-kind-of-crash. Bruised bone. Bruised ego.
During my struggle to kneel comfortably in the yoga class, my teacher told a story about how she changed her method of teaching by listening to another teacher. She said that she used to instruct from a place of fear. Advising students to work through the pain. Avoiding pain. Living through pain. What she learned from this other teacher is that pain is just another sensation. Why avoid it, she asked. Why not see the pain as message from our bodies as another sensation that we are getting stronger. More flexible. Better. It’s just another sensation.
I wrote that anecdote down immediately in my journal when I got home.
Here’s the other thing.
Someone I love dearly shared with me that he’s had a writing break-though lately. He’s often oppressed by the blank page. The blinking cursor. The blank stare of a lit keyboard. The expectation of the finished project.
This I understand.
Copying down a passage and then taking notes of my thoughts about the passage makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, he shared. As an aspiring writer yourself, he said, this is something you can do. Something you can understand. Copying down this passage makes me feel like I’ve written something good.
In my mind, I thought of the phrase in medias res. Having a passage to tease apart feels like you’re a writer in the middle of things. In the middle of something.
I’m in the middle of reading this incredible memoir titled The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch. Here’a passage I wrote in my notebook:
Have endless patterns and repetitions accompanying your thoughtlessness, as if to say let go of that other more linear story, with its beginning, middle, and end, with its transcendent end, let go, we are the poem, we have come miles of life, we have survived this far to tell you, go on, go on.
You will see you have an underlying tone and plot to your life underneath the one you’ve been told. Circular and image bound. Something near tragic, near unbearable, but contained by your irreducible imagination–who would have thought of it but you–your ability to metamorphose like organic material in contact with changing elements. The rocks. They carry the chronology of water. All things simultaneously living and dead in your hands.
Having a passage to tease apart feels like you’re a writer in the middle of things. In the middle of something.