The humble pocket notebook
And why this 'fly-catcher' is the single most powerful tool in my arsenal
This is a £2.50 A7 notebook I bought back in July. I carry it around with me everywhere I go.
As you can see, it’s a bit battered. The back cover is falling off, and some pages have mysterious stains on them. (Coffee, water, or mud, I assume/hope.) There isn’t a single page that isn’t scruffy and, at times, illegible.
It follows a simple principle: write in the next bit of empty space. There are no other rules. I can write in any pen, as messy as I like, with any symbols that come to mind as I go. I can write whatever I like - to do lists, ‘I should do this at some point’, miscellaneous thoughts, shopping lists.
I’m flipping through the pages now and there are grumbles like “nearly 40hrs worked in 3 days”, quotes like “his voice is the shape of a hand cradling a baby bird”, phone numbers to call back, and gardening notes like “roscoea - flowers for a long time - very hardy - from Himalayas”.
For example, below are a couple of pages from yesterday:
It’s not designed to be a comprehensive log of my life. It’s not an organisational system - it’s not a bullet journal or planner. I have a vertical calendar in the front, but that’s just so I can quickly check my availability, not for proper planning. It’s a brain dump. I don’t have to stop and think about whether it’s the ‘right’ sort of thing for the notebook - there are no rules.
Coleridge described one of his later commonplace books as a “Fly-Catcher / a day-book for impounding stray thoughts”,and whilst this isn’t a commonplace book, I’ve come to think about this little pocket notebook as a ‘fly-catcher’. It captures those annoying, buzzing little thoughts, squishes them onto the page, and you get peace for a little bit.
Could I just use something like Apple Notes for this? I suppose so, but that wouldn’t give me the freedom to scrawl or draw. There’s a freedom to pen and paper that you just can’t get on with a phone screen.
Get yourself a little fly-catcher. Get one that’s cheap (so you don’t care about it getting damaged or looking a mess) and small enough to fit in a pocket - I recommend A7 size, smaller than a phone. Carry it around with you and write anything and everything in it.
I promise you, your brain will feel quieter for it.
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Jillian M. Hess, ‘Coleridge’s Fly-Catchers: Adapting Commonplace-Book Form’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 73.3 (2012), 463–83 (474).
A pocket notebook, a pen and (so I can geocache anytime/anywhere) a small Swiss army pocketknife with tweezers. That’s all I need. And I agree - while you could use Apple Notes (which, admittedly, has the handy speech-to-text feature) nothing really replaces pen and paper. Really like this post!
Great post! I'm forever catching flies in my own pocket notebook - I'd be at such a loss without it.