Today I attended a Traveler’s Notebook meetup at Oblation Papers and Press, Portland’s premiere paper boutique and letterpress studio, and one of my favorite places on Earth.
I bought my first Traveler’s Notebook in May 2010. The first words I wrote in it were, “I know, I know – a new notebook, really?” Yes, really, self. And look at me, eight years later, meeting other people who probably wrote similar sentences in their own similar notebooks.
The future, despite the decidedly dystopian trajectory, can still contain glorious moments of geekery.
A certain giddiness engulfs the soul when surrounded by people who express their creativity with the same tools. I get this feeling in a posse of writers and I got the same feeling today. Our host, Kelly, exuded delight as she remarked on the fascinating ways in which each of us had customized our notebooks. I brought some journaling supplies to share and inked some fountain pens too, but I needn’t have over-prepared because Oblation provided inks to try with dip pens, stamps and ink pads, washi tape, stickers, and goodie bags containing paper samples and other ephemera.
And so our version of a group photo contains zero people. Or does it? Here we are: our notebooks as our avatars, blank canvases turned into journals, into sketchbooks, into planners, into endless possibilities.
Tonight I turned the page to peek at 2017. It looks so clean and new from here. I am sure 2016 looked much the same, last December 28th. Is it foolish to look forward to a symbolic fresh start? Are these merely the first few hours of our darker days?
Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: Carrie Fisher being interviewed in 1977 about “Star Wars”. In French. She really was awesome.
Here is my first Kaweco, a Liliput Fireblue, which is one of the smallest fountain pens – less than four inches long when capped! Each pen is hand-torched by Kaweco CEO Michael Gutberlet to give it the distinctively mottled steel finish. I’m looking forward to putting it through its paces in future ink tests!
A friend asked if I would write some lines of poetry in Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-Jaku fountain pen ink but I need to break out the dSLR to capture the shading. Not tonight! Too sleepy.
Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: an episode of “Take My Wife”.
Some people unwind after a long workday with a martini. I refill fountain pens.
Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: the rain.
I was thumbing through this fun book my dad sent called “Let’s Bring Back: The Lost Language Edition” and found this phrase. It is meant to be soothing but it sounds pretty ominous too. (Bonus failed Uncial in the corner.)
Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: nothing in particular. Must be time for sleep.
The Chicago Cubs won the World Series! Somehow this “Westworld” quote seemed appropriate.
Practicing my wonky g’s with some Pelikan Edelstein Amethyst in my Conklin All-American.
Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: November rain. Not the GnR song.
The weekend is nearly over, so it must be time to play with some ink. De Atramentis Charles Dickens is a greenish gray (the bottle says “cement grey”) with excellent shading.
Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: “Little River” by Loamlands.
I’ve introduced FunkyPlaid to “Detectorists” and I’m enjoying it even more the second time around.
Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: that great theme song again.
I love my notebook, but on days like today I worry that my analog to-do list isn’t capable of handling everything I throw at it. Occasionally I flirt with a digital task manager …
And then I think of all of the ink I’d be missing out on.
Writing from: my study in Portland. Listening to: FunkyPlaid watching NFL.
I managed a little hand-lettering practice before bed tonight. Cristina Vanko’s “Hand-Lettering for Everyone” is great stuff, especially for the typography basics.
Writing from: my study in Portland. Listening to: the freight trains.
My mom brought me a couple of old fountain pens that she found in her rummage sale and antique shop adventures in Chicago. One is a white Sheaffer with a medium steel nib in great condition, and the other I am still trying to identify. If it weren’t so hot I would take the time to photograph it properly. Maybe tomorrow when this heat wave will supposedly break.
I’m thrilled with the white Sheaffer, which only required a bit of cleaning to bring it to working condition. It has an unfussy nib that starts true every time, making it a daily carry that I can easily pass along to someone who expresses an interest in fountain pens.
The other pen is prettier but needs work. I haven’t done more than minor adjustments on a nib before, or replaced an ink sac, and this requires both. But it seems like a fun challenge!
Writing from: the game room. Listening to: my finger pads on the tablet screen.
This nasty little cold is all-consuming so all I’ve got today is doodling of a line from the musical “Hamilton” that I have been enamored with since last October.
Writing from: my study. Listening to: I bet you can guess.
I don’t do diets. Not being able to eat gluten is enough of a restriction for me, and I think that non-medically-mandated diets can encourage problematic relationships with food. I do, however, fully support reasonable guidelines for healthy eating. I first discovered Alton Brown’s four-list method about a year ago, and since then I have used Evernote to track my own progress with it. Today I decided to switch to a page in my Bullet Journal. I’m still fiddling with the layout but nothing beats pretty ink on nice paper.
Maybe the orange ink will encourage me to eat more carrots. I can’t believe I haven’t eaten a single carrot all week!
Writing from: my study. Listening to: snippets of recorded voices in FunkyPlaid’s study. I heard the word “libraries” …
We all have those days. You know the kind. The emotional hits start and they keep on coming. That’s when I turn to Jack’s mantra from “Croupier”, a favorite film of mine. And some pretty ink the color of well-loved blue jeans doesn’t hurt at all.
Writing from: my makeshift study in the dining-room. Listening to: “Your Best American Girl” by Mitski.
We had a thought-provoking discussion with friends over dinner tonight. During a lull in the conversation, I glanced over at the server’s workstation and saw an Alan Watts quotation on it.
It reminded me of my favorite Alan Watts quotation, so I decided to practice printing a bit.
Writing from: my makeshift study in the dining-room. Listening to: Maxine, who has an appointment with the refrigerator doctor tomorrow. Her buzzing days are numbered!
Because the Pilot VP medium nib doesn’t put as much ink on the page as the fine nib on the Pelikan M320 does, the shading is more subtle. I’m enjoying how deep the orange gets with the Pelikan, though. Plus the colors of the pen itself fit more with the “sunset” theme.
Writing from: my makeshift study in the dining-room. Listening to: Maxine the refrigerator buzz and chug.
It was a long, dark time with only one bottle of ink, but I now have another one that brightens things up considerably: Noodler’s Apache Sunset. I’ve been interested in this ink for a while, and after seeing it perform in Brian Goulet’s review of his top seven shading inks I decided I’d shove myself out of my comfort zone enough to try an orange ink.
Apache Sunset does not disappoint. It has a crazy amount of shading, even with a fine nib, from pale gold to vermilion. And this is on a Rhodia No. 16 6 x 8 1⁄4″ Spiral Dot Grid notepad. Things get even wackier on Tomoe River paper, but that will have to wait for a proper ink review.
Writing from: a quiet room in Marin. Listening to: the rattle of a floor register. (Zen guards the heat greedily.)
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The day I feared has arrived: one of the three fountain pens I filled right before Day 20 ran out of ink. (This photo-a-day project is handy because now I know how much ink my Conklin All-American holds, in days, which is more useful to me than milliliters.)
Luckily for me, I married a man who stashes ink in other countries.
Kind friends gave us a bottle of J. Herbin’s Emerald of Chivor, one of their 1670 Anniversary inks renowned for its crazy sheen. I did my best with a Rhodia No. 16 6 x 8 1⁄4″ Spiral Dot Grid notepad, some amateurish calligraphy, and the camera on my phone, but you should see a master in action.
Not much cheers me up faster than writing with a nice pen filled with beautiful ink.
Writing from: a quiet home in Marin. Listening to: Zen “zip-lining” (what we call her tiny squeezebox snores).
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Today I missed a few opportunities for interesting photos: the view of Mount Tamalpais from my in-laws’ home, the all-but-deserted mall where FunkyPlaid and I got SIM cards for our phones, the tiny gopher nosing around the sunny back garden.
And now I feel like I am coming down with a cold, so I thought it would be a perfect time to crack open the Rhodia No. 16 6 x 8 1⁄4″ Spiral Dot Grid notepad that I won in a Rhodia Drive giveaway sometime last year. I’m using it to practice some lettering with my Conklin All-American. Rhodia paper loves fountain pen ink, and this snippet really shows off some of the remarkable shading of Diamine Ancient Copper.
Yep, that’s about all I have the energy for tonight. Now to sleep this proto-cold off …
Writing from: a quiet home in Marin. Listening to: vague sounds from a television somewhere else in the house.
One of the toughest parts of an international move is deciding what to store and what to keep handy. For the past few weeks I have been auditioning my pens for the coveted top-three spots and I think I have it narrowed down to the following (pictured from bottom to top):
But as soon as I decided on these three, I picked up my Cross Beverly, my Pilot Metropolitan, and my Esterbrook Dollar Pen. And what about my Pelikans? And which ink should I bring?
I have less than week to figure this out. And, you know, to finish packing up everything else.
Writing from: an anxious lounge in Edinburgh. Listening to: “Music for Pieces of Wood” by Smoke and Mirrors Percussion Ensemble.
“If I waited for perfection, I’d never write a word.” –Margaret Atwood
Often I want to say something important in the perfect way, so I keep putting it off until I figure out the perfect way. If the perfect way never occurs to me, I never say the important thing.
The point is to say the thing because there will never be a perfect way. (Thanks, Ms. Atwood.)
So here’s the thing: in January, we are leaving Scotland to move back to the States. After getting our bearings in the San Francisco Bay Area we will likely end up in Portland, Oregon.
I have approximately thirty-seven different feelings about this move. On the whole, I think it will be the best thing for us. But Scotland has been home for four years, and there is so much I love about it, hence my wish for perfection in relating the news.
But it is better to say the thing. We’ll go from here.
FunkyPlaid will be in the States to navigate the store through the holiday season again, so I will have one last solo Christmas in Edinburgh. It will be more bittersweet this time than ever, but I am determined not to spend all of it feeling sorry for myself (or packing, even though there will be plenty of that). Plus, my favourite shark will be visiting for part of December, and I can’t wait to show her around this wonderful place.
I fear there will be no more JDB1745 updates until life evens out sometime early next year. However, FunkyPlaid’s thesis is complete! His viva voce (thesis defense) isn’t until January, though, so no calling him Doc Plaid yet.
Sunday is my last day of work at the weekend gig. Tough to believe that it has already been two years! Time to polish up the CV and start the Stateside job-hunt. Know of any wonderful libraries in the Portland area who are looking for an enthusiastic tech-loving librarian?
Amidst all of the other craziness I decided to attempt NaNoWriMo again this year. It might seem like terrible timing but considering how my mental health improves when I make time to write every day, this will be good for me. I’ve been whipping my writing muscles into shape by participating in daily “dashes” with a group in Second Life called Virtual Writers. My current pace is about 1,000 words per hour. Since my goal is 1,667 words per day during November that means almost two hours of daily writing. I’m excited.
Speaking of getting into shape, it is time for another running challenge! I’m going for a sub-30:00 in the Great Winter Run, my last race in Edinburgh. The course is once around Arthur’s Seat, and it is a great way to start the year.
The “Hamilton” musical soundtrack has been on endless repeat this month. Not much else.
I started listening to the Tanis podcast because it is produced by the same folks who do The Black Tapes Podcast, and that season is now over. I am glad there is something spooky and weird to tide me over, but I am not yet sold on Tanis. I’ll keep listening, though.
FunkyPlaid got me hooked on Dungeon Boss, a battle game with cute retro graphics.
“Homeland” and “Les Revenants” and “Downton Abbey” have all started up again now. Before they did, FunkyPlaid and I started watching “Utopia” (UK version) which is all kinds of thought-provoking and disturbing so I hesitate to call it enjoyable.
I had the huge privilege of seeing my mom in a play called “The Cheek” in Tourmakeady, Ireland – where the play was set! It was a great production and my mom gave a stunning performance. I hope to have some photos of Ireland to share soon, if I can ever stop playing Dungeon Boss.
Photo credit: Autumn arrived at my home in Second Life. I sure do love fall foliage, even the kind on virtual trees.
I’m writing to a prompt today, just for the hell of it: “I can do strange things, believe me.” The strangest thing I do these days is ponder Mendelian genetics in order to better breed virtual cats in a dying world. (It’s not really dying, or it is, depending on who you ask. Does it matter?)
Did I ever do stranger things, or did I only trick myself into believing that my brand of normalcy was So Different? Yesterday I read David Orr’s article in the Paris Review about the most misread poem in America, Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”, and I admit to feeling a little vindicated. And perhaps a little sad.
Like many other nascent lit-nerds, I memorised this poem after misreading it heartily and shoving it in front of myself like a badge, a shield, a sticky post on the blog feed of my identity. I might have scribbled it across notebooks in high school, or inked it on the hem of a jacket, or used it for earlier posts on this very site. (I haven’t looked but they’re probably there.)
I won’t blame my younger self, or anyone. How could I? That tattered shred I clung to was choice. Choices. The ability to say to oneself, to the world: I could do this thing, but then I could do something else. Isn’t choice the foundation of hope? To rub off the bravado of American identity from the poem and really read it again to discover that the speaker knows the paths are not all that different. He knows and yet he will someday tell someone — someone impressionable? someone who knows better? — that that single choice made “all the difference”.
I don’t think I could have understood this meaning before I moved here and was forced to confront my American obsession with choice. How many times have you read my laments on the lack of peanut butter brands in Scotland, where peanut butter isn’t even a thing that people want to put on sandwiches hardly ever, let alone shove into their maws slathered on a Nutella-dipped spoon? How many times have I been utterly stumped by blasé responses to my suggestions at work? Not that people here don’t value choices, but I believe they’re less starry-eyed by the illusion of it. How much choice do we really have, and how much does it matter when our older, wiser selves evaluate how it’s all gone by?
It is startling to ponder how comforting an illusion can become. A couple of weeks ago I had to face a demon in the form of a minor medical procedure. Since I’ve encountered this demon before, I know some tricks that can help, mostly deep-breathing exercises. Creative visualisation doesn’t do much for me when I am panicking, even as much as I love falling into daydream. But the deep breaths weren’t doing too much and so I conjured an apparition of our wee lost Torgi. I could see him in front of me down to the bristliest whisker. Calmed me right down. Illusion, comfort: thank you. Call it whatever you want.
Sometimes we know we’re lying to ourselves and we do it anyway.
I can do strange things, believe me.
JDB1745 is still lightly napping as the thesis takes the foreground. Every once in a while it twitches in its sleep and I jot some notes down for the next phase, and then we both go back to focusing on other things. For now.
The weekend gig has picked up steam for the first weeks of the new semester. I’m back down to only one day of overlap with most coworkers right about the time when I could use more days of overlap just to stay in the right loops. That’s the most challenging bit of the job: keeping on top of the input streams, and sifting through them all to ensure I retain the bits that are relevant to the weekend staff. Once a week, I wish we would all use Slack.
Illicit Ink’s Jura Unbound show in the Edinburgh International Book Festival, “Happily Never Ever”, was a blast as you can see from the photographic evidence.
And finally, finally I have made a breakthrough in this story that has been wrecking me to write. I owe that to a dear friend who talked it through with me in a very non-pressuring (yet gently nudging) way. If you do anything creative, I hope you have a friend like this, someone in your area of creativity who challenges you to be better at it. Or just to finish drafts.
Instead of trying to hit arbitrary benchmarks like step goals in Misfit, I’ve been using Exist to explore trends and correlations in the data I’m collecting. Mood tracking has been particularly useful, as I can see on my Exist dashboard that my mood is better when I am more active and get solid sleep. So do more of that, self.
The weather has turned colder once more, and the days are shortening, so it will be time to break out the light-box before long. I’m kicking around the idea of training for a fun-run in November just to keep my body moving.
Have I have been reading Neal Stephenson’s “Seveneves” forever, or does it just feel like it? I don’t know if I am enjoying it, either. Two-thirds in, the timeline jumped ahead five thousand years, so everyone I cared about was long dead. I will say this for Mr. Stephenson: he has gumption. And pages. So many pages.
My to-read pile is starting to organise itself. I fear it shall revolt soon.
Last.fm underwent a redesign and reduced the functionality of the site significantly. I’m not going to complain about it here because Last.fm has a support site for that. For now I’ll list a couple of things I’ve listened to recently.
Radio Riel, mostly their Ragtime stream: I found out about Radio Riel through a community in Second Life that I visit called New Toulouse which is “loosely themed after New Orleans and the bayou, 1900-1925.” (If that sounds like someplace you’d like to visit, let me know and I would be happy to give you a tour.) If you just want to hear the soundtrack of the place, give this Ragtime stream a listen.
Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist: This is all over the place, like my listening habits, but I’m enjoying what the robots have suggested for me so far. Nadine Shah is the best new listen the playlist has given me.
The Black Tapes Podcast: Recommended by a Writers’ Bloc comrade, this docudrama gives me the whim-whams in the best way. Think “Serial” crossed with “The X-Files” (and now that I’ve looked at some of their social media streams, I see that I didn’t come up with that description).
If you are new to podcasts, or simply don’t know how to get started with listening, try PocketCasts. It is the easiest and best way to subscribe and listen to podcasts from your Android device, Windows Phone, iOS device, or web browser. And if you’re a Twitter user, view my Podcasts list for some other recommendations.
FunkyPlaid and I re-watched “Firefly” and then “Serenity” and loved them all over again. We are now about to finish the first season of “The Trip” which is painful and terrific all at once.
“Hector and the Search for Happiness”: ★★½.
Diamine Ancient Copper: the colour of crunchy autumn leaves. Badass orange-brown with super shading, made all the sweeter because it was a gift from someone super.
Photo credit: Just a pretty garden in Second Life that I found. (If you’re reading this via email or RSS feed, I’m not sure it will show up, so click here to see it.)
I have tried to write this several times now. It never goes well. I find unsettling analogies, or take refuge in bluntness, or just pretend the thing that happened didn’t happen at all so I can get through the first paragraph. But it happened. And it derailed the tail-end of my spring completely.
I keep thinking that I will be ready to write about it, and then I will, and then these entries (which were supposed to be weekly status updates, and nothing more) won’t loom in my to-do list like horrible chores.
But I am still not ready to write about it, the thing that happened, and so I’ll just say that at the start of May one of our cats died and he was so much more than “one of our cats” and it was so much worse than I imagined it could be and it continues to hurt every day and I don’t want to write anything more about it so we’ll just move on from here.
The thing that happened disrupted everything. Because I let it, and because my everything was already so precarious. So any good tracks I was on, consider those derailed. Any good habits I had forged, consider those discarded.
Rage, even now, two months past, blindsides me. The smallest things irritate me past rational points. Most social media channels are unbearable not because they have changed but because I have. I don’t know if I will get my old self back.
I don’t know if I want my old self back.
The strangest part of grief is the compulsion to keep pressing myself against the serrated edge of his absence. I am mostly over that phase now but sometimes it comes over me, the need to prod that wound, like I still don’t believe it, so that the pain will make me believe it.
I still don’t believe it.
But I make myself believe it.
Before the thing that happened, I had planned to travel to the States in June to celebrate a milestone in my mother’s life. When the thing happened, the trip carried another weight: I needed to escape, both geographically and mentally.
And then right before I left our other cat had surgery for a fibrosarcoma on her back. She’s doing fine for now.
Grief and worry have a way of clouding memory but here’s some of what I remember of my life from the past few months.
Not much to report on JDB1745, and this will likely continue through the end of the year. There will be small refinements to make but FunkyPlaid must focus on finishing his thesis now so we can’t undertake any major movements. I’m squirrelling away all sorts of ideas for the next phase of our project, and the more I do, the more I look forward to working on it.
The weekend gig is more intense project-wise over the summer, plus many folks are away on leave, so I feel more isolated than usual. I continue to struggle with the balance of wanting to throw myself completely into a job and only being there three days a week.
The guest post I wrote for Cat Rambo’s blog on motivational tools for writers was published. The timing was darkly amusing; my own writerly motivation had ground to a halt.
But now I am recovering, and I am currently working on two projects:
Misfit changed their app and I no longer have a weekly tally of points, so here I’ll start tracking how many days in the last week I hit my fitness goal: 2. Not great.
In April, May, and June I was around the 2-3 days per week mark. One day in May I somehow managed almost twice my goal and my personal best since I started using my Shine by having a normal workday but tacking on a social event in the evening that was 1.5 miles away.
So yeah. I need more exercise.
Since the end of March I’ve read some good books, fiction unless otherwise specified:
And that leaves me at 11 books this year. I will have to seriously hustle to make my goal of 50.
I am giving Apple Music a whirl. So far I love the playlists it suggests for me but it doesn’t have built-in scrobbling capabilities like Rdio or Spotify. For those of us who love tracking what we listen to with Last.fm, that is a disappointment.
My top artists for the past three months:
A friend made a Neo80s mixtape (mixCD?) that I’ve been enjoying too. Lots of M83, White Lies, HAIM, Grimes … really good stuff.
How do I not have a podcast section? I’ll fix that now. My top podcast listens for the past three months (and I am stealing the blurbs from their websites):
FunkyPlaid and I finished “Les Revenants” at the end of April and went on to “Orphan Black”. The first two seasons were so good; the third became unwatchable for me. We stalled out partway through and finished up the season of “Outlander” instead. As of last night we are on the second season of “House of Cards” (US version).
I stopped watching “Game of Thrones” after the infamous episode with Ramsay and Sansa’s wedding night. With that source material and that cast and that budget, there is no excuse for lazy writing. Later I heard that the show has diverged even more from the books, so that’s probably it for me.
I finally saw the film “What We Do in the Shadows” on the plane ride to the States, which was even better than I thought it would be. If you like mockumentaries and Flight of the Conchords, don’t miss this.
Photo credit: my Instagram.
I’m not much of a shopper. Browsing endless racks of clothing, trying to find something in both my size and style, is something I avoid doing whenever possible. So holiday shopping becomes a game I play with myself: how quickly and painlessly can I find things I would want to give friends and family?
When I heard about the popup market in the Cowgate a few weeks ago, I thought it might offer me an easy way to do much of this shopping at once. It was sure to offer unique items I wouldn’t be able to find on my own, and all concentrated in one place. Problem solved.
Well, not really. I did find a few things there, but most of it wasn’t in the style of anyone I know. (Except for me: I did not know this about myself before the popup market but I am fascinated by bizarre taxidermy, especially of small animals wearing spectacles.)
I was lucky to be wandering around the market with a patient friend, who was also up for checking out whatever was going on in the Grassmarket. (Another market! In a market. Not shocking.) And as we were strolling and chatting our way through that second market, I spied one of the things that even a non-shopper such as myself has learned means Cool Stuff Might Be Here: the wooden-sided glass case.
These glass cases are usually filled with an odd assortment of costume jewellery, rusted pocket-knives, old tins of long-dried unguents, commemorative coins commemorating things no one cares about anymore, and pens. Yes, pens. Usually dented metal ballpoint pens, but still: pens.
So I have to look. And I hate shopping, and I hate browsing for things that I might buy, but I still look.
In this particular case, something caught my eye that wasn’t a dented metal ballpoint at all. It was a plastic box with gold lettering and something was inside it. The gold lettering read “Esterbrook” and I gasped as I read it.
Because I was not raised by wolves, I asked the stall owners if I could open the box and look at the pen. As I was trying to play it cool, my tone was somewhere between desperation and apathy, a teenaged boy’s mumbled squeak.
I would like to tell you that my hands weren’t shaking. After all, vintage Esterbrook fountain pens are not uncommon, and they’re not even all that fancy. But recently I became a first-time Esterbrook Dollar Pen owner and when I fell, I fell hard. So my hands were shaking, a little, as I removed the pen from the case and inspected it. “Mint condition” is too generous but it was certainly in good condition, and I’ll save you the nerdery around the specifics there.
Because I’ve been collecting pens for a number of years now, right about the time I am fondling a pen hard enough to consider buying it, a number pops into my head. That number is the most I would pay for the pen. Another thing pops into my head: the first word I would write with that pen, if it were mine, but that’s less relevant to the actual transaction portion of the experience.
So as I turned this cream-of-tomato-soup red pen over in my hands, the number popped into my head, and the word too, and then I realised there was also a number on a sticker on the plastic box the pen was inside and that number, that number, was a deliriously low number, the type of number not even as high as the number on a menu next to a fancy hamburger. And that was when I knew that this pen, this pen, was mine. The rest was a formality.
The word? Serendipity. Because shopping, as awful as it can be, can also contain moments of serendipity like this one. Plus “serendipity” is just one badass word to write with an Esterbrook M2 fountain pen.