Who knew there was so much crap in my head?

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I started my Morning Pages practice in this Seven Seas Writer on June 25, 2016 with the words, “The first day of what I hope becomes a life-long habit*—to get up and write in this book—or any book—before doing anything else.” [*Well, life-long from here on out. I’m a notoriously late-bloomer.]

I’d already filled a few pages with infrequent entries that spanned about 13 months. That’s the story of my journaling life. Months between entries. Fit and starts. Abandoned journals. So many abandoned journals.

But something clicked on that June day, and I made a vow to write every morning and to FINALLY fill an entire journal. How many vows I’ve made in my life. A vow to keep the kitchen counter clear. Fail. A vow to put away my clothes rather than stacking them on the trunk at the foot of my bed. Fail. Vows and I have a checkered history.

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But this one—this vow to religiously write my morning pages—took root. On April 24, 2017, I wrote the final sentence in this particular journal—”The mad rush of the week begins soon. For now I’m just enjoying filling these pages, then meditating. A little more time for peace and quiet. A blessing.”

I’ll be honest, I don’t write every day. Weekend mornings can be tricky because our sleep schedule and responsibilities vary, but during the work week, I’m up at 5:30 am to put pen to paper. Without hesitation. This feels like a miracle to me, as I am distinctly NOT a morning person. Yet I always look forward to sitting at my desk, even though I’m bleary eyed and a little disoriented with sleep and the haze of frantic dreams. It’s a miracle that this practice has stuck. That there is always something to say. To be grateful for. To work through. To ponder. To explore. Feelings, thoughts, difficulties, and joys—all there to be examined and recorded. This makes me feel a little brave.

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480 pages filled one letter, word, sentence, page at a time. Colorful inks flow from cherished pens onto the luscious Tomoe River paper. It’s like eating dessert before the day begins—a treat, a privilege, a joy. This writing fills me up and calms me down. The effect is almost medicinal.

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With the Writer finished, I immediately started journaling in a Seven Seas Crossfield that I’ve had waiting in the wings. The cross grid is tighter in this book than the lines were in the Writer—5 mm vs. 7 mm—so the pages take me a little longer to write and look more dense when they’re filled. But this is not a race. This is a practice—a practice that is now as important to me as breathing.

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One letter. One line. One page.

Forever.

Inky Fingers Notebooks: Currently Inked

There was a time when I could remember everything. Maybe my life was simpler. Maybe my brain was less fractured and less overwhelmed. Maybe my nerves and synapses fired like the engine in a just-off-the-showroom-floor Lamborghini. Maybe all of those things were true.

After 50, things in the memory department got trickier. How cliché. Also, how true. And now here I am creeping up on 60. (Why do I still feel immature and unformed?!) Things are not so slick in the cranial region. That is to say, I forget things.

Like, did I take that pill? Where’d I put my phone/my keys/my notebook/my head? Where did I park? It’s an interesting time of life. There’s an inordinate amount of time spent looking under sofa cushions and piles of papers to find the thing that is needed but can’t be found. Like my brain. Suddenly, one must, if one is to navigate through even the most average of days, have a system to compensate for this predictable decline.

Here’s how this memory problem manifests itself in relation to my pens. I fill a pen. Then another. Then another. My brain likes to think it can remember what ink is in which pen. And for awhile it can. But then time elapses, and life interferes with its constant stream of large and small dilemmas, until all available RAM has been consumed. Then, come to find out, your brain has deleted all of that pen/ink knowledge to make room for a grocery list. A stupid grocery list.

Crap.

When this happens, there’s much puzzling over which brown ink is in that Edison, or which blue is in the Franklin-Christoph XIV. Gah…I don’t know! And worse yet, which pens are eyedropper filled? (We all recall the consequences of forgetting that vital piece of information, don’t we?!)

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My brain may be older but it is also, thankfully, in some ways, wiser. In a moment of clarity, it wised up and ordered a few of Matt Armstrong’s Inky Fingers Currently Inked pocket notebooks. What a godsend.

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Now, as soon as I ink a pen, I make a quick entry in the notebook, noting the pen, the nib, the ink, and the date the pen was inked. When the pen is cleaned out, I fill out that date as well. There’s also a designated space for an ink swatch. VERY useful. INCREDIBLY useful.

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You might notice that I’ve also jotted down a little reminder about how the pen is filled—converter, cartridge, or eyedropper. No more carpet disasters thanks to this handy little record keeping tool.

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Available in both Pocket (3.5″x5.5″) and Travellers (110 mm x 210 mm) formats, the Currently Inked notebooks feature 44 pages of 80 gsm wheat straw paper. As Matt explained on Episode 248 of the Pen Addict podcast, he took great pains to select just the right paper for these notebooks. It really is superb, with nice thickness and excellent dry times.

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The pocket notebook has space for 132 inkings, while the Travellers size accommodates 176 inkings. That’s a lot of information in a very compact format.

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There is an “oh no!” development that needs to be mentioned here. Matt’s supplier recently informed him that he’s no longer able to source the wheat straw paper that Matt so carefully selected, which means that Matt’s current stock is all he’ll have until the paper problem is sorted out. A quick check of his online store shows that, at the time of this post, he has the Traveller size Currently Inked notebooks available in both first-quality and factory seconds options, and the pocket format only as a factory second.

But have no fear. I purchased a few of the pocket versions, both first quality and factory seconds, and could see only the tiniest bit of difference between the two versions.  Matt’s obviously a stickler for quality and detail, so what he calls a factory second is still extremely well made with minute cosmetic differences that I doubt you’ll even notice.

So while my forgetfulness remains an issue in other areas of my life, keeping track of my inked pens is not one of those issues, thanks to the Inky Fingers Currently Inked notebooks. The records I keep in my current notebook have already solved many a pen/ink riddle. They’re fantastic—well-made, with space for plenty of inkings, all at a great price.

Oh, happy brain.

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I couldn’t “bear” it if these were no longer available. Keep us posted on the paper situation, okay, Matt?

Diplomat’s Excellent Excellence

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Diplomat is a company that’s often overlooked in pen circles, and I think that’s too bad. I own four of their fountain pens—the economical Softtouch Magnum, a mid-range Optimist Loop, the visually distinctive Aero, and this classic looking Excellence. While four pens is not a large sample size, each nib writes so smoothly that I’m convinced that Diplomat values nib performance at least as much as good design and build quality, no matter the price. The same cannot be said of every pen company.

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My latest acquisition—this Excellence Rhombus fountain pen—has been getting constant use. With a medium steel nib, this pen wrote right out of the box and is incredibly smooth with just a hint of spring. Pure joy.

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The excellent Excellence has good looks, a nice weight, and a writing performance that continues to make me smile.

You can read my full review HERE.

The Diplomat Excellence Rhombus fountain pen discussed here was purchased from The Pen Company, at a discount, to facilitate this review. Views expressed here reflect my personal opinion and experiences with the pen.

Monteverde’s One Touch Stylus 9 Function Inkball Tool Pen

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I think I’ll just cut to the chase. I love this pen. The end.

Kidding.

There’s a little more to the story and the pen.

On a recent episode of The Pen Addict podcast, during an ad for Pen Chalet, Myke and Brad mentioned that Ron was running a great deal on the Monteverde Tool pens. Since I was listening in my car, I made mental note to check out the sale once I got home. And, wow, were they right…the price was awesome ($20-something, down from a regular retail price of $45). BUT—do I need another pen?

Honestly, no.

I’ve curtailed my pen buying this year as I have so much that I enjoy using already. Saying “no” has become easier and easier the more I do it. (The same restraint does not hold true for inks. Or paper.)

As I scrolled through the Tool pen models, my thinking went something like this…

“Ballpoint. Nope…I’ve got plenty.”

“Pencil. Nah.”

“Fountain. All set there.”

“What??!! Inkball?? Hmmmmm….”

The Monteverde Inkball Tool Pen is not a conventional rollerball pen, though that’s what the tip looks and acts like. This version of the Tool Pen takes international short cartridges—the kind you’d normally use in a fountain pen—rather than your typical rollerball refill. NOW I was intrigued as this little twist brought something new to the pen table. (Pen table?)

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There are plenty of great color options, but the orange and black one called my name, as orange and black often does. Two days later, I had the pen in hand.

I had an empty short international cartridge on hand, so I immediately filled it with Robert Oster’s Fire & Ice, a current favorite.

And then I couldn’t figure out how to install the cartridge. Or how to get the included cartridge out of the barrel. I’d unscrewed the front black section, the writing tip, but the opening in the barrel was too small to get the included cartridge out or my newly filled cartridge in. What the…?!

Baffled, I emailed Ron to ask him what I was doing wrong. Then headed out to run some errands and to grab lunch.

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As I sat in Applebee’s waiting for my lunch, I suddenly remembered the video overview on Pen Chalet’s page and watched that again. Ohhhhhhhhh, THAT’S what I was doing wrong! Instead of unscrewing the black section holding the tip, you have to grab that section and yank it straight out of the pen. Now the barrel opening was large enough for the included cartridge to be removed from the barrel, and I was able to install my refilled cartridge. Back in business. (A side note: Ron answered my email right around the time I discovered my error. Much appreciated.) As they say, when all else fails, follow directions.

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With that “user error” dilemma conquered, I put pen to paper—Tomoe River Paper, to be exact. Oh, my. What a smooth and lovely writing experience.

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I spent the afternoon hunkered down in our Barnes & Noble café writing letters with this pen, rarely looking up. Immersed, is what I was. Immersed and impressed.

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The tip runs fairly broad, but is perfect on Tomoe River Paper—like a good medium. The performance is excellent. Smooth and skip-free. I love the way the rollerball feels, and I like seeing my favorite ink flowing out of a rollerball-style tip. The barrel is enameled brass, which gives the pen a nice weight (37 grams). As a point of reference, a Lamy Safari weighs about 16 grams, and a Lamy AL-Star weighs 21 grams, so this pen runs about twice as heavy. Despite that, I’ve never experienced hand-fatigue, but maybe that’s because I lift weights on a regular basis and I’m strong like bull (I wish).

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But, wait…there’s more!

The Monteverde Tool Pen includes a number of additional features. The barrel, as you can see, contains a 4-inch ruler as well as three metric scale rulers—1:100, 1:200, and 1:300. Those are pretty obvious.

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The Tool Pen’s endcap is a stylus that works well on my iPhone and Kindle. Unscrew the stylus to reveal a tiny flathead screwdriver. This screwdriver insert can be removed and flipped around to access the Phillips head screwdriver.

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Should you need to repair a teeny-tiny thing, you’re all set.

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Along with the rulers, the barrel also contains a level, so you can verify that your café table is indeed perfectly level.

The one downside to the pen is the fact that the small black cap that covers the writing tip cannot be posted. When you’re using the pen, you have to keep track of this piece. So far, that hasn’t been an issue, but if you’re prone to losing things, keep this in mind.

You might call this a “novelty” pen, and I’d have to, for the most part, agree. Will I ever use the screwdrivers or the level? Probably not, though you never know. The rulers may come in handy now and then. (Edited to add: If it had a little shovel, this pen would’ve come in very handy the past two days as I’ve been trapped in the house by three feet of snow, while Fred was literally stuck at work.) Despite what may seem like gimmicks, this is a pen that delivers a really cool writing experience coupled with an interesting look and potentially useful tools. And let’s not forget that you can use any fountain pen ink as long as you have an empty international short cartridge to refill. (I don’t believe that a conventional converter will fit, though I haven’t confirmed this.)

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I really do love this pen. The end. For real, this time.

This One Touch Stylus 9 Function Tool Pen was purchased with my own funds. The sale at Pen Chalet appears to be over, but you can still find this pen (as well as the other models/colors) at a good price at Pen Chalet. I was in no way compensated for this review. In fact, it’ll come as a surprise to Ron. If you’re a listener of the Pen Addict podcast, you already know that Pen Chalet often sponsors the show and provides codes for listener-only discounts and special sales. If you’re not a listener of the podcast, what’re you waiting for?

The Inaugural GNYPIG Meet-Up

I spend a lot of time being jealous around pen matters. Not so much about the pens that others own, though, of course, that green monster does rear its ugly little head every now and then (Murex!). 99% of my jealousy comes from seeing, via Instagram, the various gatherings of pen people at shows and regional meet-ups. As a veteran of the DC Pen Show, I know how much fun it is to gather with “your people” for few hours or a few days. I’d take these times over Christmas or my birthday or winning the lottery. (Yeah, no, that last little bit is a lie. I’ll take a Powerball win, oh lottery gods. Because, you know, more pens.)

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Anyway, this Saturday morning I was up bright and early, tingling with anticipation for the  inaugural meeting of the Greater New York Pen and Ink Group—GNYPIG—pronounced “guinea pig.” This newly formed group—the brainchild of Phil Olin and Dave Rea—was gathering in Pittsford, NY for the first time, and I couldn’t have been any more excited.

I do have a good friend at work who’s acquiring a nice selection of pens and inks, so we’re able to nerd out about that, and Phil lives nearby so we get together now and then, but for the most part, I don’t know of many pen people in my region—the centrally located Mohawk Valley. GNYPIG was established to bring together pen enthusiasts from all over upstate New York—from Albany to Buffalo and everywhere in between.

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I’d been out for the evening the night before, and I’d neglected to get things together earlier in the week, so Saturday morning found me randomly stuffing pen cases and ink bottles into a cardboard box to make the road trip with me. Next time I hope to organize my pens and my thoughts a little better. I tagged along with Phil, his wife Ashley, and their friend Jake, to make the two hour drive to Pittsford, NY.

We arrived at the meeting place— The Mile Post School, a charming building that used to be a one-room schoolhouse—just before 2 pm. [insert the picture I neglected to take] Dave and his wife Kelly were already there setting up snacks and pen party supplies. As more folks arrived from points east, west, and south, we shoved tables together, opened up our pen cases, and dove in. It didn’t take long for a wonderful chaos to tumble onto the tables as we fell into happy chats and inky fun.

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I was so excited that I neglected to take enough pictures. (Sorry.) I also should’ve jotted down everyone’s name and contact information. (Next time.) The three hours sped by in a blur, like a cartoon clock with hands that spin through hours in just a few seconds. Suddenly it was time to pack up, head out for dinner, and hit the road for the drive home.

There’s nothing like time spent with pen people to boost your spirits. We’re wonderfully alike while also being fantastically different. It’s so cool to meet people in real life who you know only as a Twitter handle or an Instagram avatar. Friendship comes easily, even for an introvert like myself.

The current plan is to meet on a quarterly basis, and to move the meetings around. Are you located in upstate New York and a lover of pens? Please check out the GNYPIG website and #gnypig on Instagram, and plan to join us next time.

I. CAN’T. WAIT.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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“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.

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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.