Friends at school can attest to watching me invent the original “palm pilot,” jotting essay length messages on the back of my hand each day. Eventually, stained skin and tempting an ink poisoned death got old. The trend for years now has been to pocket a blank sheet of paper and pen wherever I go. It’s not that I have a bad memory, but more like the cache has been disabled. I’m so focused on thinking and planning for tomorrow that yesterday never really gets cataloged.
Often, a good ride home or trip away from the ordinary is what generates some of the best thoughts for me. Catch is, the gears are turning 24 hours a day so for ideas to keep rolling, they have to be recorded to allow for less memorizing and more brainstorming. Much like an assembly line, if there is a back up at any stage of production, the whole process gets put on hold. A snippet of the Island Test essay by Paul Graham says it best:
The notebook and pen are professional equipment, as it were. Though actually there is something druglike about them, in the sense that their main purpose is to make me feel better. I hardly ever go back and read stuff I write down in notebooks. It’s just that if I can’t write things down, worrying about remembering one idea gets in the way of having the next. Pen and paper wick ideas.
A preference of mine for writing on the computer is to wear headphones and play music just loud enough to cover the sound of clacking keys. I’m particular about the lyrics, the best being in foreign languages or having no vocals at all (anything that doesn’t make me think). Also, something I’ve toyed with this past semester is putting one or two songs on continuous loop. Ultimately, I get accustomed to the repetitious sounds and use the music to create an external barrier. Seems odd, using sound to eliminate sound, but I favor the consistency that becomes a comfortable expectation with no surprises. It’s not that I’m very interested in the book that just fell off the shelf or that woman screaming on tv, but these are the audible items that are likely to grab my attention away from work. A good pair of headphones, even with no music at all, can aid in reducing an innate curiosity to investigate distractions.
I couldn’t work with the sound of a sitcom coming through the wall, or a car in the street playing thump-thump music. And of course there’s another kind of thinking, when you’re starting something new, that requires complete quiet. You never know when this will strike. It’s just as well to carry plugs.