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The Big Pineapple Cart

June 1, 2010

Mr. Big Pineapple Cart himself - novelist Vladimir Nabokov

Novelist Vladimir Nabokov wrote all his novels with a No. 2 pencil and 3×5 index cards. When I read about his novel approach to crafting – err – novels I was intrigued. As a connoisseur of index cards myself, I wanted specifics: which brand did he prefer, how often did he purchase them and what did he use for penning grocery lists.

The writing process itself, as with Lolita, Pale Fire and Ada, entailed writing with a No 2 pencil – neither too hard nor too soft – on index cards. To avoid confusion, he would write on one side only, placing a large X on the reverse. The No 2 pencil has the advantage of being easily erasable, something that he valued. He said he used up the eraser at the end of the pencil more quickly than the pencil itself.

described by his son, Dmitri, in a 2009 interview linked at the beginning of this entry

Nabokov’s process – while no doubt intriguing – is probably a bit too involved for my own writing habits, but it is still inspiring nonetheless. My use of index cards is decidedly less prestigious. My current rabid consumption of index cards to make lists sprang out of an ill fated experience with the “scraps” method. The scraps method involved the use of fancy cut scissors, pretty paper and writing each item on one scrap. The idea was to discard the scraps as you performed a task – all well and good – except I like to archive my lists (that’s a nice way of saying I’m sort of a paper packrat, albeit very organized) . Another bad sign: I actually enjoyed creating the scraps more than I enjoyed executing the tasks they described. I abandoned the scraps method quickly. It didn’t cross my mind again until I was switching purses and discovered a lone scrap, “Call that dude about that thing.” I’m sure this meant something to me at the time. I also pondered writing a memoir titled, “I just do what the scraps tell me to do.” But that vanished the same time the scraps method did.

Now I use graph rule index cards, punch a hole in them at the end of the day and store them in my planner. I know it sounds like a whole mess of pageantry in the age of technology, but it’s the best way for me to stay organized. I need to write things down by hand to really make sure they stick. Plus I enjoy the process.

I’m not picky about what kind of index cards I use. Mostly it’s Oxford brand I get from big office supply box retailers (hey, they’re not paying me to be specific). I have let go of the bitterness over the quality of the cards. I seem to remember a time when the cards were actually, well, cards and not so flimsy.

Did I really just write a post deconstructing my use of index cards?

I put legitimate list items such as “go to the gym” and ridiculous ones like, “mindchoke deathstar contractors” I’m not sure what this says about me.

Okay after reading this and browsing this flickr stream I probably need to step up my game. I was actually dazzled by the organization and dedication. Though I’m not sure how much time I would have left to devote to other things like sleeping and snarking on people wearing Crocs.

For years I thought the lyric in “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”:

Just like the old man in that book by Nabokov was Just like that big pineapple cart. So now that’s what I call Nabokov.

Boy, that Sting is sure a cutie pie!

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A version of this entry previously appeared on Does This Pen Write?, though with 100% less pineapple cart discussion.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. June 2, 2010 12:45 am

    Listen, I trust you on index cards. I think us creative types are so sensitive that are certain parts of our process that always ring true, and the tools of the trade are those golden bells.

    Here’s my creative breakdown:

    At work, I am LOYAL to a fault to Rhodia’s orange notebooks (graph, please). The paper is exactly right for the metal ball point pens I use to take wine notes. It’s smooth and rugged, but thin enough to hold a LOT of pages. The notebooks hold up to being tossed into my apron and getting a lot of booze spilled/spit onto it.

    In the studio I am even more picky. In my bag, I go for the “sketch” Moleskine. It is thick and holds up to both watercolor and my very favorite pen to draw with, the esteemed Uniball Vision pens. I use all thickness, depending on the drawing. Fine and Extra-fine. For larger layouts I am a sucker for Strathmor’s basic Sketch line. For drawing with lead, it’s Prismacolor Turqouise 8B (smooth, deep, dark, soft, luscious) pencils first, and then Staedtler 8B. My favorite sharpener looks like an inkwell. It is an Alvin DUX.

    Don’t worry about being a Luddite! John Waters only writes on yellow legal pads with Bic pens (black only, I’m pretty sure) when writing scripts and won’t use email. There are lots of fashion designers who are similar, but I’m drawing a blank right now. Whatever gets the job done.

    Sting is pretty cute.

  2. June 2, 2010 1:06 am

    I use all thickness, depending on the drawing. Fine and Extra-fine. For larger layouts I am a sucker for Strathmor’s basic Sketch line. For drawing with lead, it’s Prismacolor Turqouise 8B (smooth, deep, dark, soft, luscious) pencils first, and then Staedtler 8B. My favorite sharpener looks like an inkwell. It is an Alvin DUX.

    Despite possessing .008% of your artistic talents, oddly enough I own all of these items. And ditto on Rhodia. I love my little pocket sized orange graph ruled pad.

  3. June 2, 2010 7:44 am

    Call that dude about that thing

    I think that would make a good title as well. Sting’s good looks have been well-used in film and video, particularly in roles where the acting was optional.

    Best Sting story I ever heard was when he was talking about doing the soundtrack for The Emperor’s New Groove. He had written Kuzco’s theme song but wanted a younger voice than his to sing it.

    The “theme song guy” ended up being Tom Jones.

  4. June 2, 2010 9:46 am

    At all times, I have a stack of blank index cards in my purse. I don’t know why; I’m not sure when I decided “Hey, you should carry these with you!” But I do.

    Nabokov is a fascinating person. I think he’s a phenomenal writer, plus he was a synesthete and an entomologist, which is cool.

    I put legitimate list items such as “go to the gym” and ridiculous ones like, “mindchoke deathstar contractors” I’m not sure what this says about me.

    Someone else does this sort of thing? I like putting random things on my to-do list, or, even better, on my SO’s. I enjoy getting phonecalls where he just says “Um, how exactly do I ‘make sure that groove is in the heart’? And should I do that before I pick up dinner or after?”

  5. evmaroon permalink
    June 2, 2010 9:49 am

    thank you for writing this gem of mind space. now I have a new way to use my index cards!

  6. June 2, 2010 12:50 pm

    The title of this post keeps making me sing, “Big yellow joint, big yellow joint.” in my head. So for that, I thank you.

  7. raymondj permalink
    June 2, 2010 2:49 pm

    I gotta get myself to a big box office supply store STAT.

  8. June 2, 2010 3:07 pm

    Any process that works is a brilliant one, and never let anyone tell you otherwise.

  9. Claire Harris permalink
    June 2, 2010 3:17 pm

    John Waters is not just a legal pad fan. He’s also another index card fiend.

    45 Days

  10. June 3, 2010 10:30 pm

    I wonder if John Waters archives his discards or uses them as toilet paper, something that seems very John Watersish.

  11. Citizen Taqueau permalink
    December 30, 2010 10:42 pm

    My little sister and I used to have a special pantomime to “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” involving hobbling on a crutch and then opening a book while preening an imaginary beard.

  12. December 30, 2010 10:45 pm

    aw, this really is a gem. I think frequently about “snarky’s index card post”, too.

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