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The Art and Craft of Taking Notes by Allan K. '17

...take note.

One of the habits I developed in high school is carrying a notebook and pen wherever I go. It’s kind of like a journal, but I don’t exactly like the idea of a “journal” — a book just about what I do or feel every day would be fairly dull to keep up, at least in my opinion. It’s really more of a “idea book.” Let me explain.

Have you ever had an amazing idea about something, in the shower or while walking home from school, and then lost it before you could get it down on paper or somewhere else you’d remember? Notebooks were my solution to that. I have pages of melodic fragments and bits of rhyme and little sketches of silly little science projects to try. There are names of books and movies and songs to read because someone or another recommended them to me. The notebook also means I’m never bored. Do I have a few minutes? Pop out the notebook and flip through the pages, maybe jot down some thoughts about earlier entries, or look around and sketch my surroundings, or try to add a stanza to a poem from last week.

Now, you might ask, what’s the point of a notebook if you have a smartphone?

Understand that I didn’t have a smartphone in high school.

I’m also kind of old-fashioned-hipster-ish about notebooks. I love the feel of ink on paper, and there’s a sort of thrill in physical sketching something out and labeling it with your own handwriting and adding your own signature to the bottom and carefully putting the date in the corner. It’s a sort of art form in itself, and for some reason I get an inordinate amount of pleasure from it. If you’re a Redditor, check out the Penmanship Porn subreddit and you’ll get a sense of exactly how nice ink can be.

Now that I’ve proudly proclaimed one of the dorkiest parts of myself, I’ll say this: simply living at MIT is a huge source of inspiration. The entire place is an idea farm more than anything else. Last week at lunch, I found myself in an animated discussion about ways to improve bicycle security. And I’m not just talking about science–the atmosphere is rich with fodder for music, art, and poetry. You’d think a place labeled an “Institute of Technology” would be pretty focused on technology, but I was so absolutely blown away by the MIT Musical Theater Guild’s performance of Avenue Q (complete with puppets) that I went to see it twice, and I won’t even start about all the bands, symphonies, orchestras, opera groups, a capella groups, improv comedy clubs, dance teams…

For instance, here’s a page of poetry from my notebook inspired by something I saw while I was crossing Massachusetts Avenue on my way back from class.

As I said before, I consider writing in notebooks an art. I mean, the point of taking notes is future reference, after all–why not make it as pretty as possible and give your future self a treat? It’s a lot more fun to study for the 8.022 exam when your notes are neat and have pretty pictures in immaculate, non-smudgable Sharpie pen.

And I had to include this one even though it was technically in a problem set and not in my notebook, because I had more fun than I probably should have drawing four integrals in a row:

Okay, I just wrote an entire blog post about taking notes. I think I’ve filled my dorkiness allowance for the day. Allan out!