String-Gathering Techniques for Future Me

During this last trip, I learned a lot about how I want to conduct these “string-gathering” research trips in the future. Like, I learned that even though I’m already a slow traveler, stopping to take extensive notes and observations will slow you down exponentially. I thought I would have more downtime to type things up. I definitely spent more time than I anticipated just scribbling notes “in the field.” I actually was ok with this, though now I’m very tired, and it’s taken me, what, four days to bounce back? I would be sad to be away from my cat for much longer than I went for, so it’s kind of a tough call.1

I definitely should have been writing the slog-y “here’s what I did” notes every evening instead of passing out in a bleary haze. On future string-gathering trips, I need to be more cautious to take better notes in a single notebook. I had two notebooks, and kept switching between them because I originally thought I’d have one for me/travel/logistical stuff, and one for fiction notes, but it turns out what’s most crucial is keeping things in temporal order, and now I have to sift through pages and pages and also a million notes on my phone and try to figure out what goes where. I used my little field notes notebooks, which were great because they’re so portable, but a hardback Leuchtturm would have been better and worth the negligible extra weight, because I never had anything to write on so my handwriting is illegible. I think one of their mini-ish ones might be the better choice in the future.2 In an ideal world I’d finally design the custom app of my dreams to organize my absolutely trash notes that are spread across a million notebooks and files and scraps of paper. But that world is not here yet. #Zibaldone #InMyDreams

In terms of pens, I love my Pigma Microns at home, but they have one real big problem, and that’s that they explode on airplanes at a shockingly high rate. I had some Sakura jelly pens in black and those were great but they smudged. I used to be a pencil kind of girl, and I actually think maybe that would have been more portable and less susceptible to disaster, but I find them weird on some notebook paper, like Tomoe River paper. It’s an investigation in progress.

I normally use Ziploc freezer bags to keep track of travel documents, because they’re cheap, waterproof, and you don’t need to label them because they’re clear. I brought a few for all the tickets, receipts, brochures, maps, guides, etc. that you accumulate on a trip. Guess what? That’s also not organized by time. So I think next time I need to bring one of those file folders with divisions.

I usually just let my phone mark the location of pictures I take and rely on that, but for some reason my phone doesn’t remember which site is Malia and which is Phaistos. I do, so it’s fine, but in a natural setting that would be a problem. In museums, I’m pretty good about keeping up a pattern of object-label-object-label for future me to puzzle out what the hell I was trying to remind myself of. But I might need a better system, and I want to look into better ways of organizing pictures that can include notes.

My nice camera performed wonderfully, but I’m not sure it’s really necessary. There are details that I can now see really clearly, but even my little Fuji X100T can be heavy and unwieldy. I don’t mind looking like a tourist because I am a tourist, but because it looks like a vintage camera it makes me stand out more than any of those massive lensed Canons. String-gathering is a time to be invisible, and what’s lost in details on my phone can be gained back in text notes. I might not take it next time.

I had some general packing issues, but those are just general travel woes, and will never be solved. One thing I 100% need is nicer sunglasses. My shitty ones they gave me at the Zoo 5K were ok, and thank god I had them because I would have simply had to buy some, it was way too bright to drive. I hadn’t realized the anonymizing effect sunglasses can have, though, and it’s easier to be invisible with sunglasses.

One of the things I was surprised by is that I found a way to make Instagram not feel like a punishment I’m enduring for the sake of a popularity contest I don’t understand. Because I was looking for locations/details, I took a lot of pictures anyway, and transforming those research pictures I would have taken anyway into little recaps of my day actually turned out to be a nice way to highlight what I cared about. And it was kind of journalistic, in a way? And it was nice for me, too, because there’s always that lull in your day when you’re in transit, or you’re waiting for the check at lunch, and reporting in as a way of regrouping is kind of satisfying. It’s very old-timey news style reporting too. Like phoning in your report with “stop” at the end of sentences, like in a movie. In general, it’s nice to be able to talk about what you find special without having to care if anyone would be interested, because if someone isn’t interested, no one made them watch it in the first place. So, that’s one plus to Instagram, is that you can use it to broadcast whatever you want, because no one is listening. Just like on this blog. Why in the world did you read this far? Has this not been the most boring shit ever? Who are you? I’m genuinely curious.

There’s probably more stuff that I’m forgetting. This trip was pretty successful, but it’s easy to not learn from your mistakes. Like, you know, every time I pack six books thinking I’ll have time to read them and then never do. YOU WILL NOT HAVE TIME TO READ THOSE SIX BOOKS, FUTURE ME. ONE BOOK. YOU NEED ONE BOOK. THEY HAVE BOOKS EVERYWHERE. YOU HAVE AUDIBLE ON YOUR PHONE. YOU ARE GOING TO NEED BACK SURGERY. STOP DOING THIS TO YOURSELF.

  1. You can’t text a cat. Isn’t that sad?
  2. I’m a Leuchtturm loyalist because their paper is better than Moleskine, their pages are numbered, and they have an index. Moleskines are kids stuff.