I love to read. I always have. I'd still love to read if I didn't write for a living. While most of my reading is for pleasure, I do read to learn and to get ideas for articles and blog posts.
Over the last six to eight months, the bulk of my reading has been long-form articles — ranging in length from 3,000 to 8,000 words. In case you're interested, I find most of the articles that I read at Longreads and Longform, as well as at Nautilus and Aeon magazines.
Lately, though, I've been wanting to get back to reading books. I have a number of electronic books waiting for my eyes to be cast over them. It's just that I haven't found the motivation or the energy to do so.
Until last Saturday. I was searching for something when I stumbled upon my old Kobo eReader. I haven't laid eyes on it for about a year, when I thought I had turned it into a brick with an update. Turns out that reader works perfectly. After charging it up and synchronizing it, I read two books.
Many would consider reading on a dedicated ebook reader to be archaic. Especially the model I have, which is four years old. People will ask Why use one of those when you have a tablet or a smartphone?
I disagree. An ebook reader, especially one with an E Ink screen, makes reading a bit easier. Most tablets and phones (as well as media players) I've read on are a bit harder on the eyes. They're a bit too bright for my taste. My Kobo eReader, on the other hand, approximates reading a physical book. Not perfectly, but well enough.
But it doesn't matter if I use a mobile device or a dedicated ereader. It doesn't matter if I'm poring over a dead-trees tome. What matters is that I'm using the printed word to nourish my brain and enlighten myself.
I first came across that word in the early 1980s while reading an essay by Harlan Ellison. It's one of those words that sticks in your mind because it encapsulates so much, so elegantly.
Woolgathering is something we don't do enough of. We're discouraged from doing it from a young age. Keeping our heads out of the clouds, staying in the now, and all that.
And that's a shame.
Woolgathering, daydreaming isn't an idle waste of time. It gives our brains moments to go fallow. To shift away from a problem. To clear the slate and to refresh. Woolgathering can help us solve problems and come up with ideas.
In this age of mobile device and apps like Evernote, taking notes by hand seems incredibly archaic. It's refreshing, though, to see how many people still use pen and paper to jot down information, to record their thoughts, to organize themselves.
Even though it's a huge step up to call my handwriting a scrawl, I do take a lot of notes. Usually in one of several small pocket notebooks I have at my disposal. I've filled more notebooks than I can remember in the last 30 years ...
People often ask me what the perfect notebook is.
Over the years, I've tried any number of brands of notebooks — from generic ones to well-known brands. For me, the perfect notebook is the Moleskine Classic Notebook. Hardcover, pocket size, and with squared pages. Why squared and not lines? The squares just work better for me.
That notebook is the right size for me. It's the right weight. It can take a beating. It just feels right. And it's the feeling that helps make it perfect for me.
As I said, it's perfect for me. It might not be perfect for you. I know people whose perfect notebooks are larger, book sized ones (either ruled or blank). I know others who can't live without a Field Notes notebook.
So, what is a perfect notebook? One that works for you. That you're comfortable with. That you can carry with you and use wherever you wind up. That hold up to the stresses and strains you put them through.
The world is full of people trying to be rock stars, ninja, and Jedi in whatever they're doing.
The world is full of people who are trying to achieve some kind of nirvana with what they do: task nirvana, writing nirvana, even pocket notebook nirvana. I couldn't believe that one, either.
Like describing something as an art or a science. This is just another attempt to exalt the mundane. To make something seem more important, more meaningful than it really is.
Is there anything wrong with reveling in the ordinary? Or have we reached the point where everything is a silly game of oneupmanship with friends or a peer group or an online community? A game where we have to add a veneer of complexity and mysticism to everything we do so that it seems more important or challenging or special than it actually is.
Having a store of information doesn't make us smarter. I don't even think it makes us better informed. It just means we have more information.
Is that necessarily a good thing? Most people don't need a fraction of the information they ingest, either personally or professionally.
Even if you get information from multiple sources, you're not necessarily getting more depth. With news, for example, a good chunk of the information overlaps. You're not getting much that's new. It's mostly repetition.
Instead, try to focus on the quality of information rather than the quantity. One article from Aeon Magazine or Nautilus is worth a month or more of drivel posted at the Fox News website.
While I'm not a musician, I'm a huge fan of drummer Bill Bruford. The first time I heard his work was in 1979, and in the decades since Bruford's work has fascinated and delighted me.
Recently, he published a post on his website that really hit home with me.
Here's the key passage from that post:
No-one else appeared to hear my project unravelling, the sound of un-met expectations crashing to the floor. The gulf between what I expected of myself and my perception of what others expected of me widened, until eventually I was unable to function at all as a musician.
Change musician to writer and you have me.
For as long as I've been writing, people have told me that I'm a good writer. I've always doubted that. At best, I see myself as an adequate scribbler. Someone who can write quickly, but who lacks a certain flair.
Those feelings of doubt have expanded and contracted in recent years. Mostly expanded. I've lost confidence in whatever ability with words that I might have had.
I don't see the words as sharply as I used to. Those words don't come together as easily or successfully as they should. I don't hear the stories as clearly as I once did.
Back in 2009, the gulf the Bill Bruford talked about widened to the point where he put down his drum sticks and retired from music. I'm wondering if it's time to put down my pen ...
Sometimes, a statement or a situation is what it is. There's no hidden meaning. There's no subtext. What's on the page or in the ether says everything that someone needed to say. Nothing more, nothing less.
Trying to read between lines that aren't there is a waste of time and energy.
RSS isn’t dead. Social media works great for link notifications, not so much for complete thoughts or even not-fully-baked considerations. The fields are on fire and being sprayed with liquid shit. Dig your own garden, build your own structures, make your own space.
A couple of nights back, I was still battling jet lag and was feeling like a sloth. So what did I decide to do? Watch a movie, of course.
I dug into my collection of DVDs (you remember what those are, don't you?) and, lo and behold, what did I find? A copy of Ran. I slipped the DVD into the player and my eyes were glued to the screen.
I was as rapt with Ran those couple of nights ago as I was when I first saw it at the Roxy Theatre on Danforth Avenue in Toronto back in the 1980s.
Ran, if you don't know, is a film by Akira Kurosawa that's based on Shakespeare's King Lear. It's a powerful film, and I consider it to be Kurosawa's last great one.
I've been a fan of Kurosawa's since I was a teen and Ran is one of the reasons why. If you watch the film closely, you'll see all of Kurosawa's signature elements: the influence of kabuki, the framing and composition of shots, the lack of use of panning and zoom. It's not that the old master was feeding off his previous work. It was more of a recapitulation, a demonstration of technique and storytelling.
Each time I watch Ran, I feel like I'm right there. A silent witness to the fracture and implosion of the House of Ichimonji. There are scenes that still tear at my heart. There are scenes that still shock me. There is cinematography that just amazes me.
Most of all, Ran makes me grateful that a director like Kurosawa was able to bring stories like this to the screen and to the world