Ten Journals

Just a little over a week ago, I wrote the last word on the last page of my tenth Nanami Paper journal, a 480-page Crossfield, to be specific. Something about wrapping up my tenth volume of Morning Pages made me haul them all out, arrange them in chronological order, then date the spines. It was a satisfying activity—one that seemed worthy of fireworks. Or at least a sparkler.

Prior to June 2016, when this practice became a true morning ritual, I managed to jot down entries for a handful of days, then sputtered and fizzled out for months or years. The three composition notebooks below each contain a few pages of writing from the 80’s and 90’s, then fell dormant, relegated to the bottom drawer of my filing cabinet. One notebook contains some details of a trip to Germany in the late 80’s. (I did not write THE YEAR when I dated the pages because I was young and thought I’d always remember. Now I’m decades older and do not.)

The entries are very much of the “what we did, where we went” variety that just seemed too mundane at the time, which is why I always quit. Sometimes I wrote nothing more than the date. (????)

In those early attempts, I’m repeatedly swearing to close the gap between entries but it took another 17 years for that to actually happen. (Why rush?!)

In Germany, I dutifully logged my Traveler’s Cheques and all of the food we ate at the house of the family friends we stayed with for a few days.

(Apparently I came home with most of them.)
(That full pot of tea on 7/13 played havoc with my bladder in heavy traffic on the way to the airport. The memory of that “my back teeth are floating” episode has not dimmed.)

Reading through a few long-forgotten entries this morning made me laugh. Maybe I should’ve kept writing. What I found so stressful then is kind of funny now.

Fast-forward to June 2016, when Tim Wasem, on The Erasable Podcast, mentioned how his days always go better when he writes morning pages. His words flipped a switch that had been stuck in the off position for years. I wanted my days to go better, so this seemed worth a shot.

Since June 2016, I roll out of bed around 4:30 am on weekdays—a little later on the weekends—and write for an hour or two. No judgment. No pausing. Pure stream-of-consciousness. Meditations. Complaints. Celebrations. Challenges. Worries. Joys. Gratitude. The only time I missed a chunk of days was when I had shoulder surgery in February 2020. Even then I made some left-handed scribbly attempts.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how coffee factors into all of the this. I came into my coffee habit late in life—just before I started doing all of this journaling—always cold-brewed, always black. Back when I was writing two entries a year, I didn’t drink coffee. Coincidence? I think not. Both the iced black coffee and wet ink on the page are what pry me out of bed. Without the coffee, I’d grind to a screeching halt, I have no doubt.

Ten journals. Nearly 5000 pages. More coffee than ink, but still a lot of ink. Does my day go better because of this practice? On balance, yes, because even if my day completely derails later on, I’ve enjoyed the stillness of the dark morning while laying down fresh ink on the wide-open page.

Here’s to ten more. <Lights that sparkler.>

A Nib Journey With The Leonardo Momento Zero Mango

It would be a lie to say that I’m not buying many pens, but I AM trying to resist knee-jerk buying—like buying something just because I’m bored or tired or “deserve a reward.” I let the latest object of my affection simmer for at least a few days before making a final decision—really sorting out the reasons to say yay or nay. How mature, right? (Maybe I need a reward for being so mature!)

After a few weeks of simmering contemplation, the yays outweighed the nays and I ordered the Leonard Momento Zero Mango fountain pen from Fontoplumo—1.1 mm stub, ruthenium trim. I already have the Blue Hawaii version of the same model and love, love, love that pen so buying this gorgeous orange version was probably inevitable. I went for the ruthenium trim (vs. rubidium) for something a little different. And a stub nib instead of my usual medium. So it’s the same pen, but different.

The pen arrived and is as pretty as I’d hoped, with variegated “strips” of acrylic that give each pen a unique look. On my pen, these range from a bright reddish orange to a darker tortoiseshell orange, from tangerine to peach to the namesake mango. There’s pearlescence and chatoyancy in some of the acrylics, and a more muted look in others. The pen’s a stunner, in my opinion. Absolutely no complaints in the looks department.

The citrusy colors really pop under my desk light.

But all was not well in Nibville. I inked the new arrival with Diamine Blood Orange—a dead-ringer for the stunning red-orange acrylic—then scribbled on some Tomoe River paper. Sometimes the ink flowed and sometimes it didn’t. Ugh. I let it sit. I tried different ink. I tried different paper. All to no avail. Using it for a morning journaling session was a lesson in frustration as the flow stopped and started—stopping mostly on the downstrokes. To complete a word, I sometimes had to trace over the initial stroke two or three times. That’s a very slow way to fill a page.

The problem child

The hard starting problem seemed to stem from the ruthenium coating on the nib, or at least that’s my theory, and I kicked myself for making that choice rather then going with tried-and-true rhodium trim. But the ruthenium looked so cool! What to do? What to do?

I emailed Frank at Fontoplumo to ask for some advice—was there anything I could do to get a more consistent writing experience? He offered that the coating might wear down over time, and I did agree that that was a possibility, but worried that I wouldn’t use the pen enough for that to happen. I thought about just waiting until I could have the nib issue addressed at a pen show—surely an easy fix for a nibmeister—but with the current state of the pandemic, who knows when I’ll get to one of those.

The pen was too new and too pretty to tuck away so I ordered a fine gold-colored Leonardo-branded replacement nib from Goldspot Pens. (I know, I could’ve swapped in any #6 Jowo nib but wanted one that’s branded the same as the pen because that’s how I’m wired.) That nib arrived and is really nice—smooth with spot-on flow. I was now 80% happy, but still wishing for a better ruthenium stub.

A few days later, it dawned on me to reach out to Leonardo via Facebook. (Hey! A good use for Facebook!) Their reply was almost instantaneous, and they asked that I email their nibmeister, which I quickly did—again, politely laying out the issue and asking for advice. Their reply was short and simple—we’ll send you a new nib. The new 1.1 mm ruthenium stub (installed in a new section!) arrived from Italy in mere days and is the epitome of a great writer. Super smooth, lovely flow. All is well. No—all is PERFECT.

Ink: Birmingham Pen Co. Ultramarine

Despite my initial disappointment, I couldn’t be happier with how this played out, and realize that I should’ve thought to contact Leonardo right away. Occasionally this kind of of issue pops up but what separates the great companies from the rest is responsiveness and the desire to make every customer a happy one.

The Leonardo Momento Zero Mango is a fountain pen that makes me feel good every time I pick it up (daily!) not just because of the way it looks and writes, but because of how I was treated—like my satisfaction mattered.

This pen took me on a little nib journey, but in the end I arrived in a very good place—at the crossroads of relief and delight.

Edited to add: After posting this, Frank van Krieken, from Fontoplumo, emailed me to emphasize the fact that he will always work with his customers to make sure that they are satisfied with their purchases, should a problem such as mine pop up.

Where I Write

Credit: Austin Kleon

We recently had a bedroom floor refinished, which meant emptying the room completely. Now that the work is finished, we’re being VERY selective about what goes back into the space. I’ve donated bags of clothes and books that were just taking up space. The whole process was incredibly disruptive—boxes in the dining room, clothes heaped on the couch, our bed in the living room—but making a mess has ultimately made the room a calming refuge without clutter.

This project lit a fire under me to declutter other areas of the house and I’m making gradual, but good, progress. I’ve tackled the “clown car” of a linen closet and the kitchen’s “junk” drawer so far. Much more to go, but I’m on a mission now. None of this takes as long as my brain tells me it will and the mental lightness that results is well worth the effort.

Last Saturday, I noted that my journaling desk needed a good dusting so I took everything off of that with the intent of decluttering the space. But aside from a few extraneous bits of paper and pen storage boxes, I couldn’t do it. Virtually everything I had on the desk went right back on it, because it all means something to me.

There must be coffee.

Maybe eventually I can pare down the things that surround me, but I have enough space to journal and write letters, so I’m in no rush. I love the stuff that surrounds me as I sit here.

Like my set of ACME Crayon pens.

A photo of Shadow, my deloved pet who died in 1999 at age 19. A jar of “lucky stars.” A glass “kiss” from the Chuhily studio gift shop in St. Petersburg, Florida.

A 30-minute hour glass that serves no real purpose except to make me smile. I do typically journal for about an hour every morning—two turns of the hourglass (half hour glass?)—but I don’t really need it to mark the time. I just enjoy the strikingly blue color and watching the sand slip through as the minutes pass. It’s also something of a Momento Mori reminder, a subject that I’ve become interested in of late. (More on that in a future post.)

Prompts for the St. Ignatius Examen—a meditative practice that I’ve been using in my early morning journaling since stumbling upon it this winter. It’s been incredibly helpful when I find myself feeling overwhelmed and floundering.

Inspiring words from Mary Oliver. A favorite pen. A simple but cherished gift from a friend.

To an outsider, my desk may look crowded with stuff, a space ripe for decluttering. But when I look at it, I see inspiration, love, and reminders about what’s truly important.

So while I’m taking great satisfaction in purging the house of the stuff that’s no longer serving me—the linens for beds we don’t own anymore, shirts that don’t fit, books that were just gathering dust—I’m keeping my desk just the way it is.

Minus the dust.

“A Route of Evanescence”

The hummingbirds have returned, but I’ve only been able to catch two fleeting glimpses of them at our feeders before they vanished into the woods, which is why Emily Dickinson’s poem about them rings so true.

I haven’t been able to get her description out of my head ever since I googled “Emily Dickinson” and “hummingbird.” Evanescence, Emerald, Cochineal (which I had to look up to find that it’s an insect from which carmine-colored dye is extracted) perfectly describe these brilliantly-colored birds that seem to evaporate as soon as you lay eyes on them. I would expect nothing less from our brilliant Emily.

Then it dawned on me how her words are also a spot-on description of one of my favorite inks—J. Herbin’s Emerald of Chivor. Emerald, cochineal, with an evanescent shimmer. So hard to capture in photos—both the tiny birds and the ink’s best characteristics. Look one moment and it’s there. Another moment and it’s gone. Fleeting. Dazzling. Always a surprise.

That’s what makes them both so special—the iridescent bird and the sheening/shimmering ink. That Route of Evanescence.

Thank you, Emily. Yet again.

Pen used in this post: Diplomat Aero, bold nib with an Architect grind by The Nibsmith.

Ink Is Everywhere

I’m not talking about the time that I poured ink from an eyedroppered pen onto the carpet, thankfully. (Ink truly WAS everywhere, in a very bad way.) What I mean is that I’m always seeing colors out in the world that would make great fountain pen inks.

I even saw the potential for a super desirable ink in the blue/black paint job (Carbon Black, I believe) on a high-end BMW at a car show. Looking at it from one angle revealed glistening black metallic finish while looking at it from a different angle revealed a deep, deep purpley blue. I probably looked like a weirdo swaying back and forth in front of the car, but I was mesmerized by that paint job because I could envision it as a very cool blue/black sheening ink.

I guess you could say that I’m always wearing ink-colored glasses. Is it just me?

P.S. > If you have suggestions for inks that match any of the colors in these photos, please share! I’m on a quest. A never-ending quest.

The TWSBI Draco: I Had My Doubts

First things first. I have two cats—TWSBI and Edison—the sweetest kitty brothers you ever knew.

That’s TWSBI on the left, Edison on the right

When one names one’s cats after pen companies, there’s a high probability that the cat owner is a fan of said companies. So there’s that.

(Truth be told, I also get a kick out of hearing vets try to work out how to call out TWSBI’s name in the waiting room. This name will never make sense to them, and their butchered attempts always make me snicker. Weird pen humor, I know.)

Pet names aside, when the TWSBI Draco was announced, I had my doubts. Brad and Myke raked the pen over the coals on Episode #453 of the Pen Addict podcast, and their criticisms sounded completely justified. I usually agree with their assessments, so I pretty much wrote the pen off.

Then it was released. And I kind of liked the look of it. But I waited. Mulled it over, as one does. As one should.

Hmmm. What to do? What to do?

At $150—much higher than your typical TWSBI—this wasn’t a purchase to take lightly, but in the end I went for it, because, honestly, I’ve never used a TWSBI that I didn’t love. Even the super-economical TWSBI GO, that I swore I’d never own because of the clunky look of that inelegant spring, has become a favorite. I now have three GOs, in various nib sizes, and they’re all great writers (as well as being SUPER EASY to clean).

I anxiously awaited the arrival of my Draco. Had I made a $150 blunder? <eyes mailbox nervously>

In a week or so my TWSBI Draco arrived, and I immediately inked it up with Organics Studio Emily Dickinson Posey Pink because of the way that ink complements the pink flecks in the very pretty acrylic.

I really do like the look of the pen—the rose gold-plated steel nib and trim against the predominantly deep red acrylic—but it’s those little hints of pink, where you can see some depth, that really made me love this pen.

Speaking of the nib, that’s what really makes or breaks a pen, doesn’t it? Turns out, the bold nib on my Draco absolutely sings. It is very, very smooth. Phew.

That said, would the Draco look better with a more-to-scale #6 nib versus the #5 it’s equipped with? No doubt. Is the $150 price tag too high? Probably. (This is a limited run of 3000 pens worldwide, so I suppose that justifies the un-TWSBI-like price tag.) But I don’t care about either of those criticisms. The pen feels great in my hand as my fingers rest comfortably on the slightly flared grip. The nib makes me happy every time I use it, and the colors in the acrylic give me an opportunity to write with some of my lesser used red and pink inks. (I’m strongly drawn to all kinds of blues, and it takes quite a bit to pull me away from those colors.)

After I drained this decently large capacity piston-filler by journaling with it every morning, I refilled the pen with Iroshizuku Yama Budo—another great match.

Mary Oliver in Yama Budo

This may not be a perfect pen, but it’s a true joy to use. My TWSBI Draco brings me as much joy as hearing the vet try to pronounce “TWSBI.”

High praise, indeed.

“Hey, vet- it’s easy. Just say TWIZ-BEE.”

“You cannot put a Fire out”

Fire wove its way throughout a recent weekend.

Friday night

A horrible multi-family house fire in our small community. Multiple fire departments. Blocked streets. Low water pressure at the hydrants. Prayers for the occupants and first responders.

Saturday

Opening day of artist Richard Friedberg’s “Terrible Beauty” exhibit at our downtown art museum. Fire as sculpture. Mesmerizing. Stunning in subject, scale, and execution.

Fire Storm, 2017 [above and below]
Oil Fire [below]

Sunday

The Season 2 finale of “Dickinson.” Amherst’s beloved church goes up in flames, while two hearts find their way back to each other. Spark. Smolder. Flare. Blaze.

The episode’s poem copied into my Hobonichi with a pen that looks like lava and an ink called Fireopal.

So. Much. Heat.

Forsaking All Others

Every now and then you hit upon a pen and ink combination that makes you want to clean out everything else you have inked. I’m currently obsessed with Birmingham Pen Co. Ultramarine ink in my Karas Kustoms tumbled INK with a medium titanium nib. Oh, my! What a pair!

Ultramarine is a deep, deep blue with a trick up its sleeve.

In the right light—like in the light of my desk lamp—the sheen POPS. Deep dark blue with red sheen? Yes, please.

When the ink arrived, I was mulling over which pen to put it in when I noticed my uninked INK and remembered that I always enjoyed the titanium nib on that pen. It turns out that “enjoyed” is quite the understatement. WOW. It’s smooooooth and springy—truly effortless.

I have ten or so inked pens at the ready, but this combination—along with my homemade cold-brew—is what gets me out of bed at 4:30 am every weekday morning to journal for an hour or so. It’s that good.

I can’t do this nib or ink justice with my simple words and imperfectly lit photos. You have to be there—feeling and watching your handwritten words flow from that nib, pool up on the page, then slowly dry, revealing high sheen in just the right light.

It’s incredibly satisfying to pair the right pen with the right ink purely by chance. This is a simple pleasure that’s difficult to explain and photograph, but you definitely know it when you find it. I think that’s the pen-lover’s quest in a nutshell—pairing a pen and an ink that triggers a “WOW!” every single time the nib touches the page. Pure bliss.

Note: The Karas Kustoms INK fountain pen and Birmingham Pen Co. Ultramarine ink were purchased with my own funds. There are no affiliate links in this post.

Stretching Those Gratitude Muscles

For the past three Fridays, I’ve been taking a “full-body barre” class that my niece is teaching, via Zoom, at my workplace. Woof…it’s TOUGH! Fifty minutes of isometric holds, (allegedly) controlled movements, and core exercises that leave me sore and muttering about the uncooperative state of my 62-year old body. I walk a lot, but this is different. These movements push my muscles to the max and leave them shaking with fatigue. Yet I keep going back for more because I know that stretching these oh-so-tight muscles is good for me—that eventually I’ll get stronger and maybe a little more flexible. And, to be honest, once I get started, I enjoy pushing through physical and mental resistance.

This week, as part of a Lifestyle and Movement Challenge at work, we were asked to try a different type of exercise—to begin or end our day by listing twenty-five things we’re grateful for. “TWENTY-FIVE?!” my brain screamed. I’m used to jotting down a few things every now and then, but twenty-five?! Every day?! This would definitely stretch my gratitude muscles—muscles that I haven’t been flexing strongly enough lately.

On Monday, I squeezed out a random list of things for which I’m grateful. A quick little workout. That felt good and my day went better than your typical Monday. I walked into the work week feeling better prepared to handle whatever the day threw my way. Less like a raw nerve.

On Tuesday, I did the same, and found myself straining a little harder. “Coffee” showed up again. Maybe that’s cheating.

By Wednesday, I decided to try another strategy. Instead of mentally flailing around, I picked a daily theme for my gratitude list. Over the course of the next few days, I focused on journaling about the following:

  • The people for whom I’m grateful. How fortunate I am in this regard.
  • Special places, some of which appear to be quite ordinary at first glance—the wooded trails at work, a local museum, this desk, a warm bed.
  • Difficult experiences that turned out to carry positive gems inside of them. This took some doing—like trying to perform those pretzel-like movements in exercise class.

Whether it’s exercise or some other lifestyle practice, I almost always find myself initially resisting—prone to contemplating the easy way out. I’d rather take an easy walk than do planks. I’d rather read a book than do lunges. I’d rather drink coffee than water. But once I push through that resistance, I feel a little bit stronger, a little bit healthier. And in the case of this week-long, pumped-up gratitude exercise, much more fortunate and hopeful.

It’s never a mistake to flex your muscles—to push beyond what’s comfortable—in both physical exercise and gratitude. It’s been a good week with an abundance of things, people, places, and experiences to be thankful for. (Without this exercise, would I have appreciated them?) I’m glad I dug a little deeper. I’m glad I stretched those gratitude muscles.

Now to keep going. Even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.

And, hey, if you have some ideas for more gratitude themes, send them my way!

_____________

Pens and inks used in this post:

  • Pink: Esterbrook Estie (medium nib) with Organic Studio’s Emily Dickinson
  • Blue: Waterman Phileas (“L” nib) with Monteverde Sapphire
  • Caramel: Diplomat Aero (broad nib) with Monteverde Fireopal

Retreat

This is all of us, isn’t it?

While we’re trying to make the best of things—scribbling about gratitude in our journals, Zooming with friends, family, and co-workers—we’re fraying around the edges. We’re running a 5K that surreptitiously morphed into an Ironman Triathlon for which we have not trained. We’re tired in ways that sleep doesn’t cure—kind of emotionally wrung out. Some of us dream about arguing with crowds of people who refuse to wear masks. Or maybe that’s just me.

When we were kids, my sister got mad about a parentally-imposed restriction, packed a suitcase with Oreos, and ran away to the backyard. I recently did the same. But instead of Oreos, I packed pens. And instead of running into the backyard, I went just a little bit further.

St. Margaret’s House Ecumenical & Retreat Center is less than ten miles from my current home and is just down the road from where I grew up. I knew the home was once the residence for Episcopalian Sisters, but until last summer, I didn’t realize that the building is open to the public—available for use by anyone needing a quiet space to read, meditate, pray, or, in my case, write.

When I found myself with a couple of Fridays off, I knew exactly what I was going to do—run away to St. Margaret’s library with my pens and paper. On the first Friday, I settled into my cushioned chair and wrote a 12-page letter in about three hours. Working in this room warmed by hot-water radiators and surrounded by books, I quickly shed both my sweatshirt and my mental agitation. The housekeeper, vacuuming a faraway hallway, apologized for “the noise.” The staff are friendly, courteous, and very, very quiet, even when they’re vacuuming.

On the second Friday, I spent time updating and reworking my various to-do lists, something I’d ignored for far too long. It took a couple of hours to get things back in order but working in such a peaceful place made me feel invigorated, rather than worn down, by all there is to do on those lists. I’d regained a grip on things, at least for the time being.

Once I finished that work, I started another letter before heading out into the world—this crazy, messed up, beautiful world.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have found this sanctuary, this retreat, this second home. I hope you’re able to find your own quiet place. Running away, if only for a few hours, makes all the difference.

Peace to you, my friends.


For local folks, from St. Margaret’s director: “We know that COVID-19 is still very much active in our area, and around the world. We are open at this time and welcome you to come and find respite here.  It’s still very much necessary to wear your mask, have your temperature taken at the door, answer the all too familiar questions regarding COVID, and to keep your distance while here at the house. But please do come. There’s a special calmness here that is like none other.