Journaling: Notebooks

So, how is everyone doing? February feels like it’s three-months long, doesn’t it?

True to my decision to start posting here more often, here I am again after a month with a very interesting update about notebooks! Because why not discuss things that are pleasant, right? I am slowly realizing that our obsession to dwell on the trauma and unhappiness in order to heal it is not really working out for most people. I think the way forward is to continue to bury our feelings. Not to bury them, actually, just hit Ignore. Just choose not to allow them to take space in our minds. Don’t give them fuel to become larger than they need to be.

I read somewhere that the secret to happiness is simply choosing one thought over the other. Isn’t that amazing? Because it is as simple as that. What do we choose to dwell on? Life is hard and imperfect. We cannot solve everything or everyone. We cannot fix ourselves oftentimes. What we have to do is go on and for that we need to stay functional. Have you noticed that many people who “bury their feelings” remain very functional? Why not choose the good, happy thought over the dark, paralyzing one? Why not always imagine the happy ending? Might not turn out happy, but leading up to it we’re good. And afterwards? I don’t know. It’s not like I have all the answers. Afterwards I guess we choose to forget it as soon as we can. Because we can’t go back and change anything, so what’s the point? Just look up ahead again, to something else bright and shiny. That’s all. Life’s secrets unlocked. You’re welcome!

Accuracy Note: The correct quote is actually “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another,” and it belongs to William James, considered the father of American psychology.

And now, notebooks, as promised. Because that’s our happy place.

This is actually an update to my journal system described earlier.

Notebook Paper

I think I have reached perfection when it comes to my writing/journaling supplies. This is where I declare myself happy and content and no longer looking at all the pens and all the inks and notebooks out there. Well, kind of, because of course I already have my eye on a new type of paper that I’d like to try. (The Onion Skin Journal! I mean, come on, how good does that sound?)

But I am good with notebooks. last year, everyone in the fountain pen community went a little berserk because the Tomoe River paper manufacturer in Japan said there won’t be any more such paper being made. Over and done. The machine broke and they could not fix it. Tried replacing it but that didn’t give the same results so they were just halting production. Oh, that was a sad moment. (Of course now there are rumors that someone else bought the machine and they might be coming out with more paper soon? Who knows?)

What I know is that I really liked my new notebook, so after a while I bought another one online, just to have a backup. And then, when the news came that the paper would be discontinued, I went ahead and bought two more. And another one when I got a coupon in the main. Here I have to stop and mention that it takes me about two years to fill out one of these monster journals (about 400 pages each). So I might be set for the next 8 years, you know? But onion skin paper, people! Who can resist the thought of that!

Notebook Cover

I do have to say that the cover I got for my journal is amazing and I couldn’t be happier with it. It’s from JoyToken and was a splurge for my birthday two years ago. I removed the long cord that was tying the journal as a closure, because I really don’t need to use that, but the extra long flap keeps it nicely closed and protected in a bag. It’s lasted amazingly well after two years of constant use. I have been moisturizing the leather regularly, which probably helps. It’s very huggable. Really. I feel like hugging my journal every time I pick it up. Do you do that? Anyway, I expect to be using this cover for many many years to come.

Well, this was fun. I’ll be telling you all about my pens and inks in a future post, I guess. Something to look forward to. (For me, if not so much for you.) In the meantime, choose the happy thought over the other!

Stationery: bullet journaling

Since late last year I fell victim to the bullet journal craze. I am easily swayed by trends, as we all know, but this time I was actively looking for a system that would bring back pens and notebooks into daily use.

Before the bullet journal I used to have a scattered system all centered around the regular journal (a classic hard cover Moleskine) where I wrote very infrequently in the past few years, when I needed to know what I thought and felt about something, or tried to deal with a situation. Besides that, I had a special notebook for each novel (a Moleskine Cahier) where I drew diagrams and explained characters, inspirations, etc.

For several years I’ve also had my Filofax for daily tasks and lists, but it has been a little frustrating with its small size (I think in Filofax terminology it is “personal” size) and the rings making writing a bit cumbersome. I always felt restricted by the Filofax, although enjoyed the feel of its soft leather cover in my hand, its paper bulkiness and the ease of leafing through. I still keep it permanently next to me on my table, even though I rarely touch it. Another, larger ring planner I own (the red one here), gets very little use because those rings are just uncomfortable.

My new system combines the journal and the organizer in one notebook. I started using a Markings by CR Gibson notebook. which is kind of a classic Moleskine dupe, for everything from daily tasks, ideas, story developments, random personal thoughts, dinner party planning, trip packing, everything. At the end I keep lists of books read, thrift store purchases, story ideas, sewing projects and so on. I call this a bullet journal, but I don’t follow any bullet journal notations or anything. I do embellish it by drawing flora and using special lettering for parts of it. I expect it to last me about a year, maybe slightly less. I still keep a separate notebook for the novel I am working on and a separate dream journal.

It is really a joy to have everything in one place, and treat it less seriously than I used to with my regular journal (which I wanted to be the container of only very deep and universal thoughts—I know, I’m rolling my eyes too!). This is just life with everything it carries. It’s a much more relaxed approach and fits my style well.

Because the cover of my inferior notebook was peeling off and looking unsightly, I made a removable leather cover for it. Very excited about that feat! I had actually thrifted this cover some time ago, but it was brown and way too big, so I had to modify it. I cut it down and sewed it back on, dyed it black and in the process I also added two pen loops, which are visible in that first picture. Never want to let it out of my hand now. The thought of being able to use this cover for years, with different notebooks, is particularly comforting too.

Speaking of pen loops, I have discovered that I need at least two pens to use concomitantly: one for writing and one for drawing. For writing I use now 0.4 or even finer point gel pens. My favorites are the capped ones, not the retractable. Most often I’ll pick up the Muji 0.38 gel ink ball point and the Pilot High Tech-C Maica 0.4 point. I can’t express in words the pleasure of writing with these pens: my brain feeds on it like it’s sugar. I now even flesh out stories on paper, and my writing is often better than on the computer, although I sometimes feel the frustration of not being able to write fast enough to keep the pace of my thoughts. In the end, probably a good thing, because by the time it hits the paper, the idea had time to be edited and become more clear.

For doodling right now I am using a Pentel Sign pen, which has a somewhat flexible felt tip that can create variation of line thickness. It works fine. In the future I am planning to get a Tombow Dual Brush Pen so that I have more options in just one pen loop. I know!

I know a lot of people find stationary irresistible. An article I read recently talked about how humans have found ways and tools to extend their brains—maybe this is why pens and paper have such wide appeal, who of us cannot use a few extensions to our brains? I know I can (and badly need it too).

The office-supply obsessed section of the brain:


Oct23 new planners1 copyA while ago it got into my mind that my days would suddenly become a beacon of productivity and happily accomplished tasks if only I would find a way to keep a list of all my varied activities so I have a clear image of what I need to do in a particular day, week, etc. I do prefer digital technology to paper mostly because it is less wasteful and because I’m in front of the computer most of the time anyway, so I wouldn’t need to have another thing to keep track of.

But such is the life of the modern person: full of technological high hopes and disappointments. It turned out that digital calendars are not as perfect as they set out to be. They seem too immaterial, too easy to disregard, and at the same time too serious. Too stressful and yet at the same time too fickle. They are not beautiful. Not tactile. And maybe most importantly, they seem to always look only in the present and toward the future, and don’t allow you much of the pleasure of leafing back through the pages of what you have done already. Maybe some do, I just never found my way to using that function. Anyway.

That was when I remembered my old agenda. This is an object that has been very loved. I remember seeing it in passing in the windows of a stationery store on one of the old streets of Bucharest. I couldn’t take my mind of it for days. It was expensive for me then so I had to really think about it before taking the plunge. But in the end I couldn’t resist and I went back to the store to buy it. It has a tapestry fabric cover and a really good size, somewhere in between what you’d consider a “personal size” planner and a “desk size” one. I used it for many years and carried it with me to US when I moved here. It stopped carrying it around in my purse long time ago, because like everyone else I would rather reduce the weight I carry on my shoulder every day. Even though I am still pulled toward large bags, I would prefer to keep them more empty than full these days. (Yes, of course. Come on, stop it, you don’t need to beg. A “what’s in my bag” post will be coming very soon.)


Oct23 three planners copyI pulled out this old agenda from the shelf and put in some dates on a few pages to start using it as a planner. I did that for a week or two before deciding that I definitely and badly wanted a new planner. Like a nice leather bound one. Because I’m fancy like that. No, not really. But leather feels like something strong, beautiful and durable. It doesn’t get dirty, it looks better with age, it lasts forever. My old tapestry binder looks its age: dirty and cracking all around the edges of the fake leather interior. I am going to give it a nice warm soapy bath one of these days, because I’m not ready to let it go. Yet. Although it’s probably time. As you will see.

Once I convinced myself that I needed a new planner (well, a little before that, let’s be honest here) I started to look online for options and of course stumbled upon the Filofax mania that seems to be going around. Apparently, more than a few people find it hard to let go of paper planning than I would have thought. Those planners look beautiful and seem to be made of quality materials (except for the rings, which have problems, as everyone seems to be complaining). I thought for five seconds of a nice purple one to match my existing collection of purple office accoutrements (which has happened completely by accident until now). But I don’t know if a leather cover with some metal rings is worth such a high price. I do like the look of worn and long-loved ones that carry the deep, hidden stories of their owners’ lives. If I were to ever get one, I would go for an A5 size of The Original Retro Navy.

But this time I tried to find something at a thrift store. It didn’t happen, though. The thrift gods did not smile upon me. So I decided to check out Ebay. Where I found it. My new planner. Handcrafted in the USA. Some sort of basket weave stamped leather. Pretty cute and pretty cheap (about $23 including shipping). It even had a label according to which it had belonged to the Disney Studios, which seems like a fun pedigree.

Oct23 open planner copyI was unsure about the size for a very long time and quite disappointed when it arrived and seemed much smaller than I had imagined. The seller had listed dimensions around 6 inches wide and 8 inches long, but it is less than 51/2 wide or 71/2 long. I set it up anyway. Bought some 5×7 notebooks with perforations so that the pages could be ripped off easily, and I punched holes to fit the rings. And voila, new planner for me. It has been working great. I have even made my peace with the size. I don’t really need anything bigger than that for now.

Oct23 newplanners2 copyAnd once that conclusion was reached, on my following thrift shop stop I found a nice, big leather planner in perfect shape for only $2. Of course, right? That always happens. I had to get that too. I don’t know yet what its use it going to be. It’s clearly too big for me to use for my daily planning. But it’s beautiful so I’m keeping it around for the future. I’m sure it will come in handy one day. Maybe when I return to employed work and I want to look very professional.

This is the saga of my planners. Aren’t you happy you now know all that? I’m sure. Oh, no! Please! Don’t worry. It was nothing, really. Anytime. (Seriously. I’m not joking. Run away from here now!)

P.S. I thought I’d add here, for fun additional reading, The Spooky Story of the Paper Planner’s Unusual Life, as reported by The New York Times through the years.

First there were the good year:

(1987) Organizing pays off at Filofax, in which we find out that the Filofax had become “a cult product among the upwardly striving professional classes worldwide, earning it the nickname of ‘the yuppie handbook.’ ”

(1995) Filofax, 80’s Talisman, Thrives in Too-Busy 90’s, in which the Filofax chief executive at the time says that the company’s success is due to the fact that “people, particularly women who have to organize both families and business careers, lead increasingly hectic lives and are looking for something to help them do it.”

And then the sudden end:

(May 7, 2010) The Demise of Datebooks, in which the author grieves after shelving her Filofax to move to “a calendar program that seems somehow to flatten existence.”

But wait! Is this a zombie or ghost that we’re seeing?

(July 29, 2011) A Paper Calendar? It’s 2011, in which the author, after forgetting her planner in the office and facing a whole weekend without it, considers the conversion to an electronic calendar and declares “I would rather live a life of 1,000 missed appointments.”