Voices of the Past: Gore Vidal and Abe on Jealousy and Patience

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“Every time a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.”

Vidal, one of the great craftsman of written English, was probably not being facetious in his quip, above. He was as erudite as he was vain. But in this bon mot, he is truth telling–it is hard not to feel a bit of defeat in the success of others. By our very nature, humans in are in a constant state of making comparisons. The best of us can shelve that proto-behavior. And in many cases, we outgrow the comparison behavior (at the basest level) once the wild oats are sewn. Or at least, we learn not to take things so very personally, thus why only a little something dies instead of a big something. Vidal had his own victories in life of course, very early success in literature set up a life of being the public intellectual–a sort of philosopher-king of the chattering class. But for those whose triumphs are small and hidden, or a long way off, Vidal doesn’t offer much solace. For that, we turn away from Lincoln’s biographer to Young Abe Lincoln himself, who for many is the ur-American, the undefeatable and the persistent, who said:

“I will study and prepare myself, and someday my chance will come.”

Some people in life are prodigious, like an F. Scott Fitzgerald or Salinger. Their success comes very early in life. Others must prepare, and develop their craft over time. They pay dues. They pay forward. They build up the reserves. They are the Mark Twain’s of the world. Vidal seemed to have Fitzgerald’s wunderkind success but Twain’s long view. Lincoln would have to face many more defeats than victories before his chance came. Where do you fall? Prodigy or Sage, or somewhere in between?

Young Abe by Torrey

Photo Credit Gore Vidal: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:GoreVidalVanVechten1.jpg Photo Credit Young Abe Lincoln: Photo credit: TV19 – DD Meighen / Foter / CC BY-SA

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The Original Little Black Book: The Moleskine

Sad, lonely , unloved, Oops !!!

My default mode is to protest newfangled contraptions. I postponed my exploration of the world of Harry Potter for ten years, waiting for the fuss to calm down a bit so I could enjoy the world of JK Rowling without the opinions of the chattering mainstream. Put another way, I buck trends as much as possible. Another example? I took to the Seattle sound of 1990’s grunge–the music of my generation–fifteen years after the fact (and as a result, will not indulge hipsters or the music of Macklemore no earlier than 2029).

Moleskine ruled notebook, inside view

I prefer analog approaches over digital, when possible. Of course, there is irony here, given my choice of blogging (a habit I didn’t begin until microblogging made plain old blogging obsolete). While I will admit to using a tablet to read the newspaper nowadays, six years passed before I gave up newsprint. I will still grab a Sunday Times (New York or London) if I can find an abandoned hard copy. But when it comes to scribbling notes, I just cannot embrace the digital post-it, Microsoft’s One Note or Apple’s gizmos. No, there is only one tool, timeless and true, that I use. And thanks to one of those venture capitalist types–the Moleskine has been saved for those of us who still believe that the pen–and not the stylus, pointer finger or app–is still mightier than the sword (and the pad of paper, its scabbard).

Oscar Wilde\'s notebook

Oscar Wilde’s Moleskine
Trusted reliquary of inspiration, the Moleskine appears at first to be a modest notebook. What gives it is character is its quality, and the protection it provides to what is stored within it. The simple device sports rounded edges and flexible paper weight that moves with its master while stored in a pocket. Stiched binding keeps the folio taut, yet perforations allow for hasty snatches to be removed from the inventory. The originals wore black. When presented in a salon or mixed company, the black book announced to the group that these words and statements would be recorded. Journalists kept the raw material stored on its pages to later sculpt into dispatches by twilight back to the AP or press syndicate. Artists no lesser  Oscar Wilde, Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway, Van Gogh and Bruce Chatwin would allow their creativity to splash the tiny canvas, holding onto ideas for later casting and cultivating.

the little black book

Black books, in any form, have always been potent. Some of the earliest uses of the black book–by British peers and headmasters–was as a shit list. Being in the black book meant you were blacklisted, persona non grata. The black book was an important record. Nixon would have appreciated the early example of his own “enemies list.” But, like all phrases, meaning changes with the passage of time. Perhaps the use of the black book by bohemians led to the American idea of the Little Black Book–the whimsical lists of the ladies man, a place where a Casanova records not only the names and phone numbers of his paramours, potentials and friends with benefits (to use the modern parlance), but perhaps lurid details, rankings and measurements. (I believe this function has been replaced by facebook, smartphone and the “sext.”)

As a companion for inspiration instead, the black book survives. According to the current maker of the book, it was Chatwin who called the little device a “Moleskine.” Before that, they were just little black books. These notebooks were a rarity found only in France and in their own way were a talisman of the traveled intellectual. Crafted by a small family in Tours, the slightly expensive notebooks became increasingly rare in the post WWII world of mass production and the “Big-Mart”-ing of the global economy. By 1986, the little black notebook had gone the way of the Dodo, on display only in the museums of those great thinkers and artisans, also extinct.

As Moleskine explains, Chatwin was determined to use these notebooks until the very end:

“In the mid-1980s, these notebooks became increasingly scarce, and then vanished entirely. In his book The Songlines, Chatwin tells the story of the little black notebook: in 1986, the manufacturer, a small family-owned company in the French city of Tours, went out of business. “Le vrai moleskine n’est plus,” are the lapidary words he puts into the mouth of the owner of the stationery shop in the Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie, where he usually purchased his notebooks. Chatwin set about buying up all the notebooks that he could find before his departure for Australia, but there were still not enough.”

A connoisseur of this analog technology, Modo&Modo revived the little notebook in 1997 in Milan. And, in the 21st century economy, good products with a niche market (such as Hostess Twinkies and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer) can be salvaged by venture capital, Syntegra Capital, manufactured under the nom de guerre “Moleskine SpA.” I do not care who makes this thing of beauty today, whether Paris or Milan or Turkey or China. Each book is handmade and can be returned in the unlikely event of a defect.

I have burned through about a dozen of these notebooks since discovering them a few years ago, and continue to fill them at a clip of four to five a year. They are not slick like a Jobsian glass screen, nor do they contain titillating apps (though doodles abound). My inquires, inspirations and ignorance fill these pages. They are as close to a sketch of the author as any brooding diary could capture. The Moleskine captures not so much my sentiment, mood or thoughts but rather, the way I think; the things that intrigue or revile me in the moment, the turns of phrase I can stow away for future use. They are thoroughly broken in by the time I am through with them, but still stand up as a reference, a personal encyclopedia.

Little Black Book

I cannot imagine a device that could ever connect me with my own thoughts as efficiently as acid-free paper, capturing the ink of my roller ball, spell-check free and uninhibited, as the Moleskine. And whether Hipster or Crankshaft, Steampunk or Conservative, do reach for this pad, before the iPad, next time you have a thought worth keeping.

Picasso's sketchbook

Picasso’s Moleskine…looks like “Blue Period” work.

Mangled iPad Photo credit: Nina Matthews Photography / Foter / CC BY

Open Moleskine Photo credit: Sembazuru / Foter / CC BY-SA

Moleskine in Red Photo credit: Foter / CC BY-SA

Little Black Book Photo credit: vince42 / Foter / CC BY-ND

Open Notes Photo credit: djwtwo / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA
Acknowledgement: MOLESKINE is a trademark registered worldwide by Moleskine SpA, located in Milan, Viale Stelvio No. 66, 20159 – Italy.

One Year of Henry’s Eclectic: Thank you!

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On March 5th, 2013, I posted my first blog entry on Henry’s Eclectic. This blog started out as a direct challenge from a former high school classmate, Miranda, who is an aspiring writer (and whose freelance work can be found all sorts of places when she isn’t busy supporting social media outreach at Fictionista). When talking about my travels around the US, she challenged me to put these stories online, and to get in the habit of writing. I too have literary aspirations, and this blog is a trial run of a kind. The only way to express yourself in writing is to well, write.

I decided to take a risk in my format for this blog, for the most successful blogs focus on one theme–such as food, travel or politics. I chose to filter whatever inspired me through the view of an eccentric collector of experiences (That in fact, is who I am). As it happens, the blog touches on all of these topics, and often more. I also took on this blog in what has unexpectedly turned out to be an annus mirabulis for me, including the birth of my first born, the start a new career path, and a relocation from the nation’s capital back to the American Heartland. Those events were also risky. For a brief moment, I thought my traveling days were lost. But as the cliche goes, those who wander are not always lost. And for me, a sometimes road warrior, I now have new places to visit in the years to come.  In that way, this blog has been a bit of a mental escape, inspired by physical escapes. It functions that way not only for your author, but I hope for the reader as well.

The blog’s mission was to be mostly about travel, and travel has remained at the core of my writing. I have also taken to calling upon famous individuals of the past as avatars, relying upon them to express my personal views through their timeless wisdom and meaningful prose. I have covered a few places to find ambrosia and nectar–the sweets and savories found while on travel. Lastly, I have praised esoteric holidays and seasons, celebrating obscure little corners of Western Civilization. I will continue to do those things. And I may expand into other places as well.

I never expected to become the next super blogger, and have not done so to date. I thought that, if a few friends and family checked in on occasion, I would be satisfied with my effort. Unexpectedly, more than friends and family have stopped by. I am flattered every time that someone takes a few moments to read my entries, taking time out of their own lives, loves and explorations. The media industry always says their job is to put eyeballs on screens, and there is fierce competition for every moment of our collective attention.  I am not in this game to make money, to ratchet up readership statistics or even to promote a book. Rather, I think of this space as a sort of community sandbox, where I spin up my own sandcastles from a shared commons. People are welcome to look on, or knock them down.

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Amazingly, you have tolerated those sandcastles. What surprised me the most in my personal assessment of this blog is my readership, you band of brothers (and sisters) who come back for more musings weekly. I know some of you personally, but for those that I don’t, I am even more humbled by your readership. I have come to find that that readership is international in scope, including places as far away from my current Indiana home as Canada, the UK, Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala, the Netherlands, Argentina, Ecuador, Germany, France, Australia, Pakistan, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Lebanon, Poland, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Austria, Finland, Russian Federation, Mexico, Czech Republic, Romania, Kuwait, El Salvador, India, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine, South Korea, Serbia, Hungary, Iraq, Israel, Indonesia, China, Norway, Greece, Puerto Rico, Belgium, Peru, Slovakia, Chile, Switzerland, Poland and Azerbaijan. To think my humble little prose could reach the farthest shores and horizons would have been an impossible thought in the year I was born. I should not have been surprised by this panoply, as interest in traveling around America clearly extends off our shores. Just as yuppies in the US seek the “authentic” on their tours of the world, travelers to the US seek the same authenticity among the amber McArches, green Mermaids, big box stores and Anyplace USAs.

Some of you have found your way here through the comments, suggestions and collections of more talented, more popular and most excellent blogs of Caitlin Kelly at Broadside Blog, Richard Nielsen, and The Church of Tea, among others (found under “Summer Reading List” on the right column). I have never met any of those people in person, but through my enjoyment of their works and comments on their blogs, as well as their comments on mine, you have found your way here. Thank you for your visits!

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As I think of topics for future posts, I looked to my most popular topics for guidance on what you, dear readers, have enjoyed the most. After over 65 postings, my top ten most visited posts include my weekend romp around Robert Redford’s Sundance, my musings about the language of Starbucks in Starbucks: Five Easy Pieces, taking in the eccentric Chicagoland burger joint The Billy Goat Tavern, my love of British haberdashers and the style of the Princes of Wales, past and present, in  The Secret Language of Striped Ties, the most likely place you will find me in any city in Best Independent Bookeries, my paean to my adopted homeland in Hoosiers, reveling in the ironies of Duke Chapel  and its place as sentinel among the Bacchanalians of the dorm rooms below it, the first citizens of Key West called the Gypsy Chickens of the Conch Republic, a memoir of my Pennsylvanian birthright in Old Country: River Rats, Frank Lloyd Wright and the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania and the conflicted nature of art and exploitation in Modern Mona Lisa: Afghan Girl.  If you liked those, you can head into my back catalog for over 60 additional entries from around the US and beyond.

I will continue on my eclectic romp through life, sharing some of those things that made me smile as I traversed, and continue to traverse, America and points beyond.  I thought that I would have exhausted my backpack of stories within a year. It turns out that there are many more stories to share.

Thank you again for joining me, and I look forward to another year of celebrating the life eclectic with you. And, if you like what you are reading here, don’t be shy.  Comment often, share generously, and tell your friends!

Thank you for your patronage!

~Henry’s Eclectic

Photo Credits:

Pennyfarthing. Licensed by canstockphoto.com by the author

Lake Crescent, Washington: Ivan Meljac http://www.fotopedia.com/items/bjlhsj2drko3q-OV9QO1WkA

Globe: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Behaims_Erdapfel-edit-DenisBarthel.jpg Title: Behaims Erdapfel-edit-DenisBarthel