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.

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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!