Flex nibs and flexibility

Sometimes I think my brain inherently seeks balance. Or rather, that it craves balance, and I use my various hobbies and interests to help with that balance.

I find myself involved in a lot of long-term pursuits. I’m 3 months into a new job and still firmly “in training” – it takes at least 6 months, if not a year, to get the hang of everything. I’m walking to Rivendell (a 458 mile project) … two miles at a time. I’m continuing with therapy, where nothing happens quickly. I’m growing out my hair, which takes very little actual work (just gentle delicate care), but requires a good bit of patience at half an inch a month.

So when I turn around and think about something like knitting, I’m just flat out not interested in a project that’s going to take hundreds of hours of my time. I love knitting, and knitted things. But my stick-to-it-iveness is just running out on all the other things I have going. I crave projects that I can start and finish in an afternoon. Like making pickles. Or playing with fountain pens. Or writing a letter. Or playing with markers until I have a mandala.

In some ways, I’m a little sad – I miss the big crafting projects. I really enjoy doing them. I have a whole wall of shelves full of baskets of yarn and spinning supplies, and a closet full of sewing stuff. I know and love the satisfaction of working for a long time on something and then being really proud if it when I’m done.

But I just don’t have the attention span or the patience for anything that looming just now.

I started a knitted dishcloth about a month ago, and I’ve done about 15 rows. All in that first sitting. I’ve lost interest now. (I’ve repeatedly said that this is why I’m a blogger and not a novelist. I can write a story for 500 words, but not 50,000. I don’t have the attention span, and forcing myself to do it just makes me hate myself and my project.)

I also no longer have big chunks of time to work on stuff. If I get home from work at 5:30, take a 20-40 minute walk (35 minutes gets me 2 miles at a decent pace, but some days are more tiring than others), make dinner, eat dinner, and clean up/pack my lunch for the next day… it’s getting close to 8pm. I go to bed at 9pm. Blogging happens in that hour, as does any video gaming that might happen. If I have to take a shower, back that up by another half hour. I’m trying to reread The Lord of the Rings, but that’s not been working out so well – not because I don’t love it, but simply because I want to sit for more than 10 minutes at a time to read, and doing anything involves constantly stopping to look at the clock because I don’t want to run over.

Sitting down in my hour of project time and looking at 14 repeats of a 16 row lace chart just makes me want to cry.

But I can tackle a page of calligraphy practice. Or re-inking my pens. Or a letter to a friend. Or making a mandala. Or watching a bit of baseball and blogging.

I guess sometimes I just need “instant” gratification and to feel like I’ve actually accomplished something tangible.

Traumas and Blog Prompts

One of the things that NaNoBlogThing does for its members is provide the occasional prompt for a post. Like most collections of blogging prompts, these are usually benign creativity boosters and story prompts to help out someone that gets stuck in writer’s block. But there was one that came up recently that didn’t sit well with me; it seems to be lacking in forethought:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Has anything traumatic ever happened to you? Describe the scenes surrounding a particular event.

I understand that trauma happens on a spectrum, and that the person involved can dramatically change the perspective on an event (as can the care that person receives in the immediate aftermath of trauma). Some people who experience life-threatening car accidents go on to recover both physically and mentally and can, after a time, drive again safely and without panic or anxiety. Others aren’t able to heal to that point and can sometimes not even ride in a car without experiencing panic attacks.

Trauma is just so PERSONAL.

PTSD is weird, and “Describe the scenes surrounding an event” is something I can’t even do (yet) in scheduled, structured therapy. Looking at the prompt, my immediate reaction is “Well THAT’S not going to happen.” And I can’t imagine that I’m the only NaBloPostThinger writer that lives with PTSD and it’s related mental health issues.

I understand that this post isn’t really talking about “that” kind of trauma, but really, there isn’t another kind. All traumas require healing – and there’s no way to look up what counts as traumatic (beyond a the actual definition of trauma itself). Different things bother different people on various levels, so a post that one person thinks is pretty benign (about a car accident) can be completely triggering for another.

Even suggesting a post about a traumatic event that you have healed from or that helped you to grow in some way would be better than the open ended “anything traumatic”. Otherwise, from a psychological standpoint, it has the potential to open up a lot of really ugly emotional stuff, without having a way to process or effectively deal with those emotions. For real, just writing out the sequence of events (factually and as chronologically as possible), let alone describing entire scenes, can be almost impossible to do for someone with PTSD. It’s a real mindfuck sometimes.

While I don’t for a minute think that the prompt was intended to be discomforting, a blog prompt that suggests the emotionally invested discussion of traumatic events just seems really out of place in a list that also includes “What kind of music do you listen to when you write?” and “Do you prefer to write with a pen or a computer?”

One of these things is not like the other ones, you know?

The Difference between Choice and Failure


Ugly word, ugly connotations, ugly mental constructs built to avoid it. I was reading an article recently about when to stop doing something, and it kind of tweaked my brain about failure versus changing your mind.

From the original article:

In the past year it became increasingly clear that the Temple was not doing what it was supposed to do. It was the hub of a wonderful little community, no doubt about it. But it wasn’t helping people find their purpose in life, discover who they truly are, or change their lives to follow their dreams. And after exhaustive discussions with the others involved with running it—discussions about passing it on to new leadership, adding new programs, or even radically changing the structure of the Temple—it became clear that we didn’t have the humanpower to change things.

So there I was. The two options on the table were:

  1. Continue asking people to give their time, money and energy to an organization that was not changing lives; or
  2. Close the organization.

In black and white, Option 1 looks ridiculous. But when you’re standing at the brink, looking at giving up something you’ve worked so hard on, you start to justify. 90% of nonprofit boards would choose Option 1. Because quitting looks an awful lot like failure.

Faced with that, you start finding reasons not to quit. You start to rationalize.

Now, when it comes to rationalization, I am a champion. I am Grand Poo-Bah Queen Of All Rationalizations. In my mind, I’m even now coming up with a list of things I’ve rationalized, so that I can rationalize to you my title. As Queen of Rationalizations, I hate failure.

Failure means losing. It means you set out to do something and couldn’t, you stupid ass. Your lack of motivation, inability to concentrate, inability to follow through (etc. etc. etc.) all got in the way and now you can’t keep up with the things you said you would do.

But… what if that’s not how it works?

What if saying “you know, this isn’t working anymore” isn’t failure. Rationally I don’t think it is. Every person has limits, and every person changes over time. Nobody expects you to stick with what you say you want to be when you grow up, especially if you’re seven when they ask.

It’s one thing to say “I’m going to become a great soccer player”. But when you find out that massive amounts of running makes your old knee sprain turn into a grapefruit sized, swollen angry mess, maybe changing your mind isn’t failure.

Maybe even “I really don’t like this anymore; it’s making me crazy” isn’t failure.

Recently, I pretty much quit playing MMOs. Some part of me is very sad at this, because I really do enjoy gaming. But another (hopefully more rational) part of me says that I have other things I need to focus on. That part was actually pretty easy. What wasn’t easy was the blogging thing. A few years ago I started blogging about WoW. I blogged about roleplay and raiding, the intersection of the two, and how to build little immersions into your gameplay in a way that enriched the game. I also became kind of a crusader for the idea that roleplay wasn’t stupid, and it didn’t mean you couldn’t hack it in PVE or PVP.

When I stopped playing the game though, I stopped writing about it. And I felt like a huge failure. I’d said I wanted to be a good blogger. I wanted to write interesting content that other people would enjoy, occasionally even posting silly things. I decided, very early on in the life of the blog, that I was going to have new content at least 4 days a week.

And so, when I stopped writing, I got out the big red rubber stamp and branded myself a failure. I had failed as a blogger.

Then someone*, in the midst of a rant about my failure, said something very interesting. What if I chose to stop blogging instead of just not doing it. What if, instead of beating myself up about how I couldn’t do it and was such a failure at something as “trivial”** as blogging, I chose to let that go?

Somewhere, in the back recesses of my brain, something went CLUNK.

Amazingly enough, saying “I’m choosing not to write this blog right now because I can’t sustain MMO time and have other real life priorities” changed failure into a decision to go another direction.

Nobody ever told me that looking at something, seeing that it wasn’t working (for whatever reason), and choosing to do something else wasn’t failing at it. It might LOOK like failure, from an uninformed outsider’s perspective, but it wasn’t. Several years of LIFE had passed since I started writing – the kind of life that changed who I am and what my priorities had to be.

That’s not failure. That’s just, well, life.

Now, I’m not saying there are no failures. I failed to keep my garden alive through the drought this spring. But I can still be a gardener even with dead plants in my veggie garden. I still choose to have that be part of who I am. I’m not a failed gardener, I just failed THIS particular garden THIS particular spring. And I know why, and I couldn’t do much about it, so I’m choosing to let that go and be thankful that at least I got tomatoes.

But I’m trying very hard to look at my life and my job and my relationships and evaluate what is and isn’t working, and to not brand myself a failure when I choose to discontinue something that has become toxic, unfun, or mentally unsafe. When I run into those situations, I’m looking at options and choosing new directions.

If you’d told 5-Years-Ago-Me that I was considering getting my massage therapy license and no longer considering being a classroom teacher, I’d have thought you were crazy. But Current-Me likes that idea and is interested in it.

Stick-to-it-iveness is a good trait to have.

So is knowing when to stop digging.

*Probably either Hillary, Marty, or my therapist.
** HA. Anyone who’s ever tried to produce new content 5 days a week for two+ years knows that there’s nothing trivial about it, but I was rationalizing why I was a failure, see?

Fountain Pens are like Potato Chips

*crossposted from Seven Deadly Divas*

It’s really hard to just have one.

Because you buy one, and then you want some fun ink for it. And you can’t just buy ONE ink, so then you have two inks, and only one pen. So obviously you need another pen… and then it’s just downhill from there.

I’ve managed to avoid the trap that is collectible pens, though I’m seriously lusting after a Noodler’s Flex Nib, but … well…

Fountain Pen Basics

Fountain Pens are a relatively new pen technology, when you consider the history of writing implements goes back to some guy with charred stick. The first fountain pens (as we know them) came about in the mid 19th century, and many of those pens actually still work. In fact, some of them are worth lots of money.

There are few different pen designs, but they all basically work through capillary action (and gravity) to draw ink out of an internal reservoir through a nib and onto the page. As with any pen, the only part that actually affects the writing is the ink, the nib, and the shape of the grip, the rest is just eye candy.*

You either get ink into the pen manually (by unscrewing it and adding a new cartridge or filling it by hand with a syringe or eyedropper) or via the pen itself, via some kind of suction (squeeze mechanisms or plungers, usually). Some cartridge pens will make what’s called a converter, which is a cartridge looking thingy with a plunger filling device, so it’s reusable. This means you can use whatever the heck ink you want.

Which is all a lot of science for something that ends up writing unlike any other pen you’ve ever owned.

Now, if you want a pen that will write upside down in zero gravity and never ever smudge…

…actually, if you want that, get a pencil.

Anyway, ball point pens use an ink that is oily and thick and rolled on via an encased ball-point (hence the name). Because the ink isn’t actually a thin liquid, it’s relatively smear resistant and also not very picky, but sometimes doesn’t write immediately. Roller-ball pens use a liquid ink that’s designed to dry quickly (but doesn’t always), and gel-pens are somewhere in between.

However, a fountain pen does amazing things with color and shading that you’ll never see in other inks, and – once you get used to writing with one – is just really damn fun to write with. They require NO pressure to work, only to create fun line-width designs with a flexible nib, and glide across the paper with a delightful little scratchy noise.

Inks can be saturated with color (laying down a thick, dark line) or heavily shaded (where the line is variable depending on pressure and how much ink), and just looks elegant on the page.

Almost any handwriting can be improved with a fountain pen, if for no other reason than that you’ll slow down a little as you get used to writing with one, and are less likely to deathgrip the pen or smash it into the page really hard.

A Note About Paper

Of course, you’ve all probably written with a Sharpie Marker at some point, and noticed that some inks bleed through some kinds of paper.

Fountain pens, by virtue of their engineering, lay down relatively more ink than most liquid ink pens you can get from Office-Thing**, and so are susceptible to bleed through. They’re also susceptible to feathering, which is common for any liquid ink pen, where the paper isn’t sufficiently resistant to the ink, and sucks it up via capillary action and makes cool little spidery fractal designs all over your paper, rendering whatever you write either fuzzy or illegible.

To prevent this, when writing with fountain pens, you will also want to find some good quality paper, and also use some trial and error. I’m very fond of Black and Red notebooks, which are readily available, inexpensive, and have fantastic paper. Clairefontaine is probably the best known paper for fountain pens, and is available online or at some art supply stores (it comes in notebooks and loose-leaf paper). Some notebook manufacturers, like Rhodia, actually buy and use Clairefontaine paper.

I’ve also found paper at my local Office Thing that’s done superb with fountain pens, so your mileage may vary.

A Note About Inks

Fountain pens are not like dip pens. With a dip pen, you do not store the pen with ink inside, therefore, you don’t have to worry about what kind of ink you use and whether it will separate or gunk things up. Fountain pens, on the other side, are easily gunk-up-able, and will do so if you use any ink that has pigment sediment or any other matter that will separate. For that reason, use fountain pen ink in fountain pens.*** Generally, if you have to shake it up before you use it, it’s not a fountain pen ink.

I’m a big fan of Noodler’s fountain pen inks, because they come in amazing colors, have an excellent line of waterproof and forgery proof inks (called “bulletproof”), and because they’re made entirely in the US.

Ordering sample-packs of inks is also a good idea, because you’ll get about one pen-full of each color, which is more than enough to decide if you like it before you buy a whole bottle.

But Which One Should I Get?

If you’re going to buy just one fountain pen, I suggest either a Platinum Preppy (if you want a disposable pen), a Pelikan Pelikano, or a Lamy Safari. The Preppy is a great pen if you have no idea if you’ll like this fountain pen thing or not. The Pelikano and the Safari are both excellent writing, inexpensive pens that sell both cartridges and converters.

If you decide to get cartridges, make sure you get cartridges that will fit your pen. If you get a converter to match, it won’t matter, and you can use any fountain pen ink (you’ll want one converter per pen).

As an aside – you may be able to find fountain pens in your local Office Thing store, in pretty gift boxes. Those are usually designed to LOOK snazzy, not to write well, so for the money, you’re WAY better off spending $15 on a Pelikano. If you find Pilot Varsity pens in your Office Thing, they’re also decent disposable pens, but I like the Preppys better.

If you write very small, start with a Fine (F) or Extra-Fine (EF) nib. If you don’t, want to work on your handwriting, or want to experiment with ink shading, try a Medium (M) nib. Flex-nibs … flex – meaning they make a wider line when you apply more pressure. They can be a little fussy to start with, so stick with regular nibs at first.

What Do I Use?

I have a Peikano – F, two Lamy Safari – EF, and a Lamy Al-Star – EF, as well as a Parker Frontier Luna – M. My favorite pen is probably the Safari, because it’s durable, comes in every color under the rainbow, and looks classy enough in black to take to job interviews. That said, I use and love all five.

If I had to pick one ink forever, it would be Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, because I can use it for EVERYTHING and it never gets washed out. Otherwise, I really like Noodler’s Ottoman Azure, Nightshade, and Sequoia, and Pelikan Blue-Black.

I really love pens of all sorts, and I’ve got a general twitch for all kinds of office supplies, but I absolutely love fountain pens. I love how they write and the way the ink looks when I use it, I love the different and amazing papers and ink colors.

I love writing letters (though I’ve been kind of bad at being a penpal recently, sorry Tami :/) and basically anything to do with mail. So it all goes together.

Happy Writing!

(Who is working on a post about smartphones next, for full acceptance of her ability to blend new and old geekdom)

*A Bic Medium Blue Ballpoint with a solid titanium body will still write like a Bic Medium Blue Ballpoint. Of course, with fancy fountain pens, sometimes a higher price means better nibs, BUT NOT ALWAYS. With ballpoints, past about $15, they’re all just body upgrades.

**Office Thing is any of the usual big box office supply stores. I never remember which one it is that I’m going to, so they all have become Office Thing. For online stores, I recommend JetPens, the Goulet Pen Company, or The Writer’s Bloc for great service.

*** If you’re unsure, ask the internet. If you don’t know where to ask, ask at The Fountain Pen Network, where they also have an AMAZING database of ink and pen reviews, with pictures!

Government Required Disclaimer: None of the above mentioned manufacturers, stores, or websites have any idea who I am. I am not being paid to endorse their products, nor have I received free samples. I’m just a happy, nerdy customer.