Have you moved into your notebook?

I learned something important with my current notebook a while ago, and it took me a surprisingly long time to do it.

So I’d switched to this blank notebook back last March – nearly a year ago. By all rational measure the book should be a good fit, except a lack of dot grid. Right size, lots of pages, good paper, sturdy, etc. But I had a really hard time getting into it. It just didn’t feel right. The paper seemed odd, and too white. I started to think about leaving the book – about abandoning it and going to another book.

The thing is, I hadn’t really moved into the book, and that’s why it felt wrong.

In the back of each notebook I keep a growing set of lists. At the moment they are: Things I want to buy, Things I want to do when I get thinner, and Business/web ideas.

These aren’t really important lists, except they keep me from wasting time and money. The things I want to buy list lets me satisfy impulsive urges to buy little things by writing them down. I’ve learned that many small purchases that seemed so urgent one day, seemed downright silly the next and were a source of buyer’s remorse. The list helps me not to buy things I really don’t want.

Things I want to do when I get thing provides a little motivation to diet, but I’m not really a bucket list kind of person. Business ideas just provides a good place to record these things where they’ll be easy to find later, and gives me a little satisfaction when I see a new website, and confirm that I’d thought of it long ago.

So in my current book I didn’t write these lists right away. I just didn’t, no reason.

One day I went to look for something I’d wanted to buy and realized I didn’t have the list. So I started a new one. Later I wanted to find a website I had an idea for, and again, no list. I copied it over.

The book felt at home. Not only did it feel like home, I suddenly looked at the meager stack of pages I had left and started to worry about filling it up too soon! The paper suddenly felt good, and I enjoyed using it. Amazing.

What I’d learned was that I had to move into a book before I would feel at home.

Feathering isn’t always bad

Today I’m enjoying a (small) bit of feathering on the paper. A quick look at any pen forum thread about paper will reveal that most writers would rather eat worms than use paper that feathers. Ok, maybe not worms, but you get the idea.

Normally that would be me as well, but not today.

I’m into absorbent paper today. Perhaps it’s residual guilt about how much ink I’ve bought or own (not particularly a lot) and the ink consumption of the paper, or perhaps it’s because the Noodler’s black I’m writing with is sitting on top of the paper in my work notebook like oil – smudging even days later – because the pen I’m using is a bit wet.

Absorbent paper makes for a thick, fast drying line. Often this is an unpleasant experience but sometimes if the paper is not too bad and the ink & pen work together the pen flies and I’m satisfied in a way that normally takes a 4B pencil. Like spray painting. Bold, sloppy, and stylish. Fast but legible, barely. Like a never ending signature. Bring on the ink & ideas, and I’ll figure out how to read it later!

Ever felt that way?

Strathmore Writing – Awesome Paper

Anyone who uses fountain pens knows that paper varies widely in quality. These days the most important quality of any paper bought by an average office is cost. Writeability, feel, and durability just don’t matter. The result is paper that works just well enough to get the job done, but there’s not much pleasure there.

I’ve tried quite a few different papers, and there are a lot of papers that excel at one purpose or another, but fall short in another area. There is one paper I’ve found that is excellent regardless what I’m writing with, and is available in reams. Strathmore Writing can be had in a few different colors, weights and finishes.

While I bounce back and forth between paper and software for organizing my work, I tend to to use paper for ideation, taking notes, and the like, so I have a pile of paper in my desk at home, also at work. I also use it for stationery, as they sell matching envelopes.

It’s not as smooth as Clairfontaine, or Tomoe River, but I like a little texture. In the heavier weights it will easily take fountain pen ink without bleed and not much show through. The 20lb I’ve started buying never bleeds, but it’s about as transparent as regular office paper. What I like is how the surface takes ink, and the feel.

If you’re looking for some decent, reasonably priced desk paper, give Strathmore Writing a try. If you’d like a sample, write to me using the address in the About page, and I’ll send a few sheets.

You can get it at http://www.papermillstore.com, amazon.com, and other places I’m sure.

Is Your Journal Happy?

I’ve noticed over time that each journal has it’s own personality. It’s impossible to doodle on most computers, and certainly an iPad isn’t going to retain the ring from the coffee cup you set on the page in that Parisian cafe. The different ink colors from different pens I end up using are another reminder of the time and place. When a journal is full, it feels like an accomplishment, but it’s also sad. I’ve actually mourned a few notebooks, which were very good companions for a time.

With some notebooks I look back through them I feel so impressed with myself and what I put in them. Those are the happy journals. The book looks happy. It makes me happy to read it.

Others seem empty by comparison. They’re drab, boring. The journal is sad, or at least bored. It makes me think about how I was during the better time – what made it better? How do I get back there?

Sketching makes for a happier journal.

I think the amount of sketching and drawing I do makes the difference. Even the worst sketch brightens the page. I have one page where we were in St. Augustine Florida, at a cafe getting ready to have lunch. I tried to start a sketch of Susan holding our daughter Riley. It’s half a step above stick figures, and neither of them are even close to identifiable. But when I see it I remember that day, the place and what it was like.

Other sketches turned out to be purely functional, like the sketch of battery cables on the same trip. My brother in law was trying to charge the batteries in my father in law’s golf cart, and had to remove some of them and we needed to make sure we got it back together right. Again, it’s ugly, and really just served a purpose, but now it’s a nice part of the tableau.

Sketching is hard because I always hate it when I’m done. I hate it even more when I’m doing it. It’s never quite right, and if I’m using pencil I would end up erasing a hole in the page if I corrected myself until I was happy. I supposed that would be a great way to get better, but I don’t have the patience for it. Instead I do the best I can, grit my teeth, and either get bored making that picture or decide it’s unreclaimable and move on.

Usually I come back to it half an hour later and am pleased. Pretty funny, no?

There are times when I do enjoy sketching. I find myself drawing without thinking about it much, and those are usually the better ones. But while a good sketch is better than a bad one, a bad one is better than none at all.

I have some notebooks where I haven’t drawn much. Compared to those with sketches they seem cold, barren, and boring.

Purposeful writing

Sometimes I just want to write. What mean is, sometimes I want to use a pen on paper. So I write a lot of drivel – switching inks, switching pencil grades, whatever. Sometimes I write a lot of bah about should I do this or that or whatever. It’s filler. I’m doing it because I crave the act of using a writing instrument, but I don’t really have a purpose. This crap makes journals unhappy.

Ideas, plans, narrative about my life or my kids or travels or whatever has some purpose. This is useful stuff. It makes the journal happy.

I need to make my journal happy

My current book, for instance, is full of writing. No sketches. Ok, maybe a couple, but not many. And the writing isn’t of great ideas, or revelations, or even a nice narrative of what i’m doing. It’s meta journaling – writing about writing, or do I really like this book or not kind of drivel. The journal is unhappy, and I need to fix that.

How about your journal? Is it happy?

TWSBI talked me out of a Pelikan

Saturday I decided to do a little shopping. It seems January is always the month of art for my, and it usually lasts into the late spring. this is the time of year where I get into music, drawing, letters, or similar stuff. If I’m going to switch from ballpoint back to fountain pens, it’s the time for it to happen. For whatever reason last year was a bust, but I digress.

So I went Artist & Display, a nice local art shop, whose shelves where unfortunately still bare from Holiday shopping, for some watercolor stuff. A bust.

On to Daly’s Pen Shop. I tend to forget they are there, but after receiving an email from them saying they now carried TWSBI, and since my first TWSBI showed up that same day from Goulet Pens, I was on the hunt for an additional Diamond 580 in fine.

The fountain pens that I’ve ended up relying on have all been German piston fillers, Pelikan and Lamy. They’re very reliable. You can stick them in a drawer for a year and they’ll still write. They hold enough ink that you can actually take them on a trip without bringing a bottle with you. But both tend to be broad. Pelikan does have some understanding of the word fine, but Lamy’s version of extra fine could still be used to put a centerline on a highway. I know the Germans have always favored wide nibs. I figure their interpretation of nib size is related to their autobahns, bier steins, and sausages – all are wonderfully excessive and a joy at times, but not for every day. I decided that I wanted to get a fountain pen that was basically a Pelikan, but with a Namiki medium nib. Maybe also something narrower for drawing.

I had been looking at shelling out some big bucks for a gold nib for my M200, or perhaps even springing for an M600. I’d been hesitating because I was worried that the nib would still be too broad, and I’d either have to grind it myself or pay someone else to do it. I’d considered that the minimum price for a piston fill pen with the nib I wanted, and the question was whether I wanted to pay it. Then I saw the TWSBI Diamond 580 for fifty bucks at Goulet Pens, and, well, it was worth a shot.

I’d settled on the TWSBI Diamond 580 and it shows up and I unwrap it expecting another no-name-plain-jane steel nib pen with a shluffy body from an eastern factory. The packaging was better than expected and the instructions caught me with their completeness. What’s this? A fountain pen company acknowledging their pen can be disassembled? Even suggesting that it should be from time to time?

It took me a while to figure out how to lube the piston on my M800 when it got sticky a while back. I had the silicone grease, but without some clear understanding of the inner workings I wasn’t going to disassemble it. I know I could have spent some time researching to learn how, but not being interested an getting an ad-hoc degree in Pelikanology at that moment, I went in through the other end with a q-tip and got the job done. However I felt a bit like the loser guy changing the oil on his Ferrari himself but who, lacking the correct spanner, ends up using a Vice-Grips.

TWSBI not only shows how to do it but provides not only the tool required but the (*$^&^*@ silicone grease. With the pen! Not even in a separate $14.95 repair kit. For FREE. The Engineer in me swoons.

Ok, steel nibs aren’t as smooth as gold, but this is smooth enough and few minutes with some chromium oxide made it smoother. And for the price of an M600 I can afford to buy a TWSBI in just about every nib offered.

The pen feels solid, writes well, and holds enough ink to be a faithful sidekick. Plus, I can see how much ink is left. Sold. So off to Daly’s for another one in fine.

I know I’m pretty late to the party on TWSBI. I’d seen the mentions on the other blogs (I’ve been away, but not THAT far away 😉 but hadn’t paid much mind. All I can say is wow – the price of entry of a good high-use fountain pen has dropped a bunch.

Meanwhile, Pelikan is as expensive as ever and still very stylish, but one knows that if their pen shows up with a bad nib (assuming they didn’t buy it from a nib-miester) you’re in for a bit of a saga getting it fixed. Pelikan has evidently assumed that no one writes with their pens, or that the pens are all sold by folks who can make them work. It’s the old model, and it’s failing.