Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fetish objects

Like athletes, many scholars develop rituals, charms, and neuroses related to our performance: clothes we wear when writing or researching, places we sit, mugs we drink out of. Most of my own habits feel incidental: I wear a version of the same outfit (with warm- and cold-weather variants) whenever I work at home, but that's just because it's easier not to have to think about what I'm wearing; the outfit itself doesn't have talismanic properties.

But the one thing I absolutely cannot work without are legal pads. I write only on yellow legal pads, and if forced to write on something else (I've forgotten to bring a pad to a rare book room, and they give me loose sheets of printer paper) I'm itchy and unhappy and transfer my notes as soon as I get home.

I also need a decent writing implement, and though I'm slightly more flexible about those, I've used Uniball rollerball pens (with a micro nib) in their various incarnations since I was 18 and they remain my strong preference. When I use a pencil, it has to be a a mechanical one; I can't deal with the erratic and changeable line precision and messy writing that results from a conventional pencil.

And if I had to add a third item to the list, it would be my lap desk. My brother bought it for me several years ago, and though I can work without it--there are always desks and tables--I work best in an armchair, on my sofa, or in bed. I take my lap desk with me when I travel by car. It's more of a luxury good than my legal pads, but it makes me happy.

What are your own fetish objects or rituals for writing?


Vardibidian said...

Isn't that a letter-size yellow pad? Or is it just a trick of perspective?


Belle said...

When I was working in the archives, I loved using my fountain pen. It made me feel like a Scholar. I realize now that their allowing us to use those was astonishing and am pretty sure that's changed now.

What I'd love to have are the old-fashioned legal pads that were 'legal' sized and had the big margin on the left. I can't find them now, but they were a favorite, for the ease of writing comments & notations next to the appropriate text.

Anonymous said...

I would DIE without my lap desk. Well, maybe not die, but I would accomplish a whole lot less. I HATE working at an actual desk under all but the most extreme circumstances (like when I'm under a serious deadline).

dhawhee said...

this photo makes me want to have YOUR fetish objects as my own. (in fact, i'm pretty sure that statement already accomplishes its wish.) When I'm in reading mode, I like a blanket, whether it is summer or winter. When in writing mode, my only constant is water.

Sisyphus said...

Yes, blankets and cats are a must for when reading!

When I first got to grad school I had some profs who read their class notes and made comments about our discussion on yellow legal pads, and I always thought that was the sign of a "grown-up" academic. But I never ever liked them when I came to use them myself: how do you write on the back without wasting a lot of space or having it be uncomfortable? How do you flip back and forth between various ideas and refer back to yourself?

I still love using the spiral notebooks I took notes in as an undergrad instead of legal pads, and I always wonder: is this a sign that I somehow haven't "grown up" yet?

Dr. Koshary said...

Flavia, if I knew what my writing fetish objects were, I would probably write a whole lot more/faster! I type much faster and clearer than I can write by hand, so fetish objects would have to be whatever sits near the computer. I guess the only thing that comes to mind is a good supply of blue-ink gel pens, since I like to hand-edit drafts as I go along in a different color than the printed page, and red just feels too harsh.

I have serious, serious fetish objects for field research, but that's a different topic for me.

Flavia said...

Vardibidian: Heh. Yes. My last year in grad school I switched (actual legal-sized pads fit badly in the leather satchel I was then using), and I haven't gone back. For me it's the firm cardboard back, the line spacing and margins, and most of all the yellow that matter.

And to answer Sisyphus's queries: I don't write on the backs of sheets; never have. Not with spiral notebooks, not with composition notebooks; the ink bleeds through too much. Whenever I'm done with a set of notes (per text, or lesson plan, or conference) I tear them off, staple the pages together, and file them in the relevant manila folder.

Belle: I have tried to get into fountain pens, at various points in my life, but the habit just never stuck, except for correspondence (they worked fine for class notes, too). That very little additional bit of effort or thought they require feels like too much, for some reason.

And Dr. K: I do all my composing on the computer, too--but for me it's only a necessary/functional device, and I don't have special needs or desires associated with my machine. However, other people might well fetishize a particular machine (or software program, or special monitor or keyboard, or whatever).

the rebel lettriste said...

I cannot work without my Clairefontaine notebooks. The paper is dreamily thick, the margins suitably wide. I like the ones with the black covers, that are slightly bigger than the usual 8.5X11 American versions.

Also my fountainpen. Washable blue ink. Makes everything better.

thefrogprincess said...

omg, you have just solved my problem of what to do with my Christmas money. A lap desk it is. It looks gorgeous.

Flavia said...

RL: I have a smaller Clairefontaine notebook that I've used as a taskbook for book revisions for the last couple of years--I really don't like notebooks with bindings, and I generally don't use notebooks at all, but this one has been exactly what I wanted.

FP: Thanks! Levenger. I'm thinking of getting the bigger one, too--the one that rests on armchair arms rather than on one's lap.

Earnest English said...

Flavia, you are an organizational wonder! If I just set up the relevant folders, maybe I could get everything filed.