Zen and the DSM

Zen and the DSM

Years ago…thirty, or thereabouts, I think, I emerged from one of those exercises that people who work in corporate human resources departments schedule for staff and management in order to justify their jobs.  I was handed a sheet of paper listing the usual HR crap and a personality analysis.  A “diagnosis” of (then current) DSMIII: 301.40.  Not knowing what that could possibly mean, I made a trip to the library and copied the pages of the DSM that dealt with 301.40.

I read the general description as well as various sub-types, and when I was to see the company-paid shrink next, I took the copies with me.  Showing it to him, I asked, “What the hell is wrong with being like this?”  Essentially, my flavor of neurosis is that of a frustrated perfectionist with an over-active awareness of detail.

The shrink rolled his eyes heavenward (if shrinks acknowledge such a concept), and said, “I knew you would do that.”

I do not know how many more such encounters I have endured over the years, but I became so accustomed to the drill that I sometimes suggested to the HR boffins that I could write my own analysis, and that I would ask only that I be paid half of whatever the latest touchy-feely expert would be paid.  Although my offers were never accepted, my end results, written beforehand and sealed in envelopes given to the boffins were never incorrect:  If you bring him a problem, have a suggestion to solve the problem as well; do not touch him; be totally honest, he will not respond to “yes-men” or flattery; if you make a mistake, admit it, he will not be angry, but if you hide your mistakes or blame others, you will pay twice the price, and so on, and so on.  I was supposed to be analytical and intuitive, but sometimes prone to act precipitously.  I was once introduced to a group of new associates as the “corporate loose cannon.”  I did not dispute or even take issue with most of this drivel, and that was no surprise to the various shrinks, either.

Ah, yes, the corporate years, and how antithetical they seemed and seem to me.  Fortunately, for most of that period of my life and beyond, I operated a business of my own that ultimately became the source of more of my income than the corporate world.  I came to describe my own operation as my “day job,” and that really annoyed my corporate zookeepers who felt that I should be more concerned with their baggage.  Realistically, I suppose that I must have been a genuine pain in the ass to them, but (and I say this with humility) I was too good at my work to eliminate.  The upside to being a detail-oriented perfectionist is the ability to perform at a high level and with little or no supervision.  Thank you, OCD.

When we were not being examined and tested by shrinks and boffins, there were meetings.  Lots of meetings.  Staff meetings, management meetings, interdepartmental focus groups, you name it, we had a meeting about it.  Lots of schedule details, lots of notes to take and to act upon or pass to subordinates…at another meeting most of the time.  This began for me before the advent of the quaint PDA, or Palm Pilot.  I was soon a devotee of the Day-Timer.  I started with a rather simple pocket planner, and a separate padfolio for notes at meetings.  By the end of my time, I had graduated to a large, but still portable Day-Timer model that had a section for blank sheets for notes as well as the calendar section for schedules.  My various padfolios had become furnishings for my desFullSizeRenderk top where I kept my own notes from telephone calls or one-on-one meetings of one sort or another.

Then, as I have suggested, I moved most and eventually all of my calendars and scheduling to successive generations of PDAs.  So compact, so convenient, so volatile…At times things got “lost” somewhere in the circuit boards.  Sometimes syncing with my PC resulted in error messages.  FullSizeRender 7Sometimes, though, I actually liked the damned things.  I am at a loss as to how to explain that, but I did soldier on through a Sharp Wizard (or Zaurus, or whatever it was called) and three Palm devices.  I re-emphasize the need to sync and backup daily or at least frequently as it was not uncommon for the Palms especially to lose their little electronic minds occasionally.  I missed my old pen-and-ink calendars, but the Day-Timer was just too large to carry, or too small to allow my copious notes.

Enter the smartphone.  It was a natural progression from separate PDA and cell phone, I suppose, but the problem with the buggers is that they think that they are smarter than their user.  Try asking Siri a question to which she responds with something totally unrelated.  Patiently (maybe), you ask again, speaking very slowly and distinctly.  The answer is something different, but still off subject.  In frustration, I have directed Siri to pull her head out of…only to get, “I’m sorry you are having a bad day.”  Me?  I’m not the one having the bad day, sister.  My favorite cell phones were an Ericsson and later a Motorola Razr, both dumber than stumps, but they were great telephones.  I dislike texting, refuse to enroll in social media, and I am not impressed when the various apps on my phone refuse to play nicely with one another.

Fortunately, when I finally had to give up my last Razr to move to an iPhone, my life had entered a new phase.  My participation in most meetings was optional for the most part, my note-taking was informal at best, and the only staff members that I had to interact with were those who had been with me longest and knew me well.  Deadline, shmeadline…I would do all that was required of me because I am wired that way, but I would perform my tasks according to my own schedule.  The large padfolios that had served me so well, and which had developed that graceful patina of old but well-maintained leather, were placed in bookcases or briefcases.  They rarely come out nowadays, which seems wasteful…sort of.  I began the process of simplifying my life.

In the last decade, give or take a year, I have discovered or re-discovered nifty little tools that make more sense to my new lifestyle.  First, I got my fountain pens out of the desk drawers where they had been living for too long.  Some are special, others are stalwart tools.  Most of them were purchased by me or for me at a price of between thirty and fifty dollars.  Another group of four or five cost between fifty and one hundred dollars.  Then there are those pocket decorations that range upward from two hundred dollars to…well, let’s just let that go at “too much.”  There is something that just feels right about writing with and caring for a fountain pen.  This is the part where you figure out the “Zen” part of the title above…

Aside from the expense, use, and care of fountain pens, owning one (or more) requires the purchase of ink.  Since I prefer the wider choices of ink available in bottles, the pens that are made to accept cartridges require converters.  More care and cleaning; more Zen moments.  FullSizeRender 3Nib style and size must also be considered as they affect the look of ink color and handwriting.  My collection ranges from Japanese extra fine through western nib sizes to double broad.  This can lead to the meltdown of a neurotic type-A personality, so I keep a digital inventory of my pens by manufacturer, nib size, and the ink most commonly used in each pen.  This is not Zen; it is purely OCD.FullSizeRender 6

At about the same time, we had been gifted with a selection of some new leather covered customizable notebooks made by a Japanese company that we did not know, Midori.  After we had performed the labor for the hopeful retailer, we fooled around with the notebooks and covers.  I know now that there are several varieties of refills for the leather covers, but at that time, I thought them a bit impractical, either too small (Passport), or too large (Regular).  On the other hand, the paper used in many of the notebooks was Tomegawa, or, as it is more widely known, Tomoe River.  Briefly, Tomoe River is thin, strong, smooth, high-quality paper that is…wait for it…fountain pen friendly.FullSizeRender 1

I liked the leather covers, but the paper sold me on the product.  I claimed one of each size as personal swag.  In true OCD style, each notebook has its own specific use:  The Passport is a daily carry in which I scrawl thoughts when and as they occur to me, and the Regular is a dedicated travel journal.  Both great, and I love them, but Oh! Golly, that Tomoe River paper…I tried the calendar insert, or planner for the Midori Passport, but it was way too small to suit my needs and haphazard handwriting.  Alas!

I am proud to announce that I did not search for Tomoe River paper compulsively.  On the other hand, I was really excited in 2008 or 2009 when our client told us that he had been able to secure Tomoe River in white and cream A6 sheets and notebooks.  He also said that Midori was marketing various notebooks with the paper, but he had not as yet decided to sell them.  Oh well, I bought packages of both papers.  It was, I believe, in 2010 when he said that yet another Japanese company was producing planners (read: Day-Timer, sort of) made with Tomoe River.  He thought the thing rather useless because it was printed in Japanese, and asked me if I would have any use for it…for free.  Anything that is truly free is, of course, a good deal.  Enter the Hobonichi Techo…FullSizeRender 2

I really liked that little book despite my lack of Japanese language.  The days and dates were labeled in English, so it was useful, and their size (A6) was easily pocketed if the cover was left in a desk drawer.  The next year, I was again given a Techo, but the really big news came in late 2012 when I was first told that Hobonichi was going to release an English language Techo that they had named the Hobonichi Planner.  In short, I have come back to pen and paper planners and I don’t have to deal with a few of the antics of my less-than-intelligent smartphone.  The downside is that entries in the Planner have to be color-coded according to type, priority, or both.  When it comes to Zen, I could meditate until hell freezes over without coming any closer to Nirvana than I was when that first shrink sentenced me to DSM III 301.40.

One thing always leads to the next, and now that my life is less frenetic, and I can spend some quality Zen time with my pens, my inks, my Midori Travelers Notebooks and MD (Midori Diary) paper notebooks, Filofax for notes at the infrequent meetings or in research for writing assignments, and the rock star Hobonichi Planner.  My life is  Zen-like at times because I have to slow down to consider what I need to work at next, and I have to slow my hand just to be able to read (decipher may be a more accurate term) the words that I have scribbled.  It is OCD because everything has its place, every pen has its purpose.

When I first began this piece, I intended it as a mildly humorous, self-effacing look into my screwed up world.  It was the afternoon of May 13.  Today, June 14, I have finished it, and it is not amusing.  I can see the differences in style between the earlier text and that part that was completed this week.  Maybe that’s because when I stopped writing on May 13 to locate the illustrations that appear here, I received a telephone call that changed my world all over again.  My apologies.  It will not happen again; it cannot.

These are the words of Ojijaak.