In terms of writing instruments, the greatest source of frustration for me comes from fountain pens. While I enjoy experimenting with different ink brands and colors and likewise find appealing the smooth glide of a good fountain pen on quality paper, I nonetheless find the overall fountain pen experience disagreeable due to one important factor: even with the finest nib size, I am forced to write much larger than what feels natural for me and as a consequence the quality of my penmanship goes to hell in a hand basket. Or in this case, an ink bottle. I have found that old steel-nib dip pens are more conducive for my style of handwriting than any fountain pen I’ve tried to date. Of course dip pens are about as impractical as one can get in terms of writing instruments.
Perhaps I just haven’t found the correct fountain pen yet. I recall reading somewhere that, as a rule, Japanese fountain pens have finer nibs that European or American products. Perhaps I should give an extra-fine point Japanese model a try (am open to suggestions!). Or perhaps I haven’t stuck with the fountain pen thing long enough to acquire the skill needed to write with the exactness I’ve grown accustomed to using .28 and .18 gel pens.
While I am intrigued by the world of fountain pens and bottled inks, I disappointedly remain on the sidelines, a mere spectator of new inks and “fountain pen friendly” paper, wishing that someone would develop a “tiny handwriting friendly fountain pen.”
Weight is something I’ve struggled with on and off for most of my life. Over the years I’ve ranged from Jabba the Hutt proportions (high school) to lean and lanky (late 1990s and again from 2006-2009). Apart from these somewhat extreme phases my weight tends to fluctuate anywhere from ten to 20 pounds (or more), depending on two factors: diet and exercise, or the lack thereof. Most of 2011 and 2012 fell well within the “lack thereof” category.
Back in November I decided that dropping the extra pounds was going to be a priority, so I began paying closer attention to my diet and returned to the gym after an absence of nearly three years (though all the while I still paid my monthly membership, you know, just in case…). Building on the modest successes of last November and December, I began at the start of the year a project notebook dedicated to health and fitness. For this endeavor I chose a Space 24 weekly journal by Exacompta which has fit well the specific needs of this journal format.
The photo below captures the essence of the endeavor: for each day the column on the left serves as the “food diary” with the corresponding column to the right serving as “fitness diary”, including gym visits (and what was done), and other physical activity such as walking. Weekly weight goals (and actual weight) are also recorded. The blank page to the right provides ample room for an analysis of the week. What worked for me this week? What didn’t? What should I focus on the coming week?
I tend to be a visual person and one aspect I rather like about the Space 24 are the monthly calendars near the front of the volume where I can capture gym visits and physical activity (see featured image above).
Oh…and a fun note about the food diary: I have found that writing down what I eat each day is a GREAT deterrent from eating something I shouldn’t.
The health and fitness journal is not nearly as much work as one might suspect once you develop the habit of taking a few moments here and there to record this and that. The rewards are certainly worth the effort, not only for the present time, but in the future should I begin slipping towards a position where such a struggle again becomes necessary.
Number of pages written: 55 (27 sheets front and back, plus 1)
Types of pens used: 5 different models (points ranging from .18 to .38)
Two types of ink used: gel and pigment
Also included for consideration were two hiking expeditions where the Habana was pressed into service for field notes and related observational data [Saturday, October 6, 2012. —Ecological Preserve. 12:25pm. Mosquitoes bad. Very bad. Am bleeding to death out here. Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope.]
So after almost six weeks of putting the Quo Vadis Habana (4″x6″) notebook though its paces, I have reached a verdict, an informed impression of the notebook line, which is perhaps best summed up in the photo below:
As the above photo might suggest, the quality and performance of Habana notebooks were such that I found it necessary to immediately procure three more. When it comes to good notebooks and pens, I’ve long thought it necessary to stock up just in case something untoward happens such as the product being discontinued, or enduring some disagreeable modification, or even something of lesser consequence like the fall of Western Civilization.
Quo Vadis’ Habana is an excellent notebook; it is by far the best I’ve encountered to date. Construction is of very good quality and even after some time with it in the field, I’ve seen nothing suggestive of the contrary: no loose pages, no ominous tears in the binding. I’m rather looking forward to brining a Habana along on the next trip abroad, for it certainly seem durable enough to serve as a travel notebook.
Of the Habana’s many wonderful attributes, one of the standouts is the paper. Anyone familiar with this blog knows well the importance of paper quality to me; it can be the deal breaker for an otherwise good notebook. Habanas come equipped with 80 sheets of 85 gr ruled ivory Clairfontaine paper which provides a delightful and smooth medium upon which to write. The ruling is fairly narrow (around 6mm) which works well, though a slightly narrower ruling (4-5mm) would be ideal for my tiny penmanship.
Every type of pen used during this trial performed flawlessly, especially the Sakura Pigma Microns (.20 point) which have long been among my favorites. There is *gasp* absolutely no shadowing on the back of a written page. While on occasion I will use a fountain pen, I have yet to try it on Habana paper, but given its good quality, I’m confident as to a positive outcome. And I rather like fewer number of pages in a Habana, as it provides less stress on the hand whilst writing, especially as one works their way down the page towards the bottom. This has always been an inconvenience with thicker notebooks. So in this sense, less is actually more.
I’ve long thought that the perfect size for a pocket notebook is 4″x6,” providing ample enough space for writing without feeling cramped and still remain portable. After nearly six weeks of carrying the Habana here, there, and everywhere in my back pocket, jacket pocket, backpack, and camera bag, I’m convinced that 4″x6″ is indeed the ideal size for pocket notebooks. In terms of portability, it’s entirely comparable to the more widely available 3″x5″ sizes on the market. The cover of the Habana has a slight flex to it, which seems to facilitate portability. Initially I had a few reservations about the somewhat flexible cover as I tend to do much of writing on the go and was concerned as to whether or not it would provide sufficient support. I’m happy to report that it does.
So at any rate, I’m well pleased with the Habana experience and am satisfied that I’ve found a quality notebook line to use for the forseeable future. This is not to say that I’ve ceased the quest for the perfect notebook, nor that I won’t try other notebooks should they catch my eye. What I can say with confidence is that competitors have their work cut out for them if they hope to surpass Quo Vadis’ Habana line.
When reflecting on the twenty or so years I’ve kept a journal of one form or another, I wonder from time to time as to the catalyst for beginning this endeavor. The origin will probably remain a mystery since the earliest diaries are curiously silent as to the initial impulse behind putting pen to paper. I suppose that somewhere in a forgotten box there may be a ratty old spiral notebook or a few sheets of paper folded and tucked away that could help answer this question.
Reaching back through the mists of time it seems I undertook the endeavor in fits and starts, writing about this trip or that activity or whatever considered important at a given time. These were tentative forays into the journaling world and it can be said with confidence that there was little consideration then that diversionary and occasional scribbling would gain strength and momentum and evolve over the years to the multivolume form in consistent use since 2002ish.
I suppose the fundamental question about keeping a journal is: Why? Why do I write? Why does anyone write? Is it a quest for immortality? An outlet for expression? A tool for evaluation? Why am I asking so many questions? In my case, the catalyst for starting a journal was most likely a combination of the reasons discussed below, with different reasons acting in concert with others at different phases of life. What I wrote in 1992 and why I wrote are assuredly far different from reasons that would develop years later.
Immortality- There is probably some deep human need to produce something that will live on after we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. Barring the achievement of a great and memorable thing, all but an infinitely small number of us will fade from memory probably within a generation or two if not sooner, leaving no record of having ever been on the earth (yay! how’s that for a cheery weekend thought). A journal has the potential to grant some degree of immortality, provided the volumes aren’t simply thrown out with the rest of the trash by an indifferent family member bitter about having to sort through their weird uncle’s worldly possessions. I’m of decidedly mixed feelings about this. While the thought of producing something that lingers on after I’ve become one with the Force has some innate appeal, I’m not exactly thrilled by the prospect of my journals falling into the hands of others. While I don’t lead a life of scandal (mostly never) and treachery (rarely) , I am nonetheless a very private person, but rather candid with my writing.
Posterity- This is related to immortality (perhaps a subset of it), but I think different enough to warrant independent consideration, as in this context one is writing with their legacy in mind. The risk of writing with one eye focused on the future, in addition to taking a dreaful toll on penmanship, is the danger of self-editing, the likelihood of self-aggrandizement, bias and/or censorship seeping into the text, thereby creating a narrative that may not reflect reality. (‘WOW! Read this! Grandpa was the General commanding the 15th Virginia Infantry Regiment during the assault on the Death Star!”)
Memory- To aid memory is probably the most common reason for keeping a journal, especially for important events and travel.
Reflection- This one is self-evident. Nothing to read here. Move along, move along.
Therapy- We’ve all had things in our lives about which we were not comfortable talking over with others and it is during these situations that a diary or journal can be your best friend and confidant, an important emotional outlet and tool for gaining clarity and insight. There are addiitonal benefits of whining into notebook, namely a journal doesn’t roll its eyes, nor tell you to shut the hell up.
Evaluation- One of my two primary daily journals is used for self-evaluation. In this volume I record data and facts (very little opinion or extraneous commentary) -elements largely quantifiable in nature by which I’m able to evaluate areas of life which may need improvement. Expenses, reading (books read and date range), gym visits, weight, the manner in which free time is spent, specific goals, projects and progress made- the list goes on. Of course all this is very utilitarian but also incredibly useful. It’s nice being able to look back to a day, week, or month as evaluate whether I was productive Model Citizen or a hapless lazy ass (you know: one of those 47% types). And one would also be surprised just how easy it is to record such data once your system is established. To best facilitate this endeavor, I always use a weekly planner.
Expression- I am convinced that keeping a journal is as valid an outlet for creative expression as music or art. Having no talent or ability for either art (which remains at the level of stick figures, really bizarre stick figures) or music (when learning to play the trumpet in high school, practicing outdoors was forbidden due to the risk of being shot by zealous duck hunters), I have come to appreciate journaling as a deeply rewarding outlet for creative expression, especially the art of penmanship.
Other reasons for keeping a diary or journal undoubtedly exist which brings me to my next point: why do YOU keep a journal?
The end of summer was a dark time, marked by frustration and bitterness brought on by cheap-ass paper. Needing at that time a “carry-about” notebook, I had put back into service the pocket Moleskine used on-and-off for a portion of this year. Alas, by the beginning of September I was again over the garbage Moleskine attempts to pass off as “paper” and casting about for a suitable alternative.
While researching notebooks online one evening I ran across Quo Vadis’ Habana, a line with which I was vaguely familiar. This particular notebook caught my eye for a couple of reasons: first was the mention of Clairfontaine paper, which I’ve used previously and know of be of first-rate quality. The second eye-catching element was the size of the notebook: 4″x6″ which I’ve long considered the ideal size for a notebook, despite it being larger (and presumably not as portable) as the more common 3″x5″ size. Nonetheless, there was much potential with the Habana and the question of whether or not this notebook would prove a suitable alternative to Moleskine was soon one step closer to being answered due to the perilous ease of “one click ordering” combined with a singular lack of willpower.
The 4×6 Habana has been in my possession for maybe two weeks, but it was only tonight that I put pen to paper and began putting it through its paces. My initial impression? With the solid construction and quality paper It’s a good notebook. A VERY good notebook…
As to how workable the Habana ultimately is will be determined after several weeks or months of use. I’ve always disliked product reviews where the author does little more than open the notebook, perhaps scratch a few lines with a couple different pens and then pass judgement. A proper assessment of a notebook can come only after a fair amount of service. Is it durable? How about field trials- how does it hold up to writing on the go or being chewed by Sasquatches? As such this post isn’t a proper, comprehensive review, only a collection of initial impressions, with the following key points:
The Clairfontaine paper is very good quality which contributes greatly to a smooth writing experience.
The 4″x6″ size of the Habana notebook seems about as portable as pocket notebooks measuring 3″x5,” neither of which can comfortably be stuffed into the front pocket of a pair of jeans.
The cover of the Habana is firm, though not quite as firm as a Moleskine. How much support it gives to the writing process when on the go has yet to be determined.
Overall construction of the Habana seems solid, but again this is something that will be determined over the next few weeks or months.
Thus far I am altogether impressed with the Habana, but its ultimate standing is yet to be determined. In a month or so I’ll write a follow-up post as to how well it stands up to wear and tear and a variety of pens. So stay tuned….
While out running errands this morning, I dropped by a local Barnes and Noble, with the purpose of killing time until a nearby market opened at 10am. After taking a very close look at Nook eReaders (which one can’t help but do since the Nook display is SO IN YOUR FACE AT THE FRONT DOOR that patrons are all but forced to climb over it to come inside1), I made a circuit from history to biography, then to travel and the discount books near the front before concluding the literary promenade in the journal/notebook/accessory area.
On the Moleskine display was an assortment of mini notebooks I initially mistook for those two-pack Volants which I’ve used from time to time. Upon closer examination of these notebooks, I noticed the curious presence of elastic closure thingies and hard back covers. Volants these were not.
“Ahhhhhhhh! Oooooooooh!,” I drooled.
“Can I help you?” croaked the shriveled yet helpful gnome peering up over the counter a short distance away.
Politely declining assistance, I plucked one of the notebooks from the shelf and examined it closely. Of the same style and construction as the regular pocket Moleskine (and presumably containing the same cheap-ass paper), these notebooks were appreciably smaller than their more familiar counterparts (measuring only 2 1/2″ x 4″), meaning a truly portable pocket notebook. As I fondled the mini-notebook, turning it this way and that and assessing its weight, there immediately sprang to mind 374 wonderful uses for the mini. A short while later I climbed back over the Nook display then ambled out the store, clutching tightly the bag of acquisitions: two mini-notebooks and one regular pocket Moleskine.
“What a hypocrite you are!” might exclaim a reader of my previous Moleskine post. “You wrote all those horrible and nasty things about Moleskine and two days later you’re buying more!” this reader might also say while hastily moving the cursor towards the little red X in the upper corner of the screen.
“My dear reader,” I might then reply.4 “I wrote no horrible and nasty things about Moleskine in the post you reference. Altogether my post was rather complimentary, save for the matter of paper quality which was merely an honest observation. As it seems you were not paying attention, I suggest you read that post again before progressing any further with this one. In fact I’ll place a clearly marked symbol immediately below to help you find your place when you return. Now run along and click the “home” button in the lower right corner of the image above. See it? Good. Afterwards, on the next screen click on “The Moleskine Confessions” and this time please read carefully.”
[o.0] <—-symbol, clearly marked
Now as I was saying, two of the mini pocket Moleskines came home with me today, despite those pesky reservations about paper quality. How and why a regular pocket Moleskine also accompanied me home…well I have no idea really, except for perhaps those reasons mentioned in “Confessions.”
“Well because you’re a notebook slut,” the reader of my previous Moleskine post might say.
“Oh you’re back,” I might then reply to the dear reader. “And this time you paid attention.”
But at any rate, as to the minis: I envision they will soon be employed in utilitarian functions for which paper quality may not be quite as important as journaling. Their size and portability open up possibilities innumerable, though admittedly it would be interesting (or pathetic, depending on one’s point of view) to put one into journaling service with two or three lines of tiny written script per printed line.
At some future point I may write a modest review of the Moleskine mini pocket notebook, considering both construction and various utilities (though probably not all 374 of them), once I put them through their paces. Until the minis are pressed into service, they wait quietly on the bookshelf until the elements of form, function, and idea coalesce and spark a meaningful experience.
1 My angst here stems not from any sort of malice harbored against eBooks.2 While I understand that product placement is an important component of business strategy, I find the obstructionist placement of the in-store Nook displays rather distasteful in addition to being a tripping hazard.
2 I own a Kindle3 which I rather enjoy though it has yet to completely replace real books.
3 Which I’ve had for a number of years.
4 If Clint Eastwood can get up and argue with a chair on national television, surely I can engage here an imaginary reader in thoughtful and instructive discourse.
From the journal entry (photo above) dated March 18, 2008 :
“…Now that the quest for the ideal notebook is over due to the discovery of Moleskine, the hunt has been reduced to finding the perfect pen…”
Thus was once my opinion of that popular little black notebook. My relationship with Moleskine had sparked to life the month prior and with the coming of spring it blossomed and grew and much joy was to be had scribbling away. Alas, happily ever after was not to be; the chill of disillusionment soon set in and the flame flickered, then grew dark. Yet, curiously, a few embers remained, smoldering just enough to allow the occasional, brief reignition- this cycle of love/hate characterizes my relationship with Moleskine.
Even after the passage of four years and ample whoring about experimentation with other notebooks lines, I am still occasionally drawn to Moleskine, despite telling myself that I’ve moved on, far better notebooks await discovery. Perhaps it’s due to Moleskine’s slick advertising (you know, the “you can be the artistic or literary heir to Picasso/Hemingway/or even Chatwin-whoever the hell he is” thing), or their ready availability compared to other notebooks -whatever the reason, the spark rekindles, I’ll purchase a Moleskine for this or that purpose and put it to use for a time, then the fire goes out and I move on…until some future fling. Try as I might to forge a meaningful and committed LTR with Moleskine, there is an element about these notebooks that is, for the lack of a better phrase, a turn-off.
Moleskine is the perfect notebook in nearly every respect. Experience has proved time and again that construction and durability are, quite frankly, first-rate. Not once have I had a moment’s trouble with the binding, the elastic band thingie, or any other physical element of Moleskine and they’ve been through some rigorous situations. From daily being carried around in my pocket or jostled about in the bottom of a backpack, to surviving two long seasons subjected to a hot and humid greenhouse, to various travels, including evading in Spain the peril of grasping Gypsies, Moleskines have always come though no worse off than the normal wear and tear one would expect. Add to their durability the wonderful fact that the notebooks lielaylie remain flat when opened PLUS the sublime appeal of their minimalist design…well what’s NOT to love about Moleskine.
Yet despite these wonderful qualities, Moleskines are lacking in perhaps the most fundamental category: paper quality. This is inevitably the deal breaker, the fatal flaw that sends me out into the streets in search of better. It’s altogether incongruous that bound within the covers of these otherwise first-rate notebooks would be such cheap paper. While it feels cheap to the touch, the real test of quality comes when putting pen to paper. The process of writing feels disagreeable, rough and even with a fine point pen and light touch the resulting shadowing is too apparent and distracting. Some of the joy of journaling is tactile and derives from that elegant and sublime interaction of a good pen on smooth, high-quality paper. Sadly, this is not the Moleskine experience. And woe unto those who attempt a fountain pen upon Moleskine paper; between the bleeding and feathering, the result can be more horrifying than the sight of the chicken who didn’t quite make it across the road.
As I was reflecting upon this post, I hauled from their quiet retirement a few pocket Moleskine journals; their duty done, their cheap-ass little pages filled. As I thumbed though the volumes I considered just how close Moleskine is to being the perfect notebook and wondered when and if the company would see fit to remedy their Achilles heel. I suppose the reality is that as long as they have their spiffy advertising (and can claim the likes of Picasso and that Chatwin guy) and enjoy their wide availability, there’s probably little incentive to improve their paper.
I suppose from time to time I too get caught up in the ideas symbolized so well by Moleskine and again embrace them with a hope that has yet to be realized.