Notebook: Shake, Fill, Then Drain

Don’t forget about notebooks.

It’s a good idea, many people say, to keep one on you. They always start up and when you open them and they always have a signal, even on the subway. It’s a reliable haven for stray thoughts. Like in mine, right now, which contains a reminder to look up the Latin phrase “ipsissma verba”; a short list of my favorite Nespresso capsules (arpeggio, indriya, etc.); and this anonymous 16th century poem I came across in my copy of “The Oxford Book of English Verse” (Oxford University Press, 1900):

“O western wind, when wilt thou blow that the small rain down can rain. Christ, that my love were in my arms and I in my bed again.”

IMG_20130204_115048But I digress. There is value in having other, larger ones around, and using them in place of whatever electronic device you otherwise prefer.

You might say that a notable flaw of the paper notebook is that it’s not searchable. Notes written therein might be forgotten when they should be remembered. This, of course, is true. But notebooks are searchable, it is just that sometimes the searches lead on to something you weren’t looking for.

I started a Moleskine Classic Large Ruled Notebook, so called, about a year ago and finished it this morning with a lesson in “multiple operations with polynomials.”

The first scribbles were out of my laborious reading of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s excellent “Christianity,” notes to myself that “national crisis brings forth prophets.”

I must have read Luis Bunuel’s memoir shortly afterward. I observed that Mr. Bunuel comes off like a bit of an ass, though he made great strides in cocktail-shaking: “Martini, shaking w/bitters + vermouth, then draining, filling w/ gin.”

A few pages on comes an observation from the journalist and writer Rebecca West who said, commenting on the Balkans, “To have a difficult history makes perhaps a people who are bound to be difficult.”

Then, in quick succession, pages of notes explaining (to me) the agonies of the Congo, the fetid geography of the Five Points and a violent roll call of Roman emperors, whose last, feeble gasps are blocked by a cold stretch of game theory.

Braess’s Paradox, sometimes having all agents act in their best interest reduces overall efficiency.

On the next page, I recorded the fateful words of General John Burgoyne before the Battle of Saratoga. Hoping to rally loyalists to his army, Gen. Burgoyne said, “I have but to give stretch to the Indian forces under my direction.” The result was 1, a belly drop because Americans on both sides were not exactly broad-minded about the indigenous population, and a few weeks later 2, a resounding military defeat.

Then this morsel, so enticing: “…a slow-motion, boisterous greeting, such that bears might arrange for a long-lost grizzly.” But I cannot remember what it is from. Perhaps Ms. West’s “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon”?

Also in my notebook, I boiled down more than 1,000 years of human history with this three-point explanation for the causes the Crusades: “1, population explosion in Europe; 2, broad economic revival; 3, movement for reform in the Christian church.” (That was easy.)

The next page goes deeper into history with my reflections on the recent exhibit at Discovery Times Square of the so-called Terra Cotta Warriors: “mostly junk.” Afterward, I stopped for a snack at a tapas bar and preserved the memory by noting, “fried chickpeas look like tiny, sweaty butts.” Which, it is worth adding, they really do.

To sketches from a few days of a MOOC in finance, including definitions for terminal value, liabilities and a pithy explanation of a bond: “it binds borrower to lender.” (Get it?)

IMG_20130204_115020About halfway through comes a vigorous catalog of philosophers, from when I read “A History of Western Philosophy,” by Bertrand Russell. This is an excellent book, by the way, and much recommended. Mr. Russell is fun and the book really serves as a history of the world without, you know, all those annoying dates and fusty wars.

Which dovetailed nicely into my notes for another MOOC, the one on mythology, the use of the word for which we can probably attribute to Christian Gottlob Heyne. The highlight of this class was a vigorous six-week reading of “The Odyssey,” which inspired all kinds of drivel in this space and helped me learn a lesson the National Football League has been trying to teach me for years: Heroes are often jerks.

Some thoughts recur. I have repeatedly noted to myself, for instance, that “get” should not be a replacement for “is” or “are.” (You are reminded, too.)

From there, it gets sticky. Notes on astronomy, including sidereal time, which was totally new to me, and then my favorite math formula: F=ma.

Thence to the first foreboding scribbles for a MOOC in precalculus: “Properties of real numbers.”

Ye gods.