Periscope Depth

when you say good-bye and walk on by

Hardcore video gamers refer to a stack of games they’ve purchased but never played as their “pile of shame.” I think it’s a little silly as a term of art – what’s there to be ashamed of? – but I understand the origin. You recognize the disconnect between what you acquire and what you consume.

I don’t buy a lot of video games. I never buy new, unless the title’s deeply discounted, and I don’t play enough video games to need a stream of new distractions. But the “pile of shame” resonates with me at least a little.

My pile of shame: notebooks.

I love notebooks. I love clean white pages and sturdy covers. As a child, the desk in my bedroom was filled with notebooks full of story ideas, RPG characters, business plans simple enough for a 13-year-old and the like. I filled them up, then saved them until they yellowed. And I always had a notebook on me wherever I went*.

My one quirk with notebooks is organizing them. Every notebook needs a purpose. This one is game ideas; this one is fictional brainstorming; this one can be random field notes but nothing I intend to save for the long term. Nothing frustrated me more than deciding this would be my Shadowrun notebook, only to lose interest in Shadowrun three months later. What do I do with all these empty pages? I can’t just repurpose a notebook. But I couldn’t just tear the front pages out; I might need them later! So into the desk drawer it went.

(Fussing over categorization is one reason I love tag-based filing systems, like delicious.com, more than folder-based hierarchies. With tags there are no “wrong” classifications. It’s virtual n-dimensional space; why treat it like a card catalog?)

Even with a laptop, a desktop and all the free cloud storage I can take advantage of, I still use notebooks. I’ve got the Moleskine knockoff in my left front pocket. I picked up a hand-stitched leather journal on Temple Street in Hong Kong. I’ve got another hand-stitched leather journal that’s a gift from a few years back; I’d use it more often, but I’ve already filled some of the pages and it’s apparently locked into a development cycle. I’ve got branded notebooks that I’ve taken from prior jobs or received as marketing schwag. I’ve got the cheap blue notebook with the We Are Scientists sticker that has achieved critical mass to be my official “writing notebook.” And I have at least a dozen notebooks in various stages of completion that I will probably never use again.

And it doesn’t stop! Jon Walton linked me to Scout Books the other day and I was fascinated. Not only do I want to try them out, I want to use them to print my own books as well. “How hard is it to learn Adobe Illustrator?” I asked Sylvia. “Like, Photoshop hard or HTML hard?”

If I’m learning anything – and it’s a slow, reluctant process – it’s that the tools are the least important part of the process. Writing your ideas down somewhere matters more than where you write them. So long as an obsession with format doesn’t get in the way of production, you’re doing all right.

Gamers only label their unopened discs a “pile of shame” if they plan to work on it: sifting through the shrink wrap, resolving to buy no new games until they’ve played all the old ones. This might be good for me. So I’m attacking my own pile of shame: no new notebooks until I’ve used up all the old ones. This will keep me from fussing over trivial details or spending money on blank paper when I should be doing important stuff: actually writing.

Of course, if I got a Moleskine as a Christmas gift I wouldn’t turn it down. Just saying.

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* I remember a road trip with the family to Deep Creek in MD where I asked my mom if I could get a steno pad the next time we stopped near a pharmacy. My mother’s reaction was genuine open-mouthed shock that I didn’t already have a notebook with me.

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