Saturday, December 19, 2009

What's in a Notebook?

A day after I started this blog, an acquaintance said to me, "So, what's the big deal about your notebook?"

"What do you mean?" I asked, thinking he wanted to know what I'd write about on my blog.

"Unless you're taking notes on something, your notebook is just a place to put shopping lists and stuff," he said. "And since you're not a reporter anymore, and you're not taking any courses anywhere,why the fuss?"

I thought it was a good question.

First, I told him the name of my blog was to give people a sense that my topics could be anything under the sun.

"Oh," he said. "I thought you were going to write about your notebook and what you put in it."

So the second thing I told him was indeed that was part of my plan.

I explained one doesn't need to be a working journalist or a student to have a notebook that is much more than reminders of what to bring home from the market.

I asked him if he had ever heard of David Allen's book Getting Things Done. He had, and said he even belonged to a Yahoo group called GTD.

"Well, you might know then that some people, rather than have a Blackberry use notebooks for managing their use of Allen's GTD," I said. "In fact, some people create indexes and put plastic tabs on the pages of their pocket notebooks. Sometimes I do that with my Moleskines."

He wanted to know why these people wouldn't just buy a ready-made date book from the store. When I asked him to answer his own question, he got full marks: "I guess you couldn't set up the way you want it."

This conversation got me thinking about the various ways I use my pocket notebooks.

Having been a journalist, and now a therapist, my ear is always open for interesting tidbits of conversation from people around me. I may hear a phrase or sentence in which the person has expressed themselves in a unique way. Having a notebook with me lets me capture quotes, so I don't forget what I have heard.

Or, the conversation of others may lead to new ideas, or insights. If I don't write down what I hear, chances are it'll get forgotten. Over the years, I've had countless ideas for stories, things to do, and therapy interventions that came from overhearing the people around me.

But a notebook is like a camera, and that means to benefit from it you need to observe with your eyes as well as your ears. Often I write brief notes about what people are doing around me, or a scene that strikes my curiosity. It doesn't have to be anything fancy schmancy - simply something that seems to me a little out of the ordinary.

Because of my notebook, I'm probably more observant today than if I hadn't spent the last 40 years carrying notebooks and pens.

And I think this habit has helped me to have a more diverse web of connected tidbits of information and thoughts that often have thrown something useful up from my subconscious mind - many times when I least expected it.

After the chat I had with my friend about notebooks, he realized my interest goes beyond just what may be put into a notebook, and includes the ways people have found to benefit from their pen and paper.

Even in a supposedly digital age.

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