I must have shown my age today and taken one step closer to becoming my parents.
This afternoon I went to Staples in search of a notebook. Not a computer or digital writing pad; a notebook: the kind with paper made from trees. And not just any notebook. I wanted Mead’s Five Star college ruled notebook, the one with a plastic cover (preferably in blue or red, but I’ll settle for green), a sturdy back cover, with 3 or 5 subject dividers that have pockets so I can put handouts neatly in the book. Oh, and not a full size, 8.5 x 11 notebook either. I wanted the half-size 9 x 6 notebook that is easier to carry and tote around in a backpack.
Turns out, I’m one of those people who learns and memorizes by writing things down, in lists, over and over until my brain absorbs the information. I’m not good at memorizing; I’m more of a doer. I learn by moving or by doing what I’m being asked to do. In school, I did much better in practical exams than in written ones. If I’m taking a multiple choice test, I can argue and make the case for all the wrong answers, so I didn’t fare as well on written exams. Practicals were easier because I was doing. I immersed myself in the topic I was being tested on, and when it was my turn to demonstrate how well I knew the material, I excelled.
So, when I started writing down the 240 Chinese medicinal herbs by category I need to memorize for the board examination, something clicked in my head and the information started to stick. Now, I know that Chai Hu is an herb that Releases Exterior Wind Heat just like Bo He (mint) and Chan Tui (cicada skins); while Xin Yi Hua (magnolia flower) and Gui Zhi Release Exterior Wind Cold. Who knew?! When I look at Zhi Mu and Tian Hua Fen I remember that I’m looking at herbs that Purge Heat from the body, but Sheng di Huang and Mu Dan Pi Purge Heat from the Blood. Huh! Writing all this information down is a long and tedious process. It’s boring, really. But it works. Now, I remeber 56 of the 240 herbs I need to know, with the rest (hopefully) coming in the next week or so.
So in a flash of inspiration I rushed out the door and drove to Staples to buy a couple of Mead spiral bound notebooks where I could write my list of herbs over and over in a notebook that I can take with me and practice with when I’m not at home. I’ve been using these notebooks for years, so it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to find them.
When I arrived at the store I walked to the notebook aisle and didn’t find the wanted book. There were plenty of notebooks to choose from on the shelves, but the selection was lacking in the half-size and divider with pockets section. I walked up and down the aisle several times to make sure I had not missed what I was looking for. I even walked over to the Day Planner section thinking, maybe, they would be there with half-size and pocket sized books, but nothing could be found. When a red-shirt-uniformed store attendant asked if he could help me, I told him what I was looking for and he showed me a regular size notebook.
No, I said. I want the half-size one. It’s smaller and easier to carry. He showed me another notebook the size of a notecard, and I told him that would not do either. There are far too many Toxic Heat Clearing herbs to list on one page. He looked at me blankly unable to provide me with what I was looking for. When he asked me to follow him to the Martha Stewart business supply aisle, I turn in the opposite direction, walked out of the store, got in my car, and drove across the street to Office Depot.
There, I ran into the same problem: plenty of notebooks, but no Mead Five Star half size ones. My grunt of despair must have alerted a white-shirt-uniformed attendant who came over to my rescue. When I explained to him what I was looking for and asked if he had any in stock, or if they would be getting any of them soon, he looked at me as if I had ordered a three day old road-kill for a main entrée. When I tried to explain to him exactly what I needed, he looked at me and said, “I don’t think they make those any more, sir.”
“I think they’re discontinued.”
Discontinued? What? How? Have we run out of trees? Must we go back to using reeds and papyri?
“I think papyrus is a reed, sir.”
Never mind that, I said. Like his red-shirt counterpart from across the street the attendant grabbed a regular sized notebook and handed it to me. “We have plenty of these,” he said.
I backed away from him as if he had just offered me a dinner invitation to Mar-a-lago in Palm Beach. I declined the notebook and walked to my car. That is when I felt I had begun turning into my parents.
My parents usually come home from the mall, a store, or the grocery complaining that one of their favorite products has been discontinued or that it’s not carried by the store any longer. “It’s a plot!” my mother declared a few years ago when her paper towel dispenser broke and she couldn’t find another like it at the store. “No one makes paper towel dispensers any more,” she announced as if anarchy had finally won the day.
That same afternoon I drove to Bed Bath and Beyond, where they had plenty of paper towel dispensers for sale, and where I got three for her to choose from. When I showed her the items she looked at them suspiciously and said they all were the wrong color and the wrong kind of plastic. The paper towel dispenser she wanted was different.
“Well these are the ones they have, and the ones they make now. We’ll have to get used to it.” The dispenser sat on the counter for three days until I took it upon myself to screw it to the wall where it now hangs, faithfully holding and dispensing paper towels.
I drove to Target as a last resource for my notebooks. Today I wanted to cover Toxic Heat Releasing herbs so I could review the Deficient Heat herbs tomorrow. I was sure Target would have something I could use. Target is my one stop shop for everything, even things I don’t want or need. But in the School Supply aisle it was the same story. There were some good notebooks to choose from, but not what I wanted. I stood by the shelf, feeling defeated, and not unlike my parents do after a shopping run.
Target had what I needed, but not what I wanted. It was the same, but different. The cover of the notebook I ended up getting was blue, but it was the wrong kind of blue and it was not made out of plastic. The back cover was not as thick or sturdy, so I would have to rest the notebook on a desk or a flat surface, otherwise the paper would curve if I rested the book my lap. The notebook only had one divider but no pocket for handout or printed materials. And the lines on the paper where not college ruled. It was a notebook alright, but different from what I had intended to buy.
As I drove home, I pondered what items I had grown up with would be exterminated or become extinct over the next 5 or ten years. Will notebooks eventually go the way of VHS and Atari game consoles, or would they desperately cling to life as they do now. And if so, in what form? Would notebooks adapt and evolve to thrive outside a computer? And how about todays DVDs and Blue Ray? Ten years from now, would I be able to play and enjoy the Moana DVD I purchased as a consolation prize, or will I be using it as a coaster at a party or hang it on a Christmas tree as memento of the past?
Who can say what the future will bring or what it will be like. Certainly, some things will survive like computers and gadgets, but even those will continue to evolve and change. They will be different, and the ones that don’t make the cut will become extinct like typewriters, fine pens, or corked wine bottles. Some folk say that the more things change the more they stay the same; but to me, it’s beginning to look like the more things change, the more different they will be.