Tools of the Trade: Pencils & Pens

Fountain pens, L-R: Franklin Christoph P66 Antique Glass (MCI nib), Edison Baltimore Limited (FCI nib), Diplomat Aero (MCI nib), and a Nakaya Neo (MCI nib) – all in a Rickshaw Bags plus pen roll coiled in a fav mug. To the right:  yellow/orange highlighter Slendy+ eraser stick, red pencil for occasional use.

One of the joys of being a stationery nerd and a writer is blending the two passions together. I’ve settled in a routine of using specific pencils & pens for certain writing tasks. It may see nerdy to go to such lengths, but there’s comfort in using familiar tools.

As a long-time lover of fountain pens, for years I would keep too many inked up resulting in extra work to clean those not used enough. After reducing my collection down to my favorites, I’ve settled on four fountain pens to keep in rotation, each inked with a different color. Fountain pen is my tool of choice for journaling, notetaking, or writing letters, and using different color inks adds to the enjoyment.

When it comes to pencils I also have specific ones I use for first- and second-draft work (for everything from blog posts to articles to essays to poetry). I stick with Blackwing pencils (extra-firm cores for everything except poetry where I use soft cores), and there’s a nice variety available between their production pencils and the Volumes limited editions. I love going analog and using pencils longhand for these drafts, since it slows down my thinking and there’s something more authentic about the tactile feel of pencil on paper than finger tips on a keyboard. And if you’re wondering why soft cores in poetry, the lighter feedback when using helps me focus a bit more on the harder work of optimum word choice. After second drafts, I continue the work digitally, either on my iMac or Macbook.

These two groups of tools have been my go-to instruments for some time now. I enjoy the variety in the pen rotations and inks, and although I use only Blackwing pencils with those two cores, there’s plenty of variety in the finishes. For me, settling on this set of tools eliminates delays and avoids another distraction from sitting down and writing.

Coming soon:  Tools of the Trade:  Journals and Notebooks


Journal Bits – January 15

Occasionally I’ll share unedited bits from my daily journal. These make nice fillers on days I’m not ready to post something I’m working on. Hope you enjoy and get something from them.

‘To the journal!’ That is the rally cry I hear every morning. It doesn’t always become the first thing I do each day though. Example in point: Today I woke late and had coffee and breakfast. After I did a quick online read of the inbox, my daily cartoons I love, then both New York Times crosswords (mini and daily). Washed and dried dishes, dressed for the day, made a cup of hot tea, and here I am…finally…answering the call albeit 2-1/2 hours later. Still, the pen writes, the ideas flow, the pages fill, and all is good.

Channeling Jack London

On a recent chilly winter morning, I bundled up and headed out for my early morning walk. As I listened to The Writer’s Almanac, Garrison Keillor announced it was Jack London’s birthday. As Keillor, in his well-recognized baritone voice, shared some of London’s hardships during his pre-novel years, I listened keenly and seem to no longer mind walking in the cold. Whether my brisk gait or the Jack London-inspired thoughts help warm me I can’t be sure.

When he was 17, London crewed aboard a seal-hunting expedition to the Bering Sea and Japan. Soon they encountered a typhoon and every man aboard took an hour’s shift manning the ship’s wheel to help prevent a disaster. He survived the impossible hour during the violent weather and felt immense pride to have endured the physical challenge. In the years close to his death, he remembered that experience as “Possibly the proudest achievement of my life, my moment of highest living.”

Later his time in the Yukon provided more opportunities to overcome adverse conditions and strengthen his character and ability to endure. Those years in the Yukon yielded the experiences and stories that led to his writing of The Call of The Wild.

With this new insight about the author and his grist, I shrugged off the 16-degree windchill conditions and completed my walk. Though walking in conditions more suited to staying inside with a hot cup of tea was a slim connection to what London endured, it reinforced the importance of the right frame of mind and not overthinking reasons not to do something. Sometimes the first instinct to “just do it” is the right one.

Serenity and Stability

When I stumbled onto this phrase in some readings and thought about these ideal living goals, the alliteration make me think of Jane Austen. I must confess I’ve never read any of her books, or if I had, they were in high school or college and long forgotten. Perhaps this was partly a subconscious tug to read Sense and Sensibility.

Our noisy world is constantly confusing us through so many voices—true and false, right and wrong, buy this or that, do this or that—conspiring to restrict our innate abilities to judge and choose on our own. Serenity and stability are indeed lofty goals especially in our tumultuous world of 2020 and beyond. But honestly, this noise has been ongoing for years and years before the pandemic and political impacts on our lives.

Modern life is sadly driven by forces aimed at controlling us:  social media constantly showing us what to buy, or filtering what to read, or unqualified politicians deciding what’s best for us, or the status quo pestering us to conform. The bottom line is all these efforts conspire to have us succumb to things we don’t control. Is that an absolute truth or can we exercise will and inoculate ourselves from these viral attempts?

Achieving serenity and stability comes through acting only on our choices and judgements and solely for those things within our control and not those controlled by the environment of modern life. It’s not a question of mastering avoidance and overcoming disruptions:  these will only follow you wherever you mental run to until they achieve their purpose.

The solution lies in learning to chose to address only things within your control, while hardening objectivity against those judgements and influence from things out of your control. It’s not about ignoring everything out of your control, but rather about learning to not react to or act upon such things.

Once our focus shifts in this way, the noisy externals become things you are aware of but they’re no longer agents of agitation and disruption, nor unwanted influencers to your emotions or well being.

Practicing Bibliomancy

Do you do this? What does “bibliomancy”mean?

I’m familiar with the concept, but until recently never knew what it was called. Nor did I realize so many people practiced this in an alternative form. I’ve done this countless times in the past and still occasionally explore new knowledge through this practice, although not in the classic dictionary definition:

Divination by means of a book, especially the Bible or a holy book

The religious practice was (or still is?) to place a Bible or holy book on its spine then let the covers fall to reveal a random page. Then with eyes closed, using a finger to pick a random verse and interpreting the meaning. Ancient Greeks did this with the works of Homer and Virgil, using the results as predictors of future  events.

I, and many others, practice bibliomancy to serendipitously explore for ideas, inspiration, or to just learn something completely new. A favorite of mine is to do this with my large dictionary that resides on a stand and never fails to find an interesting word I didn’t know (with some liberty as to what’s near where my finger lands!). Other times I’ve used it in compilations and anthologies to randomly choose an interesting passage to explore. An encyclopedia (do any of us have these anymore?) would also make a good source target for this practice.

It’s a great technique to find a bit of sweet (usually) mind candy for that hungry taste bud wanting a new bite of knowledge. Using bibliomancy helps me override my internal knowledge librarian who knows too well what I like and tends to always steer me toward familiar zones.

My practice of bibliomancy is similar to another method I’ve used (which probably also has a specialized name) to step outside my comfort zones and explore new ideas. Although I haven’t done this in a while, for years every quarter or so I would pick a well-respected author or book within a topic I had zero interest in, then commit to reading it from cover to cover. To my surprise and delight, in every instance I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the book and the new knowledge.

While I’ll continue practicing bibliomancy now and then, I’d like to restart this out-of-comfort-zone reading program. One could do it online, but ideally it’s best to browse in person at a library for unfamiliar subjects, and well, you know…covid. But at some point libraries will be open again once it’s safe. Think I’ll call this variant “bibliotemere” (book + latin for random) for now until I can think of a better term.

Each of us likely has comfort zones and some type of an internal librarian who knows what we like to read or learn about. Some have rigid ones, others are blessed with a more mellow, go-with-the-flow internal one. While it’s good to always expand on what you know and like, it’s also healthy and fun to learn about what we don’t know.

Writer’s Muse

I’m working on a piece about the creative muse, and recalled this fun piece I wrote back in 2011. Thought I’d dust it off and reshare. Enjoy!

facewallShe sits there drinking beer, slumped in my papasan chair, leg bouncing up and down hinged at the knee, while staring out the window in feigned boredom. Some muse I have. I’m stuck with this blank page and she’s more intent on a beer buzz.

Where’s the practiced wave of her hand causing perfect verbs and nouns to spew forth like gold flowing out of a Leprechaun’s bottomless pot? Where’s the creative doyen intent on ordering my thoughts into clever, succinct, and dare I say, sellable prose?

“So what have you written so far,” she says without looking at me, lips smacking from giving her gum a workout. “Give me something to work with.”

She wasn’t this lazy back when I had that run of published articles, when everything submitted seemed to catch ink. Then she was sophisticated, sipping champagne and daintily nibbling gourmet noshes while patiently offering inspiration. Words fell out easily and she did her job well. Now she seems content to slop random words up against the wall and see what sticks, if she puts that much effort into it. No wonder I can’t write lately. Who can work like this?

I concentrate, trying to ignore her. My god, is that “Feelings” she’s humming?

“So this is writer’s block,” I think while pondering how I can coax her into working or get her out of here before she drinks all my brews. “At least it’s not expensive champagne,” I mutter, hoping she won’t hear me.

“Seriously, whatcha got? I got some good adverbs and adjectives you can use to spice things up,” she offers, pulling her gum out and stretching it away from her clenched teeth. Clearly she’s far more interested in how long she can make the gum-string before it breaks than helping me with pearly prose. She never, ever offered modifiers before. She was always at the ready with vivid nouns, and precise active verbs.

I close my eyes, hoping this is all a dream and when I open them the old muse will be sitting there with perfect posture, supportive manners, and ready once more to push my writing to new levels.

Her soft burp and follow-up giggle jerks my eyes open. She’s still here. So how does one fire a muse? And can I find a temp agency that will send another over, even on a Friday afternoon?

I stare back at the blank screen and realize it’s going to be a long weekend.