Friday, May 04, 2007

Magpieing: How my collectors work

I had this image of like a giant bin I could carry along with me, like an
apple-pickers sack if you've seen one of those, and I could pick out and
collect all the shiny and fascinating things I heard or saw or thought of
and toss them in the hopper to be saved for good. Because I'd been
thinking about the problems of creativity, how many ideas you come across
in a day and forget about, and also how people manage to think of the
perfect quotation to head their book chapter, or give weight or wit to a
best-man's speech. Certain people must have found a way to build their
private hoards, like a magpie.

So about a year ago I discovered that I can comfortably sit on five
ordinary index cards in my back pocket, along with a pen clipped on the
outward side. As people who've hung out with me lately know, I can whip my
stack of cards out at a moments notice to make a note. Quotations,
research ideas, to do items, upcoming events, people's names, all go on
those cards.

Then at least once a week I enter it all into my PDA and replenish with
fresh cards. This is a certain amount of work, and takes at least half an
hour a week, but I've found that it's totally worth it. It means that if
something comes up for me to work on in the future I can act on it
immediately, making a note, rather than attempting to mentally store it
away. It's nearly perfect in its capturing of book recommendations,
projects to try someday maybe, and events around town. But it's really
changed things in how it lets me save random inspirations I have
throughout the day. For instance I will share with you this one, from last

"The fantasy of an edible world, made of candy or chocolate. Does that
mean on some level we'd really like to bite everything we see?"

Ok they're not all gold. But that's the great part: good or bad, it's out
of my head and down on paper, freeing up space for the next idea to come
along. As David Brooks says, "your brain is a great place to have ideas,
but not to store them."

Why index cards and not directly into my PDA? Well it's slightly less rude
to be writing on an index card, since people might think I was checking
email (even though my Palm was manufactured during the Clinton
administration). I'd take them places I wouldn't take my palm. But the big
point is just that little bit of extra time to write using the touch
screen could mean just enough resistance for me to decide to be lazy and
skip this one (pretending that I'll write it later). It's got to feel
pretty much automatic.

The quotation collector is working great too, already giving me a glorious
heap of endlessly ponderable thoughts, like this one also from April:

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend
to be." -Kurt Vonnegut

This is what sold me on the PDA in the first place: a practically
unlimited storage space for bits of text and lists (and searchable!).
Paper just won't do for a permanent storage medium for this, because it
inspires rationing and stinginess: it should be ok to have one month where
I collect and store *a thousand* quotes - maybe even all from the same
source if you really hit a vein. In the realm of digitized text it's ok to
be a packrat.

The funnest part of it I'm finding are the lists that aren't so essential,
but come along with the rest for free. Without them I would have already
forgotten my enjoyment of the words chthonic, paragon, chirality and imbue
last month (in the Words list). And my unexpected favourite is a list I've
been keeping of Phrases, funny, catchy or interesting strings of words
that have caught my ear. They come from rap songs, newspaper headlines,
advertising, the web, tv shows, comedy routines, overheard conversations,
spam, and my own brain. Keep in mind while reading this list is that I
made no special effort to notice these in April, and by just emptying my
collectors this list essentially made itself. (please see me about
permission if you wish to use one of these for your band name)

2007 April
fill your boots
haplessness, hype and hypnosis
You can allure femme covert?
fleeing inmates seldom analyze the consequences
If it wasn't for disappointments, I wouldn't have any appointments
Desperate lark
A flying screamer, and a crasher too
All persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental.
accidents in a very busy place
Shields up, lock the door and keep your dukes up
We're all concerned about how gross you look.
looking like you just got diagnosed with cancer of the puppy
spurty knowledge
the only way out is through
two-story outhouse
If this isn't nice, what is? (I don't know what is)
The first of your many reverse masterstrokes
The weather is not trippy, perhaps it is the way we perceive it that is
indeed trippy...
Who will survive, and what will be left of them?
I believe in an eye for a tooth and a tooth for an eye. I like to mix it
up like that.
Reincarnation is making a comeback
Feeling dangerously well
Pick up your whiskers
This teetering bulb of dread and dream - Edson
Soul shards
Dessert in motion
fast snails
That's where I'm a viking
I like people with big egos. They remind me of me.
If you're going to laugh about something in 5 years, you might as well
laugh about it now.
Love not given lightly
Designated mammal
Hasta la bye bye
Now he walks through his sunken dream
Even the blues gets the blues

(I wrote that last one down in the middle of the night, and I have no
idea what it means. Any thoughts?)


dno said...

I found this posting by google-ing "desperate lark" on a hunt for interesting related word bits. I snagged the phrase from a book called "I am a Strange Loop" by Douglas Hofstadter, and looking at this list you've got, I can't help but wonder if you gleaned it from the same place?

a bit of cyberserendipitous looping?

Daniel said...

Yes I did! And you are an interesting person for also picking up on that phrase (and digging Hofstadter). I hope you enjoy the blog.