Back in 2003, I bought a Moleskine notebook for the first time. It was another aspirational artifact, something I wanted to need for the life I wanted to live (which seems to be a recurring theme, as we will shortly see). That first Moleskine is an odd artifact, as it’s one of the things that actually bridges my time in DC and my time in California all the way past Apple and into the NASA contract. Which means it also covers my engagement, marriage, honeymoon, and the search for a new car to replace my beloved Saturn…and runs all the way into the beginnings of this very blog.
Like the Livejournal archive, it’s been a good thing – if a little unsettling – to have the record of days gone by suddenly dropped back in my lap. Not unlike the Christmas break when I had everything from about 1984 to 1996 dropped in my lap, this is a record of time that ended about a decade ago but covers a lot of eventful periods all at once. And there’s a lot in there. Not just about the previously-mentioned phone obsession, the quest for One Device To Rule Them All that only ended with the iPhone – when I finally got a device that had two-band coverage AND high-speed 2G AND Bluetooth AND speakerphone AND synced with my Mac – but about other things I was keying on. Like my eternal search for the perfect pen or lighter or shoes or jacket. Or how I could replace a laptop for travel purposes with the right phone and iPod combination. Or about the first attempts to clean up and consolidate my presence online.
That notebook was followed on by a bunch or Moleskine Cahiers or Field Notes – thinner paperback notebooks suitable to slide in a pocket, at a time when the contents of the phone’s Notes app were purely limited to the phone itself and didn’t sync with anything. It was also a time when I was actively tracking my work obligations in one such notebook (in the absence of any kind of actual ticketing system for help calls), and it was easy to just take one such book to London in 2007 and use it as a travelogue – a practice that has continued ever since with a separate book for visits to Europe, Japan, London and Ireland in the last eight or nine years. As early as 2007, I was wondering how I’d ever deal with flying abroad in steerage class ever again.
But I kept domestic notes as well.
One thing I was looking for was a pub to settle on. While I started with both “Irish” establishments in Mountain View, I never knew about the dive bar across the street and down the alley from them – which has since come and gone a couple of times as a viable solution. Ironically, the one I dismissed out of hand for want of phone or music has become the one I prefer to pop into on the way home from work when time and circumstances allow for the indulgence. I was already settled on my favorite place – with cask ale and no TVs – as early as 2007, even though it was (and remains) a pain to get there and back. Oddly enough, in the two-year period where I forgot to go back there, I also forgot they had no TVs and what an appeal that was. In fact, it’s a consideration that would have saved many an attempted pub evening since.
In 2008 specifically, you also see a flood of notes about my mental state, my unhappiness with work, and maybe the first serious attempt to struggle with the black cloud in a meaningful way. It was obvious that I was so close to getting it – I knew that in the past, many of my problems stemmed from an inability to stop being the person I was and let me be the person I was becoming. But I couldn’t see that happening in the moment, and I was still trying to make those pebbles worth counting in a way that would take a decade to let go. I suppose this very post is part of that.
There are also lists. Constantly updated and scratched out and rewritten. Lists of stuff. Boots, jackets, things I wanted, things I wanted to need. A new pair of Solovairs, a tweed jacket, a netbook, an iPad. I might have licked the phone glee, but by 2012 I was struggling with battery life and trying to figure out how to make the phone last all day, because iOS wouldn’t have granular battery information for two more years. (Spoiler alert: delete Twitter. Although the combination of Verizon, iOS 7 and the iPhone 5 was legitimately a documented bad combination from the get-go.) There were positively aspirational lists of goods, lists of destinations like Switzerland or Ireland or Japan. Or Portland or Disneyland again. Or a football match the next time I went to London. And a quote from that trip in 2010, despite the burden we were dragging around with us: “don’t you feel cooler just for being here?” Which is actually a complex bit of information about me and travel.
The funny thing is, looking at those lists, so many things are ticked. I have an American-made wardrobe, complete with a couple of pieces I never anticipated having and enjoy more than any of the others. I have the tweed jacket at long last, and the Buzz Rickson bomber and surplus peacoat and the Filson trucker and an entire seersucker suit and two seersucker blazers of varying weight. I have Alden boots and Quoddy canoe mocs and Blundstone steel-toes and gray Chuck Taylors of two heights. I have an iPad (or two) and a Kindle (or two) and my beloved iPhone SE and Moto X, even if the latter isn’t working anymore. I have phone numbers in five different area codes (and need to pare down ASAP). I’ve stopped caring about pens, or lighters, or laptops, or bags and backpacks altogether. My FrivoList of stuff I might want on a whim is down to three minor things I’ve quietly wanted in some form for a couple of decades in some form or another. I’ve been to Tokyo and Murren and Dublin and Galway and to Fulham FC and Trader Sam and the Riptide. One could argue I’ve even more or less sorted out my online presence, abandoning Facebook and Tumblr and Livejournal and watching Vox disappear and damn near ready to cut off Twitter for good.
Through it all, there are themes and motifs that recur over and over. At root, it’s all about trying to assemble the life I want. Where it happens. How it happens. How it’s accessorized. The atmosphere, the setting, the theme. The larger meta-setting for who and what I wish I was, how I want my life to be. The same things over and over: cool, fog, a quiet pub, a comfy chair, or travel that leads to all of the above, and dressed up like I want to feel – whether that’s the tweed or the bomber or just the work shirt. And on reflection, looking at nigh on fifteen years of occasional scribbles, it looks as if I’ve almost arrived where I wanted to be – the wider world notwithstanding. Maybe that’s what makes me crazy about politics now: the notion that but for a hundred thousand votes in the right three states, my entire life could be 99% of the way to where it could realistically max out. Something I recognized was going to be a problem as early as 2014. Of which more later.