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Cake Solutions: the magic of the Moleskine and the ‘art of possible’

November 3, 2014

It was a great day at Cake Solutions (www.cakesolutions.net) last week, when a box arrived and everyone received a Moleskine notebook. I’ve always kept a notebook or journal, for work and private scribblings, but not owned a Moleskine for years, so I was delighted to receive a new one and resurrect my relationship with a trusted companion!

It all started many years ago, with a pocket-sized black object, the product of a great tradition. The Moleskine notebook is the heir and successor to the legendary notebook used by artists and thinkers over the past two centuries, among them Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and Henri Matisse.

A simple black rectangle with rounded corners, an elastic page-holder, and an internal expandable pocket, the Moleskine was produced for over a century by a small French bookbinder that supplied the stationery shops of Paris, where the artistic and literary avant-gardes of the world browsed and bought them. A trusted and handy travel companion, the notebook held invaluable sketches, notes, stories, and ideas that would one day become famous paintings or the pages of beloved books.

In the 1980s, these notebooks became increasingly scarce, and then vanished entirely, the manufacturer, a small family-owned company in the French city of Tours, went out of business. Le vrai moleskine n’est plus, were the lapidary words from the mouth of the owner of the stationery shop in the Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie, where artists usually purchased them.

In 1997, Modo & Modo, a small Milanese publisher, brought the legendary notebook back to life, and resurrected the name with a literary pedigree to revive an extraordinary tradition. Today, Moleskine notebooks have resumed their travels, providing an indispensable counterpart to the new portable technology. Capturing reality in writing from movement, glimpsing and recording details, inscribing the unique nature of experience on paper, that stores ideas and feelings, releasing its energy over time, is far more intimate than digital recording.

I’m a huge advocate of the Moleskine as a tool for ubiquitous capture of thoughts, jotting down ideas whenever and wherever they occur to me. I kept my Moleskine for brainstorming ideas, trying to emulate the original great thinkers who used the notebook. I also used it as a conversation log, to take notes about all my conversations – or even ones that I overhear – that give me new ideas of insights, stimulating my thinking. It becomes a ‘mind atlas’, a book of mind-maps.

Many of us have a notebook obsession. I know I do. A blank notebook is full of promise. It’s an opportunity to reflect, to create, and to express yourself. I’ve kept all my old notebooks since I started work, so I have a record of my journey, my thinking, my conversations and my inspirations.

My notebooks and Moleskins are of no consequence to anyone other than myself, unlike the collection of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, probably the most valuable notebooks ever created, which are beautiful works of art in themselves. Leonardo’s notebooks are a fascinating insight into his mind, they encompass all the interests and experiments of this self-taught polymath, from mathematics to flying machines to art.

Da Vinci’s notebooks span most of his life as an artist, engineer and philosopher, he wrote in them daily, finishing with around 13,000 pages of work. However, because Renaissance humanities did not care to mix art and science, most of Da Vinci’s findings were left unrecognised until his death.

Most of Da Vinci’s work as a scientist also went unnoticed by scholars because of his lack of formal education in Latin and mathematics. Even more interesting is that Da Vinci wrote mostly in code, or backwards lettering to throw off those who read his work, as protection from thieves and those who could use this work for wrong doing, although many of his ideas and inventions went without notice during his life.

Given the time and place of his existence, the contents of his notebooks are quite a marvel. Many of his inventions were ideas thought up far before their time, such as helicopters, gliders and parachutes, all realised hundreds of years before they were actually created. Anatomical studies are also very plentiful in Da Vinci’s notebooks.

The diagrams and illustrations in Da Vinci’s notebooks are not only extremely accurate for their time, they are also far ahead of their time. Da Vinci truly embodied the term Renaissance. Not only did he make lasting contributions to the world of art, but also to the world of engineering. Although the world had not awoken to Da Vinci’s new methods of science, he translated his findings into his paintings, bringing his findings into the light, and subsequently furthering the greatest revolution in time.

Modern inventions such as tanks, water pumps and other machines can be traced back to Da Vinci’s notebooks. His dissection methods and diagrams were so well done and accurate that they are still used by students today. The cultural influences Da Vinci and his secret notebooks had on the world lasted for generations and will most likely continue to inspire generations to come. His notebooks reflected his artistic innovations and natural philosophy based on his careful observation and precise scientific analysis.

The richness and vividness of Da Vinci’s vocabulary are the result of intense self-study and represent a significant contribution to the evolution of scientific thinking, thousands of closely written pages abundantly illustrated with sketches, they represent the most voluminous literary legacy any one has ever left behind. Through his notebooks we can get an insight into Leonardo’s thoughts, and his approach to work and life.

His notebooks are a tumultuous, sprawling feast of words and images, covering the astonishing range of his mind as he moves from problems of mechanics to art. These really are working notes, not a manuscript being readied for publication, and Leonardo has no hesitation in adding a personal reminder or practical memo right in the middle of a sheet of mathematical studies.

Anyone can study the mind of Leonardo through his notebooks. The digitised British Library collection is just one more step in a process that started in the C19th when JP Richter transcribed and translated a broad selection of Da Vinci’s notebooks.

I’ve found that writing, especially self-exploratory writing done on a regular basis into a personal journal, has contributed to my emotional well-being and created a strong sense of self-knowledge and self-trust. I find that writing is therapeutic, it helps to release tension, and it can even be used as a form of experimentation. Writing gives insight, it gives perspective, it’s a problem-solving technique, and it can serve as an outlet for bottled up emotions or for creative expression. Journaling is a great way to introduce self-exploratory writing into your life.

There are two writing techniques or journaling methods which I’ve adopted to make my writing more satisfying, efficient, and effective. These two methods are:

  • Proprioceptive Writing
  • Morning Pages

Proprioceptive Writing is a writing practice created by Linda Metcalf. Her book, Writing the Mind Alive: The Proprioceptive Method for Finding Your Authentic Voice, provides for a writing practice that consists of listening to your thoughts and slowing down the thought process to the time it takes to write down what you’re thinking. It involves inner listening and an honest exploration of your thoughts. In addition, it connects your mind with your emotions, and it strengthens your sense of self.

Although you’re asked to listen to yourself and to reflect on what you’re thinking, you’re not to judge or critique what you’re writing down. Think of yourself as an archaeologist on a dig, curiously scrutinising and examining each thought, without judgment. At the end you can read what you wrote out loud to yourself so that you can hear your thoughts again in your own voice. This practice helps to explore your mind, reconnect with your inner self and with your emotions, and find your authentic voice. I use it with mind-mapping to layout some madcap thinking, and it works a treat.

Mental clutter or debris stands in the way of our creative potential. ‘Morning Pages’ is a tool to help you clear out this debris. As the name suggests, ‘Morning Pages are to be done in the morning; the waking mind is more open to free-form writing and can more easily jump from one subject to another without the constraints set by reason.

When writing your ‘Morning Pages’ there is no time limit, instead, you write until you’ve filled three pages in long hand. This takes me from twenty minutes some mornings, to forty-five minutes, and it often depends how patient the dog is as to when I get the time to complete – before or after that first walk of the day. I simply write down anything that comes to mind for three pages and then stop. I think of them as a holding spot for my thoughts, feelings, and ideas. In addition, it’s a place for inspirations to emerge. Some days I can do good stuff, some days less so, but it’s a technique that is firmly established as a 6am routine. I’m finding Twitter offers some value to me at this time of day, as a way of finding and sharing my thoughts in a complimentary digital format.

Studies conducted by psychologists have traced many benefits to the practice of writing things down on a regular basis, and I’ve tried to copy Leonardo da Vinci’s habit of always taking a notebook with me. The simple act of writing down ideas allows me to dwell on them and to improve them over time. I often start with ‘note to self:’ recording interesting conversations I overhear, capturing ideas for blog posts, jotting down one-liners I come up with – or just to capture random thoughts and insights.

I’m also a squirrel for capturing writing and thinking of others in newspapers or magazines, weekly and monthly publications. I tear the pages out, I love the physicality of having their thinking with me on scraps of paper stuffed into y journal and taken along for reading wherever I may be. I’m a digital magpie too, with more bookmarks than I know what to do with.

I don’t fear the blank page. I find the experience of keeping a journal much more creative on paper than on a computer. I’ve tried to do it on various digital devices but it has no authenticity and seems to lack purpose. When I write, I’m physically immersed in my own thinking and slow down, whereas on screen, I use my senses in a less engaged way – and I skim more, and I’ve got concrete fingers which don’t help with efficiency and flow of the keyboard. Something different happens to my brain when I put pen to paper, the pace of writing or drawing diagrams slows you down and gives you more time for thoughts to come in, creating richer pictures.

The whole point is getting stuff on the blank page, and with Cake Solutions’ core values being ‘the art of possible’, the Moleskine is the best tool for us to create some disruptive thinking. I use a lot of ‘let’s see where this could go’ style of thinking in my own work, and consequently I just drop stuff onto the page and see what happens. I think we’ll all benefit at Cake from the magic of the Moleskine.

So with my new Moleskin, I’m off up and running, moving from an ordinary black journal to a special journal once again, with heritage and meaning, standing on the shoulders of giants. Often, we don’t try things because we think we know what’s going to happen: we make assumptions about outcomes. When you keep a Moleskine, you realise that the really interesting thing is not knowing what will happen, and discovering an unexpected result, and you live and breathe ‘the art of possible’.

So, great thinking times lie ahead for everyone at Cake with our new Moleskines. Learning never exhausts the mind, and simplicity of thinking in a journal is the ultimate sophistication, all our knowledge has its origin in perceptions, so let the journaling begin!

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