Monday, July 26, 2010

Design Observation # 2 YUCK: A Whirlwind Romance

Dear Jimmy,

It’s not you, it’s me.

I still remember the day I first met you. I was striding, merrily along the mall on a Saturday. Amidst all the war cries of “Miss, dito ka na bumili”, I saw you sitting there. Perched perkily among an array of brightly colored bags, you caught my eye immediately. The lady who owned you sensed my interest and without skipping a beat, brought you out from your place and transferred you to a figurative pedestal. "Jimmy Choo po yan". She added enthusiastically. She didn’t have to enumerate your good qualities. I was sold. So I parted with my Php 700 knowing for sure, that this time, I have found my soul mate.

Or so I thought.

We had a good run. Two months of being together is no laughing matter. You patiently clung to my shoulder at all times, not once falling off. Whether we were walking, riding a cab or hanging out at the coffee shop, you stayed where I could easily spot and reach you. For hours, you would endure my heavy Moleskine notebooks and carried around my bursting pencil cases. You understood that I had DIS (Deserted Island Syndrome) and stuck by me anyway. No matter how many things I made you carry, when I opened you, there seemed to be always room for more.

How I miss those days.

Now, things have changed.

You have changed.

Your once brown leathery exterior has lost its sheen and beauty. Cracks have appeared all over you, making you look five years older than you actually are.

You have lost your form. Now, I need to encase my notebooks in padded envelopes and pouches before making you carry them. If I don’t, they run the risk of being dog-eared and crumpled. You can’t sit upright anymore and your once beautiful posture is now reduced to a horrible looking slump.

Where’s your backbone?

I used to find it charming that you came with a lot of space inside. The lack of compartments and small pockets made it feel less constricting. But now, it has proven to be annoying. I can’t count how many times my keys have gotten lost inside that big space. Rummaging through it with my hand has taken 10 minutes out of my life everyday that I will never get back.

But last week was the last straw. As I heaved your long leather strap over my shoulder, one of its ends snapped out of its socket. I am now left with two short straps that have to be repositioned as they slip from my shoulder repeatedly every two seconds.

Needless to say, you have become a nuisance.

Two months, and you falter.

I thought we would keep each other company forever. I was sure that you were the one.

Unfortunately, we end here.

I need to begin my new quest. But you weren’t completely useless. You’ve taught me what to avoid.

As I hunt for another you, I will remember not to make the same mistakes again.

I now know better.



PS. Come to think if it. It’s not really me. It’s actually YOU.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Instant Brain: Just add water

Many complain of their looks, few of their brains.

Everyday, we are bombarded with images promising us wealth, youth and beauty. There are pills that would turn us into Snow White clones; creams that would reverse the aging process; and power drinks that would help us achieve that coveted stick thin figure.

As we try to enhance our physical selves, something gets neglected in the process.

Our mental health.

Now, don't get me wrong. I believe that we should continuously try to better ourselves physically. But what's missing is that much needed balance. After all, too much of a good thing may turn out for the worse.

Cognitive Fitness, as Gilkey and Kilts explained in their article, is mental exercise. As much as our physical bodies need a constant workout, so do our brains. They explain that this can be achieved through four steps.

Step One: Experience

My dad is a traveler. That is one passion that he was able to pass down to me and my brother. Unfortunately for him, we didn't get the business gene. He is a big believer of experiencing the world. If you wanted to taste real pasta, you go to Italy. If you wanted to witness what real theater is, you go to London. All our summer vacations were spent exploring and charting unknown territory. He refused to go on tour groups. As what he would tell us: "Pick up the map. It's time for an adventure."

Even at 69, and as busy as he is with work, he still finds the time to stop, step out of his environment and experience adventures in every part of the world.

The article mentions the importance of going on a walkabout. I suppose the reason why my dad has always succeeded in any business that he delves into is precisely because of this. His love for travel translates into how he handles his business ventures. He doesn't stay inside a comfy executive office. He doesn't even have a permanent office. Everyday, he would check on all his business establishments, driving from Manila to Cabanatuan to Pampanga, paying attention to every detail.

Step Two: Work Hard at Play

A few meetings ago, we discussed how the brain can generate ideas when it is at rest. I thought that was pretty interesting. I remembered I had this idea of inventing a water proof notebook because I seem to always get my best story ideas while in the shower. The moment I step out and try to remember what it was, the idea has long gone down the drain. It's amazing how much the brain can achieve when it is not thriving on stress or caffeine. Once we reach a certain age, we are forced into an environment where looking busy and harassed meant you were using your brain. Relaxing and playing are then attributed to sloth-like behavior. As a result, we develop a one track mind, bent on achieving a certain goal and forging on a certain road.

What the article is trying to say is that there are other ways of thinking. There are other ways to get results. Play therapy for example, can be synonymous to adults as much as they already are to children.

Color stimulates the brain. But as we grow older, the rainbow slowly fades into shades of black, gray and white.

Step Three: Search for Patterns

This step basically supports what "The Medici Effect" says. Bringing together ideas and experiences to create something new. This just proves just how important it is to pay close attention to intersections.

Step Four: Seek Novelty

Gardner mentioned that for someone to succeed in the future, being an expert on something is tantamount. Apart from that, venturing outside our expertise is just as important. Developing new skills will oil our brains, preventing it from getting rusty.

I have always tried to update myself with good literature and the latest in theater. I always believed that staying with things that I found interesting or that I was good at were enough to exercise my brain. It didn't occur to me that venturing out of the world I built for myself would prove to be a more enriching experience.

A friend recently tried to teach me how to play chess. I was hesitant, judging that I would be bad at it. Insecurity got the best of me. The usual phrases like "I'm not too good at this" combined with nervous laughter were my weapons.

Being more aware now of how this could benefit me, I should go try again.

Although we live in a world of instant noodles, there is no instant brain.

As with physical beauty, there is no one pill that will magically transform us into geniuses. It will need work and constant exercise.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Design Observation #1 WOW: The Little Black Book

"Deserted Island Syndrome" he said to me, as he peered over his glasses; studying my expression.

Polite pleasantries gone, this was the first thing my friend told me as I breathlessly slumped down on the seat opposite from him, hauling my huge bag on the seat next to mine. He casually sighs, shakes his head and reaches for his coffee cup.

Adrian's diagnosis took but two seconds of observation. He didn't even have to refer to his Behavioral Psychology degree. A quick glance inside my bursting brown, leather bag said more to him than I ever could.

"You have an irrational fear of being stuck in a deserted island with nothing which to pass the time. So, you bring everything with you. It could also mean that you have watched one too many episodes of Lost. But that's an entirely different kettle of fish".

As I crinkled my nose, trying to decipher his outdated use of metaphor, somehow I knew he was right. It proved to be a monumental task to choose ONE thing that I use everyday. I have so many of them that I couldn't identify just one.

So I examined the contents of my bag.

They were basically divided into two categories: pen and paper. When I looked at them closely, I tried to imagine: Stripped of everything, which is the one thing I couldn't bear to part with?

The answer was: my Moleskine notebooks.

I have amassed 16 of them so far, one of which I gave away (you're welcome, Cams) and I show no signs of stopping. The same friend who diagnosed me with D.I.S. told me that I had "more Moleskines than I could shake a stick at". This, coming from someone who bought 10 Moleskine notebooks on a whim.

What makes these notebooks so special?

The Moleskine's beauty is in its utter simplicity. It's a modern classic. Just like a pearl necklace, it is never outdated and will never go out of style. The black, oilcloth cover is durable and smooth to the touch. In a bookstore filled with rows and rows of spring notebooks with the faces of the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus plastered obscenely on the covers, the Moleskine remains unassuming, with only its name embossed on the back cover.

The creamy, white pages are a writer's dream. My pen of choice, the Sharpie pen, glides smoothly on its surface, providing an elegant twirl to my handwriting. Although thin and flimsy looking, the pages are able to hold the ink very well, not seeping through the next page. I have a smaller than average handwriting and the ruled Moleskine notebook is able to provide just the right amount of space for every line; my letters fitting snugly between them.

The Moleskine lays flat when opened. It may be a small, insignificant feature but combined with its sturdy cover, it provides a makeshift surface that makes writing on-the-go possible. A few extra features are the elastic band that keeps the notebook shut and the back pocket that can hold loose pieces of paper, receipts, ticket stubs and other memorabilia.

The Moleskine also has different kinds of notebooks for different uses. Still retaining its classic design, the notebook comes in a variety of shapes and functions. Squared, Ruled, Plain, Sketchbook, Watercolor, Music, Diary and Storyboard are some of them. They also come in different sizes. Extra Small, Pocket, Large, Extra Large, and most recently, Folio. Since I love to mess about with notebooks, having different options provide me with different perspectives and of course, more notebooks to collect. It has the ability to be customized and are made to tailor fit anyone in need of a venue to create.

A tiny leaflet telling the Moleskine story is also provided with every notebook. According to its history, Bruce Chatwin, a famous traveler, fell in love with these little black books and reportedly bought out an entire store's stock because the company that made them was going out of business. After 15 years since it stopped production, it has been revived and now enjoys a cult following. Famous artists and thinkers have been linked to the Moleskine brand including Picasso, Van Gogh and Hemingway.

I would like to believe that I am above this marketing ploy and that I see right through it. But I'm not. This charming tale has gotten me more enamored by them. Knowing that there is a history behind these little books that I love so much, leads me to believe that notebook lovers created this for fellow notebook lovers. It also gives the idea of a mystic connection; that the writing gurus of past are now doling out inspiration from beyond, straight through my pen and into my Moleskine.

Writing mojo, if you please.

For more than Php1,000 a piece, the Moleskine leaves a lot more to be desired. It is not at all practical. In fact, it is bordering on indulgence and snootiness. This works in my favor. I am unable to afford these expensive notebooks all the time, but when I manage to scrounge up enough money to get myself one, it makes the experience of writing all the more worth it. Not to mention, generous donations from friends and family who feed and encourage my obsession (thanks to the best Ate in the world!). I end up motivated to write more, if only to rationalize the price tag, making every penny worth it.

Looking at all these reasons, judging whether or not a product fits you all comes down to:

1. Function - What am I going to use it for? Will it fit my lifestyle?
2. Sustainability- How long will it stay with me for? How long will it stay current?
3. Variety- How many ways will it benefit me? How many ways will I be able to use it?
4. Value - Does the price tag equal the way and the amount of time I use it?
5. Passion - How much does it mean to me? How does this identify with me?

and finally, this question:

If you were stuck in a deserted island, what is the one thing that you would bring with you?