Tag Archives: notebook

Backpocket Journal (Tomoe River Edition)–Long Term Review

I don’t remember where I heard about Curnow Bookbinding and Leatherwork’s Backpocket Journals, but once I did, I ordered a few packs of their Tomoe River editions. That was the first problem.

Curnow seems to be a casually run business that generally only sells stuff that’s available (it apparently will take special orders, though) and does so through an oddly complicated process:

They announce what’s available.
You email them and tell them what you want.
They tell you the price including shipping.
You respond and agree to the price.
They send you a PayPal invoice.
You pay.
They send you notebooks.

It took a few extra steps, but they arrived with no problems.

It took a few extra steps, but they arrived with no problems. Each order has three notebooks and a lined insert.

Once this process is over, you end up with three well made notebooks. Backpocket Journals are 3.5 inches (8.89 cm) by 5.25 inches (13.36 cm). This puts them halfway between a passport and a Field Notes notebook. The ones I ordered had rounded corners and cream card stock covers. They have sewn bindings that hold 48 pages of unlined fountain pen friendly Tomoe River paper).

A Backpocket Journal sandwiched between a passport sized MUJI notebook and a Field Notes notebook.

A Backpocket Journal sandwiched between a passport sized MUJI notebook (top) and a Field Notes notebook (bottom).

The Tomoe River paper makes the notebook thinner and flimsier than a Field Notes notebook. At first I was unimpressed because, although they are gorgeous, the Backpockets feel too flimsy to last. The one I used, though, survived over a month in my pocket and my bag with few problems. The only visible signs of wear were some wrinkles, black scuff marks on the cream card stock paper and small tears around the holes for the binding thread. The thinness makes them well suited for backpockets as they conform to any shape back end.

Only perfectionist fountain pen users will dislike the paper. There is the typical ghosting that comes with Tomoe River paper, but only Noodler’s Apache Sunset managed to bleed through, although it didn’t mark the following page. Curnow includes a lined card to serve as backing. I personally never used this as it was just something else to carry, but it does provide a good book mark and adds just a touch of rigidity to the notebook when you’re writing without a hard surface.

I like them a lot and will add them to my rotation of notebooks (I’m using about one a month now) but I’m not sure I’ll get any more, especially as I already have a lot of pocket sized notebooks. I would like to try one of the regular edition Backpocket Journals to see how it holds up, but we’ll see.

The notebooks fresh out of the post.

The notebooks fresh out of the post.



Abandoning that Paper Thing and Hoping the Batteries Last

Well, maybe it was a waste of time after all.

I’ve written before about my odd (to most normal people) habit/hobby of constructing my own analogue calendars, entering the dates by hand and then crossing off the days as I go along. It takes a couple hours of work (plus or minus several minutes of swearing at various complications) to get it more or less how I want it.

Have fun now, because your days are probably numbered. No pun intended.

Have fun now, because your days are probably numbered. No pun intended. (No, really, they are numbered.)

Normally I carry it around and scribble To Do lists and random daily tasks and record correspondence and then use it as reference to remind me where I was and when. In the past I also kept all my calendars as a reference.  For the record, on one occasion I actually had to refer to them to establish the most likely possible day the term would end and summer would begin allowing a colleague to make travel plans. (Therefore hoarding, for want of a better word, is good. Hoarding  works.)

I also mentioned, though, that I’d also started using Google Calendar as a back up.

The trouble is, this year, I’ve been using the back up more than the analogue version. I can use it on my phone and my tablet and can use it on different browsers. It’s easy to change and I can make corrections without having to track down some correction tape. and leave evidence of my mistakes everywhere.

Lately, the analogue calendar has been carried but not consulted. Every now and then I remind myself to look through it and cross off the days, but that doesn’t inspire me to use it.

I’m now at the point where I’m ready to pull it apart and salvage what I can. (I can also just turn it backwards and upside down and use it for morning pages.) I am, however, struggling with the sunk cost fallacy. which in my case can be summed up as “I made the thing and even though I don’t use it I have to carry it so that didn’t waste my time making it even though I don’t use it because carrying it is symbolic of me having made it to use even though I don’t use it.” Something like that.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to enter the destruction date in my Google Calendar. I just hope the batteries last in my phone.


Morning Pages for Worse and for Better

Several months ago, as part of a plan to write more, I decided to try my hand at writing morning pages. I quickly modified them but I’m not sure if that was for the better.

For those who don’t know, “morning pages” are the brainchild of Julia Cameron from her book The Artist’s Way. To do morning pages you’re supposed to wake up, pick up a notebook and knock out three pages of writing without putting any thought, grammar or punctuation into it. (Rather like this blog, at times, now that I think about it.) The theory is that you’re essentially performing a kind of brain dump and cleansing your mind of whatever flows from your fingers and your pen. You then are supposed to throw away the completed notebook.

I tried the pages that way for a while but then eventually felt as if I was wasting time with them.  I’d zone out, nearly fall asleep, and long for coffee. Most of my early pages were along the lines of  “I need coffee I need coffee I need coffee I need coffee sweet mother of Jesus I need coffee coffee coffee coffee my kingdom for coffee my soul for coffee your soul for coffee death to all who refuse to bring me coffee no coffee no life no coffee no God decafen, decaffinated, decaf coffee is evil and freaking hard to spell.” (Something like that.) Basically, it was all the kinds of navel gazing that kept me from writing morning pages in the first place. (In fact, it’s the same thing that kept me from writing a blog for a long time and still keeps me from writing a proper diary.)

That lasted for about a tablet and a half. Since then I’ve modified my morning pages routine. I write on A4 copy paper pads I assembled myself from scrap paper and I don’t start writing until I’ve showered and had at least one sip of coffee. My goal is two A4 pages in half an hour, although I’ve been known to take longer on weekends and days I don’t have to be into work early.

I change pens every day so I have a chance to do long term tests of different pens, nibs and inks on cheap copy paper. I also write different types of pages. There are the whiny brain dumps where I complain about life in general; the pen reviews where I describe how it feels to write with the various pens; and the focused writing.

In the latter I focus on whatever particular project I happen to be working on. I sketch characters and scenes and brainstorm ideas for different plots and different characters. If anything seems particularly useful and legible, I underline it and then go back and type into a computer file. I’ve managed to get some useful stuff that way.

If I were smart, I’d brainstorm one of these blog entries and kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. But, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m not that smart.



Another Fine Mess was Made

In my daily log today, the weather doodle looks like the sun is barfing up a fur ball of flames. This is absurd, of course, because it’s not yet August when the sun actually does barf up flames all over Japan.

Instead the mess was made by a pen burping.

One of the charms/curses of owning and regularly using fountain pens, especially if you use bottled ink,  is that you will, no matter how careful you are, get ink on your fingers eventually. Sometimes, even if you’ve been careful, the pen takes it upon itself to make a mess.

Today as I was adding rays to my sun doodle, my Noodler’s Konrad fountain pen suddenly decided to burp up Noodler’s Apache Sunset ink in a heavy glob that sent me looking for tissue. As I dabbed the mess, ink soaked through the tissue and got my fingers messy and smeared on the log. (I didn’t think to take pictures but, in my defense, my hands were messy.)

Today the sun barf's flame on to the clouds.

Today the sun barf’s flame on to the clouds. That ink has a great color, though.

The effects of the burp on yesterday. Still a great color.

The effects of the burp on yesterday. Looks good with the Noodler’s Midway Blue and Diamine Sherwood Green.

This is caused because the pen was getting low on ink. When pens like this get low complicated laws of physics (complete with complicated math and power point presentations) suddenly activate and remind the user, via a gusher, to refill the reservoir. The Noodler’s pens are cheap pens designed to be tinkered with by the user (before use you are expected to clean the pen, adjust the nib and, in my case, take it apart and remove a part to make it work better, but more on that in another post). Because the celluloid is thin, it make the burping worse. (None of my other piston fillers burp but they are better made.)

Making the mess worse was the flex nib. Flex nibs are designed for calligraphy (the split between the tines is longer) and they let a lot of ink flow. When one burps, you end up with globs on the paper.

I cleaned up the mess and refilled the pen, which required getting more ink on my fingers. Once again I neglected to take pictures.

Maybe next time. And I’m pretty sure there will be a next time.

MY DIY Notebooks–Long Term Review

It seemed to be a good idea at the time. And it was. Until it wasn’t.

A decade ago or so the school where I work asked us to hand out surveys to our students assessing our and their performance in class. (Many marked low scores without realizing they were marking themselves low.) Part of my game was to give out the survey at test passback classes and then, once I was safe, pass back the exams.

Unfortunately, not only did we get the results of the surveys, we also got all the surveys back to go through if we wanted. I had about 280 students or so and we did the surveys twice a year. This meant we had stacks of paper. Well, at least it meant I did. I have generally saved old worksheets as scratch paper in order to use the backsides before I throw them out. With the surveys, I had a stack of paper that got bigger twice a year.

I then downloaded a freeware program that let me make lines and set about making my own writing tablets. I printed the surveys and bunches of random worksheets I still hand on my bubblejet printer. (Keep in mind, given the price of printer ink, it would have been cheaper to pour Dom Perignon champagne on the floor.) I bound the pages with staples, covered the staples in black gaffer’s tape and, in a few cases, used an Exacto knife to create ghetto perforations to make pages easier to tear out.

The original stack of 50.

The original stack of 50.

I ended up with 50 tablets and set about using them to write novels. Each tablet had 65 pages and about 35 lines or so from top to bottom. With my handwriting it worked out to about 11,000 words per tablet and I used several of them for novels one and two.

There were, however, several problems.:

Not only could I see my shame (any poor surveys) so could anyone else who saw the tablet. Some pages had heavy ghosting from being printed with bubblejet printers. This made them hard to use.

Ghosting and, if you look real closely, you can see the results.

Ghosting and, if you look real closely, you can see the results.

My handwriting is terrible and 65 pages of my handwriting is madness. Before the school stopped asking us to do surveys, I acquired more paper, and therefore more tablets before I could finish the ones I had. The longer the tablets sat, the more they turned brown and the more the staples rusted.

Also, not only was there the ink expense, but printing them was frequently a pain in the ass that took more time than taking the train to Tokyo to buy expensive notebooks would have. Because I was using different types of paper, I couldn’t just start printing and walk away. I had to be there to undo jams and sort printed sheets from those that got fed through in clumps.

Lately I’ve been moving away from those tablets toward higher quality, more fountain pen friendly paper. I threw away a stack that had begun to turn brown and mildew. I also started tossing spare handouts in the recycle box rather than my desk. I still have a stack of tablets and several others I bound but never printed. I’ll use them to write morning pages, or to sketch out rough drafts of school assignments, but I’ll never print anymore.

A more modern stack. Now side-bound but still with staples and gaffer's tape.

A more modern stack. Now side-bound but still with staples and gaffer’s tape.

Note: The first two pictures above were first published in an article for Notebookism.


Kurotani Washi Notebook–Lost and Found Overview

I apparently bought a notebook in the 1990’s that I forgot I had. Since I’ve been cleaning out the storage closet, I discovered it in a box.

Me being me, I immediately began testing fountain pens on it.

The notebook is a handmade washi notebook from Kurotani Washi. Kurotani Washi has been making paper by hand for around 800 years. The notebook is just larger than B5 sized and has 25 folded sheets and a handmade cover bound in Japanese stitching.

The signature at the "back." It says (top to bottom) Tan Ba Kuro Tani Wa Shi.

The signature at the “back.” It says (top to bottom) 丹波 TanBa 黒谷 KuroTani 和紙 WaShi.

The cover. Notice it opens from the left.

The cover. Notice it opens from the left.

I don’t remember buying it but I suspect I got it on a trip to Kyoto during the late 90’s. On one trip in particular, I visited several traditional shops and artisans that had been in business for hundreds of years. I used Diane Durston’s terrific Old Kyoto as my guide book and highly recommend it as an alternate way to tour Kyoto.

One of the shops I visited was Kyukyodo which was founded in 1663 and sold incense, paper and calligraphy supplies.

Because at the time I was studying Japanese calligraphy, I stocked up on brushes, ink sticks and random paraphernalia. I suspect I got the notebook at the same time. I almost certainly had some grand plan to write calligraphy and or poetry in it but it ended up in a box.

However, because I bought it, and because it was blank, I couldn’t just throw it out. Instead I broke out several fountain pens to see what would happen.

The inside cover and a few writing samples.

The inside cover and a few writing samples.

I was surprised at how smooth some of the pens felt and that the nibs didn’t become clogged with threads from the paper. It was a bit like writing on watercolor paper but most of the results looked pretty good.

A sloppy close up of the Aurora Blue. Note the feathering and bleed.

A sloppy close up of the Aurora Blue. Note the feathering and bleed but it doesn’t look too bad.

Washi typically has a smooth side and a rough side. As such, each page consists of a large sheet that’s been folded and bound. The folding prevents the brush ink from bleeding through to the next page. During my tests, I found that only a Noodler’s Konrad with a flex nib and Noodler’s Apache Sunset bled through both pages.

My Edison Glenmont separating the fold.

My Edison Glenmont separating the fold.

Now that the notebook’s been written in, I suspect I’ll use it for morning pages just to use it up. It works well with my TWSBI 580 and my new Nexus Minimal.

After that, I suspect I’ll just throw it out.




A No-Name Notebook from the Balkans

When I was in Albania one of the few things I found that I still wish I could find was a bunch of cheap notebooks.

Although very little seemed to work in Albania from 1992-1994, someone managed to produce surprisingly good notebooks. They had plastic covers with an odd internal pocket and came in pocket and large size. They were about the same size and thickness as modern Moleskine notebooks. They had stitched and glued spines that laid flat when open.

I bought a stack of them as they were only 15 lek (about 15 US cents at the time; 25 cents with inflation) and used them while I was in Mississippi and after I came to Japan. They are among the few thick notebooks I’ve ever completely filled. The plastic cover made them comfortable to carry in the pocket but they were sturdy enough to write on without needing a hard surface.

My Albanian notebook compared to a Field Notes notebook. You can see the damaged spine.

My Albanian notebook compared to a Field Notes notebook. You can see the damaged spine at the right..

Inside the notebook. You can see the construction and deconstruction.

Inside the notebook. You can see the construction thanks to the deconstruction.

The paper seemed to be one part pulp paperback and one part newsprint. It was not especially fountain pen friendly as it was rough and scratchy with fine nibs awhile thicker nibs tended to cause feathering. That said, although it had a little ghosting, it didn’t have much bleedthrough so it was possible to use with fountain pens.

You can kind of see Noodler's Old Manhattan and and Apache Sunset.

You can kind of see Noodler’s Old Manhattan and can see Apache Sunset pretty well. You can also see the roughness.

I had two of the pocket sized notebooks that have long since been scanned and retired. I’m tempted to try to use the cover for something but it tends to chip off plastic bits as it’s carried around. I still have half of one of the larger ones that started out as scrapbook that was eventually abandoned. I’m also tempted to start carry it in order to finish it, but I don’t really have a use for it. I’d be carrying it out of nostalgia not need.

That said, I wouldn’t mind picking up a few new ones if I ever get the chance to go back to Albania and if they still exist.

Making Your Time Thing is Not a Waste of Time

Any close analysis of it will tell you that I think too much about calendars.

I’ve written before how, after years of trying to find the perfect calendar, I gave up and started constructing my own. There is a certain feeling of accomplishment that you’re carrying something you made. The feeling lasts until you realize how much time you wasted making something that was supposed to keep you from wasting time.

That feeling goes away quickly, though, I’ve found.

My main problem is that I inevitably find flaws even with the calendars I made myself. For the past few years I’ve used an A4 sized calendar made from A3 paper. I printed a 12 day pattern on both sides then folded and sewed them together. Being a masochist at heart, apparently, I wrote all the dates in by hand. A smart person would learn how to let the computer enter all the dates, but if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, well, yeah, you know how smart I actually am.

Next week's schedule. Guess where I'll be on or around the weekend.

Next week’s schedule on this year’s calendar. Guess where I’ll be on or around the 27th.

I like the 12 day format because I can write a lot in each day, but can’t write too much. I also like that I can get a full year in only seven or eight pages making it easy to carry.

The problem is that with the old system I didn’t have any overview of the year. I found myself turning the page and suddenly remembering the special event listed the very next day. Also, because the calendars are center bound and I just fold a page over, flipping and unfolding to find a past date can look a lot like black belt level origami (knowing Japan, that almost certainly exists).

What I’ve done this year is put 12 days on one page and left the back side blank. I’ve added full year calendar at the front and a monthly special events calendar behind that. I’ve then added card stock covers and left-bound it all with staples and gaffer’s tape. It makes the book thicker, but I suspect it will be a lot easier to use. I can also use facing pages for notes and random scribbles.

This format also gives me covers to scribble and doodle on.

I’ve backed it all up on computer (Google Calendar) so I can keep track of things when I’m not carrying the big book.

At least that’s how it all works this year. Next year, I’ll probably try something different.

Have fun now, because your days are probably numbered. No pun intended.

Have fun now, because your days are probably numbered. No pun intended.

My Daily Log Book is Not My Blog

When I want to, I can draw. I can also have neat penmanship when I want to. The trouble is, most of the time I just can’t be bothered.

As I’ve written before, I’ve had the same problem with keeping a daily diary. I’ve started valiantly many times but then slowly but surely abandoned the daily entries and, inevitably, abandoned the notebook with at least one third of the pages empty.

This year, as a way to try something different (last year’s project was this blog) and to use up thick notebooks that no longer interest me, I’ve decided to keep a daily log.

The difference between the log and a diary is that rather than writing a summary of the day when I’m too tired to care, a log is filled in throughout the day. I keep track of the weather, work, my various layers of crankiness and all my meals.

Every now and then I have an actual accomplishment to record.

I also like the log because it gives me an excuse to keep several pens inked and actually have an excuse to use them. It also gives me an excuse to use a Muji notebook I’ve had in storage for a few years.

To make the log different than anything I’ve done before, I’ve decided to sketch out the weather as silly cartoons.

More interesting than an actual weather report.

More interesting than an actual weather report.

The little cartoons aren’t great and my handwriting, especially if I don’t support the thin side enough, is worse. Still, it’s a lot of fun and it helps get a notebook that I know I wouldn’t use otherwise out of storage and into use.

There is a problem with bleedthrough on the Muji paper, but I learned to embrace that a long time ago. I even found a philosophical way to justify it:

The words in the cloud seem more profound than they really are.

The words in the cloud seem more profound than they really are. Chicken rice is the proof of that.

The log is still a work in progress and I’m going to add more sketches as I go along. Lately I’ve also been adding a short summary of the day at the end.

The problem is, once I’m done, the notebook will go into a different storage area. But at least it will have been used.

In With the New; Now What With the Old?

I have a problem with notebooks.

As problems go, a notebook problem is not a huge problem, but it’s still a problem.

All though I tend to prefer to write things down as it gives me an excuse to buy pens, one of the problems I have with analogue notebooks is that once I finish them I still have them.

I then have the problem about what to do with them.

I have this problem with books too, but I rarely have to go back through a book and decipher my handwriting. Although, in all fairness, there are some cryptic notes in the handful of textbooks I kept. For example: LitCrit; B.S. P.H.D; and 8 Wombats Live. The first, I think, was a comment on a character’s comment that sounded like something from literary criticism; the second was my reaction to someone’s literary criticism (the P.H.D. means “Piled Higher and Deeper” you can guess what B.S. means); and the latter I think must have been some graffiti I saw somewhere and then scribbled in the margin of the book. Or it’s a band name I thought of. Or it’s an actual band. I don’t remember.

With books though, as long as I’ve not marked them up too heavily, I can always sell them off or give them away. With notebooks, though, I have to find a way to save the few snippets that I wrote down that are actually worth saving. I can photograph them and upload them to Evernote but that still leaves me the problem of finding stuff on my computer or on my phone whilst hoping the batteries don’t run out. Even searchable storage reaches a critical mass of “that’s too much mass” to be useful.

I can also transcribe the notes into a computer but that means I have to come face to face with my handwriting.Then there’s still the problem of critical mass and easy searching.

That, however, isn’t as bad as what I actually find in my notebooks, especially the thicker ones I’ve kept around for years. There are the false profundities scribbled haphazardly during a commute. There are also the moments that seemed like a really good idea but I don’t remember where I was going with them. For example “I can’t believe I’m here writing for the sole purpose of making a mess” seems like a really catchy opening line, for something. As is “The disaster is now the backdrop. The people only props” which I think I wrote after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. The trouble is I didn’t date it or add any context.

Lately I’ve been doing daily or weekly transcriptions. This lets me enter the material while it’s still fresh, but that can steal time from real work.

Then there’s the final problem: throwing the notebooks out or storing them. I’d prefer to store them, as thumbing through the old notes can be inspiring, but storing them requires space. Now that I’m using smaller notebooks, it’s easier to transcribe them and throw them out, but there’s still a part of me that thinks I might need that someday.