Finding Stillness and Embracing Imperfection

I’ve been feeling a little off-kilter for the last few months—maybe since my dad died in January—wallowing a bit and not focusing enough on the things that make me feel like a healthy version of myself. I’ve been drinking more coffee than water, eating whatever (hello, ice cream!), exercising sporadically, and going down online rabbit holes of bad news. So when the Summer 2022 Whole Life Challenge rolled around, I knew that I had to sign up. The Whole Life Challenge is the thing that jumpstarted my wellness journey and always helps me reset my body and mind.

So here I am starting Week #2 and already feel so much better! My clothes fit a little looser, I’m kicking the ice cream habit (yet again), and am once again walking about 2.5 miles every morning. (The birdsong on those walks is a true delight!)

What’s been especially helpful are the weekly well-being practices. Week #1 was a “No News” week. Oh, how I needed that!! The news apps came off of my phone and I walked around the house shouting “NO NEWS!!” if I caught wind of some on the TV. (One does what one has to do.) The only news I took in was via word-of-mouth and, believe me, that’s plenty. Even though I’m now into the second week of the challenge, I’m sticking with this one.

The well-being practice for Week #2 is “Stillness in Daily Life” in which we are to focus on a hobby or activity that we enjoy, for at least ten minutes a day. This is meant as a way to achieve “stillness” without sitting motionless, as in meditation. It’s an attempt to introduce some peace into our noisy and whirling dervish lives. Who couldn’t use that?! Oh-and the best part is YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE GOOD at the activity you choose. The goal is to simply do it.

Journaling would be a good practice, but I already do that every morning so that felt like cheating. And I wanted to try something new, maybe something that I’m kind of bad at but enjoy. Lightbulb moment—I’ll DRAW in my journal. Just as I had that thought, I noticed the little “viewfinder”—the subscriber extra for Blackwing Volume 93—that’s been collecting dust on my desk.

And so my “Stillness” practice was born. I use the viewfinder to draw a small box, then sketch something from my day. Like my breakfast…

Or some flowers from my morning walk…

Tiny flowers in tiny mulch.

What’s cool, is that I’m noticing the little details on my walk rather than focusing on the loop of troublesome thoughts in my head.

AND—I do not have to be good at this. I simply have to do it.

Like the “No News” practice, I plan to keep this one going. Finding stillness and embracing imperfection has become just as important to me as kicking that ice cream habit.

What would you do for your “Stillness” practice?


Updated to add the rest of the week’s “gallery”:

This really has been a blast—much more meditative for me than meditation.

If nothing else, I’m finally getting around to sharpening all of the colored pencils in this box that I’ve had for years, probably decades. (Why rush, eh?)

P.S. Blacktop is really hard to draw. (That’s a leaf in the road, next to the colored pencils. Tough one today!)

Constant Companion: The Write Notepads & Co. Pocket Flip Notebook

Maybe it’s bad form to write about a product that’s no longer available, but I can’t resist jotting down a few thoughts about this diminutive (2-1/4″ x 3-3/4″) Write Notepads & Co. Pocket Flip Notebook because one is ALWAYS with me. The covers and pages are bent and creased, the pages full of scribbled notes in no particular order—messy and random. Like life.

There are comical moments…

Notes for lunchtime walks with a friend…

which sometimes contain little life lessons for myself…

Work reminders made on-the-fly followed by bits of poetry jotted down from a favorite TV show…

So many reminders and moments, fleeting thoughts, and prompts for meandering stories, laughs, and frustrations fill the tiny pages. This is no gorgeous bullet journal, but rather a tiny volume of life’s scraps and curiosities, smudges and scribbles. My days. My treasure.

(I have four left, smartly hoarded. What then?!)

Today I Got To:__________

My dad passed away on January 22nd, and ever since then I feel like I’ve been running on a hamster wheel deciphering confusing mail, filling out inscrutable forms, and settling his financial affairs with an array of agencies, businesses, and people. My lists have sub-lists, an abundance of color-coding, and pages of carefully written explanations of what I’ve done and when I did it. There’s lots of waiting for other people to do things, which they seem to get right about 60% of the time. My brain is a Tilt-A-Whirl of tasks, appointments, and emotions. Wild times.

I bought a 5-Year Hobonichi Journal from Wonder Pens late last year and have have been faithfully jotting down a few lines about each day. For the first month and a half, my entries were simple recaps of my day, trending toward the negative. “Slept badly.” “Work was nuts.” “Cat still sick.” “Dad is failing.” Yeesh. As the entries piled up, I realized that compiling five years of complaints was not how I pictured this project going, but my brain seemed stuck in a “glass half empty” mode.

Until the universe—well, the universe in the form of Johnny Gamber—gave me a way out of the wallowing.

I’m a “Nubbin Stage” supporter of The Erasable Podcast via Patreon, and every so often, the three podcast hosts send little bonuses to us. In February, a sweet pocket notebook printed by Johnny’s Pencil Revolution Press arrived in my beleaguered mailbox. Ahhh, happy mail! While the notebook is great, it’s the list of writing prompts included in the package that’s made all the difference. In particular, Johnny’s prompt (pictured below) flipped my mental switch from the staticky “overwhelmed and anxious” channel to the crystal clear “grateful” channel. Just. Like. That.

Now I write about my lunchtime walks…

and the lazy days…

and letters and cards I’ve written…

and even those pesky appointments that now seem like something to celebrate rather than complain about.

Today I got to: Thank Johnny for his idea—for these four simple words that are helping me find the gems in even the trickiest days. These entries have become a kind of puzzle to solve every evening—looking back through the day to find the goodness, smiles, joy, humor, and connections—all a balm for one’s soul. I honestly can’t wait to see what the next five years bring.

Analog Coping Mechanisms

2022 has been a rough year so far. My 93-year old dad, who lives in a nursing home because of advanced Parkinson’s Disease, tested positive for COVID-19 on January 3rd. I’ll spare you the details but it has been a very tough/distracting/emotional time since then. Yesterday he “graduated” out of the COVID ward and I was finally able to see him in person, but I’m not sure he knew I was there. I like to think he did.

During this time, I’ve craved hibernation and bed, but, of course, one must keep going. But how? I’ll always default to things that keep my mind soothed, simple things that feel good, things that take the edge off, even for a little while.

I’ve been journaling like CRAZY. Lots of pages. Lots of dumping ink and my heart onto the page. Lots of pep talks to myself and to my dad. Conflicting thoughts. Difficult thoughts. Pleas to just stay present and to not play the “what comes next?” game. I’m ripping though ink and journal pages and am proud of myself for showing up every day, though the urge to stay in bed is strong.

And that blue hourglass. Incredibly calming. I don’t know why I bought one, but now I’m glad I did. There’s something soothing about that blue glass and the gently streaming sand. A little reminder that we don’t necessarily have all the time that we think we do.

Sometime last year, I developed the habit of sticking inspiring quotes inside my pocket notebook. I push them along in the notebook as I fill up the pages, then transfer them to the next notebook. They’re starting to lose their stickiness so it’s probably time for a refresh, and maybe some new ones, but, boy, have I been leaning on these lately.

Especially the Rilke one. “Just keep going. No feeling is final.” Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

In my free time, usually in the evening, I’ve been working on a HUGE crossword puzzle that recently came in a special puzzle insert with the local newspaper.

We don’t get the paper, but my mom gave me the section and after I finished the cryptograms (my all-time favorite puzzles), I started tackling the crosswords which are normally not my thing. These particular puzzles are just difficult enough to be challenging but also easy enough to be doable. The perfect balance.

But what I’m REALLY enjoying is the feel of the soft graphite in the Blackwing Vol. 93 Corita Kent pencil on the newsprint. How incredibly satisfying to write an answer in that deep dark print. Soooooooo smoooooooth.

I hope 2022 is treating you well, but if there have been bumps in the road, please know that I am with you in spirit.

“Just keep going. No feeling is final.”

Currently Inked- November 2021

I love reading about what other pen lovers/users are using so why not do the same?

I keep swearing to “thin the herd” of inked pens, and I do have brief cleaning sessions, but then I think of another interesting pen and ink combination to try and I’m right back to where I started. I might as well face the fact that this is a losing battle, or, more accurately, a battle that I have no real interest in fighting.

The current crop...or herd...or whatever
The current crop…or herd…or whatever.

The pen that I reach for more often than not is the Karas Kustoms Ultem Vertex (the first pen on the left). Absolutely LOVE IT!!!! I tried to resist ordering this because the look of the Ultem doesn’t really do that much for me, but I’m so glad I eventually caved and placed my order. A discount code made my upgrade to a medium titanium nib virtually free, which sweetened the deal. Titanium nibs are my favorite, and this one is wet, smooth, and slightly springy. Truly addictive. I have it eyedroppered with Birmingham Pen Co. Electron ink—a bright blue with some red sheen. Gorgeous combo, and a dream to use for journaling and letter writing.

The third pen from the left—a Karas Kustoms INK in tumbled aluminum with another medium titanium nib—gets heavy use as well. This one is repeatedly inked with Birmingham Pen Co. Voltaic Arc—a dark blue with high sheen. (Notice a pattern here?)

The Gravitas Skittles Skull pen is a BEAST. It is HEAVY (74 g capped, 49 g uncapped), but surprisingly usable despite the stunning heft. I have this inked with Waterman Tender Purple, currently one of my favorite purple inks. I’ve started attending “Death Café” meetings (which are much more uplifting than they sound) and this will be the perfect show-and-tell item at a future meeting. Memento Mori in a pen!

The second pen from the left—a Franklin Christoph P45 in the Kaleidoscope acrylic—is a recent addition from their last online pen show. I ordered it with a broad S.I.G nib and inked it with Iroshizuku Yama Budo—a very satisfying combination.

Other current favorites:

  • Moonman C1 perpetually inked with shimmery J. Herbin Kyanite du Nepal
  • Narwhal in Poseidon Blue inked with Birmingham Pen Co. Tesla Coil
  • The TWSBI Draco inked with Diamine Writer’s Blood (with an amazingly smooth bold nib)
  • A couple of Levenger True Writers—Kyoto inked with Papier Plume’s Café Diabolique and the Sea Glass inked with Birmingham Pen Co. Black Olive (pretty sure)
  • Spoke Design Icon inked with Birmingham Pen Co. Jade Inferno
  • Lamy Safari with Sailor Jentle Grenade
  • Franklin-Christoph Model 31 with Waterman Tender Purple
  • TWSBI Swipe with Birmingham Pen Co. Electron

These are a few of my favorite, and currently inked, things.

Write ’em dry!

A Scary Project

Just in time for the full moon and Halloween, when ghouls and ghosts rule our neighborhoods. Mostly inflatable, but still.

What I’m working on, though, will take weeks—probably months—to chip away at this overwhelming project.

I happened to have a work meeting yesterday with someone who suffered a serious house fire a couple of years ago. Fortunately everyone got out safely, but the house and contents were a total loss. As we wrapped up our meeting, he mentioned how he’s still trying to put together, from memory, an accounting of all that they lost to keep the insurance piece moving forward. That triggered the thought that I should proactively assemble that kind of inventory. And then I thought of the horror of trying to remember what pens I own, and providing proof of ownership. YIKES!!

So this morning I began compiling a pen inventory, starting with a single pen case, while trying to track down receipts at the same time. (My husband helpfully suggested that it would’ve been good if I’d done this as I acquired the pens and now he’s buried in the backyard.) Let me tell you, it’s slow going, but I pledge to carry on. My co-worker said that receipts aren’t necessarily required, but if I have them, I might as well organize them in one place.

Then I’ll take pictures of the rest of the house so that I can recall and prove all that we own. Just in case.

But a fire isn’t the only reason to keep such a log. I also worry about when I’ve—shall we say—”moved on.”

Will a niece or nephew hold a garage sale and sell off my collection at $5 a pen? Or less? Gives me chills thinking about it. This record will at least offer some guidance to whoever manages our affairs. Cheery today, aren’t I? (Part of my newfound Memento Mori practice, I guess.)

Another scary piece—maybe the scariest piece—is watching the dollar tally tick upwards on the spreadsheet. This, I’ll admit, is a huge part of why I never attempted this project before. I simply don’t want to know how much I’ve spent on pens.

I’ve only gotten through half of this case so far. There are many more pens to log, but winter is long and cold and will be here soon. This is the perfect indoor project. Even though the whole thing gives me goosebumps thinking about how much time this will take, I feel better having started, and have mentally settled in for the long haul.

Feel the fear. Do it anyway. Or something like that.

(Have you done this? How did it go?)

A Social Media Upgrade

Last Saturday I started another 6-week session of the Whole Life Challenge. After a summer of indulgences and some wallowing, I sorely need this. And once my mental switch flips on, I’m all in—cooking better and more interesting food, making a conscious effort to drink more water than coffee, getting to bed in time to get at least a full seven hours, and taking that early morning walk no matter what. I feel so much better, mentally and physically, when I do these things that I don’t understand why I sometimes slide back into mindless habits.

ANYWAY—last week’s Well-Being Practice was to be more intentional about social media. Not to necessarily force yourself to block it out completely, but to tuck away or delete the apps that make accessing them reflexive and habitual. Except for posting a few “happy birthday” greetings on Facebook, I did stay away—even from my beloved Instagram. Did I (do I) feel like I’m missing out? A little bit. But I also feel much more focused and present. Not tuning out difficult moments and feelings. Riding them out instead.

I also decided, early on, to send more postcards, notes, and letters. In the time it takes to scroll through a Twitter or Facebook feed, I can write a paragraph or two. Boom. Done. A little piece of mail is on its way to a friend.

Even though we’re onto a new Well-Being Practice this week (“Quit the Unquittable” — I’m extending my hiatus from the news that I instituted on my own last week), I’m going to continue this social media upgrade. Pens, paper, stamps, a letter’s journey from here to there.

I love sending mail as much I as I love receiving it. And, boy, do I feel better.

Johnny Gamber, of Pencil Revolution and the Erasable podcast, makes some of my favorite postcards. Visit his etsy shop for these, as well as his always-entertaining zines and original notebooks.

Oh, and I’m back to making my own envelopes, too.

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.