Fountain Pens & Experiences

Fountain Pens & Experiences

I like things. I like quality things even more. I like Apple products such as their laptops and my 2018 MacBook Air over the competition because the experience is so much better. The build quality and refinements of the computer is unmatched by any other computer I’ve used. The feel of the keyboard and its keys as I type on them are a pleasant thing to my fingertips.

To me a thing, regardless of what it is, has a certain value to it and it’s that value of which I assign that will determine if I’m willing to pay extra to have. With Apple and it’s products the answer is yes, I will almost always pay the premium price for their products.

There are other things out there that I need for various reasons that don’t hold a lot of value to me but that I must buy and use for any given task. Those things may not hold a lot of value to me, but they probably hold some value. I choose what I value and I choose to pay for that value when I think it’s worth it to me. I’ll buy cheap stuff when it suits me and I still feel like there is some kind of value for the product.

But when I choose to spend a little more on something it is because I have a good reason to hold it in higher esteem compared to something similar. I do not buy anything as a means for status. I don’t use Apple products, or drive the car that I drive to show off or use as status symbol to assert any perceived buying power or to make up for any sort of personal deficiencies. Not at all. The things I own I own because I like them; not because I think others will like them. Frankly I couldn’t care less if other people like what I have or not. If they do that’s great. But if they don’t, I don’t care.

On the topic of writing which is something I enjoy and is I guess my real true long-term hobby now that I think about it, I need to consider some quality instruments to use with it. When I write on the computer I use my Apple laptop and it provides me with a wonderful feeling and experience and I know that I have a quality piece of hardware to type on. It’s trustworthy and reliable. The application I use to write in is equally reliable and easy to use which provides even more good experience to the craft.

I’ve used applications to write my daily journals in and they’re all well and good and provide a nice experience. However, I also really enjoy the putting of pen to paper as well. Because of that I decided to split my writing between computer and paper. I’ll continue to write my books on the computer but I will write in my daily journals by hand.

I found a nice leather-bound journal at a local store and I use that to write in each evening. It’s a small to medium sized book with a couple of hundred blank pages to fill up with my personal thoughts and experiences from each passing day. The leather and paper are a decent quality and the cost quite reasonable.

The pens I was using to write in the journal were first a cheap ballpoint pen and then a gel-ink pen. I enjoyed the gel-ink pen for the ink itself and it’s quick drying characteristic which prevents smudging if I happen to drag my hand across the page. But the gel-ink pen felt as if I were using an etcher to etch my words into the page as it scratched its way along. I could hear the scratching with each stroke of the pen even as the gel-ink fluidly egressed the tip onto the paper.

With a ballpoint pen it felt like I was engraving my words onto a piece of leather, like the leather belt I once made in Cub Scouts. This feels true of every ballpoint pen I’ve ever used. Press firmly as you are writing in triplicate on carbon paper is how I might sum up the feeling of a ballpoint pen. It’s as if you have to really work at it to write with one. To get the ink out of the pen you have to force it down and across the paper in a deliberate manner. Much like getting a donkey to schlep your gear across a mountain range when he doesn’t feel like moving with you.

Since I want to write daily, by hand in my journal, why not make it a quality experience? Perhaps I should consider a product of higher value and quality. How about a fountain pen? Those seem like a fancy, if not pretentious way to write words on paper, right? I’ve never used a fountain pen and never gave them a passing thought. Except that perhaps they’re merely a throwback to the old days of ink and quill with a modern touch.

Off to the Internet to investigate. The first stop was my favorite online forum, MacRumors. There is a fountain pen thread I know about but have never participated in. I’ll peruse that thread to see what others have to say about these writing instruments.

Quickly I learned that the folks in that thread really enjoy their pens and rave about the ones they have. The comments on the quality of how well they work capture my attention quickly. I post a quick note asking what I should look for as a beginner who has never used a fountain pen before and wait. I continue reading past comments and search the Internet for related websites on the topic and begin reading some of them.

I learn that a fountain pen really isn’t a pretentious article but truly a higher quality tool, an instrument of writing that convey’s the best experience one can have who loves the craft. The thoughts seem unanimous from website to website to the MacRumors comments I received back throughout the day and that is a fountain pen is a higher quality style of pen which holds significant value to their owners.

As I searched and I read about these tools, I found that they range in price from a few dollars for disposable fountain pens to more than $1,000 for gold-plated handcrafted fountain pens. This is a serious craft and business of just producing these pens. No doubt there are serious collectors of these fancy pens out there.

I am going to stay on the sensible end of the price spectrum and avoid the hundred’s of dollars price range and get one that is by comparison to some, a more reasonable price.

I looked around for the better part of a day for actual dedicated pen shops in Michigan and only came up with two. When I went looking for their website or information on them I found that they were no longer in business. The recommendation I received from fellow members of MacRumors were to, if I could, go to a pen shop and try them out first. Unfortunately that wasn’t an option for me and I had to chance my luck on just buying one to take home and test. The only place nearby to get one was Office Depot.

I drove over there and quickly found the pen aisle and walked down toward the speciality pens. It seems as though the only brand they carry is Cross. That’s not a bad thing because Cross as I learned from my day of researching is a respectable brand, from the New England area of the United States. However, they do not carry any other brand of fountain pen, such as Pilot, Montblanc or any of the other reputable brands. Regardless, their selection of Cross pens appeared at first glance to be well stocked until I looked closer at the style catagories. The section of Cross pens that held fountain stye pens was dismally small and only had a few pens from which to choose from. Not to be deterred, I found an elegant looking dark blue fountain pen with a medium nib and cartridge. The box I was looking at was a display box only and did not contain the actual pen. Those were kept at and behind the counter up front.

I carried the display box to the counter where the cashier lady produced a large box from under the counter and proceeded to dig through it and fish out the particular pen I was seeking. After what felt like 10 minutes, more likely about 2 minutes I think, she found it. After processing the transaction and paying my tax, I was now the proud owner of a $50.34 fountain pen. To some, even me, $50 for a pen is expensive. One can easily get the same job done (writing anything) for a 50 cent Bic. But sometimes it’s not about just getting the job done. Sometimes it’s about the experience.

On experiences, I love this scene from the movie “Grumpy Old Men” where Burgess Meredith (the father) is talking with Jack Lemmon (the son) about experiences.

The first 90 years or so, they go by pretty fast… Then one day you wake up and realize, you’re not 81 anymore! Then you begin to count the minutes rather than the days. Then you realize that pretty soon you’ll be gone. Then all you have, see, is the experiences. That’s all there is Johnny, they’re everything; the experiences.

(Full clip here: https://youtu.be/scsF0c5JYeM)

While the movie may be a comedy, and a good one at that, the dialog of the scene is quite true. We only have one life to live and it’s the experiences in this life that we have to carry us through it. So if you can afford some of the nicer things in life and it’s what you want, I say go for it. Enjoy yourself, don’t deprive yourself because before you know it, it’ll be too late.

I spent $50 on a pen. It wasn’t just to get the job done, but it was about the experience of writing with a fine instrument of higher quality that I might enjoy and relish of it’s feeling. As the cliche goes, it’s not always about the destination, it’s the journey.

Now onto the fountain pen itself. It has a nice balance to it and feels pleasantly heavy in the hand. The color is a dark blue with a chrome nib and accents which I find simple and elegant; classy. That’s my style of many things, simple, elegant and classy and especially so with my extreme pickiness towards wristwatches.

After looking at the instructions to ensure I assembled the few pieces correctly so that I a) didn’t break anything and b) didn’t get ink everywhere I was about to test it out for the first time. As I mentioned I had never before used a fountain pen in my life.

After inserting the cartridge and pushing down firmly to pierce the cartridge seal and then gently squeezing it to start the ink flowing I screwed the barrel into place.

I read about how to properly hold a fountain pen a few days ago and it differs from how I’ve always held and used a pen previously. I started using my gel-ink pen in the manner described to begin the training of my hand muscles for using the fountain pen. What you’re supposed to do is hold it at a lower angle in the hand and let the pen glide over the paper. What I had always done and my poor penmanship shows it, is I would hold a pen more vertically where the point would be sticking into the paper from directly above. This also has the added effect of writing too fast which contributes to my poor handwriting skills. Holding the pen at a lower angle allows the ink to flow properly out of the nib across the ball and onto the paper. It also forces you to slow down as well. This might be a good thing for me over the course of time and perhaps with much practice and discipline, my handwriting might improve – I hope.

Writing with the fountain pen was amazing from the very first letter. It felt as if the pen was gently sailing across a calm and serene lake at dawn before the wind picked up. It was exceedingly smooth as the nib caressed its way across the page leaving a wake of delicately laid ink behind it.

As simple as a pen may be for a simple task, writing, it’s so much more than that for a writer and for someone who values a masterful work of craftsmanship such as this fountain pen. Writing is such a personal endeavor and it’s certainly one of the things a person can truly call their own – their words and their writing technique. To feel and experience a quality instrument such as I have now with this pen, is an amazing thing. It adds emphasis and meaning to the words as I pen them down and its adds a subtle amount of enjoyment as the work progresses. This is far different from a ballpoint style pen where after a short time it feels like work to pen down my words. If you go long enough with an inferior pen, a pen that forces you to force it to write, fatigue does set in and it interrupts your flow of writing. It didn’t take me very long to figure this out once I began writing with the fountain pen the very first day. If you want your words to come smoothly and expediently, you don’t want the very tool you use to make that happen inhibit you in any way.

I value quality things that help me enjoy my everyday life whether it’s a personal or professional pursuit. It is the experiences from which we have to remember life by as we age day by day. If a $50 pen or an $800 pen helps me to have a better and enjoyable experience, then I have no problem spending that kind of money for it -as long as I can afford it, of course.

I am now a new convert to fountain pens as I look forward to it enhancing my experience in the craft of writing.

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A Digital Guy’s Quest to be Analog Again

A Digital Guy’s Quest to be Analog Again

It’s no secret that I’m a techie type of person. This blog is filled with reviews on tech products, how-to’s and fixes for obscure problems related to computers. I enjoy that stuff. I enjoy building new things with computers and leveraging technology to do things that I find useful. For 12 years it was even my job as a Systems Administrator. I was building and maintaining servers, networks virtual environments and supporting workstations among other tech related duties. I enjoyed every bit of it too. Many times I’d get an idea for something and build a small-scale setup of it at home to test out and then if it worked the way I wanted, I’d go to work and build another one and deploy it for a practical application.

I like to think I’m skilled in software operating systems like Windows, macOS (OS X), and Linux distributions including Raspbian. I love those little Raspberry Pi computers because you can do some many neat things with them and they cost next to nothing too.

For about the last 15 to 20 years my home had lots of computers and computer parts in it. I frequently would build myself computers and do the same for others too. A lot of the time I’d be fixing other people’s computers at home which left me with lots of parts; some useful, some not so much. I didn’t mind that too much because I was helping others and once in a while making a few bucks too. I almost never charged anyone for my work and would say they can pay me whatever it was worth to them. It didn’t garner me much money that way but I didn’t mind as long as any of my out-of-pocket costs were covered.

But after a while, (quite a few years actually) I got sick of having a bunch of extra parts and computer shells stored all over the place. I was also getting tired of having to unplug my setup to fix someone else’s computer. I usually didn’t have an extra monitor back then because they were huge and cost a lot. Remember those old CRT things? So I started cutting back on my builds and repairs and would refer people out to local businesses when they needed major repairs. Once in a while I’d work on someone’s PC in the office for them. It wasn’t much to do that because most of the time is spent waiting for something to install like Windows where you just click a button a wait a while. So I’d click a button and go back to doing regular work and check on the progress of an install once in a while and then click the button again. Over the last few years that has cut down a lot too, to even doing none on the side. That’s just fine for me because as I start to age I don’t like working on computers in my spare time anymore. I’m getting a bit too tired with all of my other, increasing, responsibilities and workload to deal with.

At home over the last year or so I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of “in my face technology” that I have setup. What I mean is that I’m tired of seeing network switches, extra tech gear like external hard drives, CAT5e cabling strung about to connect various things in the apartment and so on. So I’ve been paring it down slowly to only having a small desktop computer, a Mac mini and a small laptop, a 2018 MacBook Air. I’ve tried to do away with the extra’s too and rely on internal storage or iCloud Drive to store things and files I need.

While I enjoy technology I don’t always like the stigmatism that if you were to visit my home it would be like walking into a huge data center with computers and servers all over the place. I want to live in a home that looks like a home with comfortable furniture and a nice lived in look and feel.

I also have a great passion that has been underdeveloped in my life and one that I regret not cultivating much sooner and that is writing. I’ve loved writing and the idea of writing since I was in grade school. But I spent too much time hating school and desiring to go outside and play and later on playing too much Nintendo. Then as adulthood came along and the US Marines called I kind of forgot about writing.

Going back to grade school for a bit, I recall an assembly where there was a speaker, probably an author, who was there to talk about writing and encourage us to get involved with it. I don’t recall anything of what they said except for one concept. That is that for a writer they should also keep a pen and paper handy, whether you’re on the road, or sleeping, you have them close at hand. That is because you don’t want to lose an idea or a thought because you couldn’t write it down and then later on when you were ready to write about it, you couldn’t remember it.

Then there was summer school once. I had to attend because I failed French class and needed the credits; remember I hated school? One day we had a creative writing assignment where we were to write about anything we wanted. There was no direction or instructions except to write for the allotted class time. I had taken it to heart and literally wrote about any thoughts that came into my mind and filled up several sheets of paper in doing so. When I turned it in the teacher read it over and more or less gushed in exuberance over it to the class. He had said this is exactly what creative writing was all about. While I was a bit embarrassed at the spotlight on me, I was secretly pleased with myself on that one. I don’t know anymore what it was I wrote about and I wish I still had that paper today so I could read it again.

That leads me up to today. After writing and publishing my first book two years ago, “Preaching to Patronizing: How Religion Made Me Lose My Faith“, it has rekindled my early desire to write. With writing comes lots of reading too, as the famous author Stephen King points out in his book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft“.

I had to ask myself why I don’t write more and read more books, because I enjoy both. The answer was staring me in the face. It was TV. I love TV, I really do. But I spend way too much time in front of it doing next to nothing after getting home from work. I decided it was time to make another change in my life, much like I did when I started to cut back on all the computer stuff in my home. I decided to cut back on TV time. That was another thing Stephen King mentioned in his book about writing, and that was to throw out the TV. One can take that at face value or figuratively. I took it figuratively in a sense and rather than throwing it in the trash, I took it down off the credenza in the front room and put in the back room closet on the floor. I also took down the one in the bedroom as well. I replaced the TV in the front room with a pair of Apple HomePod’s for listening to music, podcasts and audiobooks. All of which I can do while I write or read. Now I still have TV, but its in the back room now. I took my Apple TV 4K and a Dell 4K monitor and set it up back there next to the desk with the Mac mini so I can watch 4K TV if I want to. This should limit my time in front of the TV because it means I have to go to the back and sit in my desk chair to watch anything. That is less comfortable long term so I won’t spend hours at a time there like I did in the more comfortable chairs of the front room. I do my writing up front on the MacBook Air far more than I do at the Mac mini.

Now the analog part of this story relates to the reading and writing and the reduction of technology in my home life. In addition to the stuff I already mentioned, a few months back I disabled all visual and audible notifications on my iPhone and iPad with the exception of the actual telephone part of the iPhone. I was getting a digital overload of notifications from text messages, emails, Twitter and other apps. I kept it down to a minimum and to some people what I was getting would probably be nothing to them. But to me, it was more than I cared to deal with. I actually miss the old days in the 1980’s and part of the 1990’s when we didn’t have cell phones. All we had was a telephone screwed to the wall with a cord and no answering machine. If we were out, we got no calls. I miss that in today’s overly connected society where we’ve come to expect instant gratification to our queries, texts, calls, chat’s and whatnot. I hate that. I’d rather reply and check my messages in my own time.

Since I disabled notifications the last few months have been much more pleasurable for me. I’m not distracted by noises and screen light ups from the iPhone anymore and I feel more relaxed and calm because of it even less anxious too.

Since I like to write, I’ve also used a few apps on the computer as journals and I end up stopping with them after a short period of time. I think it’s because they’re on a computer and I still allow myself to get distracted when writing in them with switching apps to check other stuff out instead. But there is also the art of the craft too, the analog part of writing. Remember that old pen and pad? That’s what I’m talking about. I actually enjoy the feeling and experience of putting pen to paper and writing. Now, a fair warning, my penmanship is awful and I hate that about myself. But that doesn’t stop me from writing in a physical journal each day and night. I like books and I like seeing empty books getting filled up with writing too.

I mentioned earlier that I was a Systems Administrator for 12 years. Over the summer my boss retired and I was promoted up to his old job as an Executive Director. That means my tech guy days are now over professionally and now I’m just an administrator. That means that I’m now working more with my words than with the technology systems I can build and manage. With that now comes more reading and writing professionally, which is fine because I enjoy those things as well.

In combination of reducing my reliance, my addiction, to technology, and a change in roles at work, I’m trying to gradually get back to a more analog life at home. I know that it’s not practical to do so completely because technology is ubiquitous now, but I can still do a lot of enjoyable things without it. Eliminating the TV as the main focal point in the front room and physically writing in a journal are steps in this journey to return to a more analog life, a slower, perhaps easier life that isn’t so fast-paced and driven by technology.

My book writing remains on the computer despite my journal writing being done on paper. This is because its much easier to publish when it’s all done on a computer versus paper. Plus, you’ll be able to read it too!

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