It seems proper to me to come back to personal blogging after nearly two years with what’s basically a gripe. That’s the blogging tradition, right? Find something marginal to complain about and focus too much on the minutiae? So yeah, that’s about to happen with this piece by Paul Theroux in the Wall Street Journal’s Op-Ed page. And not even with all of it–just with one minor point he makes.
Theroux is talking about the importance of taking notes, and I am fully on board with him. I’m reading this piece and I’m like “yep, yep, of course, yep” and then he writes this:
No electronics, you see. No Palm Pilot, no Memo app in an iPhone, no voice-recorder, no video, no contraption, no wires—just ink and paper. A computer is useful for putting the notes onto a file, but the road—at least the ones I find myself on—is no place for anything breakable. Drop a notebook and you only need to dust it off; drop an electronic device and you’re sunk.
And then I sigh.
I’m never going to be one who denigrates writing in a notebook. Doing so this year has helped me start writing poetry again after a scary-long hiatus. And I’ve crashed enough hard drives and broken enough electronics in my life to know the unique pain of data loss. But I’ve also dropped enough notebooks in puddles and toilets, sinks and streets, not to mention just plain leaving them on coffee shop tables and park benches to know that notebooks aren’t a cure-all for data loss. Personally, I’m more likely to lose a notebook than I am to break an e-device so badly that the data is lost, mainly because I’m also a spaz about backing stuff up–to the cloud or to another device.
Besides, when was the last time Theroux dropped an e-device? They’re not the fragile little things they used to be. You’ve got to work to break some of them. My iPad has taken a pretty harsh beating over the last two years and it’s still going strong, and we won’t even talk about what my phone goes through daily.
Which is not to argue that Theroux is wrong here. He’s right when it comes to his own writing practice, and given his success, it’s obvious his practice works really well for him. And if he’d stuck with that talk, rather than going off on this claim of the supremacy of the notebook, I probably wouldn’t have decided to start blogging again today. So thanks Paul Theroux. You helped me delay the work I need to be doing for a precious few minutes.