New and Improved Mary: What Pens and the Pen Community Have Given Me

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A few weekends ago, I attended my 40th high school reunion. Forty years?! In one way, that amount of time seems to have zipped by, but in another, high school feels like it happened many lifetimes ago. These are the kind of events that make you pause, take stock, and look at where you’re been versus where you are now.

As I did that kind of thinking—comparing high school Mary to 58-year old Mary—I realized how much my love of pens, and my involvement in the pen community, have formed who I am. How much they’ve been a factor in creating a new and improved Mary.

Pens have given me…

Community: High school wasn’t awful (except for gym class, and my nemesis, the uneven parallel bars), but I spent so much time feeling odd and uncomfortable. I had a few friends—some good friends—but always felt like I was on the fringe of the high school “scene.” Probably because I WAS on the fringe. Except for the brave few, high school didn’t seem like the best place to step out as an individual. I slunk through the halls, hunkered down with books, and kept a low profile. My personality was decidedly beige.

The spark of a love of pens ignited in junior high when I would save up and spend my lunch money on those awful 4-color Bics at the school’s bookstore. But surely this was just MY thing. It was certainly nothing that anyone else cared about, my 7th grade self thought.

Fast forward a handful of decades to the day I found Brad’s “The Pen Addict” blog, and suddenly I felt so much of that lingering weirdness lift off of my shoulders. I loved this thing and other people did, too. Hey, we can all be weird together! (Yeah, I know- I sound like Herbie from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”: “Let’s be independent together!”) I felt like I’d found a home.

Ana and Brad

Something to write about: When we were assigned “compositions” in school, others groaned, while my heart did a little leap. I’ve always loved to write. I wrote poetry in college as a diversion from all of that science. But post-college, I wrote in fits and starts. Occasionally I’d take a writing class and come away pleased with what I produced for assignments, but once the pressure of a class was lifted, I’d stop.

I kicked around a few blog ideas, scribbled sparse entries into a journal, then tucked everything away. I couldn’t sustain a blog or a journal. I loved pens but wasn’t using them.

Once I found the pen community, all of that changed. I wrote my first “From the Pen Cup” blog post on January 1st, 2012, and have been writing ever since. My output has slowed a bit of late as family (hi, elderly parents!) and work/life obligations ramp up, but I’ll always be here, writing when I can.

Again, I have to credit Brad for leading the way. Who knew that writing about pens was a thing? Well, Brad did. And now there are so many people who inspire and delight me with their posts about pens, ink, art, paper, pencils, and handwriting. The pen world is rich, diverse, and welcoming. There’s room for everyone’s particular passion. We celebrate and lift each other up by reading and commenting and sharing.

At first I aspired to model my reviews on Brad’s example, but then realized that his voice was not my voice. That I had to tell my own stories. And that’s where my passion lies—in finding the story that a pen or stationary product tells, and telling it well. I love writing so I would do so even if I had zero readers, but I’m thrilled that people continue to show up. The fact that I can put my thoughts out there and have others enjoy what I write is a little miracle that I do not take for granted.

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As for the sputtering journaling, that’s a thing of the past, too. Since June 2016, I’ve been journaling first thing almost every morning. About nothing and about everything. I fill pages and whole journals with ideas and thoughts and emotions. God, that feels good.

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The inaugural GNYPIG meet-up

Something to talk about: I’m a card-carrying introvert. Though I’ll talk the ear off of a close friend, I tend to clam up around strangers. Attending pen shows and pen group meet-ups has gone a LONG way in helping me open up around people I’ve never met. Where there are pens, there are friends. We share one common love—the love of stationery—and that’s a force that’s stronger than introversion. In the pen show world, conversation is easy, laughter and genuine love flow. It’s really something to see and experience.

This “talking to strangers” skill has helped me in life outside of pen shows. I’m more likely to strike up a conversation with a total stranger—crack a joke, tell a story, offer some kind words. And you know what? I don’t die.

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A not-so-great photo of great friends

A network of friends: Online pen friends often turn into real life friends, and those bonds go much deeper than pens. When we’re not together in person (which is most of the time), we write letters full of day-to-day news, send emails back and forth, and interact on social media. The friends I’ve met because of pens are, despite the geographical distance between us, very close and very important. I love and need you guys.

Brad's note

Support during a tough time: Anyone who’s been on the receiving end of a shocking diagnosis knows how disorienting the experience is. It’s easy to spin off into a negative orbit, where your world suddenly seems full of worst case scenarios and dead ends. It’s easy to feel alone, even as life continues to swirl all around you. When I wrote about my MS diagnosis in 2015, I did so to get it out of my system, because, honestly, I didn’t know what else to do. After I wrote that post, I received so many good wishes, letters, cards, and heartfelt gifts—many from complete strangers—that my flagging spirit soared. Then that Nakaya, and Brad’s letter, arrived and I cried. In that moment I realized that I could face whatever I had to face because I was buoyed up by all of you. I’ll never forget your kindnesses, and how comforted they made me feel. Inspired by your generosity, I’ve also vowed to give back when and where I can, even if it’s a simple note to someone going through their own trial. I learned to never underestimate the power of the written word.

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Inspiring words by Leigh Reyes

As for the MS, I’m doing well—exercising regularly with weights and even running a little—thanks to a friend/gym partner who pushes me in the best way possible. My latest MRI showed that my lesions are stable (and maybe even improving), and I feel good most of the time. I’m no longer plagued by the fear of what lies down the road, and in many ways, I’m stronger than I was before the diagnosis. Maybe this thing is it’s own gift.

Pens have been a constant throughout my 58 years, from those crappy 4-color Bics in junior high to the super-smooth Sailor 1911 Fresca I bought a few weeks ago. I love how they feel in my hand, how wet ink looks and sheens, how the jumble of thoughts in my head find order on the pages of my journal. I love pens for so many reasons, but mostly because they’ve brought me to you—the pen community.

At that high school reunion, one of my classmates noted that I seemed happier and more confident, and she’s right. I’m new, I’m improved, and much of that growth is because of you. You’ve given me friendship and support and a place to tell my stories.

For all of that, I thank you with my whole heart.

Mary

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2014 Wrap-Up: The Feelings

Simple tree
Simple tree

I had planned to get a post up last week, but then I caught a cold (unexpected) and Christmas arrived (expected). One thing was fun, the other not so much. Slowly coming out of my sinus miseries and low-key Christmas celebrations to think about getting things back to normal. Well, normalish.

Baking cookies
Baking molasses cookies. Or as I call them, mole asses cookies.

I’m off from work for most of the week— just have to pop in on Friday for a little while— so every day feels like Saturday lately. Which is what I imagine heaven feels like.

Christmas colored Retro 51s
My festive Retro 51s

A couple of feelings routinely kick in this time of year, as one year ends and the other begins. The first is gratitude. Thanks for all of the good stuff and good people that I’ve encountered in the last year, much of it related to pens (and paper and ink and pencils) and the pen/pencil communities. These are the places where I feel most comfortable, where my introverted tendencies vanish, where I have a blast.

The Retrakt
Karas Kustoms Retrakt

Though not a complete list by any means, these are just some of the people and places who made 2014 a memorable year:

Podcasts/Videocasts
The Pen Addict with Brad and Myke (responsible for oh so many pen purchases and for an always entertaining commute)
The Erasable Podcast with Andy, Johnny, and Tim (Who would’ve thought I’d listen to a show about pencils? I do, and I love it.)
Anderson Pens (Oh, that chat! It’s like meeting with friends every time I tune in.)
SBREBrown & Gourmet Pens & the “I won’t be ignored” kitty (Great information with great humor. You guys rock.)

Pen, pencil, ink, notebook, and storage vendors
Anderson Pens
Dudek Modern Goods
Edison Pen Co.
Field Notes
Fontoplumo
The Goulet Pen Co.
JetPens
Karas Kustoms
Levenger
Nock Co.
Pen Chalet
The Pen Company
Retro 1951
Write Notepads & Co.

Thanks to some for supplying review items, to others for great customer service, and to all for great products and that extra-special personal touch.

My nib guy
Dan Smith @fpgeeks

Thanks for making less than stellar pens remarkable, quickly and affordably. Great work!

Penpals
Tracy Lee
Michelle

Thank you for understanding when I TAKE SO LONG TO REPLY. Your letters and cool envelopes are a source of delight in my mailbox. So glad we’re getting to know each other better while using our pens and inks.

Bloggers, Tweeters, Facebookers
I won’t name names because I’ll leave someone out then feel bad, but you all entertain and educate me, amuse and enlighten. This is the BEST community.

Best hotel
The Sheraton at Tysons Corner for returning my “left behind” Akkerman ink after the DC Pen Show. Amazing customer service. So grateful.

Pencils at the ready
Pencil line-up

The other feeling that kicks in this time of year is “fresh start.” Old year out, new year in. Time to purge, reorganize, and start with a blank(ish) slate. Fred and I regularly purge and straighten out our pantry during our break between Christmas and New Year’s. Annual ritual. Afterwards, we vow to use what we have on hand before adding more stuff to the cupboards.

Conklin Stylograph
Conklin Stylograph (to be reviewed)

In that same vein, I plan to make 2015 a year where I buckle down and USE my pens, pencils, papers, and inks— switching my focus from acquisition to using. When you have a Staples Printer Paper box full of empty notebooks, it might be time to stop buying notebooks and start writing in them. Like every day. Don’t get me wrong, I use my stuff but I need to REALLY use my stuff. There’s plenty here to be written in and written with, plenty to be reviewed, plenty to have fun with. Plenty.

Machined goodness
Machined favorites

So I’m closing out 2014 and starting 2015 feeling grateful and blessed. And you— all of you— are the reason.

Peace and good health to you all.

Write Notepads & Co.
Write Notepads & Co. loot

Community

When I won the stunning white Delta Fusion 82 in Leigh Reyes’s “Pens For Aid” online auction to benefit Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda victims, I won much more than a beautiful pen.

Leigh included an assortment of her own goodies, along with the pen, as her way of saying “thank you.” The notebooks, nibs, and case are very cool, but what I appreciate most is her original artwork- especially the piece that proclaims “You are stronger than you can imagine.”

Extra goodies

Nibbage!

It’s been a trying week— a difficult week— and it’s only Wednesday. Yesterday afternoon I was present while one of my beloved 14-year old kitties was put to sleep. It was horrible— as these things always are— but sweet Sophie and I both knew that it was time. And now, a day later, we’re both in a better place.

As I’ve stepped away from the raw awfulness of that experience, Leigh’s artful, colorful, and inspiring words have been looping through my head.

“You are stronger than you can imagine.”

"You are stronger..."

I guess I am. And so are you. And so are we.

The pen community— our pen community— never ceases to amaze me for the way we encourage, entertain, care for, and comfort each other.

Pens are great, but pen people are greater.

With deep appreciation, to Leigh, and to all of you.

Mary