my secret passion for pin graph paper

Via Nathan Bransford’s very popular blog I was directed to a very interesting discussion on memory in the age of the internet by Ted Cross.

My memory was never very good to begin with and now seems to be worsening in direct proportion not only to my age but also to my reliance on digital tools which make my memory less and less exercised and in many ways less and less critical.

Cross thinks I’m not alone, and I have to agree with him.

Before the invention of the printing press memory was everything. The storyteller, the lawyer, the physician, the priest, the singer, the philosopher… all relied on memory and utilized it to an extent we can barely conceive of. Memorization seems to be falling out of vogue in the schools (although my daughter was just cramming for a test this morning and was rattling off the phases of the moon in a singsong voice), and the standard response to any question is now, “google it.” Because we can

As Cross wrote:

If the rise of books had been a death knell for developing memory as a tool, how much worse is the internet, which in effect serves as a substitute memory for the world? Regardless of issues of accuracy, almost all data is now placed onto the internet. Google and similar search engines become the key to accessing this modern day Memory.

And what effect on memory will come of the decline of leisure reading? Reading, which long served to teach and broaden the minds of educated people, is clearly on the decline amongst (primarily) young males, at least when it comes to spending long hours and days poring over long books for leisure purposes. Now kids turn to email, blogs, text messages, and tweets as primary substitutes for the hours once spent reading. Are we going to reach a point where the average person feels they no longer need to have much ‘data’ stored within their minds, since they can access it at will on the internet? Will high quality writing and the desire to enjoy such writing decline as people become used to the shorthand of modern communications?

We memorize less and we read less and we write less, and when we do write it is most often digitally. There is wealth of googleable (and yes, I do use that intentionally as well as ironically) scholarly data on the importance of writing to learning, which in turn led me to what I was seeking: the relationship between physically writing (as in with pen and paper, remember?) and learning vs. tapping on a keyboard. (Here‘s one study I came across which addresses this, there are others…). Fascinating, and yet another aspect to this rewiring of the brain that I almost feel I’m witnessing first hand as I watch my children and how they develop.

But back to this brief search, which I confess was brief, although I will most likely return to it to delve deeper at some point…. In the midst of it I discovered a new word (at least new to my lexicon), which I love:

hap-tic (adj.)
Of or relating to the sense of touch; tactile.
From the Greek haptikos, from haptesthai, to grasp, touch.

A haptic person is one characterized by a “predilection for the sense of touch.” A word with wonderful possiblities, but I digress. To go back to what started this typically twisty topsy turvy blog-hopping googly path… let me refer you to the photo below…

I recently gave into one of my most fervent passions (addictions?) and secretly shelled out nearly thirty dollars for a notebook. A notebook? That’s it? I know, totally and absolutely decadent…. Just a puny little 5.8″ x 8.3″ brown notebook, yet I cannot describe to you the haptic ecstasy I experienced when I briefly slid it from its wrapping and held it in my hands. It led me to another reverie about which pen I would need to inaugurate its pages, and what special thing I might use it for.

There are two camps, you see, those who understand and can relate to what I describe in the paragraph above, and those who cannot. If you cannot you’d best stop reading right now…

Many of my friends and loved ones are in my camp and can relate. (My husband, on the other hand, thinks I’m crazy, hence the secret in the secret passion of my title.) We seek out those like us, I suppose. There was my ex boss and dear friend Ángel, with whom I would engage in pen wars and experience the deep angst of pen envy. And then there is my middle child, my beloved daughter, with whom on our travels I’ve often spent hours seeking out each country’s treasure of notebooks and pens, examining their bindings, the smoothness of the paper. (In case you are unaware, such things are true luxuries, often beyond reach, in many parts of the world.)

This new notebook is made by Postalco, whose mere website gives me a frisson of unadulterated plaisir, its beauty (cover bonded with “starched, pressed water-resistant cotton in muted colors,” paper in a tight pin-graph, begging for ink) justifying its cult following. This is serious notebook porn for those of my ilk.

But wait. There is a problem. I rarely write by hand anymore.

I type so fast my fingers are like an extension of my brain, it seems, and honestly I find it increasingly awkward to put pen to paper. Despite the fact that writing and drawing by hand brought me endless pleasure throughout my youth and into adulthood, now writing out even a brief note to someone seems slow and uncomfortable, as if I’ve forgotten how.

So while I dream of filling that chocolate brown postalco notebook with carefully inked curliques of thought, to harness the muse and spill it onto those lovely squares of its pin graph, it may well sit there gathering dust along with the others, the clairfontaine, the ones I got in Africa which are meant for Arabic and are bound backwards, the leather-bound journal from Italy, etc. etc. Tragic.

I encourage my kids to write still, by hand, enticing them with clever and cute and beautiful notebooks. They know that if they ask me to buy them an item of clothing or a game I will most likely say “no” or “later” but a book or a notebook will never be denied. The eldest, a boy, has no interest whatsoever and if his math were better I’d predict he’d be a physician by his scrawled handwriting alone. The older girl, who shares my passion, is becoming a bit like me in placing that love on an upper shelf, which makes me endlessly melancholic. I tempt her every now and then with a new notebook, a moleskin, one of my other prized notebooks… hell, I’d even shell out the $$ for a postalco one if I thought she’d use it, but I don’t think she would.

The littlest one I found the other day, curled up on her bed, writing in teeny tiny letters a story of a jungle girl, a page of which I’ve included at the beginning of this post* and the cover of which you see here.

Hallelujah! There is hope!

*Don’t worry, when she started her book saying that girls can’t be hunters, it was just a tease. In her story, and in her world, girls rule.


8 thoughts on “my secret passion for pin graph paper

  1. I’m one of hte people who can relate to your spending thirty dollars on a notebook. I love journals, notebooks, sketchbooks, hell, anything that is made of and contains paper. I have an entire desk drawer filled with stationery, and fancy monogrammed paper, just waiting to be written on. I don’t use my keyboard to type my posts. I actually write them on paper and then type them. I find it easier to do revisions in a notebook instead of having to look at the computer screen. Great post!

  2. I LOVE this post and am definitely in your camp, Tracey!! Maybe my biggest hint was my visceral ache to hold your new notebook! Tell me…how does it smell??!! And did you ever get to the paper making places in Italy? Years ago I fell in love with a small family-run shop/factory in Amalfi at the end of the main walking street. I wish I could take you there!!
    And as far as writing in our precious notebooks…gosh… that can be tough, no?! I think the hardest part for me, is wanting my prose to match the quality of my notebook!! And considering that the notebooks themselves are true works of art…that can be a bit overwhelming!! Maybe we just need to write!!? Could it be like exercise?? Easier and even fun to write in them, just AFTER we begin?? Or do we keep them sacred like dreamers and their unrealized dreams…for a someday that never comes? Yet again, maybe we keep them blank for the stories that have yet to be written, those that live within us, deep within us, waiting for us to one day give them speak.

  3. I love the accouterments of writing, all then pens and inks and papers. But like you, I do almost all my writing on screen. I have many notebooks that I’ve collected over the year, most of them blank. I think I’m afraid to sully them with imperfection. Maybe that’s what I like about writing on a screen — it’s so easy to change. Also, I have really bad handwriting and can barely produce a legible grocery list anymore. Great post.

  4. Not about the notebook, but you are making wise observations about what is happening in the world…how we are losing brain power but gaining flying fingers that flip across screens as if they are doing magic tricks to open pages that will make our lives “simpler.” What I find very bizarre is that we spend a good piece of time working hard to make a decent living in order to buy these gadgets that suck our brains out of our foreheads. Thanks for the reminder…and now I shall get in my car with GPS and find my way home.

    1. flying fingers and brains sucked out of our heads, sounds like some horror flick… and yes, the reminder? I remember it every day and am grateful for the fact that my family and other things in my life won’t allow me to get sucked into the techno void 😉

  5. I, too, am a notebook junkie. Mine don’t have to be beautiful, though: Anything from Staples will do. This is where I do my warmup exercises and my first drafts and all that I can away from my computer. I love technology but, you’re right, at what expense are we allowing it to figure so prominently into our lives?

    1. I love to hear of others’ writing styles. I didn’t plan on this migration to an all digital workflow, it just happened, as it does to many of us, especially kids. I do think that there is great creative and intellectual value to writing on paper and I hope that is never lost.

      It’s odd, though, how digital tools mimic the old-fashioned way. I was looking at a program called circus ponies the other day, which totally simulates a notebook, with dividers, stickies, etc.

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