Dec 16

Keeping a Travel Journal

As a traveler I aspire to keep a handwritten journal/sketch pad. It’s great fun to pull out my old journals and read all the goofy and sometimes awesome stuff I did on my adventures. It’s a place where I can write, scribble and store stuff in real time. I have pressed flowers, train tickets, attraction passes, coffee stains and all sorts of other goodies tucked into the nooks and crannies of my journals. It is a physical memento of life experience that will survive and outlive the trendy social media of the day. Remember Livejournal and Myspace?

My Pen and Journal. Fes, Morocco. 2015

My Pen and Journal. Fes, Morocco. 2015

Start with a quality notebook or sketchpad. There are lots at your local bookstore, the most common being Moleskine. Moleskine are easily available and come in a variety of sizes and configurations, each with a handy pocket inside the back cover. On the down side, their paper is thin and prone to feathering and bleed through. If you like the Moleskine form factor, a significant step up in quality can be found in the products of Rhodia and Quo Vadis.

The Rhodia Webnotebook comes with a black or classic orange cover and with either lined, blank or dot Rhodia paper. The dot paper is an interesting variation on traditional graph paper with dots where the vertical and horizontal lines would intersect, but the lines themselves have been removed. Rhodia writing paper is outstanding and among the finest in the world.

Quo Vadis Habana notebooks come in lots of colors although I prefer basic black and can be found in both blank and lined varieties. These are softer than other hardcover notebooks and feel really great in the hand. They are the only journal/notebooks of the Moleskine style to feature Clairefontaine paper, which in my opinion is the finest smooth writing paper in the world. I own several of these.

How about something a little different? Try the Midori Traveler’s Notebook. These great Japanese notebooks are beautiful, clever and absolutely ooze quality. They come in a few basic colors but have so many accessories that you’ll never run out of fun and interesting ways to configure and utilize them. The paper is superb and I believe it is Japanese Mulberry, one of the oldest, most durable and archival types of paper in the world.

Lots of people love basic marbled composition notebooks and the bamboo or sugarcane paper in these is pretty good. A lot of companies make fancy covers for composition books and they are a great option.

Something to be mindful of are all the leather bound travel journals  populating the internet and bookstores. The paper can be of poor quality, it is often rough bulk paper or really cheap paper, bleeding ink and feathering worse than an eiderdown goose.

The travel notebooks and journals I use are made by Innovative Journaling. I’ve been using them for several years and I love the quality, materials and craftsmanship.

What to write? Everything! I like to make notes about trip planning, why l chose to go to certain places and not others. I write about the people I’m traveling with, who I meet, where I’m staying and what I had for breakfast. I write about my expectations and if they were fulfilled. I write about how my experiences changed me and my perspective on life and the world.

So there you have it. Get a good journal and a good pen, take them with you everywhere and write.

I plan on writing a more detailed article on journals, inks, paper and travel in the near future.

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Feb 12

Cursive and Cultural Continuity

As a fan and advocate of all things related to travel and history, it was wonderful to recently be able to sort through a collection of antique postcards in San Francisco. Many were of photographs from the time immediately surrounding the 1906 earthquake and fire. However it was the writing on the backs of the cards that I found most interesting. This included descriptions of the date and location of the photograph and a mixture of carefully scripted and hastily scrawled greetings to friends and loved ones. Each was a precious time capsule and part of the fabric that makes up our cultural legacy.

Looking at these postcards I thought about the debate over the teaching of reading and writing cursive script in our schools. Based on what I’ve read, the ability to read cursive is being lost. Without the ability to read cursive these postcards would be trash. It’s important for our personal and family histories to be able to read what has been written, and not just letters and journals penned by our great grandparents, but also the beautiful scripts written by our cultural ancestors. When I visited the National Archives in Washington DC, I was able to look at the Declaration of Independence and Constitution mere inches away. The aging parchment and pen strokes told me far more about the time and place they were written than a digital text copy ever could.

I think this familial and cultural continuity is something that is being lost in the debate. So, whatever else you do today, postcard, letter or journal, pick up a pen and write.

Curious Lizard

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Aug 11

Pen versus Keyboard

The debate rages on, which is mightier, the pen or the keyboard? A flurry of recent articles has been lamenting the demise of handwriting and the inability of the internet generation to read and write cursive script. The arguments don’t simply center on which is the more efficient tool, rather the lines are being drawn over which method of placing ink to page or pixels to screen furthers the creative process, facilitates learning, offers long term benefit to brain development and acts to attenuate the threat of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

As narratives go, this one is straightforward. The pen or stylus has a long and storied history dating back to the cuneiform of the Sumerians and the Epic of Gilgamesh, Linear scripts of the early Greeks, Hebrew, Aramaic, Trajan’s Column and so forth through the italic, Spencerian and Palmer revolutions. Asian cultures have elevated the art of calligraphy to a spiritual practice that ultilizes the Four Treaures of Study consisting of the inkstick, inkstone, brush and paper.

The keyboard on the other hand is criticized as a mechanical process that splits the mental focus into two hands and attention between the keyboard and screen, and as a result the creative process is corrupted. According to this school of thought, the process of manually crafting a letter with the focal point of a single stylus upon the page is a more creative and intellectual process than learning to actuate a letter represented by a key upon a keyboard and that the look of one’s handwriting is a window into one’s character.

A recent article suggests that handwriting differs from keyboarding because is activates Broca’s speech area and two other locations of the brain on functional MRI. In China, brush calligraphy is being used as a treatment for attention deficit and moods disorders and a large study performed in Hong Kong has found that elderly persons who engaged in regular cognitive activities including both writing and keyboarding suffered significantly less age related dementia and cognitive decline. One of the outcomes of this research is that we now understand that we process the language of words and letters differently than we process symbolic logographic language. An early form of Chinese language called Kanji uses symbols to convey ideas rather than individual letters. The more modern system of writing that uses individual letters is called Kana. This is significant because it was found that individuals who suffered damage to their language center by a stroke were able to continue to communicate with Kanji but not Kana.

Proponents of handwriting argue that the focus necessary to form letters and words in the mind and produce them in a beautiful display on paper is a satisfying healthy practice. I agree. Handwriting is a wonderful satisfying way to communicate. One of my great joys is using fountain pens to take notes, prepare articles and narratives and to maintain my notebooks and journals.

Information from the scientific and health care communities doesn’t let us pick a winner between pens and keyboards. Both are effective methods of communication, both seem to help stave off the ravages of cognitive decline and both have produced brilliant works of art. As in all things, for there to be a benefit, you have to put in the time and the effort necessary for it make a difference.

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