30 July 2011

Routine (of a flittertigibbet)

I am interested in routines. I am constantly in search of a good one, of the right one, of the one that's going to fit and be productive and centering and lovely, forever and ever, amen. 

I haven't found it yet. 

That may be because my schedule is a completely different animal every four-five months, according to when my classes are. It could be that I haven't found a pattern I love enough to fight for.

Two weeks ago, I started a new thing with a friend. (Credit where credit's due--it was her idea.)


That's probably getting ahead of myself, actually. Let's call it "attempted running." Or "hike/dash/pant." I like the last one. It's the most true. We have a 4.5-mile loop that begins in the local Rotary Park and meanders up and down the midsection of Casper Mountain, a trail known as the Bridle Trail. It also crosses the top of Garden Creek Falls (and involves two in-trail crossings of Garden Creek).

This is not a post about the act. This is a post about what greets me nearly every morning. 
Natrona County through the trees. If it were a bit less humid that morning, you could see to the Big Horns.
This wee streamlet is Garden Creek. A bit further down, and it's a respectable waterfall in this wet summer.
The first two pictures here are on the ascent of our path. The trees around the creek are thick, the air dense and cool. It reminds me of Pennsylvania in all of the best ways (and without the mosquitoes and woods' flies). The landscape is dominated by pines and aspens, though some birch and maple still make their way there. 

The next images are the descent, and this is where it feels like Wyoming, the way I understand Wyoming. On this side, the bones of the earth are bared and raw, the rock red and white and vast.

I want to stand up there, with the lonely loose rock.

In this one, you can see the stark difference between sun and shade. My whole life on the East Coast, I didn't feel like it made much of a difference, courtesy of humidity and haze. Here, the sunlight is a palette knife's edge, cutting and turning the color over. 
Every morning for me now is a melange of work and rest, sweat and chill, pine-needle cushion and granite. These have been the best mornings for me that I can remember.
Lens flare for J. J. Abrams and the sun demanding notice at 6:30 a.m.

19 July 2011

Another little adventure

I, like many other nerds in the world, have been spending a good bit of whatever spare time I have knee-deep in George R. R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons. (I'm not quite finished with it yet, so no spoilers. On pain of maiming.) I've also had some visiting family, and the family visit included a trip to Denver. This post is about that trip, and I'll be back with something a little more focused in the not-so-distant future.

We've been and will be in Denver a whole lot this summer, at least compared to our first year in Wyoming. That is, though, never a bad thing--Denver's a great city, full of a lot of beautiful spaces and good food. And Pacific Mercantile Company, which is where I have to go if I want to get any Asian comestibles that haven't been on the shelf for two years already. (That makes me sound a lot more sophisticated than I am--I bought udon and some black vinegar, sure, but mostly I bought three kinds of gummy candy, including a delicious mango/tamarind sweet, strawberry daifuku, Ramune to drink on the walk back to our hotel, and panda cookies. Japanese candy makes me so happy.)

We also made return visits to the Denver Botanic Gardens and The Denver Museum of Nature and Science for their Real Pirates exhibit so that we could share two brilliant places with the visiting family members.

I don't know much (or what kind of
plant you are, but I know I love you.
No photos from the pirates exhibit, alas, but it is the most excellent thing and only there until August 22, so if you're in the area, you really need to get yourself to the DMNS.

I took a number of photos at the Botanic Gardens, though (with my phone, sadly, because I managed to leave home with a camera with a dead battery and no charging apparatus, but the phone did okay, all things considered). This image to the left is some plant that was housed in the Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory. It was potted beside a resting bench, and there was no marker of what it was called, but I thought it was striking because of its center. The purple inner leaves that shade out to regular green are very cool, too, of course, but look: at its heart, there's a small tuft of what looks like  moss, and it's sprouting its own flowers, tiny violet blooms with pointed petals. I was reminded of very, very small mountain harebell--it's just that color. The plant was also cupping a bit of water around the moss, making a wee island. I could have sat in front of it for hours, but I was already planning to spend an inordinate amount of time in the pirates exhibit, so one has to pick one's battles.

The visit also included a visit to Coors Field to see the Rockies play the Brewers. Coors Field is a lovely ballpark, and I have to admit a real fondness for the Rockies. My blood is Philadelphia red, but the Rockies (and their Casper affiliate, the Casper Ghosts) are great favorites of mine. (In August, when the Phillies play the Rockies in Colorado, it's going to be hard to not cheer for the Rocks, too. I might be that idiot at the stadium just clapping and hooting after every play, no matter what happens.)

Ubaldo Jimenez pitched for the Rockies, and I had a chance to watch him warm up in the bullpen, Coors Field being one of those places where fans can actually look down from the concourse into the bullpens. This is possible because Rockies fans are rather kind. You'll notice that, at Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies play, the Phillies bullpen is not in open view to the public. That's because Phillies fans will harass their own relievers just as much as the away team's.
And then, because it was a bit rainy before the game, we were treated to a very lovely bit of rainbow above the Qwest building at Coors Field. The Brewers are on the field there. The Brewers got beat pretty badly at this game, but we did get to see Corey Hart hit a home run late in the game. The Rockies' Ryan Spilborghs also went yard. The only disappointments that I had at the game were that Carlos Gonzalez was still out following a collision with an outfield wall just before the All-Star break, and I didn't get a photo of our section's beer guy. Captain Earthman is apparently an installation at Coors Field, and I absolutely see why. I've seldom seen anyone who enjoys the job as much as he appears to enjoy his. If you're going to Coors Field, try sitting in the vicinity of Section 155 or nearby to get the most of the experience.

03 July 2011

Èccolo World Traveler Journal

I've been thinking about this journal for a long time because I originally thought that it would be my travel journal for my UK trip at the end of May. I ended up choosing a blank Exacompta journal for that because of the blank pages, but now I've got the Èccolo World Traveler Journal beside my bed for those middle-of-the-night ideas and so on. So let's talk about the wee thing, shall we?

Lovely shade of green, and the tree-in-relief is a great textural detail.
It's 5x7 inches (12x17 cm for the metric-using folks), and it contains 256 lined pages. I am a big, big fan of notebooks that are generous with their included pages. The little specifications sleeve there on the right (which is removable, of course--just a bit of cardboard) says it's got an "Italian Faux Leather Cover." I don't have any idea what that actually means, and the other side of the sleeve says it was made in China. Whether that means the cover material was made in Italy and it was all assembled in China or it's actually faux Italian leather which was made in China because it's only faux-Italian or the sleeve was the thing actually made in China (I'm guessing that is not the right answer), I don't know. I blame this on the vagaries of English and the deliberate vagaries of product labeling. And that's all of only secondary importance because the key thing here is that I love how this cover feels. It definitely feels almost like leather, but with a certain near-rubberyness that makes it feel like this journal would bounce if the cover were just a little thicker. It's supple and smooth and the center image of the tree is in relief on the darker green background. It's a nice textural detail that adds interest without being obtrusive.

Now the paper.
That'll do, Notebook. That'll do.
This is, of course, not Clairefontaine, not Rhodia, but it definitely does better than okay. The paper is a nice ivory color that's a bit more cream-colored than it appears in the photo, and it holds up pretty well to most of the inks I tried with it. There's very, very little feathering. If you click to embiggen, you'll see a bit of capillary action with the Levenger Cocoa and the Tsuki-yo, but it's remarkably crisp with the Raven Black, the 1670, and the Diamine Syrah. Also, I'll forgive this paper for feathering a smidge with the Tsuki-yo because that was put down with a Noodler's Flex pen, where there's a lot of ink to deal with. I was surprised by the Cocoa feathering--where I think it's the most pronounced--because that's one of my most well-behaved inks. Of course, it could be that the True Writer/Cocoa combo have declared themselves as being in a fully committed relationship with my Ecosystem notebooks only. They do see each other most often, and far be it from me to homewreck a happy trio like that.

Perhaps even more exciting is how well it works with the Lamy Studio F and the Raven Black. That's a pen and ink combo I hadn't tried before, and I wish I had. The Studio is sort of my last resort pen. I don't love it, though it writes well enough. It's a weight issue, mostly--it's a little heavier than I prefer. (If anyone wants to propose a trade for the Lamy Studio F, I'm more than willing to entertain suggestions.) But the ink, the pen, and the paper right here are lovely together--the line is fine and neat and smooth. 

I couldn't get a clear image on the reverse side of the paper, but there's a bit of show-through. The worst line, predictably, is the Tsuki-yo because there was a lot of ink involved there (a few little dots of bleed-through, too), and the two True Writer combos follow. The rest of them, however, are quite tidy. Again, the Lamy/Raven duo is the best of the lot--barely so much as a shadow and definitely not enough to interfere with writing on both sides of the paper. The Lamy Joys (both sizes, both inks) also behaved quite well.

When I decided to move this journal to my bedside, I put the Pilot Prera with it because I liked the greens together. After this test, the Studio is definitely going to take up residence there.

The Èccolo is available many places (office supply stores, online, and so on). I think I got mine at Staples, and it cost $7. I definitely consider that a worthwhile purchase. I just wish that it were a little more clear on what the cover is made from. (I'm sure it's some sort of petroleum-based synthetic cover, and I'd rather it weren't. It's very cute, and it performs well, but I still would rather have something like the Ecosystem journal because I know what that whole thing is made from.)

29 June 2011

On finding a quiet place

Another photo from my travels, and one of a monument you likely recognize, of course. Stonehenge. I chose this image because it did what I wasn't quite able to: minimize the presence of people, of noise, of crowding. You can see a few folks in the background on the righthand side of the photo, but that's mostly it.

Stonehenge, which came after Strawhenge and Woodhenge. (*hat tip to Eddie Izzard*)
The reality of the situation is that the site was a constant stream of people. There is a paved pathway around the monument, and the stones themselves are (rightly) cordoned off and protected. (In touristing eras past, it was possible to hire a hammer from the smithy in Amesbury and break off a bit of magical Stonehenge souvenir. Stonehenge was also used for target practice during the Second World War.) Around the paved pathway, throngs of tourists (myself included) circle, mill, snap photos, recite bits of stand-up comedy routines, and think about how much more grand the postcards look. I won't lie--I have always thought the stones were a bit taller. They're still incredible, and even more incredible to think that a full third of the upright stones is still buried in the ground, to think that all of these things were cut and hauled and erected by hand. To think that, regardless of our technology, our advancements, our radiocarbon dating, we still don't know what Stonehenge's purpose is with any degree of certainty. And, it seems that no one, at the point of Britain becoming a literate land, knew, either. It had long been abandoned. There are early medieval mentions that the monument is attributed to Merlin, who built it to demonstrate Arthur's might. By most accounts, if there was an Arthur, the prime time for him is in the wake of the Roman occupation (let's have round numbers and say 400 A.D.-ish), leaving a scant few hundred years between Merlin's creation and the people who were making a connection between Stonehenge and Arthur. Stonehenge is, of course, much older than that. 

The long and the short of it: we don't know much. We know it does work as a solar calendar. We know it was built in stages. We know where the stones come from. But we don't know who. We don't know why.

These were two questions I was trying to think on, shuffling around the great stone circle, trying to avoid stepping into someone else's photo, trying to avoid jostling toddlers and the people paying more attention to the audio guide device than anything else. I'm disappointed to say that all I really thought about was space, how I wanted it, how much I wanted to be alone in that place, to sit on the grass and "think deep thoughts" at it and about it. I thought about how all of these people were keeping me from thinking, from hearing whatever it was that I might hear. And I thought, if I couldn't do that, I wanted to walk out through the farmers' fields on the Salisbury plain and stand atop one of the many barrows that dot the landscape, and look from there. From the nearest barrow--probably a third of a mile? just a guess--Stonehenge would look even smaller. One would be yet further removed. I didn't do that, either--the forty minutes our bus tour allowed us there were fully eaten up by the queue, the circumnavigation, a trip to the necessary. 

Then we were on the bus, zipping off toward Bath. Stonehenge: check.

It seems selfish now. To capture, to take that photo (and thirty-two more), to pretend in some way that I have that place. I do have it: the image, the brochure, the memory. To wish that I'd had it all to myself (I do that a lot--living in Wyoming, where the population is rather low, makes me even more of a misanthrope than before because now I'm sort of surprised to see other people, wherever I go), to think that I could get more from it alone than in company. To think that I could hear something if I could only listen carefully enough (and damn all the other people there trying to do the exact same thing).

I've been trying to distill all of those thoughts into something useful. (Tip: being annoyed at people for simply being in the same place one is isn't very useful. I continue to work on this.) What I've come up with: I don't think anything's been unduly harmed by the consumption of the place through gawking and photos--Stonehenge has been there for thousands of years, and it will be there a mite longer, too. That's not so much useful as it simply is. There are beautiful and mysterious places in this world. I'm all for seeing them in a non-destructive way. 

But the desire to have the space to listen--I think this is a useful want. (And desire is at the heart of all suffering, but art is also suffering, if you believe a lot of people who've talked about it. Ouroboros.) It's a difficult thing to achieve, though. 

One neighbor is doing a very ambitious renovation that involves the removal of a garage, an asphalt driveway, and the re-addition of those things plus a new kitchen. It's going to be rather beautiful. It's also been crazy loud (but bless him--all of the jackhammering and backhoe work have been done well after sun-up and have ceased well before sundown). There's no other way to do construction, and it's happening in as neighbor-friendly a way as is possible. 

I live in a residential neighborhood. School is out, and so the kids are out. Children running about causes an equal number of excitable neighborhood dogs to voice their candid canid opinions on things. I was a child at one point, and I used to have a dog. None of this is surprising.

I have one cat who has declared lifelong enmity against her own tail. This results in her yowling and hissing and screaming at her own back half while running from room to room. This happens about five times a day. 

I have a laptop that connects to the internet, where I can follow Facebook and Twitter and a thousand awesome blogs and can browse for recipes and books and obscure bits of knowledge I never needed until right this very second. 

I have a phone that sends and receives texts to and from people I love. (And yes, phonecalls, too, but not nearly as often.)

I have MLB.tv. That's all I need say about that.

I have courses to plan.

I have books to read. 

I have a lot of things that I think stand in the way of my being able to listen. Of my being able to hear whatever it is that something is trying to tell me. And right now, that "something" is my novel. When I can't hear it, I can't write it. And if I can't write it, what am I doing with my life?

There isn't ever going to be a (good) way to close all of the "noise" out. I certainly shouldn't want to. (Though I'd be forever grateful if I never got another Farmville Request or had to hear someone in the neighborhood screaming at their dog or child or missing left sock.)

And so what does one do? Find ways to listen. Set aside moments for clarity. This requires a certain kind of selfishness. I've certainly heard of this before. No, the laundry doesn't actually need to be folded this very second; no, I don't actually need to refresh my e-mail seven times in ten minutes because someone might need me; no, I don't actually need to go to Sportsman's Warehouse with my BFF to help him pick out a new pair of waders. Make the time where one is free to listen.

There's also the selflessness. Maybe the forgetting of self is what I really mean. Forgetting the ego, the part that likes excuses that protect vanity. Push back the self(ish)-pity that wants to say, "Well, my neighborhood was loud. I couldn't concentrate." My neighborhood will never be quiet. Push back the self-indulgent impulse that says "one more game of Bejeweled before I start working" because I'm not actually enjoying playing that damn game; I'm just avoiding starting because I'm afraid. Afraid that if I listen carefully, I won't hear anything. That the work has nothing to say to me.

Some days, of course, it might not. Not all days are marvels of creativity. So on those days, listen to something else. Or beat the work with a hammer until it talks. Don't take no for an answer. Wait. Wait. Be patient. (Everything talks, in the end.)

And, of course, do visit some of those places where no one else is. Where whatever speaks is there for you alone.
On the island of Tjärö, Sweden  

22 June 2011


Okay, so this title is a bit misleading, since I've been unpacked (and back from my travels) for quite a while. But let's go with the metaphorical version of this, since this is the week when I feel like I have an actual chance to mentally unpack. The week after returning from the UK adventure, I spent trying to figure out what timezone I was in and getting the garden and such in place so that we could enjoy a few days of my sister-in-law visiting. Which we did, and that was awesome, and it involved a trip to Denver for delicious food and the Real Pirates Exhibition at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Before I say anything else, let me say that if you're anywhere remotely near Denver, you need to get yourself to that exhibit before it closes in August. It presents the story of Captain Sam Bellamy and the Whydah (as well as the recovery of the wreck of the Whydah), and it is a damn fine story. (Peter Jackson, would you please make the film adaptation of this?)

But. I have no photos of that. I do have a few photos from my UK extravaganza, though. (Operative word being "few"--I took almost 300 photos, but you don't really need--or want--the minute-by-minute play-by-play. This post is by no means a catalog of everything I saw. It's just a few representative of the things I liked.)

Death's head marker at Greyfriar's Kirk. Lots of Memento Mori goodness there.
Greyfriar's Kirk is in Edinburgh, which was--and still is--my favorite place anywhere. I've been trying to figure out why that is, and the best guess that I can come up with is that Edinburgh was the place where I first was on my own in any substantial way. In 2003, between finishing my BA and starting my MA, I did a 3-week summer program at the University of Edinburgh, and it was the first time I'd flown by myself, my first time out of the country, my first time negotiating a real city on my own. It was also a place where I met many, many wonderful people, two of whom I had a chance to meet up with again on this trip. (And somehow I managed to neglect getting photos of either of them. I am significantly useless with a camera.) But one thing that I did do, after seeing one of those friends in Edinburgh and chatting rather late into the night, was walk across the city at midnight, under a light rain and strangely warm skies. And that was the greatest peace that I've felt in a very, very long time. Edinburgh feels like home. I've been there three times. Every time I love it more.
Meconopsis flowers at the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens. I adore these flowers. 
 It's a fairly difficult to find truly blue anything in nature, and that's perhaps why I am so fascinated by blue flowers. The Edinburgh Botanic Gardens were lovely in all ways, but most particularly for this blue flower. I fear Wyoming is rather dry for such a plant, but I can think happy blue thoughts about them, anyway.
The Brazen Head, Dublin. The oldest pub in Ireland (dating to 1198) where we saw storyteller Johnny Daly and had the best Irish stew ever. Apologies, Mr. Man, for taking your picture while you were trying to take a picture yourself.
One of the major highlights of the trip for me was this trip to The Brazen Head. It was a night of stories, music, and excellent food. If you're in Dublin, check out Johnny Daly and Irish Folk Tours. You shan't be disappointed.

For the fountain pen folks: in London, I found Penfriend, in the Burlington Arcade, which was a perfectly lovely little shop. The clerk was very friendly and kind to me, even though I clearly was not going to be the object of a large sale (or any sale at all, actually). Definitely worth a visit, particularly if one is interested in vintage pens. (They do have things for sale through the website, too.)

I had only one real disappointment on the trip, but it was a big one: Beowulf wasn't on display. Despite what the British Library website said. It was off for conservation. I didn't weep openly, but that was a very near thing. It was crushing enough to completely put me off my game, direction-wise, too, which also hurt my pride. I suppose that simply means I'll have to go back. (Gawain and the Green Knight was also off. That's two reasons.)

I did, however, see the Sutton Hoo hoard and the Franks Casket. Yeah, for medieval nerds, that's like seeing Becks and Posh. You don't even know how much hand-flapping there was in the British Museum (which, by the way, is completely overwhelming and brilliant and lovely).

I'm going to leave you with a Rodin sculpture that I couldn't stop looking at. It's housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum (which is a thousand times more awesome than any of the descriptive blurbs in travel guides make it sound). The sculpture is titled La France, and it is a likeness of his pupil/assistant/lover, Camille Claudette.
It doesn't matter where you stand. She isn't looking at you.
In future posts, perhaps, I'll toss in another photo or two from this trip, as they seem relevant. Really, I'm no photographer. I take pictures to remind myself of the narrative of the trip, to remember structural details for research purposes, to please my inner Boswell. The best course of action, claro, is to see all of these things with one's own eyes.

19 May 2011

If I had a hammer...

...an enchanted one, made of uru-metal, forged in the heart of a dying star, I'd use it to fly (or literally throw myself) to the UK tomorrow. But since I don't have one of those, and there's no Rainbow Bridge across the Atlantic, I have to settle for United Airlines.

In twenty-four hours, I'll have the first of tomorrow's four flights complete. (I like early, but the wake-up time for the first flight out of Casper is ludicrous.)

I'm off to Ireland and the UK for two weeks, one of which will be spent doing class prep (for future potential study abroad/travel courses), and the other will be spent actually teaching in Londinium. (Yes, I am sort of ridiculously amused by using the earlier historical names for places. We'll be spending a day in Yorvik, too. Have to show some love for the Danes, as well.)

I'm going to see the Beowulf manuscript.

I have scouted its location in the British Library. I have packed a handkerchief.

Also (all forces willing), I'll get to see some friends I haven't seen in years, which makes me so happy.

Carry-on, my wayward son...
And all of this fits (more or less) neatly into my one personal item, and the trip is being done with a carry-on only. I'm confining myself to one journal, but I am sneaking along a number of pens. There are currently six, though I might pare that down by two. (The Signos are fine and all, but I'm not in love, and I likely won't use the green and the blue that often, since I'm taking the Prera and some blue-black cartridges.)

I'm also borrowing the iPad you see in the back of the photo. It's currently loaded with George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones because I haven't read any of that series yet and I probably ought to, as it, with the advent of the new television series, may become another one of those popular touchstones with my students. (Also, Sean Bean is in the series. So I'll watch it at some point.) I will try not to be a fantasy snob at it.

I've also taken advantage of some of the free e-editions: Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein, Treasure Island, Passage to India. Yes, yes, I am aware that I am a perfectly shoddy English major with no right to my degrees for having those books on a to-read and not on a have-read list. But, honestly, for someone who loves the Anglo-Saxons so much, all of these novels are frankly new-fangled. They've not been out for a full two hundred years. So no spoilers, folks. No spoilers.

May manage an update or two as I go, but I'm not certain. Haven't attempted anything half so complex on the iPad, with which I have only a very shaky peace.

Book recommendations left for when I get back (when I'll have some proper "summer") would be ever-so-much appreciated.

01 May 2011

Spring Cleaning

I flushed, cleaned, and readied all of my pens (save two) for new ink on Saturday morning.

I will likely do this again later this week because it was rather therapeutic (and because I didn't take any ruddy pictures and because my four favorite pens are currently not at home). The failure of it was, though, that I managed to leave my two favorites (my True Writers) in my office and my next two favorites (the new Prera and my Parker Vector) at a friend's house last night. I also left my day planner, my blank Clairefontaine, and apparently my willpower at said friend's house. (There have been Cadbury Egg casualties in large numbers this weekend.)

But: I did have the experience of cleaning out two cartridges for refilling. What a nifty and painless experience when one has a syringe for such a task. The converter for my Prera is so incredibly petite that I will likely use the empty cartridge for swapping ink colors, thought. And though I have no photos just now, the Prera is refilled with Noodler's Black Swan in Australian Roses (I'm kind of in love with that ink. Don't judge me) and the Vector has its empty cartridge refilled with J. Herbin Bleu Myosotis. I filled my Lamy Studio with some of the Noodler's Kung Te-Cheng sample I got last week. Lovely ink. The pen continues to underwhelm me, but I'll give it some more time.

All of this is in preparation for the Great Grading Odyssey that will be the next two weeks for me. I graded a huge whack of papers today, too, alternating between the Lamy Studio, a blue Signo, and the .3 mm Zebra Sarasa. Okay, so I "alternated" for about eight papers, and then I clutched the Sarasa tight and wouldn't let anyone else play (since my go-to pens are partying elsewhere without me and I'm a bad pen-custodian). I wasn't sure I'd like the superfine tip on the Sarasa, but I do. It writes in a lovely chocolatey brown, and there were no smudging problems.

Another experiment in this arena soon. It's hard to decide what will go into my True Writers next. It's likely that Black Swan will go in the stub (again. still) and my trusty Levenger Cocoa will end up in the Waterlilies pen, as that is absolutely my favorite grading combination, but I'll go through so much ink in the next two weeks, I can likely let everyone play.

24 April 2011

A very lovely weekend

The fact that this was a three-day weekend two weeks before the end of the semester certainly didn't hurt its quality. There was a great deal of grading, of course, but there was also a lot of cooking, two excellent meals out with friends, and baseball. Roy Halladay pitched another masterpiece today for the Phillies. Glorious.

One of the other things, though, that made this weekend so lovely was the amount of time I was able to spend engaged in making things. I finished knitting a baby sweater for a friend in the most perfectly delicious Malabrigo (Silky Merino) in a brilliantly cheerful creamsicle color. Just have to find some buttons for it and sew up the seams. That was mostly what I did between grading sessions over the past week, and it was comforting to have a knitting project that I really enjoyed again. (The last two times I knit something, it was with yarn that I really, really disliked. My next project is the same way, alas, but I'm hoping that large needles and such will speed it along.) More significantly, it was lovely to have something to do as a break between necessary professional tasks that felt both purposeful and relaxing.

That brings me to the other exciting part of this weekend.

As I mentioned in my last entry, I ordered some new journals and some pens. And some ink. I was particularly excited to finally get my paws on some Noodler's Black Swan in Australian Roses, and for good reason. I adore it in my Levenger True Writer stub nib. The ink behaves quite beautifully on all manner of paper (as I discovered while using it for grading--bright enough to see, not red-red enough to give things the Ink of the Damned feeling), and the slight shading qualities are enhanced by the stub. Inkwise, I also picked up some samples of Noodler's Kung Te-Cheng, Diamine Green-Black (currently in my True Writer Fine and currently lovely), and Diamine Syrah from the lovely Goulet Sample Shop. In the same Goulet order, I also picked up an Exacompta Basic Sketchbook. With which I am in love. In which I am trying not to write until it's time because that journal is going to have a specific purpose. I'm staving off my desire to use it by using a blank Clairefontaine journal, and that's been a pretty good fixer. (I got a blue cover. I am so pleased that my randomly-chosen cover was blue. It is, so much, my favorite.)

And then, because I was having a crisis over writing implements on my upcoming trans-Atlantic jaunt, I skittered over to JetPens for some non-fountainy options. I did get a few Uni-Ball Signo 207s (black, blue, green) and a Zebra Sarasa (0.3 mm brown) for my travel workhorses because both have gotten such positive reviews on PenAddict & OfficeSupplyGeek. I also had an artsy whim and got a Uni-Ball Pocket Brush Pen. I am, of course, quite pleased with all of them--they'll serve their purpose and give me some color options with very little fuss.

I also might have blacked out and ordered a lime green Pilot Prera with a fine nib.

The lime green Pilot Prera is not a pen I expected to be interested in. For one, it's lime green. You can tell by the color scheme on the blog and by the inks I mentioned above that I'm not really a lime person. (They're quite delicious fruits, and I may occasionally be limey, but I don't do much in the "bright color" spectrum.) It's also a glossy, single-color barrel. But I love it so much I actually woke up at 5:15 on Friday morning (the day that I had designated as my "sleep as long as you want" day) because I was excited about using it again. (I stayed up past midnight on Thursday--well, into Friday--doodling with it.)

And I think that's why I was so excited. I was actually drawing things with it. Before I graduated high school, I made certain to take an art class every year. I was, by no means, any kind of natural talent, and I don't have one of those spatial memories that can envision--with great clarity--the far sides of objects or what something might look like lying on its side and so on, but I did okay. Most importantly, I loved it. And because I had my life-goals set out in front of me (and they didn't involve visual arts), I could love it simply, easily, without pressure or expectation. I hadn't realized how much I missed that in the past few years.

In the past three days, I've doodled a lot of my favorite, recurring subjects: fruit, trees, branches with cherry blossoms, bamboo. I also tried drawing a few faces, based on some useful tutorials (proportions, and so on) that I stumbled across. I've never much liked drawing people, but I managed a few who actually look like people, and I really enjoyed it.

And I drew this bamboo. I really like drawing plants. They don't give me any lip.
I did this with the Prera, fine tip, with a Pilot/Namiki cartridge in blue/black. The color is really lovely, and I'm sad that it isn't waterproof because I'd love to do a watercolor-tinted sketch with this pen. (I don't get many options for FP-safe waterproof inks, do I?) I think what I love best about this pen is its ability to make soft, sketchy lines. I'm a big fan of my True Writer for writing because, despite its fine tip, as a Western fine, it makes a pretty assertive line, especially given my usual inks (Levenger Cocoa, Iroshizuku Tsuki-yo). When I write, I generally do feel assertive. Writing isn't always easy, but I feel like I know what I'm doing. I know my strengths, my weaknesses, how to play to one, how to challenge the other. When I'm drawing, I am much more tentative. I certainly feel rusty at this point, but even when I was drawing something in class, two or three times a week, I still made the same line, lightly, a dozen times over, before I would commit to a bold line. (And even then, I kind of resented it.) I should get into the habit of sketching in pencil and then doing cleaner lines in ink for that reason, but I also like instant gratification and can never find a pencil or a decent eraser when I want one.

The only problem is that now, I will want to have this pen and a blank journal (in addition to my lined "everything" notebook and all of my other pens) with me at all times. That runs counter to my (often futile) attempts at traveling light. Ah, well. Small price to pay for a rekindled love.

17 April 2011

Recharge & Refresh

This is a strange post title for anything that happens in April for an English professor (as April & May, like November & December, are The Months of Interminable Grading), but this has been a good weekend for feeling a little more refreshed. One thing that has contributed to that is the stubbornness of greenery. It's cold here, still, in Wyoming. We haven't had lots of snow like certain parts of the Dakotas and Colorado, but it hasn't been very warm, either. There haven't been many overt signs of spring from the atmosphere. The ground, though, refuses to be contained: we have a few tulips sneaking up around the front porch, and folks lucky enough to have daffodil bulbs planted are seeing persistent knots of brilliant yellow ringing their steps. The grass is the kind of saturated green that I have missed from the east coast, the kind of color that doesn't last long here. We're not really getting leaves on trees, not beyond the limy fuzz of buds, but there's promise. I'm holding onto that.

There's been grading, too (there always is), but I also spent an hour this afternoon playing with some Derwent watercolor pencils and a thoroughly ancient set of Prang watercolors. (Yes, I know. We used the exact same sets in middle school. It's likely that this set came from middle school.) I didn't turn out anything that I was particularly excited about, particularly because I went into it without any kind of plan, and it's been so long since I've painted that I need some sort of visual reference. Which I didn't have. None of that is the point. The point is that I was inspired a few days ago by Lavinia Spalding's book Writing Away. We're using that book for the travel-writing component of a study-abroad class I'm co-teaching with some colleagues in a few weeks. Spalding talks a great deal about journaling (which I'm not very good at, in any kind of organized way), and she talks a lot about creating pictorial art of varying kinds. I got the itch. I'm now waiting for an Exacompta journal and some other shiny things from Goulet Pens & JetPens.

When those things come in, I'm going to try to have an organized journaling experience, at least in the context of this trip. We'll see how that turns out.

The other point of it is how excited I am about this trip, now, in this context. It's not that I wasn't looking forward to it before; it's that there's an anticipation associated with the creation of the artifact around the trip, too. (And it's not just the anticipation of new stationary fumes, of course, though that's certainly attractive.)

Hopefully I'll have some pictures of something sometime soon. Right now, there's The Fall of Sam Axe and more grading to fill my evening.

03 April 2011

No Pelikans, So How About Pelicans?

So, as I am wont to do every time I go to some sort of major urban center, I checked out St. Petersburg for fountain pen stores. I didn't find any. (Granted, my search wasn't super-thorough, as I knew I'd be confined to the area near my conference, but I didn't get a sense of there being much choice in the matter.) Thus, instead of Pelikans, you get pelicans, and the pelicans are doing their thing at the St. Petersburg pier.
This pelican is a rock. He is an island.

Hail, hail, the gang's all here.
I spent a full day squeaking every time I saw an anole. Which was a lot of times. They are so cool. Almost as cool as stegosauruses.
And, because we went to a Tampa Bay Rays game, have some baseball players. None of them appeared to be using fountain pens at any point in the game. That's probably wise.
Vladimir Guerrero & Brian Roberts, warming up at the Rays vs. Orioles game.
Also, this seems like a fine time to show off some new pen gear I got for my birthday: an Aston pen case and a small, blank Rhodia Webbie. My delightful husband picked them up at GouletPens. Oh, I have a new appreciation for a blank journal. I don't use blank journals much, since I'm far more a writer than an artist (and I have an inability to write in a straight line), but getting this little blank journal made me want to sketch a few things. On the page spread that you can see below, I sketched one of the conference presenters' water glass. It's not by any means masterful, but I can tell it is, in fact, a little cup. The Rhodia paper is, of course, dreamy. It's a very pleasant cream color, which I didn't expect that I would like, but I do. Particularly for my sketchy little embarkations.

Closed journal & open pen case. True Writers, both of them. 
All of these things in action.
Because some of you may wish to know: the writing is done with a True Writer stub filled with J. Herbin Bleu Myosotis, which is the black pen in this photo. The Waterlilies pen is filled with Iroshizuku Tsuki-yo. These are easily my two favorite inks thus far in my inky experimentations. Interesting thing about the Bleu Myosotis: it seems to mellow and lighten with age. By age, I mean a few hours. When it's newly dry on the page, it's a much more saturated and dark tone, nearly purple. After a few hours, it gentles to its highly shaded periwinkle. Mostly, I point this out because it's neat.

It's going to be a hard choice when I have to pick a journal to take with me to the UK this May. I purchased a slightly larger one (lined, not a Rhodia) for that purpose, but I really do like the blank paper in this Rhodia because of the urge to sketch things. And, well, the paper behaves gorgeously. It is a bit small, though, to do a whole lot of real writing in--I feel like I should write much smaller than I usually do in the small pad, and that slows me down a bit. 

Decisions, decisions.

31 March 2011

A picture of that stegosaurus

This is the stegosaurus I was talking about yesterday. I thought you needed to see it. 
Stegosaurus = coolest dinosaur ever. Just sayin'.
Update on Florida: we are here and that's pretty glorious (humidity! heat!). Last night, we hit up the Red Mesa Cantina for dinner. That was pretty transcendent. I had a duck taco with red chili jam. And fried yucca, which I'd never had before. Deliciousness. And even through I didn't order a margarita (and our waiter was pretty disappointed in our choice of plain unsweetened iced tea), he showed us cell-phone videos of the Grand Prix race that had taken place in the city last weekend. (He was a great waiter. I wish he'd told us his name.)

Today, I spent a big chunk of my day learning about literary studies & American studies topics I didn't know about and hanging out with a former grad school colleague that I never really knew very well while we were in the same grad program. It was rather lovely. I'm inspired (doubly) to actually make my own peanut butter, and now I have a few South American authors to check out. (This is the magic of conversations with English majors: you learn about new writers and exciting things to read.)

Also, there were tornado warnings/watches all day, so plans to go exploring in St. Pete got considerably derailed. But baseball has begun, so we spent the evening watching the Cardinals/Padres & the Giants/Dodgers games. I just wish I hadn't run out of books to read: I read all of Kingsolver's The Bean Trees on the flight to Tampa. I'm now bookless (though I'm hoping to find something exciting at the conference book fair tomorrow for the way home).

30 March 2011

Feeling like Georges Perec

Let me start this post by saying that I adore Georges Perec. (Look at him on this French postage stamp. How can you not love that face?) Species of Spaces and Other Pieces is, for reasons that astound and befuddle me, one of the most important books that I've ever read. I encountered this book in my History of the Essay course at Ohio University where it was included on intense and fascinating reading reading list assembled by Dr. David Lazar. (This course was one of my favorites through six years of graduate work, but maybe more on that another time.) The amazing thing is that I don't particularly care for things like Perec's work. I'm one of those people who is all about the narrative--give me story, give me character, let me latch on and sink in. Perec's work--even his fiction, which I have not successfully read--resists all of those things that I usually love. Species of Spaces is playful, experimental, resistant. It uses footnotes and marginalia, but not in any way that clarifies. It puzzles and paces in the Oulipo manner. Each note, each point, spirals the reader off into another direction. The book, which is a collection of a number of Perec's writings, changes topic quickly, easily. It discourages immersion in any one direction, and yet, he asks, seriously, for the reader to consider teaspoons, the blank center of a page, staircases and airports and how we might live in them.

It's that last, of course, that rings in my brain today. And I'm wickedly vexed that I don't have my copy of Species of Spaces with me, that I have to do my quoting from memory (bound to be inaccurate) and without citations (blasphemy, horror, crisis), but I can't get it out of my mind. Because I am in an airport this morning, on this, my twenty-ninth birthday, due to spend most of the day flying. (It began with getting out of bed at 4:00 a.m. I am definitely calling a Mulligan on my birthday and re-celebrating sometime next week.) An early flight out of Casper has led me to a two-hour pause in Denver, early in the day, and I am thinking of Georges Perec, who was fascinated by airports, who asked, in Species of Spaces, how we might live more in them. Perec was writing well before 9/11, before the days of intense airport security and screenings, before only the people going somewhere had any business in the airport proper. I am "going somewhere," I belong here. I have the right to these small shops and all of these convenient (and overpriced) dining options. Here in Denver, I have the right to look at these tiled floors with their metallic dinosaur inlay. (Okay, that one I'm grateful for. How freaking cool is that? Stegosaurus--world's best dinosaur--hanging out on the floor.) In many airports, those "rights" include things like access to art displays that aren't anywhere else. (It includes the right to duty-free purchases of very expensive things like perfume and alcohol. Every time I'm in an airport, I think I should do all of my holiday shopping in one fell swoop, but how would I get everything home? When I'm in an airport, the last thing I want to do is add to the things I carry. This entry is feeling like a reference to everything. Hello, Tim O'Brien. Hello, Pico Ayer. Hello, hello, hello.)

On the whole, if it weren't for the strange alienation that is modern traveling--the immediate separation from whomever has dropped you off at the airport, the invasions of privacy (and I understand the precautions and I accept that, but I do feel a little twinge every time I toss that clear plastic bag on the scanner belt: yes, that's my astringent, yes, my skin has no idea how to cope with this dryness and this altitude; yes, that's my deodorant, yes, friendly agent, you now know what my underarms smell like)--airports would be amazing places to "live" in. I don't literally mean like that Tom Hanks movie from half a decade ago, but they are fascinating. There's such an intersection of humanity in these places, so many things to see and watch. It is all of life's experiences, gathered in one space.

And it isn't even just our species in these spaces. Here in Denver this morning, I have been watching, with a kind of ridiculous glee, the sparrows that have somehow found their way into the place. They seem fat and happy, picking up the crumbs of our terminal snacking, gathering in small groups of three or four to bounce into this corner or that for a stray French fry or the flakes of the passable pain au chocolat that I can never contain.

But I have seen a man towing a small rolling trunk as his luggage, strapped around with leather, clasped tight in brass. A woman does yoga--downward-facing dog to child's pose--at our nearly-empty gate. All around this place, complete strangers catch bits of sleep. Where else do we act at such an apparent level of comfort in the presence of people we have never met?

We do it, to a certain extent, in places like this, in blogs and on the internet more generally, but there's some sort of connection. In a blog post, we usually have a sense of who the audience is. A community rises up around such a thing, whether small or large. And information on the internet must still be sought out. In airports, we do not know who we're looking at. We do not know their history unless it's shared overtly, through dialog or through the trappings of their travel. (I like to try to piece together people's travel stories by watching, by looking at bags and the places their snacks have come from, by their shoes and their hats and their glasses.) But there's no way of confirming any of that. We can only see what we see--that these two business folk, with large rolling bags, have set themselves down beside the woman doing yoga, and now she is not doing it anymore. Now she has gotten up, gone off somewhere else. Is she discomfited by their presence? Is she off getting a coffee before the flight? This airport attendant, driving a cart, is singing an actual blues tune. This airport attendant, pushing an empty wheelchair, interrupts the song to borrow a radio.

We are so naked here, though we're often wearing coats and scarves and another layer in case the plane is cold. We are unarmored, even though we are clad with bags and backpacks and rolling suitcases that prevent anyone from crowding too close.

It's fascinating. I don't know what Perec would think of this new system, the way we cannot wait with family and friends, that we cannot eat in this cafe because it is past security, that we cannot carry our own cafe au lait into this foreign space. But I think I can say, with a fair amount of certainty, that he would look for a way to live in it.

In honor of that, I'm going to go take a photo of that stegosaurus on the floor. I'd put it in this post, but the DIA wifi set-up will not allow me to add an image to this post for some reason I cannot even begin to fathom.

24 March 2011

Between Seasons

This post is certainly wishful thinking--spring in Wyoming generally has very little to do with the month of March. However, last week we had some properly warm days--I even opened a window or two once or twice--and it fooled at least one crocus per block into springing forth. We have some tulip greens inching their way up. But there will, certainly, be more snows on the way, and I'm not putting away my wool coat yet.

Still, everything feels strangely in-between right now. I know that winter is not over yet, that spring hasn't quite arrived, either, but the weather bounces from sixty to snow in the same afternoon. Spring break has come and it has gone (and it was lovely, lovely, lovely, by the way), so we're not headed toward any big breaks, but we're also a full six weeks from finals, so it's not yet time to put the sled on that slope. I'm grateful that I don't get seasonal migraines or other ailments connected to things like humidity and barometric pressure shifts--the way March and April yo-yo here, I'd be toast.

We're almost to the start of the professional baseball season (blessed be), but not quite. (Right now, mostly, I wish we could skip the rest of pre-season entirely because my Phillies keep getting injured.)

Both music and silence sound wrong on my ears. I listened to fifteen seconds of twelve songs in the last ten minutes, and then I turned off my iTunes. It's almost all I can do to keep from bouncing up and down at my desk, but I'd also very much like to go back to sleep this very second. (But what I'm going to do, in half an hour, is go talk about Rosetti's "Goblin Market" and Elizabeth Gaskell and Charles Dickens.)

And so, I'll leave you with a link to this phenomenal interview from The Paris Review with Anne Carson to get you through the in-betweens, if you're feeling them to. She's genius. Pure genius.

14 March 2011

Reality Check

Last week was the lead-up to our Spring Break. The past two weeks have felt like a manic blur, but I didn't quite realize just how ridiculous it was until mid-week last week. This is what happened:

I have ten minutes between my classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Out of those ten minutes, I try, barring student emergencies/questions, to at least get back to my office for about six of them so that I can refill my mug with tea (or just plain hot water some days) and so that I can check my e-mail to be certain that any of my students in the upcoming sections who are trying desperately to get in touch with me on my teaching-barrage days can get some kind of response. On Wednesday of last week, I was in the middle of this process--one hand on the HotShot for my tea refill, standing in front of my desk, leaning over the keyboard to send a quick reply to an e-mail--when a colleague walked by my office. He saw me, stopped in my doorway, came into my office.

He said, "Leaning over your desk like that is going to kill your back when you get older." He grinned, but he had legitimate concern, as anyone who spends a lot of time at a desk knows. (And nevermind with any of that "when you get older" business. Two years ago, in the midst of dissertation madness, my back and neck crackled like cellophane every time I moved because of my bad desk--and lack of desk--habits.)

I said, half-laughing, that there just wasn't time to sit down. My colleague just shook his head and went on his way.

It wasn't until I was actually in the classroom a few minutes later that I realized that I'd meant what I said. And how ridiculous that was.

Making time to do things that are good for one's whole well-being--sensible, easy things, like having a seat before working at the computer (unless one is going to commit to an actual standing desk that is designed for a standing person)--shouldn't be a hard decision. I'm not talking about large life-changes or even the cultivation of significant helpful habits (like waking up earlier to read or meditate or write or spending twenty minutes a day tidying one's place to avoid Imminent Cleanliness Disasters in the future). There are lots and lots of blogs that address these types of habits and decisions. (Zen Habits is one that I rather like.) I'm talking about accepting that sitting down is worthwhile. That eating lunch with both hands (instead of having one hand on a keyboard) is a valid thing to do.

This is one of those times where my mother would point out that no amount of education can create common sense. This is one of those times where my mother would be ever-so-right.

So. Once Spring Break started properly (Sunday afternoon, really), I decided that I would work all Spring Break on things that made me feel accomplished, as opposed to busy. That's not to say that I won't be busy; I still have a to-do list and a number of work-related tasks that have to be completed. But my break work-load was specifically engineered to avoid a lot of imminent things (like grading masses of papers), so there's actually time to do things that add up to some sort of sense of pleasure and usefulness.

Yesterday, that manifested in putting together some packages for friends, which were mailed this morning. Today, I wrote, I am making granola, and tonight I'm actually going to cook something from my Moroccan cookbook (which I've had for five years but have only ever thought wistfully about). Creating and cooking are both useful and fulfilling to me. (I have tried--and may keep trying--to accept that sometimes it's okay not to be useful, but all that does is make me feel guilty. I try to find a happy medium in things like this, then, to steal from the Enlightenment: sweetness and light.)

What both refreshes you and staves off that feeling that you should be doing something else?

27 February 2011

Discovering My First Fountain Pen (Not Where I Expected It)

I had been under the impression that my first fountain pen was a black plastic Manuscript pen that I bought at Hobby Lobby around the holidays last year. (I purchased it in the hopes that it would somehow stave off my coveting of the Levenger Waterlilies True Writer. It didn’t work.) Then, a few weeks ago, I was rummaging in my little drawer-unit of office supplies (a wretched mess of old ballpoints, metallic gel pens that don’t not-work enough to allow myself to toss them, 3.5” disks, and shop bags from special stores). And I found a pen I’d forgotten I’d had: a blue-plastic-barreled fountain pen with silver accents. I remembered: one of my uncles (the same one who loaned me The Lord of the Rings trilogy for my first read through the series) had gotten me a fountain pen—one that used cartridges—for a birthday. It might have been my sixteenth, even, or it was a gift for high school graduation—I’m ashamed to say I don’t remember what the real occasion was.

Pen photographed on a bit of Japanese cloth given to me by a coworker

And I don’t really remember using the pen. Even without having the accurate memory, though, I can tell you  why I don’t remember using the pen: the cartridge. It likely only came with one or two cartridges, and I grew up in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania (an honest hour to anything  like a Staples). This was before I could have ordered anything on the internet, too. And so I would have saved those cartridges, hoarded them until the perfect moment. Then, when I used the first one, I would have thought that the line was too bold, too dark, too certain or too arrogant or too permanent. Too wide. Too something. At sixteen, or eighteen, or whatever, I remember using pencil nearly exclusively, and if I forayed into pen-usage, it was with black Bic stick pens, the kind that left gossamer strands of that viscous ink between letters that smudged, faintly iridescent and sticky. (Those metallic gel pens? I really only used them for drawing on myself and for the occasional whimsical note—on black paper—to friends or my boyfriend, now husband.)

Ink was too permanent. I wrote—poetry, fiction, papers—in pencil. (Still, I didn’t erase much. I’d strike through something in graphite instead of erasing it, oddly enough.) My preference was for the disposable mechanical pencils, though if I could have gotten my hands on a gross of the fat, dark blue Ticonderoga pencils we used in kindergarten, I’d have used only those forever. (In a drawer, in my parents’ house, there’s a two-inch pencil stub with my name—on a tiny slip of paper—still taped to its barrel.) I don’t know if they still make those pencils, but the leads were so smooth, so yielding. I don’t think I’d call them soft, not exactly, because I don’t have much memory of that lead smudging, but they wrote so easily.

And so I wrote in pencil. Either out of ease (little pressure required), out of uncertainty (so much less assertive-looking on the page), or out of habit (very little work was done in pen during my pre-college days—just the final copies of papers). In college, I lost track of my blue fountain pen. It was probably always with me, in that messy drawer of writing utensils, but it certainly wasn’t on my radar.

Fast-forward through three degrees. I still wrote a lot of things in pencil (particularly while grading), though I’d switched to writing my fiction exclusively with the black Bic stick pens. (I learned that pencil-on-looseleaf, carried around on a clipboard shoved in a backpack, leaves one with smudged and often difficult-to-read results.) I wish I’d noticed during my Ph.D. years that the Bics were probably contributing to my massive wrist/hand pain because they require a good bit of pressure to work well, but I didn’t. It wasn’t until my move to Wyoming that fountain pens really hit my radar, completely due to the aesthetics of the pen itself. (I’ve never much cared for a bold line while writing. Growing up, I envied those wispy sketch-lines that come out of taking certain art classes.)

I thought I could stave off the (expensive) urge for a Levenger pen by getting any pen with the “fountain” quality. It didn’t work. My black plastic Manuscript served its purpose, though it also was prone to covering my hands in black ink at any given moment, of getting me used to a bold line. I discovered I liked that. I don’t know if it had to do with having my first “real” job—a full-time position as an instructor; if it had to do with accepting my writing as a legitimate, worthy thing; or if it was simply time. (Having that “real” job also made it possible to even consider a pen that cost more than all of my office supply budget for a four-year graduate degree. And now I know that the Levenger brand pens are on the gentler end of the fountain pen expense scale, for the most part—but that’s another thought for another day.)

The rest, of course, is the current history: fountain pens have become one of my enthusiasms, though the symptoms are relatively minor by comparison to others’. But let me bring this all back to that blue-plastic-barreled pen.

It is, as I have discovered, the most basic model of the Parker Vector, probably from about 1997. The nib is petite, and the point is quite rounded.

Nib very shiny. It says Parker across the base of the nib.
I’m sure there are terms for these features, but I don’t know them. It is extraordinarily light in the hand because the blue plastic is quite thin. It uses cartridges (which I can now get at the local OfficeMax, though they only have black in stock). My current evil plan is to use up at least one cartridge and then refill it with more interesting ink until I have a good reason to order a converter for it. (I much prefer converters to cartridges. I can’t even tell you how much more.) I may even consider making it an eye-dropper pen, though I’ve not done that before.

Have an ink-haiku!
The line it makes is fairly smooth, somewhere around the Western fine that my Levenger True Writer produces. It is a little bit dry-writing, though it cooperates more easily the longer I write with it. It also seems to like the Levenger annotation pad (with a slight bit more tooth to it than the Rhodia) more than other paper options.
Paper is Bloc Rhodia, no. 16

At current, I will likely not use it very often—just to have something inked in black when I need it, as my other three everyday writers are always done up with something a bit more colorful—but I am glad to have it. This pen came to me because my uncle recognized, more than a decade ago, that I was someone who took writing seriously. My uncle Dennis has always done this; from him and his wife, I received writing and reading tools (bookmarks, particularly, and the refillable planner I used from freshman year of college until I graduated with my Ph.D., the year that finally killed it) that were both beautiful and functional. Things that were serious business. More importantly, these gifts said that he took what I did seriously, and that interest goes a long way in bolstering the confidence of a young writer and academically-minded person.

21 February 2011

Whirlwind of Writing: AWP Recap, Part 2

This is the post where I put together the oddments (and there is much that is gloriously odd about AWP).

Let's start with reunions. Now that I've moved 1,800 miles from anything that remotely resembled home for me, AWP events are very much reunions because the odds of bumping into anyone I know from all parts of life previous to August of 2009 out here in Wyoming are rather slim. As someone who has wanted to be a writer & an English teacher since the fifth grade, there are a lot of old friends and acquaintances that I stand to see at AWP. There are people from the poetry class at Susquehanna University when I was a high school student (and I have seen at least one person from that class at each AWP event I've been to since that semester in 1999). That one class (and freshman comp, also taken at SU, with the same professor) was incredibly instrumental to my development as a writer. It was with those classmates--including a very, very tall young man who wore an authentic Tom Baker Doctor Who scarf before I even knew what Doctor Who was--that I learned how to accept workshop criticism gracefully. How to do that is a difficult thing to learn, and I'm grateful to have had that opportunity when I was a young writer.

These classmates--from however brief a period, even when I was a high school student well aware of just how out of my depth I was in this class--are a reminder of all of the things that I learned from a really well-run writing classroom. That prepared me to go into my own B.A. program at Lycoming College. There are a lot of excellent people from that program with whom I am close friends, and seeing them becomes one of the major draws for the whole conference. 

And then there are the many writers who I've had the pleasure of hearing read, of meeting once or twice, who I don't know very well but whose presence I look forward to beyond simply enjoying their work. Seeing these many folks--once a year, once every other year, even longer in between--reminds me that distance is less material than I often think it is. There are so many ways to connect with the world, so many ways of knowing and interacting, of meeting new people, too. 

Having this reminder is an integral part negotiating these wide swathes of space that are part of the way our lives take us across the globe. The literary journals and artistic projects that arise from these connections, the way we gather threads from everywhere we've been and everywhere we're going. 

13 February 2011

Whirlwind of Writing: AWP Recap, Part 1

So. I've been away a bit, and that was due to AWP and the resultant plague that not only laid me low but also a few friends as well. I had minor thoughts of blogging AWP, but my internet access was spotty and carrying my netbook around meant less room for potential AWP treasures. I did exercise restraint, though--I came home with one book of poetry and two issues of the remarkable Tuesday: An Art Project. More on that in a future post! (But don't worry--my bookquisitions were limited by the size and weight of my carry-on luggage; I did take copious notes for books to order.)

Little bits of AWP will filter through as time passes. This blog is certainly not on the cutting edge of anything.

I want to talk about AWP and some of the senses today.

The Associated Writing Programs annual conference is a surfeit of excess, and I mean that in every one of the best ways. It might not be so for other writers and readers who come from one metropolitan area to another, but for those of us who have always lived in smaller cities and yea, even in true towns and on dirt roads in Pennsylvania, it's something of an overwhelming thrill.

The process begins with travel. For me, it involved two flights that luckily arrived in glorious due time (I felt a bit guilty because there were many, many folks who couldn't get out of places like Chicago last Wednesday). The airport is a strange melange of stimulation and dullness, hurrying and waiting. I waited to board my flight and watched a man with hair dyed in an amazingly perfect replication of leopard spots. I guessed at whose carry-ons were filled with books already. I spied on knitting projects peeking from purse-edges. I tried not to smell the greasy weight of McDonalds food, which I haven't eaten in years but which always smells somehow good when I'm in an airport and know for certain that it's a terrible idea for so many reasons. I averted my face from clouds of perfume and cologne. Airports are, for me, such a furtive place, but that's likely because I'm nosy and because everyone's going into a story in my head. To the gentleman sitting beside me on the Denver to DC flight, I hope you had good fortune at the job interview you were preparing for. I didn't say anything to you about it because I didn't want to admit watching you add notes on your laptop.

As I exited that flight, I resolved to be more social at AWP. It is a gathering. Those are meant to be social, or so I have heard.

The Metro--my first real experience with public transportation in the United States--is a sonic bombardment. The slushy noise of the tracks mixes with the unintelligible gravel of stop-announcements, the gentle chatter of frequent rail companions, the less-gentle summations of the most recent Wizards' game. One platform made a shrill scree from some cause I couldn't identify, and it might have actually been the most awful non-language sound I've ever heard.

The Walt Whitman quote that rings the escalators into and out of the Dupont Circle Metro station was a fantastic welcome. I'm not sure why, but it felt so congenial to leave such a strange bit of underground, ringed by Whitman.

There was food and a reunion, several reunions, with friends. More on that in another post.

I want to go back to sound: specifically, I want to go to one particular panel. This was Thursday morning, a panel titled after the Emma Goldman quote, "If I can't dance, you can keep your revolution." This panel featured five poets, five fantastic poets, four of whom were brand new to me.

Leading the panel was Sean Thomas Dougherty, whose work, since I saw him at Writing By Degrees at Binghamton University, way back in 2005 or something like that, has been a constant source of happiness for me--and for my students. Sean's work is revolutionary and rhythmic, and in the segment below (not from AWP, but from a BOA Editions event), Sean reads his poem "X" (begins around 3:35): 

Also participating on the panel were Crystal Williams, Silvana Straw, Roger Bonair-Agard, and Dora McQuaid. All of these writers were new to me. Straw's poems in the voice of her mother--in the voice of her mother's voicemail messages, in fact--crackled with humor and political bite, and I don't know when I laughed so hard and felt such energy for serious change at the same time. Roger Bonair-Agard's "The Black Penguin Speaks" might have been the most badass poem about a penguin that ever happened. And yes, it is totally possible to have a badass poem about a penguin. Williams brought Detroit to life with startling beauty, steady clarity and music, and Williams's work made me think on a dear friend of mine who lived in the Detroit area for a long time, how that woman used her pedagogy to find, to make beauty in difficult classrooms where students' discoveries of their own voices brought their own revelations. McQuaid's poems covered the ground many writers cover--love, loss, family--but with passionate freshness.

This panel illustrated what is, for me, the best part of AWP: discovery. I went to the panel to see Dougherty read because I know I love his work, and I wanted the chance to at least give a personal wave, to say hello. What I took from the panel was an appreciation for four more writers, a renewed sense of hope, and ears full of song.

30 January 2011


I'm heading into one of those wacky-busy weeks (it involves papers coming in in five out of five classes and two trans-continental flights in February), so this post is going to be an assortment of oddments.

1) I'm doing some knitting for charity, which is awesome (how much do I love organizations who appreciate support demonstrated in yarn?). What is slightly less awesome is that the knitting has to be done with yarn that was given to me for the project, and the yarn is not pleasant to knit with. If the same event happens next year, I'm going to try to find a way to suggest that knitters may also wish to make a donation of yarn, too (which may save on the basic cost of the endeavor as well as entice more knitters to take part). I know that many knitters' love of natural fibers and such can pose issues with regard to allergies, but perhaps some careful labeling could help.

2) The object of the trans-continental flights is the Associated Writing Programs conference. Four days of writerly and readerly chaos. I'm looking forward to seeing some old friends and some new ones, as well as possibly finding plenty of good reads.

3) I'll be within a long walk of Fahrney's Pens. I don't have much hope of having enough free time to make the trip there, but it is terribly tempting. Of course, I'm planning that my next fountain pen purchase will be an Edison Mina, so I should probably resist that temptation.

4) I write my fiction long-hand for several reasons. The most immediate of those reasons is that I occasionally have problems paying attention when I'm at the computer. The less immediate, but likely more substantial of these reasons is that I find that I feel much closer to a scene, to a character when my hand is forming the words, the curves of letters. I think my access to my vocabulary improves, too (which is key when I do most of my writing between 5:45 and 6:45 a.m.). And so while I really loathe the act of typing up my hand-written process, the system works for me, and that typing gives me a chance to do a very rough first edit.

5) Writing my fiction by hand is also a pleasant sensory experience with the advent of my fountain pen interest.

6) Have a photo. This is from the end of June, above Alcova Dam, somewhere in the vicinity of eight-thirty in the evening. I miss summer. I miss it terribly.