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.

22 January 2011

A Room of One's Own

Post title stolen, of course, from Virginia Woolf.

Over the summer, we moved (one of those cross-town moves that seems a little silly when you rent the truck to go nine blocks but is ultimately much better than carrying your couch through cross-walks). We moved into a house that was significantly larger than the one we'd been renting, and one of the really exciting things about the move was that there was finally room for both my husband and I (notorious book-hoarders both) to have our own nerd-caves. Since July, my books had been shelved at complete random (in the order they were picked up off the floor, really), and two weeks ago, I finally organized them.

(This is mid-organization. The good news is that, at the end, all of the books had a place on a shelf)

After the fit of book-organizing, I rearranged the office itself, too, because I'd had the room since July and barely used it, and since, I've been in here, actually being productive, pretty much every day.

One of the major changes was that I pulled my desk away from the wall, turned it so my back wouldn't face the door. Somehow, that helped an awful lot. (One of my students told me that's a huge issue in Feng Shui, and hey, I use the space now, so there's probably something to it.) It still feels very strange to have a piece of furniture that's sort of in the middle of the room, but it's functional and I wasn't doing anything else with the middle of the room.

And so, the end result:
For those of you who may be library-minded, there is a system in place: the first two bookcases (on the left, above) are fiction (in alphabetical order). The bottom shelf of the middle bookcase is the tail end of fiction and the shelf of drama--dominated by Shakespeare. The bookcase in the corner has a shelf and a half of poetry, then "academic books" that I will use often (folks on writing, a few theorists and meditative folks), then there is a whole shelf of anthologies, a shelf of non-fiction, and the bottom shelf is manga and composition textbooks. Not that I think manga and textbooks really go together, but the two collections were the correct sizes to be on a shelf together. The short bookcase is two shelves of Medieval Stuff, and its bottom shelf is the heavy-hitting theory from the Ph.D. exam days. 
The final two bookcases contain reference books that I use often and literary journals, respectively. Then the desk and the curtains I finally hung! (I sewed them in July.) The wooden box on the desk is a manuscript box that my dad made for me, and atop it are my three current journals. The grey one is all-purpose, the purple one (an Ecosystem that I love) contains 2/3 of one novel, and the black one (my first Rhodia webbie) is for all of the new writing projects so that the purple can remain dedicated to its novel.

And then, most importantly, The Scoo appreciates my renovation of her office.
 This cat won't leave this chair now, though she had no interest in the room before I "fixed" it. Even when I am sitting in it, she sits across the headrest or she sits behind me.

15 January 2011

The alluring scent of new stationary

For those of us who have never grown out of the excitement of getting new school supplies, the start of a new semester is a heady thing. (Getting high off those fumes is may be what makes the impending mountain of grading bearable, perhaps. And no, I'm not talking about the fumes from those giant, black, industrial-strength markers with the metal bodies that really did make you loopy after five minutes. ...or those Trix-scented markers that came in the cereal boxes somewhere around 1992. Anyone else remember those? They were freaky.)

Right now, though, I'm talking about the much-more-intangible scent of fresh notebooks that are destined for particular classes. The odeur of possibility, of promise.

This semester, a passel of Maruman Token notebooks from JetPens.com is what's perfuming the air. I was looking for an affordable option for course-planning notebooks, something spiral-bound and ruled fairly narrowly that would still stand up to fountain pens, and the Maruman Token fits the bill perfectly. They're not very large--only 40 sheets in each--but that's pretty much perfect for class planning (45-ish class meetings and many days when I can double up notes for two classes on one page). Also, I think they're pretty good-looking critters: quiet, unassuming, smooth covers; very attractive blue-coated wire binding; nifty accented "a" as the cover decoration. (I also like that the design color is reminiscent of Iro Tsuki-yo--more on that in a minute.)

 But how does it stand up to what I actually wanted it for? Well, pretty awesomely, even if I cheated and tried out another new toy (a pair of Lamy Joys in 1.1 & 1.5 nibs) on it.

That's Levenger Regal ink in a Lamy Joy 1.5 calligraphy nib. I am already so extraordinarily pleased I picked up this pen: it makes this saturated purple display the best of its qualities. In a fine nib, it's a very dark, very assertive ink, and that's nice, but it doesn't advertise its purpleness as much as I'd like a purple ink to do. This pen really makes it look, well, regal. Also, this ink can feather a smidge, but it behaves well on the Maruman paper. Huzzah!

Quote is taken from the Anglo-Saxon poem "Deor": "Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg" or "That passed; so shall this." It's a favorite of mine.

Then there's a bit with Iroshizuku Tsuki-yo using a Lamy Joy with a 1.1 nib. I can't get over how much I like the shading/outlining quality of this ink. I will continue to work at my photography skills so I can someday get a picture that captures that. This time, the quote comes from Beowulf (2890b-2891): "Deað bið sella 
eorla gehwylcum þonne edwitlif!" or "Death is better to any earl than honorless life." Those Anglo-Saxons are all about saying it like it is.
Three other pens/nibs to look at, though the Regal makes a repeat appearance: Levenger True Writer F with Levenger Regal, True Writer M Stub with J. Herbin Bleu Myosotis, Lamy Studio F with Levenger Cobalt.
And this is the reverse side of the page. There's a little show-through, which doesn't bother me one bit (it's a working notebook, not a journal, and I usually only use one side of the page for planning so I can take any necessary in-class notes on the reverse), and no bleed-through.
Okay. There. Review. Sorry to get all infomercially on you, folks, if you're really not here for that sort of thing.

Let's talk about what's going into those notebooks in the morning.

There's going to be Annie Dillard. I'm teaching Composition II using Pilgrim at Tinker Creek as a touchstone text (because if there's anyone who can pull together a thousand different kinds of research effortlessly and fascinatingly, it's Annie Dillard), and I love that book to the ends of the earth. ...I quoted Annie Dillard on New Year's Eve, too. That makes me happy. (She shows up in my Composition I course, too. And I will pull The Writing Life into one of the independent studies I'm directing. That's three out of five classes she's guaranteed to come up in. ...Beowulf will come up in five out of five, though, because I don't know how to not-talk about it.)

The other two courses are all about the other side of the pond: British Literature after 1800 & a Jane Austen independent study. That means I get to talk about Robert Burns and Pride and Prejudice and Oscar Wilde and James Joyce and Virginia Woolf and A. L. Kennedy.

I get paid for this.

Life is good.

09 January 2011

The proper place of things

I spent a big chunk of my Sunday adding books to my LibraryThing account. I had a basic account for a rather long time, promptly filled it with the allowable 200 books, and then let it lie dormant for a long while. Last week, I upgraded to a lifetime membership, and yesterday, I received a CueCat ISBN scanner from two brilliant folks--*waves at Laura and Linda*--so today, I dove in.

The awesome part is that I was able to log two and a half bookcases in around two hours. The less awesome part is that the other half-bookcase was made up of books that were too old to have ISBN barcodes, and so all of those needed to be logged by hand. So I gathered them up, two totebags at a time, and carried them downstairs where I could log books and watch football at the same time. 

(Yes, I am aware that my process is needlessly complicated.)

And that turned out to be rather pleasant, like visiting with old friends. You see, most of those books I had to log by hand had, at one time, belonged to a professor I had at Lycoming College: Dr. Emily Jensen. When she retired from teaching, she invited the campus's English majors to her office to empty her bookshelves because, she said, her best copies were at home. At the time, it was a bittersweet moment, of course: I was losing one of my favorite instructors, the one who'd really turned me on to Anglo-Saxon poetry, to Beowulf (hlaford of my heart), but there was also the excitement of getting an orange crate's worth of Old English grammar books and strange little treasures. As a nerdy wee undergrad, I was ecstatic: these weren't anthologies, these weren't "textbooks." These were the kinds of books that full-fledged scholars used, and it didn't matter at all that many of them were printed before my parents were even born. That was even a bonus: the alluring scent of yellowing pages and glue from far-off book binderies. 

Today, as I said, I spent time with those books. What stood out this time were the notes inside of them, the thin, pink-orange sheets torn off the cheapest of those old notepads covered in Dr. J's peculiar small handwriting. She wrote everything in a very upright cursive, and though her letters didn't slant back toward the left, there was always the suggestion of it, as though her hand was shaped by the Carolingian minuscule that comprised her subject areas of choice. I thought about taking a photo of her notes, but those still feel very much like hers, that they should stay between the pages where I found them. 

I'm going to spend a few more hours on my book-space tonight, too, and I will be in the best of company.

02 January 2011

I'm not sure it counts as fine craftsmanship, but--

After a bit of inspiration yesterday from this article, I decided to break out some of the crafty things I've been saving up. Over the summer, I got turned on to book arts by the inimitable Deborah Poe, and since then I've been gathering up interesting odds and ends with the intention of making some hand-made books.

I have, of course, done very little with them.

Today, though, I settled in with twelve open tabs in Chrome pertaining to Coptic Binding, a stack of art paper, and a very beautiful greeting card sent to me by my friend Laura.

This was the result:

This experiment confirmed several things: 1) greeting cards are an interesting and green source of potential cover materials 2) but they really need to be reinforced with something before being used 3) a proper cover-punch or something along those lines would make much nicer holes than my awl 4) Coptic binding is super easy when doing the signatures and it's a right bitch where the covers come in. 

I am generally pleased with this experiment, though, as this will make a useful jotter for lists and things and it should be fountain-pen friendly because of the paper weight. It's multi-media paper, and it's certainly not as smooth and precise as Clairefontaine or Rhodia, but it doesn't feather like mad and it is thick enough to not suffer bleed-through. 

Yesterday, too, I broke out the new inks and some Tolkien quotes. Please forgive my inability to make certain letters in consistent fashion (I seem to swap between t-forms a lot). Paper is a Rhodia No. 16 graph pad, and all of this was done with a Brause dip italic nib.

Iroshizuku Tsuki-Yo:

I'm as bad or worse photographer as calligrapher, and so I don't think the fantastic outlining really shows here. But the "Tolkien" at the end exhibits some really lovely dark, almost burnt-looking edges. The color is generally that saturated deep teal, but there's a warm quality to the ink that comes out where the lines are quite wet.

Iroshizuku Kiri-Same:
What really geeked me about this one is the range of color. It starts out as a very dense pewter and shades to a fairly ephemeral cloud-like grey. The lighter end is really washed out and so wouldn't be good for things like grading or professional use, but as a shade, it makes me ridiculously happy.

J. Herbin 1670 Rouge Hematite:
The fabled 1670. My photograph doesn't capture the range of color at all. The lighter areas are a very vibrant red-orange (there was a hibiscus flower at the Binghamton Zoo at Ross Park that was exactly that color), and the darkest areas are evocative of rust (in a really good way). There's also a gold fringe that appears where the line was quite wet (not feathering outside of the line, but inside of it), and I wish I'd had this for Christmas cards. It's magical.

I like magical.