Sunday, September 26, 2010

Wholesale Pen Slaughter, or Pen-conomics

In spite of my love for fountain pens, I have a habit of picking up many of the more standard pens that catch my fancy. Add to this the seductive charms of, and I have a ridiculous number of gel / ballpoint / roller ball pens in cups and drawers around the house.

Recent journals
Some of my recently used composition books

Lately I've been using composition books for my journals (despite their dubious archival qualities). When I'm writing consistently (which doesn't happen consistently), I go through about one a month as a general rule. Most are either Staples bagasse paper (bagasse=sugar cane waste) or "Made in Brazil" Norcom comp books from Wal-mart, which have the additional charm of costing just a quarter apiece at some points in the year. These two types both have very fountain pen friendly paper; i.e. ink doesn't feather like crazy or soak into the paper and through the other side as a general rule. However, I have a few composition books of poorer quality paper, at least where fountain pens are concerned: a few of the last "Made in the USA" Meads, and some Staples brand comp books with nice sturdy covers but rather porous paper. I've been shuffling these aside for a few years now, but this month, I set myself a sort of experiment. I've been using one of the Staples comp books, and restricting myself to the myriad of non-fountain pen writing instruments I have around.

The damage so far: in my current not-quite-full notebook (and a small amount of writing at work) I have used up
1 Zebra Sarasa gel pen
2 Pilot G2 gel pens
Approximately 5 Pentel Wow! Gel pens and counting (they're cheap, but they literally only last me about a day and a half)
1 Uniball Jetstream and a portion of another
1 Zebra Surari "emulsion ink" pen

Dead pens
Just *some* of the carnage!

For standard ballpoints (the Jetstream and Surari are not really typical ballpoints), I've briefly used a Zebra F-701, a Bic Cristal, and a Fisher bullet pen; but I didn't stick with them for long. Ballpoints make my hand ache too much, and the the not-really-blackness of the black ink bugs me. The black Jetstreams and Surari are better in this regard: more vivid. For other ballpoints, I'd be better off with blue--any shade of blue is still blue.

I've also used a certain amount of pencil. In the grand scheme of things, pencil is probably the most cost-efficient writing instrument out there, and in many ways, I prefer it to ballpoint. It feels better. My only real quibble with it is that I can't seem to avoid a certain amount of transfer from one page to another, so everything ends up a little messy looking.

You know what else fascinates me? If I take the whole notebook and flip through the pages like a flip book, the ballpoint-written pages with their rather embossed text make a loud crackling sound, the gel and pencil pages a softer, whispery crackling sound, and a few experimental fountain pen pages make no sound at all.

I am easily entertained.

It's freeing to use these things up. I think I've also proven, however, that fountain pens, while perhaps not as cost efficient as pencil, are far more cost efficient than most of the other alternatives. Even the very cheapest gel pens are typically at least seventy-five cents or a dollar apiece, and obviously, the very cheapest gel pens don't last very long--only ten or eleven comp book pages in the case of those Pentels. On the other hand, a tiny sip of bottled ink in my Lamy 2000 will write for thirty to forty pages, and a ten dollar bottle will least a year or two? Suddenly the bargain gel pens don't seem like such a bargain, do they?

I don't know exactly how long an ink bottle will last since I have yet to really use one start to finish. I've had a bad habit of buying more colors. I'm working on simplifying and using up rather than making any more purchases of any kind, and I probably have enough ink to last me a decade or two. (And enough notebooks to last me at least two or three years...truth be told). But based on how very little the level of ink in the bottle of Aircorp Blue-Black has dropped in the year I've been using it fairly steadily (though by no means exclusively), it's obvious ink lasts a good while. For the frugal, a basic fountain pen (especially one with a fine nib) and a single bottle of something like Noodler's Black would break down to a much, much cheaper overall cost than buying the equivalent gel pens or rollers or likely even most ballpoints.

Ah, the lengths we go to to justify our addictions!

Noodler's Air-Corp Blue-Black ink
Trying to show how little ink is gone by holding the bottle of AC BB to the light. And yes, that is a freaky label, isn't it?

The current experiment will continue for a few more months until I use up the bad comp books (and most of the excess "cheap" pens), and then I'll go back to fountain pens. Hm...the next experiment could be to see how long a bottle of ink lasts.... Of course, this is all terribly unscientific. There are so many unquantified variables: the size of my handwriting, the number of pages I write a day, the width of the pen, whether or not a particular ink is absorbed by a particular paper.... It still fascinates me, though.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Writing Exercise: Mickey, A Teddy Bear With Soul

Mickey Bear

I called him Mickey: Mickey Bear; the corollary to Mickey Mouse, of course. My Dad's sister made him for me when I was a baby: a vaguely bear-shaped pillow made of two pieces of velvety beige fabric sewn together, and a face made out of bits and pieces of felt, and felt marking his paws and the inside of his ears. She did it all more or less freehand, which meant his proportions were distorted and uneven. He didn't match left to right, his ears were too long and his head too big, he had no neck to speak of, and his legs were tiny stubs almost smaller than his ears. I called him a bear, but he could just as easily have been claimed as a dog or a pig or rabbit. And he was at least as big as I was, so I couldn't carry him in front of me without tripping over him, instead often opting to drag him behind me by an ear.

I adored him. I had other toys, of course; prettier toys, more realistic, more polished. But Mickey Bear was special. I slept with him, dragged him around with me, wandered through the house calling his name if I misplaced him.

Years went by. The felt making up his face, never very sturdy, became pilled and worn. During the course of our move from Portland, OR to St. Johnsbury, VT when I was about four, my brother picked out the center of the black portion of his eyes, leaving just the thin black rim under the thread. It gave him a crazed look that frightened me until I got used to it. As more time passed, he began to wear through in places and split at seams. I would lie in bed at night, thoughtfully tugging out chunks of the chopped-up foam bits he was filled with, then stuffing them back in. Mom repaired him I don't know how many times, leaving him with puckered Frankenstein's monster scars. And eventually, he got to the point where the fabric was just about too deteriorated to keep repairing. Horrors!

Faced with this crisis, Mom decided to--more or less--reupholster the old guy. We picked out fabric more or less similar in texture and shade to his original stuff, and Mom traced all the way around him, cut out the fabric and made a new face, and then we dressed him, pretty much, in a new Mickey suit. He was by necessity a little bigger than the old Mickey, as if he had grown with me. Like the torn eyes, this new incarnation took some getting used to, but it helped to know that the old, true Mickey, my forever friend, still existed inside the new. As Mom put it, he was the only teddy bear with a soul.

And then, right after I left home, tragedy struck: someone (the suspect has never fully confessed) threw Mickey away!!

He was in my closet with some of my other things for safe-keeping, since I couldn't take much with me to boot camp, and when another sibling claimed the room and cleared out my things, he was apparently disposed of. I was furious and heartbroken. Still am, to an extent. It's a relatively small thing to forgive in the grand scheme of life, but...grrr. In any case, there was no going back.

Once I was over the initial shock, Mom proposed a partial solution: together we would build a new Mickey. One day when I was home on leave from Germany (and yes, an adult, who should have been well beyond all this...) we went to a fabric store and together, slowly and with great deliberation and much reminiscing, we picked out a micro-suede style upholstery fabric for his body, fake fur and felt for his face and paws, thread, needles, stuffing. Working from memory, I cut out the heavy fabric and painstakingly stitched it together. Mom--always far better at art than I--helped me with assembling his face. And in addition to the polyester stuffing, we filled him with an article of old baby clothing that I'd worn once upon a time and kept and used heavily for my dolls over the years; a slightly silly nod to the "soul" contained in the Mickey of old. It was the best we could do, and in the end, with the work we put into him together, he's just as special as his predecessor.

Mickey the second is even more exaggerated than the original. In addition, in attempting to recreate the bear I remembered, he ended up being made far larger this time around. He is awkward looking, ungainly, even grotesque. He certainly won't win any beauty contests. But he'll always have a place in my heart and home.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Vanity, thy name is LFP

So...for practice purposes, to show the others how these tunes string together, I recorded a very quick-and-dirty version of the set of tunes a few friends and I are working on: Jeremy Moonshine/Lilting Banshee/Boys of Tandragee. And then, unrelatedly and serendipitously, I stumbled on Dropbox, and the fact that it allows you to upload and share things. And so I'm testing this. In theory, here be the recording. I'm curious if this actually works OK!

If it does, keep in mind this is a bare bones recording prior to our doing any arranging, so it's pretty simplistic and warts-and-all. It's like a preliminary sketch of a painting, so it's minus the detail and color.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Links, and the Making of Jeremy Moonshine

A handful of interesting links from recent Internet travels:

Pens and Pencils in Space!

A boys' guide to field notebooks (circa 1920)

A glimpse into the minds (and notebooks) of 20 famous men

Haven't done much writing this week; I've spent most of my spare time catching up on some reading and playing music. I finally have a few people to play my kinda tunes with (Scots/Irish/Contra dance tunes, mostly).

I recently got to play a part in the whole folk / tune propagation process: at a primarily bluegrass festival a few weeks ago, I was playing some Irish tunes with my new friend Anne, who plays whistles, when a young man (well...about my age) came up to us, introduced himself as Jeremy, and asked if he could play with us a little later--he played mandolin. When he joined us, he also brought a Mason jar of moonshine, which he offered to pass around. Call me chicken, but I declined.

He was a pretty good mandolinist and knew a ton of tunes, one of which he attempted to teach us quickly by ear. It's a jig called "Little Black Pig," which I haven't been able to find on-line--at least not the version he played. I attempted to recreate it when I got home, playing it over and over, and ended up with a neat little tune that I'm not sure is really a faithful recreation of the original or primarily my own. Unfortunately I didn't get Jeremy's last name or e-mail address or anything, so I have no way of double-checking. In any case, I recorded it and shared my rendition with the other people I've been playing with, and one of them dubbed it Jeremy Moonshine in honor of our one-day acquaintance. And a new tune (sorta!) is born. We're going to work it up as a set with two other jigs (Lilting Banshee and Boys of Tandragee, for the curious and Irish-musically-inclined). Fun!

And that's my cop-out of an update!