If you read last week’s column, you know I am devoting this month to reflections about evocative objects, those things that connect us to not only our personal lives but to the larger world outside ourselves as well. And since this is Valentine’s month–and this is the week of Valentine’s Day–I am focusing on those evocative objects for which I have special affection.
So, let’s take a look at the Moleskine notebook my daughter gave me for Christmas 2016. This neat little tan notebook came as part of a three-pack, and I am now using two of them, with the third still being in pristine condition. These little, and very trendy, notebooks are so aesthetically pleasing that I found it difficult to start writing in them. But, hey, that’s what they are for, so once I made my first mark, the rest was easy.
My package of Moleskine notebooks came with an informative little booklet written in eight languages. Reading this booklet, which I suppose is designed to function like an owner’s manual of sorts, we discover that the company likes to refer to its products as “nomadic objects,” meaning that the intended consumer base is made up of people who are very mobile, perhaps somewhat adventurous, and constantly migrating from digital to analog sources of information. And we learn that the “Moleskine notebook is the heir and successor to the legendary notebook used by artists and thinkers over the past two centuries: among them Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and Bruce Chatwin” (the late author who designated the word “moleskin” to describe these journals). We should understand from the outset that the aforementioned distinguished company of artists didn’t really use Moleskine notebooks (the company wasn’t founded until 2007, making it twenty years old this year), but instead were often pictured with notebooks that appear very similar to the modern-day Moleskine. Nothing like a little creative marketing.
Generally I shy away from anything that smacks of being trendy, but I have found myself getting pretty attached to my Moleskine notebooks. I know this sounds a little creepy, but I have a long history of being attracted to notebooks and writing tools. I suppose I fit the Moleskine customer profile, especially its statement that users of the company’s products are not opposed to high-tech, but often use their Moleskine in conjunction with their use of today’s mobile technology. “Moleskine,” proclaims the product booklet,” accompanies the creative and imaginative professions of our time: it represents, around the world, a symbol of contemporary nomadism, closely connected with the digital world.” Interestingly enough, Moleskine has recently formed some partnerships with companies like Evernote to market a line of paper products that are digitally encoded to allow users easy transfer of their notebook scribblings to the cloud. Supposedly, this doesn’t complicate the mission of reinforcing the art of creative handwriting by pandering to the world of paperless digital devices. After all, we all have to make a living somehow. And if the proverbial lion can lay down with the proverbial lamb, I guess anything is possible.
This week I have learned more about the Moleskine company by reading David Sax’s fascinating and thought-provoking newly-published book, THE REVENGE OF ANALOG: REAL THINGS AND WHY THEY MATTER. In this book, Sax examines the many ways that non-digital things and processes are becoming more popular with the entrenchment
of digital technology–things like vinyl records, book stores, newspapers and magazines, board games, and non-digital film. His second chapter, “The Revenge of Paper,” is devoted to an account of why Moleskine has emerged as our favorite alternative to digital writing and notetaking–one notable exception being the infamous Karl Rove, who has described Moleskine notebooks as “a signal flare of liberal pretentiousness.” Wonder what products aficionados of “conservative pretentiousness” prefer?
According to Sax, Moleskinee “is the defining paper object and brand of the Internet age, growing parallel to the digital technology that was supposed to supplant notebooks (the PalmPilot digital planner came out the same year as Moleskine’s first notebook).” The company’s genius is in not trying to oppose digital technology, but to complement it. As company head Maria Sebregondi points out, if the focus had been on “productivity and functionality” as the mission statement of Moleskine, the company would have failed miserably. “If those are your focus, technology will kill you every time. That’s why we went with imagination, image, and the arts.” Now, throw in a dash of creativity to sweeten the pot and you have a product that has taken the world by storm, despite the many “Moleskine wannabes” who are plying their wares all over the place. The popularity of market leader Moleskine makes the following statement by Professor Carlo Alberto Maffe rather ironic: “What Moleskine does, by allowing you to differentiate yourself via a product, design, and premium pricing, is show that you are different than others.” Guess it’s true that the more we are different the more we are the same (and vice versa).
What all this is leading to is a wall-mounted display case in my living room that contains two more evocative objects–the Sheaffer fountain pen and ballpoint pen that are housed inside the case. These two pens belonged to my father, who died forty-two years ago this May. These pens were purchased sometime in the 1950s by my dad, and I used them often while I was living at Kelly’s Motel in Sparta, North Carolina. They gave me my love of writing, and I still enjoy collecting pens today, despite the fact that I generally do most of my writing on my laptop; I’m enjoying my new Chromebook as I write this, and one of my Moleskine notebooks is close at hand as I scribble notes in it with my own Sheaffer ballpoint.
As you can see, evocative objects connect us to many things, some of them expected and some not so expected. As I write in my Moleskine notebook I am transported for a moment back to Kelly’s Motel and my dad’s Sheaffer pens. And as I write on this Chromebook I am reminded of Dad’s greenish Smith-Corona manual typewriter that i used to type out menus for our restaurant, along with my many failed attempts to compose poetry. That Smith-Corona could one day be the focus of a column. I only wish I still had it. But at least I still have those very evocative Sheaffer pens.
Here’s hoping you will reflect on some of your favorite evocative objects this week. And stay tuned for Part Three of this series.