Please Write! Confessions of a Lousy Pen Pal

If I were to grade myself as a pen pal, I’d give myself a C-. Honestly, that’s being generous. I have such good intentions. I cherish each letter I receive, pore over it, then dutifully log it into my dedicated Circa notebook. Weeks, or even months, pass before I sit down to pen my reply. What the hell?!

Part of the problem is that I feel like I have to, or should, write long newsy letters because that’s what I receive. If I don’t have time to do that, I write nothing. Dumb. Surely a nice card or a short note would do in a pinch. But my all-or-nothing brain thinks that it’s better to hold out until I can get a handful of pages written. Even if that means waiting. And waiting.

It’s no wonder, given my issues, that I was immediately drawn to the vintage postcards I came upon at a recent antique show. One vendor had so many postcards…literally thousands of them…that I had no idea what to hone in on. Cats? My hometown? New York State attractions? Owls? Then my eyes fell on the “Please Write” section. BINGO.

img_2447

Some postcards feature polite verse, while others get straight to the point. “WRITE! I’m tired waiting for you to write.” Both provide a much needed nudge to slow-poke letter writers like myself. “It’s not how you write, but the words you indite…” (Is “indite” a word?) “Makes me anxious your writing to see.” Forget about writing the perfect letter. Just write. A few pages. A few paragraphs. A few sentences.

img_2448

I found and purchased a couple more gems, as reminders to myself. The vintage rhymes not so subtly admonish the recipient to sit down and write. Now. Tonight. They pull no punches.

img_2451

On the back of the 1916 Dutch girl postcard is a handwritten message that made me laugh. In case you can’t quite make it out, I’ll transcribe it here…

Lost! Strayed! or Stolen! Mabel Kritzmacher. Any information regarding her whereabouts will gladly be received by her friend Florence E. Senn, 32 First St, Newark, NJ 

Then…

Hello! Mabel. Thought I’d remind you that I’m still living. Why don’t you come over or write? Write soon. F.E.S.

I love Florence for her comical and direct approach. Florence wants a return response and Mabel is dragging her heels. This postcard is 101 years old but the plea penciled here never goes out of date. We crave mail, and we want it now. Real mail lights up a day more than any text or Facebook post or email. Real mail is a treasure.

img_2456

I’m using InCoWriMo—International Correspondence Writing Month— and the kick in the pants from these postcards, to break my letter writing procrastination—this belief that I need a large block of letter writing time and the perfect setting. Yesterday’s mail brought me two postcards and one note from three InCoWriMo participants, which thrilled me. As our chicken dinner roasted, I sat at my desk and wrote my replies, rather than getting sucked into CNN or falling down a Twitter rabbit hole. I don’t want anyone thinking I’ve been “Lost! Strayed! or Stolen!”

How will I improve my letter writing turnaround time? If a day or week looks particularly busy, I’ll turn some of my morning journaling time into letter writing time. I’ll make letter writing appointments with myself in my Hobonichi planner as I tend to honor the commitments I’ve written down. I’ll use random pockets of time to write postcards or quick notes. I’ll back away from social media and the news a bit (better for my mental health, anyway). Sending and receiving handwritten mail is important to me. It’s about time that I made it more of a priority. I owe that much to my loyal pen pals and to the new ones I’m meeting through InCoWriMo. I owe that to myself.

img_2458

Postcards look very different these days. I bought these stunning “Afghan Girl” notes and postcards after going to Steve McCurry’s photography exhibit at our local art museum and love using them. It takes just a little time to dash off some thoughts or a couple of paragraphs. There’s something satisfying about dropping a few pieces of mail into the mailbox on the way to work—forging a connection with a new acquaintance, or strengthening the ties to friends you’ve known for years.

And so I will write. This very, very night.

Added later: I did it!

Pens In Real Life: The Sabbath

I’m fascinated with the idea of the Sabbath…of having a day that’s more meaningful and less frantic. Typically, I find myself spending Sunday cramming in all of the stuff that I should have done earlier in the weekend. I do my GTD Weekly Review—and update my personal and work Action/Waiting/Maybe lists—every weekend, but sometimes this gets pushed to the bitter end, and that’s not a happy scenario. In 2017, I want to rethink and revamp my Sundays so that they’re slower paced and thoughtful, not just another day on the hamster wheel of life.

Westminster window

One of the Tiffany windows in our sanctuary. Those blues! (Of course, the colors make me think of ink.)

For me, part of what helps to set the stage for the rest of the day, as well as the rest of the week, is attending church. Sometimes we’d rather sleep late and eat a leisurely breakfast of homemade waffles, but we usually fight this urge and get to church on a fairly regular basis.

We attend a mainstream, downtown church with gorgeous Tiffany windows and an expansive sanctuary. The congregation isn’t large in numbers, but there is love and kindness and a desire to make the world a better place. Sunday morning is both restorative (in a way that waffles aren’t), and inspirational. I often walk away thinking, “This was exactly what I needed to hear.”

img_2414

Field Notes in a Doane Paper Horween Leather cover with my Tactile Turn Glider

One problem, though. My mind wanders. During a scripture reading or the sermon, suddenly I realize that my mind has strayed to my to-do list or a nagging problem or anxiety. I miss chunks of the message as my mind tunes in and out, like a bad AM radio station. GAH!

Recently, I decided to fix that problem by taking notes. Smack in the middle of my “personal” notebook and to-do lists, you’ll now find my church notes. I know…this is a stupidly obvious solution, especially considering how often I jot down things for other aspects of my life. Oddly, it just hadn’t occurred to me to do the same in church.

img_2415

“Be vulnerable and risk ourselves to work for a better world.”

By sitting still with pen and paper, I find myself riveted to the words and the message. The mere act of writing down the main points means that I absorb them better at the time, and that they stick even after I walk out of the sanctuary. I thought about using a dedicated “church” notebook, but I’m glad I went this route. As I’m flipping through the pages during the week, I sometimes come upon the words I wrote down the Sunday before, often just when I need them most. A dedicated notebook would probably only be carried to and from church, not with me every day, as inspiration and lessons should be.

img_2351

Words to remember and live by.

There is work to be done in this world. There is work to be done with my life. I’m hoping that 2017 is a year where I can move the needle in the right direction for both the world and myself—where I slow down every so often to reset my priorities and energies. Using Sunday more as a day of rest (and visiting, and writing), rather than just another day to frantically tick off to-dos, feels like a step in the right direction. Having the words of inspiration and guidance with me every day is already making a difference.

I’m writing things down to remember them now, and to remember them later. I’m writing them down so that I do, indeed, remember to uphold compassion, joy, peace, patience, and mercy.

Here’s to 2017. Here’s to love.

Stationery In Real Life: The Postcard Project

Box of Postcards

I’ve had this Friends of Type Keep Fresh Stay Rad giant box o’ postcards for awhile, and have slowly been using them to send quick notes to friends and family when there isn’t time for a full-blown letter. (I tend to make a federal case out of letter-writing, something I plan to work on and improve in 2017. A quick letter is better than NO letter, right?!) Even though I am using these postcards, it became apparent that it’d take me awhile to go through the whole box, and I’m trying to get better about using things up.

That issue was in my head when I read this article. (Go read it…it’s inspiring.) Too many postcards + the Seattle woman giving away postcards = my solution.

Postcard Project

I work at a college in upstate New York, managing the stockroom in the college’s Science Center. The stockroom has what I call “the pizza window” because it looks like a window that you’d walk up to to order pizza or ice cream or burgers. Students regularly come to the window, not for pizza but for chemicals and lab supplies—the perfect venue for offering free stamped postcards.

Some are inspiring.

Win the World!

Some are artfully profane, but a good reminder during stressful times, like final exams.

Chill the fuck out.

The students have been amused by the giveaway, and have politely asked, “Can I really take these?” Yes…absolutely! “That’s so cool!” they say as they smile and slide a carefully selected postcard into their lab coat pocket.

I like picturing the surprised recipients who probably don’t get much handwritten mail from their BUSY child/grandchild/sibling/friend. It really doesn’t take much time to lift someone’s day. A couple of minutes. A few words. A happy recipient.

Peace and Joy and Cake

Here’s to peace and joy (and cake) in the new year! Let’s stay in touch.

Shaking the Fear Of Art

The summer I was 10 or so, my parents signed me up for a kids’ art class at the local art school/museum. One of our first projects was to stand at an easel (cool!) to paint fireworks. I covered my paper with dark colors for the night sky, then painstakingly got to work painting the fine details of the fireworks display I’d seen the night before. I love the ones that look like chrysanthemums…huge and bursting with fine streaks of color and light. The instructor made his way around the class, and when he got to me, he took a wide brush in his hand, dipped it in paint, and painted RIGHT OVER my finely detailed work with his own wild and broad strokes. “THIS is how fireworks look!” he blared as he painted. I remember feeling like I was painting “wrong” and wanting to go home.

I was 10 then. I’m 57 now. I should just get over this. But the nagging idea that got into my head that day—that art is something with right and wrong answers, like trigonometry—never left me. Even then I knew, as he was ruining my painting and my psyche, that I was entitled to my own interpretation of fireworks—but that criticism somehow crippled me. I shy away from art—though I ADORE art supplies—because I don’t want to get it wrong.

I need to shake this.

I faithfully listen to Ana Reinert’s and Heather Rivard’s “Art Supply Posse” podcast and this has been the just the thing to nudge me in the right direction. When I drive to and from out-of-town doctor’s appointments, I devour the episodes and the advice. They leave me saying “I can do this.” I want to do this. I WILL do this.

At the DC Pen Show, Ana recommended that I check out books by Danny Gregory. As with all things art, I characteristically dragged my feet, but this week I finally picked up a copy of his Art Before Breakfast. Merry Christmas to me!

img_2379

I haven’t had time to do much more then leaf through the pages, but I’m already excited. I’m going to make art. Bad art. Good art. Right art. Wrong art. Quick art. Slow art. Art.

About a year ago, a friend sent me a copy of Keri Smith’s Wreck This Journal. She bought a copy for herself and the plan was for us to wreck our journals simultaneously, then mail them to each other to see who was the most destructive. We have similar personalities and the idea of wrecking something, especially a book, does not come easily. My book remains pristine, and, last time I checked, hers was in the same condition.

Wreck This Journal

Ah, perfectionism. What a cruel master.

2017 is the year to let loose. I will wreck this book. I will mail it to Teresa in all of its destroyed glory. I will.

Lest anyone think that my perfectionism means that our house is in pristine order, I say, “HAHAHAHA!”

That stationery corner

Our dining room is in relatively good shape, except for this piece of real estate. Ouch. You can tell by the boxes that I’ve tried to get a grip on things, but then the going gets tough and my will to continue dries up. I’m vowing, publicly, to sort, organize, and store all of the pens, pencils, and notebooks you see here. I also vow to use them.

There is much work to be done, but it’s fun work. Making art, letting loose, organizing and using my stationery treasures.

It’s about damn time.

—————-

A footnote about the art school experience: Decades after that unfortunate summer class, I returned to the Adult Community Art Classes to take a bookmaking/printmaking class and had the time of my life. Even though I was the “scientist” in a class full of artists, I had a blast making books because there is measuring and right angles. The professor, who remains a good friend, never told me that I was doing things wrong. She let me be as precise as I wanted to be while encouraging me to let loose. She was everything that summer instructor was not. I love you, Lisa.

img_2386

A few of my handmade books

You know you’ve gone off the deep end when…

your pens match your socks.

Bombs Socks and ACME Crayon Pens

So off the deep end I go. I also have a pink pair of the same socks and a pink pen, but that pair is in the wash so you’ll just have to imagine how great they look together. This was not a planned thing, but rather one of those fun surprises that can pop up in a day. An ad for Bombas (“Bee better”) recently popped up in my Facebook feed, and rather than zipping right by, I gave the ad a look and wound up ordering a 4-pack of socks. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Bombas, they’re a company with a mission. The ad notes that “Socks are the  number one most requested item at homeless shelters.” You can read the full story here. Minutes after reading their ad and browsing their website, I ordered a 4-pack of the Bright socks right from my phone, before even getting out of bed. For every pair purchased, another pair is donated to a homeless shelter. What a great mission, and, I hoped, good socks.

Now I’m normally all about muted colors, with a wardrobe full of taupe, but as I browsed their site, I knew I had to order the Brights because THEY WOULD MATCH MY ACME CRAYON PENS. Because pens matching socks is a thing, right? Oh, it isn’t?!

The socks arrived last week and I’m super happy with them. They’re nicely cushioned, the colors are great, and I feel good about helping someone in need get their own pair of fresh new socks. I’m already planning to order some of the Merino wool socks (taupe!) for work and sport socks for the gym.

I’ve always been someone who likes matching their fountain pen ink to their pen. (I recently put some Sailor Waka Uguisu…a mossy looking green…into an orange pen and that almost gave me hives.) But who knew that I’d become someone who enjoys matching their socks to their pens.

There is, it seems, no end to the madness.

There are no affiliate links in this post, and I have not been compensated in any way for my endorsement of Bombas. I do, though, hope you’ll check them out, and maybe order a pair or two. Or four. Read more about them here.

Stunning Simplicity: The Lamy 2000 Taxus Ballpoint

img_2245

I recently had the privilege of using and reviewing the Lamy 2000 Taxus (Blackwood) ballpoint pen for The Pen Company. Though I fully admit that I’m more likely to reach for a gel pen for work and a fountain pen for journaling and letter writing, the Lamy 2000 Taxus is a ballpoint that could very well change this behavior.

img_2233

It’s a beautifully designed and well-made pen that is gorgeous to look at and satisfying to use.

img_2235

For anyone looking to elevate their ballpoint game, this is certainly an option to be considered.

Check out my full review on The Pen Company blog.

The Lamy 2000 Taxus ballpoint shown here was provided to me by The Pen Company. My review reflects my personal opinion and experiences with the pen. I was not otherwise compensated for the review.

A Collaboration of Talents: The Fisher of Pens Ares Fountain Pen

It’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed a pen and this one is long overdue. Life has been HAPPENING like crazy and I’m finding that my blog suffers when things get intense. How the weeks do fly by. I’ve had this pen—this Fisher of Pens fountain pen (Ares model)—on my “to be reviewed” list from the moment I purchased it at the DC Pen Show in August. Because it’s a gorgeous pen, but also because it demonstrates why pen shows are so spectacular.

FOP Ares model

We arrived to this year’s pen show early Thursday evening, just as the vendors were covering up their tables and heading out for dinner, so there was no shopping to be done that day. But Friday morning, as early as possible, we trotted down to the lobby to pick up our Weekend Trader passes so that we could get into the show as soon as it opened. Because I didn’t have much in the way of a wish list, I told myself that I’d “make the rounds” before making any purchases. I’d take my time, really scope things out, then circle back to buy the pen or pens that spoke to me. That was the plan.

FOP Ares model

We stopped at Carl Fisher’s table almost as soon as we entered the show as he was set up in the lobby, prior to being moved to the large ballroom for Saturday and Sunday. I’d seen Carl’s pens on Instagram, but had never met him, nor seen his pens, in person. Anyone who’s seen the contents of my pen cases, knows I have a thing for orangey autumnal colors, so my eyes (and my heart) were immediately drawn to this pen and its delightful swirl of oranges, golds, and blues, with a slight shimmer that is neither too much nor too little. The sun streaming down from the lobby’s skylight gave this pen the best treatment it could ever have. Illuminated by that sunlight, this pen was simply stunning, radiant, and LIT UP.

But I had that plan.

So I walked away.

My husband and I scoped out a few vendors in the large ballroom, but the whole time, my brain was fixated on that pen. So we circled back.

img_1938

Hi, Carl! Sorry I caught you with your mouth open.

I acted all casual, spent some time oogling Carl’s double-ended creation (sweet!), and was about to examine my heart’s desire a little closer when Mike Mattson of Inkdependence stopped at the table and OHMIGOD picked up “my” pen. My neck tensed. My heart stopped. My stomach turned over. Gulp. I conjured up all of my mental telepathy skills and beamed “DO NOT BUY THIS PEN! DO NOT BUY THIS PEN! DO NOT…” to him. I must have skillz, because eventually he put it down. HE PUT THE PEN DOWN. Phew.

And I bought it. Immediately. Plan be damned.

img_1999

In talking to Carl, I learned that the material for this pen was made by Jonathon Brooks, of the Carolina Pen Company, which explains why it’s so stunning. Jonathon’s materials and pens are out of this world. I purchased one of his Charleston pens in a Combustion Acrylic at last year’s show and it remains a perpetual favorite.

I should pause to add that both Carl and Jonathon are two of the nicest people you’ll ever meet—warm, authentic, and humble—while also being extremely talented pen makers. These two guys are my kind of people.

On that Friday, Jonathon’s table was just a few steps away from Carl’s, so I stopped over to see him and to show off my purchase.

img_1936

Mr. Nice Guy Jonathon Brooks and his just-as-nice wife, Shea

When I showed Jonathon the pen, he high-fived me and said how pleased he was that I liked it. He also kindly offered me a pen stand he’d made that matched my pen. For free. I accepted, and thanked him for his generosity. I always enjoy talking to Jonathon and his wife, Shea. They feel like friends, even though we’ve only spoken at pen shows.

img_2126

One thing on my wish list was to have a nib ground by Dan Smith, my favorite nibmeister. I’d picked out the Tiger Stripey pen I purchased from Ken Cavers a number of years ago as the one that I’d have Dan modify to an Architect grind. My name was on his list and I was hanging around his table waiting for my turn as soon as he finished up with his current customer. At the last moment I decided to have the nib on my newest purchase modified instead.

img_1962

Dan Smith, The Nibsmith

I’d had Carl install a two-tone medium steel nib (JoWo #6) on my pen, and Carl had tuned it to my liking. Smooth. Wet. It wrote just the way I like. But I’m somewhat addicted to Dan’s Architect grind and thought, why not just have him work on the nib while I’m at the show rather than sending it to him later. So that’s what I did. And now it’s fantastic.

img_2015

The Architect Grind

I’ve had Dan modify a couple of nibs to Architects and I love how they feel and look. This one is no exception. At the show, Carl had filled the pen with Montblanc Toffee Brown, one of my favorite browns. Once that ran out, I loaded it with the Akkerman #5 Shocking Blue I’d purchased from the Vanness Pens table, and the combination is a winner. The ink’s sheen shines through, and the color very nicely complements the blues swirling through Jonathon’s material.

Nib grinding fascinates me. The pros, like Dan, make it look easy. Even working in sub-optimum lighting, he modified the nib on my pen to perfection. I absolutely love writing with this pen, not just because it’s a stunner in looks, but also in performance.

img_2007

Carl describes the Ares model like this—Stepped cap pen with a taper on both the body and the cap. Typically finished with rounded finials, this design allows for posting of the cap to the back of the pen during writing. 

My particular pen weighs 18.6 grams (12.1 g body, 6.5 g cap). Capped, the pen measures  15.5 cm (6.1 inches). Uncapped, the body measures 14.0 cm (5.5 inches). I use the pen unposted as its posted length is 18 cm (7.1 inches), which feels a bit long to me. Unposted, it’s great in hand. The Ares model takes a cartridge or converter, and can also be eyedropper filled.

Those are the pen’s facts and figures. But facts and figures do not tell the story of this pen. Every part of this pen was touched by the skilled hands of a craftsman. And because it was purchased at the pen show, I was able to spend time with each of them, sharing laughs and handshakes and good feelings.

I was also able to use my extraordinary powers of concentration to wrench it away from the hands of a rival buyer. You, too, can experience the high drama of competitive pen purchasing by attending a pen show! More thrilling than a rollercoaster! Guaranteed to get your heart pumping and the blood flowing! WHEEEEEE.

img_1926

Every time I look at this pen I hear Alicia Keys singing, “This pen is on fire!” (IT. IS. HOT.) While I’m hearing that song, I can’t help but think about Carl and Jonathon and Dan, each one playing his part to make this pen perfect for me.

This is a Mary pen, if ever there was one—a pen that truly represents a collaboration of talents.

The pen and the nib grinding service were purchased with my own funds. I was not compensated in any way for this review, and there are no affiliate links. 
More information about the services of Carl, Jonathon, and Dan can be found at the following links:
Fisher of Pens (Carl Fisher)
Carolina Pen Company (Jonathon Brooks)
The Nibsmith (Dan Smith)