Re: Life, and video games, within constraints

Quarantine is the first time in probably 7 years that I’ve truly missed having a video game console beyond my iPhone. Reader Chelsea told me all about the unbelievable cuteness of Animal Crossing and I wished for a Switch so I could play along. I’ve revisited a few of the more meditative iOS games I love: Alto’s Odyssey, Mini Metro, and my absolute favorite Threes. What iOS games lack in complex animations, they often make up for in intuitive controls or beautiful, simple visuals.

I’ve been thinking about limitations a lot lately. What we are allowed, or in many cases limited from doing in order to #flattenthecurve. I do not know if it helped me entirely, but reframing those limitations as constraints and working to live within them and do what I can within them has helped some.

Working within constraints led to some of the most important video games of all time. Robin Sloan—who you might remember from previous issues of Bird Mail—is currently making his own video game, the primary constraint being his skill, or lack thereof. You can follow along here. This bit from his “reasons” for making a video game resonated deeply with me (emphasis mine).

Just like books, video games have been formative aesthetic experiences for me, particularly in my youth. For me, media-making has always proceeded like this: I encounter something meaningful; I decide I want to produce my own version of that something; I learn how to do it. So it’s all reverb, really: impulse reflected back from material, transformed but recognizable. The material is me.

That reverb Sloan writes about is the same reason I write Bird Mail for all of you. I believe whole-heartedly in the power of the newsletter: to deliver something more than just marketing drivel to your inbox, to deliver valuable knowledge, joyous information that teaches you about something or someone new, or simply something that makes you laugh. After years of reading newsletters, I wanted to try my hand at my own newsletter. Thus, Bird Mail. The constraints of email are well known at this point, and that’s exactly what I love about it. There is only so much that can be done in this space with words and links and the occasional image, but I want Bird Mail to continue to be a bright spot in your inbox each time you see it.

Do I give up on Field Notes?

I’ve been a devotee of pen and paper my whole life. The only reason I looked forward to “Back to School” season was school supply shopping to pick out pens and college ruled notebooks for my notes. In high school I found craft-store fountain pens with rough nibs and watery ink.

It wasn’t until college, with my own money and a wonderful site called JetPens that I truly joined the stationery world. I discovered the finest pointed Japanese pens and paper that was smoother and more beautiful than the Moleskines I’d been writing in, and fountain pens. I was soon a Pen Addict, reading the blog and listening to the podcast religiously. Through this window to the pen and paper world I discovered brands like Sailor, Leuchturm 1917, Kaweco, and Tomoe River. But I kept hearing about this company in Chicago making pocket notebooks that inspired nothing short of fanaticism.

I’m talking about Field Notes.

Back in 2012 when I bought my first packs—FN Traveling Salesman, FN Expedition, and FN01b Redblooded—they were still a relatively small operation. The Field Notes team printed only 24,000 books. Since then, Field Notes have taken off, with limited editions printed in the hundreds of thousands. Combine that with the one-offs and collaborations and you have a product worth collecting.

I am one of those collectors. I do not have every edition ever printed. My collection was never going to have a pack of every edition. I was late to the game, but more importantly, and wisely, Field Notes got ahead of the insane collecting by creating editions where every single book has a different cover (see the image at the top for an example of this).

I am proud of the collection I have amassed. It is a collection in two parts: half my collection might be anathema to the purists, the filled books, all 132 of them dating back to 2013 and the more traditional pristine-in-plastic, unopened collection, numbering 222.

At my rough average of 18 per year, I have enough blank Field Notes to last me 12 years.

All these words, my history with Field Notes—which contains a good chunk of my personal history, this collection of notebooks, filled and unfilled, are building to some questions that have been troubling me.

Do I give up on Field Notes?

Do I give up on my collection?

I have nothing but love for these little Futura-typeset pocket notebooks. I am an ardent believer in the power of putting pen to paper and there are few notebooks better for capturing thoughts and lists every single day than Field Notes. Hell, this essay began in a Clandestine Field Notes.

Is it okay if my collection stops here after seven years? Can it still be a collection if I have this gap?

Truthfully, my collection was never about keeping these notebooks pristine. I get more value and joy from carrying a Field Notes every day, jotting things down, using them for what they are made for. I have some cool limited editions that I have enjoyed far more by writing in them that keeping them mint.

Of late I feel behind on my Field Notes. Watching the number of unopened or empty notebooks tick upward brings a weight that I don’t like.

Perhaps what my collection needs is refinement. Instead of subscribing and collection my 24(!) plus books a year—and all the cool extras Field Notes creates that I admittedly rarely do anything with—I will grow my collection slowly and deliberately, adding only those Field Notes I’m excited about (I mean c’mon, three colors of gilded edges?!).

Will the gaps this new method creates make my collection incomplete? Definitely.

Should the completeness of my collection matter to anyone but me? Probably not.

Is it still my collection? Hell yes.