Tag: field notes

Writing My Wrongs

Mistakes are great teachers. That is a hard thing to understand as a twelve year-old when the pressure of society makes you strive for perfection. I’ve tried to explain this to the Little Man, my own twelve-year old. It’s perfectly acceptable to make mistakes. That’s how we learn. The trick is to take the time to learn from our mistakes instead of just ignoring them. Make a mistake on a math problem? Look at it and figure out why? Was it careless arithmetic? A lack of understand the problem? Figure out what cause the mistake so that you can identify it the next time you see it. Of course, this is easier said than done.

One way that I try to do this is by writing down the mistakes I make–at least those that I become aware of. I call this “writing my wrongs.” When I notice that I’ve messed up some how, I’ll pull out my Field Notes notebook and jot down my mistake. I don’t always say exactly what I did wrong. Over the years, I’ve come to recognize that jotting down a corrective action, if one is available, is more valuable for my future self. A simple example comes from yesterday. I moved the laundry from the washing machine to the dryer. Later in the evening, Kelly said me to, “I appreciate you switching the laundry, but for future reference, the girls bathing suits don’t go in the dryer. It makes them shrink.” What I wrote in my notebook was, “Don’t put girls’ swimsuits in dryer.”

Writing down my mistakes does three things for me.

  1. It is an acknowledgement that I’ve messed up somehow.
  2. It provides an accessible list of things that I can work on improving
  3. The very act of writing it down helps me remember it the next time I’m in a similar situation.

The list occasionally serves another purpose: when I get a little too full of myself, I can always flip through my notebooks and see the great variety of ways that I mess up all the time.

The breadth of my mistakes is impressive. It can be something like putting the swimsuits in the dryer. Or it can be something like, “Next time, take the GW Bridge lower level to avoid that crush after the toll booth.”

Acknowledging my mistakes is important because that is one way in which I learn from them. You can’t learn if you can’t acknowledge them. Sometimes, ego gets in the way and I don’t want to admit to others that I made a mistake. These days, I try to admit my mistakes freely if only to show my kids that mistakes are an important way we learn. But even on those times when I am loathe to admit my mistakes to others, I still jot them down in my notebook so I admit them to myself.

I don’t have a particular routine for reviewing these mistakes. Sometimes I may not revisit one because writing it down fixes it in my mind. But I come across them when flipping through my notebooks, and I use that to judge if I have managed to improve. Sometimes I have, and other times, I haven’t. Still, there is something comforting to me about noticing my mistakes and writing them down. I feel like a squirrel storing acorns away for the coming winter. There are always things that I can improve, big or small, always nuts left behind in the nest that act as teachers instead of serving as food.

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Searching for Beer in a Stack of Notebooks

This morning after dropping off some mail at the post office, I happened to step into a local grocery store. I forgot what an amazingly wide variety of beer they sold. Once in the store, I remembered that a local beer that I really enjoyed once on tap at a restaurant, I was able to find later in this store. The problem was, I could no longer remember the name of the beer because I was so long ago.

There are 3 long aisles of beer in the store, and I tried perusing the labels to see if it managed to shake free the cobwebs that had gathered in the halls of my memory, but no luck. It occurred to me that my brother-in-law would enjoy this beer, and since I’ll be seeing him this weekend, I could pick some up. If only I could remember the name. I headed home empty-handed and dejected.

On the way home, I remembered writing down the name of the beer in one of my Field Notes notebooks. I’ve filled 30 of these notebooks since 2015, but I kept them all, and they are neatly stacked in my office. I couldn’t remember the timing, however, so I decided to start in the middle, then go the beginning, then the end, and work my way in from each side. I found nothing in Notebook 15. So I moved onto Notebook 1. I found the name of the beer on page 8 of Notebook 1, right after a quote I’d jotted down from The Newsroom.

Performing this search, which looking maying 15 minutes, made me realize 2 things:

  1. There’s a lot of good stuff in those old notebooks.
  2. It’s really difficult to find it.

And thus an idea for a “Field Notes Playbook” was born. The gist of the playbook is that upon completing a Field Notes notebook, I take some time to transfer the notes into Obsidian so that they are searchable at my finger tips.

I mention this because beginning this Friday, I plan to start a new column here on the blog titled, “The Weekly Playbook.” I’ve tried to find ways to be more productive in everything I do. One of the ways I do this, is when I find something that works, I make a playbook for it. Typically, this is a note that describes the steps I need to go through. The thing about playbooks is that they are event-driven and so I try to keep the playbook in mind in the context of the event in question. Over time, I’ve developed dozens of these playbooks, and I thought it would be fun, and possibly informative, to share them with you all on a weekly basis.

If you like my Going Paperless series, then I imagine you might enjoy The Weekly Playbook. In many ways the Going Paperless posts were playbooks, whose focus centered around a single tool: Evernote. Some of the playbooks I use today are related tools: writing tools, email, notebooks, etc. Others, are completely unrelated to technology and are things that I do to be as efficient as I can with my time. You can look forward to the new series beginning on Friday.

Today marks the end of the first half of 2021. When I started 2021, I had a goal of putting more energy into the blog, which I had neglected for most of last year. To that end, I think I’ve been successful. Between January 1 and today, I’ve written 195 posts totaling 115,000 words, and I haven’t missed a single day. Tomorrow, the second half of the year begins I’ve got a few small changes I’ll be announcing, all good, I think. Tomorrow, I’ll also tell you about Project Sunrise, which I’ve already hinted at, but which formally begins on July 1, which I like to think of as my creative new year. Stay tuned for that as well.

Oh, and the beer that I was trying find. It’s called Local Species by Blue Mountain Brewery. Alas, I don’t think they make it anymore. It was a great, one of those beers aged in Bourbon barrels. That’s okay, though. I headed back to that grocery store and found another barrel-aged beer, this one called Wooded Reserve by New Realm Brewery. I picked up a couple of bottles for the weekend.

Two bottles of New Realm Wooded Reserve barrel aged brown ale.

My Latest Field Notes Notebook

I filled up my 30th Field Notes notebook since 2015 this evening. From the stacks of empty notebook, I chose one of their recent United States of Letterpress editions as my next one.

Field Notes United States of Letterpress edition notebook.

I love starting a new notebook. When I get to the last few pages of the old notebook, I find myself looking for reasons to fill up those pages. Sometimes, I look for an excuse to leave them blank. That is what I did today. My excuse for not filling the last two pages was that the cover was beginning to separate from the binding. Notebook #30 had served me well, and was just plain worn out.

That’s how I feel now, and with my new notebook freshly enlisted, I am heading off to bed to catch up on sleep.

Field Notes 2021 Work Station Calendar

Two weeks ago, I lamented how I missed ordering the 2021 Field Notes work station calendar, until it was too late, and they were all gone. Over on Facebook, my friend Kevin pointed out that a Canadian stationary store, Noteworthy, had them in stock. I ordered one immediately (I was sure I’d be too late), and the calendar arrived today.

My 2021 Field Notes work station calendar

I can now rest easy. I am set for an entire year (well, 363 days at this point.)

Catching Up on To-Do Lists

Today, in a pique of nostalgia, I found myself flipping through the 24 Field Notes notebooks that I have filled up since 2015. I’ve had this feeling lately of an accumulated mass of things I have not yet crossed off my various to-do lists.

The first unchecked (or in this case, un-crossed-out) item on the list is from June 2015. It simply reads: “Checkbook on stairs.” That’s okay, though, because even half a decade later I remember exactly what this scribble meant. It meant that I’d left the checkbook on the stairs so that when I headed up to the office, I’d see it and put it back in the drawer. The problem is, we have since sold those stairs, and for that matter, the office at the top of them. I imagine all of the checks that once resided comfortably within that checkbook are now comfortably deposited in other people’s bank accounts.

Here is an item. It says “Code bloopers” which is code to me to write a post about the bloopers one makes when writing code. This particular item remains unchecked 5 years later because I never wrote such a post. I was never able to figure out how to convey they hysterical humor one can find in the absence of a semi-colon, and the hours of hair-pulling havoc that ensue because of said missing semi-colon.

(Much later, I thought it might be amusing to take a look at some of the more outlandish Git commits I have made over the years, but I don’t think I ever put that idea on a to-do list.)

Here’s a note to myself from the summer of 2015 as it appears on the page it iswritten:

In case you can’t read my handwriting, it says “Condoms prevent unwanted minivans.” I saw this on a bumper sticker and thought it was amusing. It may have been intended as a subtle to-do item, but clearly it is not crossed out. In a rather remarkable coincidence, about a year after I scribbled this note, we bought a minivan. We thought the extra room might make our frequent road trips a little easier, what with the baby that came along around the same time.

Ah-ha! Here is one I can cross off. Sometime in August 2016 (before I was dating each page of my Field Notes notebook) is this incomplete task: “Sandman.” It is a reminder that I should obtain and read that Sandman graphic novel that Neil Gaiman created. As it happens, I ordered and received a copy of said graphic novel a few weeks ago. Looking at the list of books currently ahead of it on my to-be-read list, I imagine I’ll get to it sometime in the next 8-10 years. But I obtained it, and that is enough to warrant crossing it off the list.

Quite a few of the incomplete to-do list items in these notebooks appear to be blog post ideas that I never wrote, either because I lost interest, or thought the ideas were not good enough (I have some standards). Here are a few of them:

  • Science fiction’s growing pains (I think this has been done plenty of times by better writers than I).
  • My Wikipedia References – a post illustrating that while I don’t have an entry in Wikipedia, I am quoted in it several times.
  • Simplicity in Technology – I can only thing this was me running away with my imagination since nothing in technology is as simple as it seems.

It occurs to me that some of these notes are not to-do items, but things I jotted down that the kids said that I found amusing. For instance:

  • Referring to her handwriting, the Little Miss said, “I have good penguinship.”
  • Referring to silent reading, the Little Miss said she was “reading in my brain.”
  • Referring to her baby sister in the bathtub, the Little Miss said, “Will she look ugly if she gets her hair wet?”

I could never remember how many bags of mulch I bought each spring to put down in various places around our house. Well, to refresh my memory, on July 1, 2017, I wrote down how many bags of mulch I needed: 16 bags. Too bad I didn’t write down which notebook and on what date I wrote that particular note, making it perhaps, a little easier to find.

There is an unchecked note to myself to take notes on paper. It seems rather meta to add such an item to my to-do list, but as I have been doing this for years, it seems safe to cross off now.

Here is an interesting item: “Clean up house for cleaners.” After several months without our cleaners, they returned today, and boy was I glad they did. After they left, the house looked great. It smelled clean. The kids rushed inside and immediately took everything that had been put away and spread it across the floor where it belongs. It provided a small sense of normalcy in these anxious times.

One of the to-do items in book 11 is a number: 17,162. There is no context for it and I no longer have any idea what it meant. I’m crossing it off. There is a note reminding myself to read more John McPhee–I think I am nearly caught up on that one.

I don’t know why, but whenever I jot down someone’s name–a waiter, a tour guide–I always put their name in quotes: “Josh”, “Evelyn”, “Kyra”, “Jess.”

There ‘s a note from May 11, 20119 that the “first soloist was off key” but I don’t remember what soloist I was referring to, and I don’t know how I could have gotten them on-key after the fact. On the same day is a note to read David McCullough’s speeches, which I did do, and simply forgot to cross off the item.

On 5/14/19 the main to-do item that day is to sell our house and buy a new one. That, being taken care of, can be crossed off and marked as completed.

Flipping through the most recent pages of my most recent Field Notes notebook are the following items:

  • “Asking for it, wasn’t he?” — there to remind me of the punchline of a funny joke.
  • “Uncle Buck/John Hughes” — there to remind me to watch Uncle Buck, which I hadn’t seen in years until shortly after writing down that little to-do item.
  • “Post on catching-up on to-do items” — and with that, I think I’m call caught up!

How’s your to-do list looking?