Halfway Through February!

Odin's articles, a personal journey of note-taking, and more!

Halfway Through February!
One of the first luminism works by Belgian impressionist painter Emile Claus, who was the pioneer of luminism. Public Domain

Hey world!

This week I have three nifty articles for you: a piece about anarchist communities, one about spiritual growth through myth, and one focusing on a piece of alpha software for note-taking and life management that I’m interested in.

But, today, this newsletter is mostly an article all of its own.

Aside from a lot of work for my MLIS this week, I’ve also been diving deep into my Zettelkasten (a German term for “note box”). It’s a system that one of my professors from my MFA introduced to me, and I’ve been slowly gaining proficiency in it the last few years. It was really only this weekend that I managed to finally reach a breakthrough moment with it, however!

There’s a lot more I can say about the system, and note-taking in general. It’s one of my favorite topics, and an area that truly excites me. What a funny thing to be excited about, I hear you thinking.

Well, I look at it like this… we go through life consuming information without giving that information a lot of thought. Books, movies, advertisements, college classes—it all strikes us at lightspeed. Most of that information passes us by. Some sticks (especially if it’s been designed to stick—and that’s usually not good).

If you think about it, much of life is sort of unconscious. We exist for the day-to-day. We shop. We eat. We try to squeeze some fun in between being tired and having too much work to do.

But what if that’s not what life is for? What if the purpose of life is to be as engaged with life as is humanly possible?

There are a bunch of great ways to engage, of course. We’re social animals, so being part of a community is one of the best. But we are also reflective beings. Our ability to meta-cognize (to think about thinking) is one of our most fascinating and powerful traits.

Developed from an anxiety-offshoot to help us succeed better in a dangerous world, this self-reflective ability is one of our greatest skills. However, if it’s left uncultivated, undeveloped, it basically just stays anxiety and a vague sense of ennui. Conversely, if we do cultivate it, our self-awareness becomes the greatest gift life has to offer.

Note-taking, believe it or not, is one of the best methods of cultivating our ability to be self-aware. Meditation, martial arts—any skill that requires what many Chinese philosophies call “wu wei", and what is commonly known as “flow state,”—can also cultivate a measure of self-reflection. But human beings got their leg up over the rest of the animal kingdom by leveraging our self-reflexive ability for the purpose of exchanging signs and symbols. That’s right: language.

Now, normally, this comes through in the form of the aforementioned community. But we can also experience the power of communication with ourselves, through our notes… if we have the right system in place to do so.

There are some fancy terms thrown around in the knowledge communities these days, like “knowledge garden,” and “notes as a second brain,” but I prefer the term used by Niklas Luhmann.

Luhmann was an incredibly important sociologist in the 20th century. In his life he published over 50 books, wrote more than 70 books, and published over 500 papers. Yes, he was a bit of a workaholic. But, Luhmann also had a seriously cool secret. He had a dedicated partner that he could hold conversations with, diving into any subject to explore the borders of knowledge from which the magic of new thought emerges.

This partner was his note-taking system, which he called a Zettelkasten. Now, this was before the computer age really kicked in. Luhmann was working with wooden filing boxes and paper index cards. Thousands of index cards. And he devised a method of connecting those cards in such a way that it could help him think through problems far ahead of his time.

He would refer to this as his “partner", a tool that became, through its many thousands of interconnected notes, powerful enough that he could hold conversations with it.

In the same way you and I might sit down, start talking about some interesting topic, and find exciting new ideas emerging from our discussion, Luhmann found he could converse with his own notes. He discovered a way of externalizing the process of his own mind.

Now, the really cool part? It’s even easier to make this work with modern computer technology.

This has been my quest for years. To take what I know, what I think, and build it into this system. It’s been a wild ride, but I’m finally getting it to work. Just in time for my information science degree, too, which is just plain dang handy!

How do you take notes? Curious about the Zettelkasten method? Chat with me in the comments!


Creative Writing

Making some good progress on my latest project. Not a ton, mind you, because life has been very busy, but I’m pleased by every day that I manage to sit down and get a few hundred words out.

I also have a completed short story that I need to send out on the rounds for magazine submissions.

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World Wide Web

I’ve discovered some fun things on the Internet this week, so I’ll close with those. Trying to focus on some of the lighter things, again.

If you’re a fan of Shakespeare, like me, you’ll love this. A tiny notebook was discovered that contains pages and pages of hand-written notes about Shakespeare’s plays—from someone who watched them live as they were performed!

For the darker side of the world… if you were not aware, the United States healthcare system is one of the most despicable, abhorrent, immoral, and outrageous things ever created by human hands. This article from Propublica probes things in more detail, through the case of UnitedHealthcare trying to deny a chronically-ill patient coverage.

And, to close us out on the lighter side, a meme everyone who has owned a cat or used a printer can relate to.

Okay, that’s it for this week, friends! Remember to keep masking up in public, and think about planning your COVID-19 booster before summer comes along. Have some fun, take some notes, laugh at some memes, and I’ll see you next week.

Until then, go easy. And if you can’t go easy… go as easy as you can.


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