Mario Villalobos

Showing My Work

Back when I tried to pare down my possessions to just the essentials, I had a strong desire to digitize everything that could be digitized and toss their analog copies away. I went from lugging around thousands of pieces of paper to just a few select pieces. I spent months and months scanning everything I could scan and organizing them with complex names and deep folder hierarchies on my computer, and after years with this system, I realized I almost never refer to these scans. So instead of lugging around physical crap, I’m lugging around digital crap that I may or may not need. When I moved up to Montana, I left behind my physical library of books. That was okay, though, because I had my Kindle, and I could replace this physical library with an entirely digital one. And for years, that’s what I did. Every new book I bought, I bought on the Kindle. I haven’t read a paper book in years, and I’m kind of sad about that. Digital is great for some things, but sometimes there’s something about paper that provides that intangible something that digital will never replace.

One of those things is the simple act of showing my work. I love paper notebooks because they keep a record of every detail I marked in their pages. The slant of my handwriting, the compression of my words, the hurried nature of my writing, the crossed out words, the neater than neat penmanship, the ink smudges, the yellowed paper, the erasure marks, the notes of my life, are all faithfully recorded in these notebooks. Back in the early days of my blog, I wrote about my discovery of the Confidant notebook by Baron Fig. Before then, I was a Moleskine guy through and through. Then I tried the Field Notes. But I liked the look of the Confidant, the fact that it was hardcover, its pages were wider than most notebooks, and that it had an attractive yellow ribbon bookmark all pleased me. Unfortunately, I didn’t really use it once I got it. In fact, once I stopped writing my journals in my Moleskine’s and instead wrote digitally for this blog, I stopped writing period. Slowly, though, I wanted to bring it back.

Every now and then, I would transcribe the Great Gatsby in my Moleskine, but it was never as regular as I would have liked. In effort to find an excuse to use my Field Notes and Moleskine Cahier notebooks, I began to spend about five minutes every morning writing the three biggest things I wanted to accomplish during the day. Sometimes all I would do was write them down, put the notebook in my back pocket, and not open it again until the next morning. I just wanted an excuse to write again. Slowly, though, I began to rely on the notebook. I would write down notes about my tasks or notes for new tasks or just notes about something important in general. As for my Confidant notebook, I began to use it solely for my novel. I would write my thoughts on how crappy my current chapter was or notes on a specific character. Recently, I bought the Apprentice series of notebooks from Baron Fig and began using that for notes on all the computer stuff I do at work. I wrote down notes for specific tasks on a certain printer that I was having issues with, and in the past week, I would write down all the issues the servers were causing me and all the changes I made and my thoughts for why I made those changes.

I have all these notebooks now that I can quickly refer to and simply see the progression of my thoughts. I could see how I got from point A to point B, and I could retrace my thought process to help me get to point C. Digital notes can’t really replicate that. When I first got my books back last month, I flipped through many of my old favorite titles, and I saw all the pencil notes in the margins and underlined passages I made years before. I would flip to one page, read a note or a passage, skip to the end, and read another passage or note I made, and I would instantly remember why I wrote that or underlined that passage. The Kindle makes it easy to highlight text, but it doesn’t make it easy to go back and just read something I highlighted on a random page.

There’s this whole philosophy of simply showing my work that appeals to me a lot. I can go back a few months in my pocket notebook and see how productive I was or what I wanted to commit myself to in a specific week. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to replace OmniFocus or nvAlt or anything like that in my life. I’m just here to sing the praises of analog tools because they provide something that digital can never replicate, and that’s the simple pleasure of seeing your thoughts and following the progress they made from day to day.