Write Stuff

Fountain Pens

My name is Rob, and I am addicted to fountain pens. As addictions go, this is a pretty safe one. The only damage is to my wallet and the storage space in my office. I am occasionally surprised that this became a thing for me.

I’ve always had this attraction to stationary products, so I’ve usually had an odd assortment of pens, notebooks, and paper around. I never liked the cheaper Bic or Paper-Mate pens. I’d settled on Pilot G-2’s for a while, but a couple of years ago while making a run to an office supply store I wanted to find something better. I spent at least 20 minutes in the pen section trying to decide what to get. I think I came home with seven different pens and while they were mostly fine, I didn’t find anything really satisfying.

Around this time I saw a Twitter post from one of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman, where he stated that he did a lot of writing by hand with a fountain pen. Specifically a Pilot Custom 823.

I had used a fountain pen very briefly in seventh-grade art class. It was a horrid dip pen that no longer had any tipping, so was sharp as a knife. I spent more time cutting paper with it than actually writing. I thought fountain pens were a relic of the past and couldn’t understand how anyone would choose to use one when ballpoint pens were available.

I thought “What the heck? Maybe fountain pens aren’t as bad as I remember. Let me give it a shot. Let’s look up this Pilot Custom 823 and OHMYGODITCOSTSWHAT!?!”

Current rate for a Pilot Custom 823 is $288.

For a pen.

A single pen.

No way I’d ever spend that much on a pen (spoiler: I have two now). I wondered if there was a cheaper option. Turns out there are plenty of cheaper options. I picked up a Pilot Varsity for about $3. It changed my life. Yes that’s a silly statement but when I was spending all of that time looking for a better pen, I really didn’t know what I was looking for. With the Varsity I’d found it.

The Varsity isn’t perfect. Fountain pens in general will feather quite a bit on cheap paper, where the ink spreads out from your intended line. The Varsity feathers more than most. What it did have going for it was the fact that it was so incredibly smooth compared to anything else I had ever written with. It was so good that I felt like I had been missing out on it for my entire life. I loved my Varsity.

After a little while, I wanted to take the next step. For me the Varsity is far superior to any ballpoint I’ve ever used. It’s made to be disposable though, and you’re limited to just a handful of colors. Once you find an interest in fountain pens it’s just a matter of time until something else catches your eye. When looking for a good pen that’s not disposable, the general consensus falls between the Pilot Metropolitan ($20) or the Lamy Safari ($30). It took me some time before I was willing to shell out that much money for a pen, but I finally settled on a Lamy Safari. I was so excited to get it, load the ink cartridge, and start writing.

It was horrible. It skipped to the point of being unusable. I set it aside and went back to my Varsity. Time passed. I couldn’t understand how a $30 pen that people seemed to love was so inferior to a $3 pen. After about six months I decided to give the Lamy another shot. Lamy seemed to sell a lot of pens, and they couldn’t all be as bad as my one experience had been. I picked it up to try again, and it didn’t work at all. The ink had dried up. After searching for “how to clean a fountain pen” I cleaned it, loaded another ink cartridge, and tried again.

Same result. It was uneven and skipping. I wrote one sentence. I wrote another. I was disappointed all over again. Then, as if some last bit of gunk had flushed out of it, it started writing beautifully. What I hadn’t know at the time is that all Lamy pens are tested before they leave the factory, so they all have a little residual ink in them that may dry up over time. You should clean them before first using them. I hadn’t, which led to the poor performance out of the box. Once cleaned it wrote like a dream.

That was it. I was hooked. I now have dozens of pens and inks, and I enjoy writing with them almost every day.

So, why fountain pens?

  • They give me a much better writing experience than ballpoints do.
  • Handwriting is an analog skill. In our digital world, I find it to be a nice and relaxing change from being at a keyboard.
  • There is an almost infinite variety of ink colors to choose from.
  • The ink is water-based and flows in a way that makes writing more interesting.
  • Various inks have different properties such as sheening or shading that add character to your writing. Click through to the larger version of the image above and you can see quite a bit of variation even within a letter.
  • Different pen nibs can have an effect on your writing.

I’m now a pen snob, and I’m ok with that.

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10’s in review

Thoughts on the passing of a decade.

I began 2010 single, in debt, and unsure if I’d still be employed in a couple of months. Half of my stuff was in boxes as I prepared to move, hopefully to Denver.

As 2010 progressed my client renewed their contract, giving me some job security for a while. Later in the year I met Sue. I figured I probably wouldn’t be moving in the immediate future, so I changed jobs with the goal of giving myself some added job security as well as a less rigorous schedule.

Over time, Sue and I grew closer together. I started to unpack things from boxes.

This decade I lost two Aunts, an Uncle, a Cousin, two adopted Moms, my Dad, a Brother in my extended family, and four cats, not to mention a few friends. Many who remain drift farther apart. In that way, my world is getting smaller.

I’ve been able to travel to the UK, France, California, Colorado, New Orleans, Charleston, Nashville, Miami, Chicago, San Antonio, and some other places as well. In that way, my world has gotten larger.

I got to see a total solar eclipse. I watched several rocket launches, auto races, and playoff hockey games. I got to see Arsenal play at Emirates Stadium in London.

I met several SF/F authors including Neil Gaiman, John Scalzi, Paolo Baciagalupi, Fran Wilde, Peter Straub, Joe Haldeman, George R.R. Martin, and Robert Silverberg.

I managed to remove a few thorns. I came to realize that most of the hurtful things directed at me by others were a reflection of the person that said them, and not an accurate picture of me.

I still have Sue. I still have my job. I got the debt almost gone despite some major things that the house needed.

All of those things can change in an instant, but right now they are good.

It’s been a good decade.

What’s my hope for the next one?

That Sue and I are still healthy at the end of it.
That our friends and family remain healthy.
That our nation gets over its current sickness.
That the world is a better place.
That I’m still here to write the next decade wrap-up, and that you’re still here to read it.

Posted in thoughts
2019: A Storm Gathers

It seems this has become a site for yearly wrap-ups, and here we are again. This time we watch 2019 comes to a close.

I look back at 2018’s entry and I wrote “I suspect things will get worse before they get better.” That has held true, but let me try not to get ahead of myself.

This has been a busy year for work, a slow year for travel, and a ridiculous year for the news.

Work has been very busy with some big projects. This has been rewarding as I’ve been able to get some big accomplishments done.

Our one trip this year was to Vermont and Albany to visit some friends and family. Since the previous two years had trips to France and California, this was a year to let our vacation fund replenish a bit.

That brings me to the ridiculousness of the news. Any one week now seems to bring as much news as a year would in “normal” times. It’s speeding up, getting worse, and will likely continue to do so for at least another year. An impeachment vote may be held later today, so it looks like the Democrats finally grew a spine before the Republicans discovered integrity. Still hoping that the integrity will make an appearance, but I’m not holding my breath. I don’t see this getting better any time soon.

So, on to the highlights…

Best Concerts:
The HU
Frank Turner
Tony Bennett
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
Anneke Van Giersbergen

Best Reads:
Exhalation – Ted Chiang
Radicalized – Cory Doctorow
The Testaments – Margaret Atwood
Wanderers – Chuck Wendig
Gather the Fortunes – Bryan Camp

Other memorable events:
Les Miserables
Fourth of July weekend with friends in West Palm Beach

According to Spotify, my 2019 summary reads like this…
Top Genre:

Top Artists:
Frank Turner
The Offspring
The Interrupters
Assemblage 23

Top Songs:
She’s Kerosene – The Interrupters
I Will Be Heard – Hatebreed
Invictus – Lamb of God
Destroy Everything – Hatebreed
Looking Down The Barrel of Today – Hatebreed

Stay sane in 2020 and try to be more kind.

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Musical Theatre

I’ve always thought of musical theatre as being a bit ridiculous. “Need to explain something or resolve some plot element? I know what we’ll do! We’ll SING!” That doesn’t mean that I don’t like any musicals. I just have disengage the part of my brain that tells me a song and dance isn’t the normal human reaction to dealing with issues.

Recently I’ve really come to respect one aspect of musicals above most others, and that is the stage management. We saw Les Misérables last month, and it amazed me how they could have about 25 people on stage singing a big chorus set in a tavern, two bars of music later there were only two people left on stage singing, and two bars after that the set had entirely changed to a city street. The amount of rehearsal and coordination to get all of that to work that quickly and in time with the music is really impressive.

As talented as the actors are, and as good as the music, singing, and dancing can be, sometimes it can be rewarding to just watch how people control the lights and move the furniture.

Posted in thoughts
2018: The Calm Before The Storm

Another year in the books. Like last year it’s been a mixed bag where things have been great (knock on wood) on a personal level while the world continues to get dumber. I’d wish for a better 2019 but I suspect things will get worse before they get better.

The major downside was losing my Kitty, who had been with me through thick and thin for 18 years. There is still no cat in the house, which is odd for me.

This year’s highlight just wrapped up a week ago, when we returned from our trip to California. I’ll create a post on this one once I go through the 1500+ photos I’ve just imported. When I turned 40 I wanted to be on an adventure, so on my birthday I woke up and looked out at the Grand Canyon. This year, I woke up and looked up at Yosemite Falls. This was my third trip to California but I feel that it was my first trip where I really got to experience some things instead of drive past them. Unfortunately it was the first time that I wasn’t able to visit with my friends Jason and Serena, so it’s another reminder that we are all temporary.

I had two or three people tell me this year that they live vicariously through me, and that I’m always doing something. Looking back at the event schedule for the year I count 32 events, some of which lasted multiple days, so guess it’s true that we keep ourselves busy.

Some of the highlights were:

  • Henry Rollins at the Capitol Theatre
  • NHL All-Star Game
  • Soul Rebels at the Ale & Witch
  • Nightwish at Jannus Live
  • Got to see the Lightning eliminate both the Devils and the Bruins from the playoffs.
  • Frank Turner at HOB Orlando
  • Probably the last Slayer show I will get to see, along with Lamb of God, Anthrax, Testament, and Behemoth.
  • Watched the launch of the Parker Solar Probe.
  • David Byrne & the Tune-Yards at Mahaffey Theater
  • The Play That Goes Wrong at the Straz Center
  • Eddie Izzard at Ruth Eckerd Hall
  • Ghost at Ruth Eckerd Hall

So here’s to hoping we all have a good 2019. Try to be nice to one another.

Posted in thoughts
Gracefully or Not, Here I Come

I’m approaching one of those big milestone birthdays that serves as a moment of reflection. There are some things about getting older that suck, but overall I highly recommend it and I hope to continue aging for a good long while (knock on wood). As I get older, I get more leeway to sit and tell stories (It’s in the rules. Look it up) so here we go…

In high school I wrote a story that involved a person who traveled through time to see a younger version of himself, only to realize that the younger him wouldn’t grow unless he had to learn some lessons the hard way. My teacher wanted to put the story into the school literary paper, and I refused. Nothing at that time terrified me more than the idea of making myself a target in school. I lost the story and never could capture the essence of it again, but I regret not having put it into the paper.

In that spirit, here are a few things I wish that my younger self knew, as well as something I’m glad I didn’t know.

Embrace change. My Mom taught me that “the only constant in life is change” but I didn’t internalize that lesson until later. I went to about six different high schools and had been through three divorces by the time I was 16. I hated it. I couldn’t wait until I was an (alleged) adult and would never have to move or say goodbye to my friends again. When I got older I learned that the world doesn’t work that way. No way in hell would I want to go back to being a kid again, but I wish the younger me knew how valuable it was to learn how to adapt to changes.

Nothing lasts forever. Even the Sun will be gone someday. I wish the youger me understood this. At first I thought of this as a curse, as I tried to hold on to people that I cherished. Over time I came to see it as one of life’s greatest blessings. Are things going well? Take time to appreciate it, because it won’t last forever. Are things lousy? Just keep working, because it won’t last forever. Always keep in mind that “This too, shall pass.”

The First Heartbreak is probably not your worst, it’s just the one that you’re least equipped to deal with. I was truly pathetic after my first hard breakup. I’m glad that I DIDN’T have someone to tell me “don’t worry, it gets much worse than this.” It really does get worse. What makes that first one so difficult though is that you really don’t know how to deal with it. Later in life when dealing with a much larger heartbreak I had the perspective and confidence to say “I know how to deal with this, and I will keep moving forward.”

“Someday I’ll…” be dead. When I was younger I remember a lot of hard work and no money to show for it. We were always trying to get the bills paid, struggling to keep up, and looking forward to the magical time when everything was “done” and we could enjoy ourselves. Many things were put off, saying “someday we’ll do this” or “someday we’ll go there” but you never really reach a place where things are “done” until you’re gone. One true epiphany I had in this life happened on my first trip to California. I had never been west of Houston, but I flew out to San Francisco to meet up with a friend. After lunch we headed out to the Marin Headlands to look down on the Golden Gate Bridge. The instant I crested the hill and looked down on the bridge I understood that I’d wanted to stand in that spot and see it with my own eyes for almost my entire life. Here I was at age 35 seeing it for the first time and thinking “it cost me $350 to get here, how in the hell did it take me 35 years?” I’ve traveled a bunch since, and hope I can continue to do so for a long time. Don’t keep putting things off for a day that may never come. A cousin of mine kept a journal, and the last entry in it before he died was “I never made it to Texas.” Something so simple, that would have meant so much to him, and yet he never did it. Grab a hold of opportunities when you can.
Golden Gate Bridge

20 years from now, you will reflect on how dumb you were at this moment right now. Eddie Murphy made a joke about 18-year olds being bad at sex. That offended the 18-year old me. I assumed he was talking about someone else. He wasn’t. Thing is, he talked about how much better people are at 22, and I’m sure he looks back on that now and understands that people in their 30’s and 40’s were laughing more at his naiveté than his insight on that one. Of course this one will probably still hold true for me 20 years from now. The dumb part, not the sex part. C’est la vie.

We’re all just making it up as we go along. At some point you learn that the people around you who you look up to don’t generally have some great insight or knowledge that you will one day acquire. There won’t be a day when they let you into the club and teach you how to adult. The only way you’re going to figure out what to do is by doing the work, making the choices, and accepting the consequences. Find your own path.

Enjoy life. Sure it has it’s down turns, but it pisses me off that I’m not immortal, and that I will have to give this all up at some point. Nothing lasts forever, myself included.

So that’s it. Maybe in another 50 years I’ll have figured out some more things that I will wish my 50-year old me had known. I hope you buy me a beer that day.

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I’ll See You Tomorrow

There was a time in my life that I thought about killing myself. Don’t go calling 911, it was a long time ago. I haven’t felt that way since I was about 12-14 years old, but it was there. I’m glad we didn’t have a gun in the house at the time, because one of the things that stopped me was the lack of a quick way to do it.

The other major thing that stopped me was procrastination, of a sort. I would keep coming up with excuses to put it off. A common excuse was that I wanted to see who won the next Islanders game in a couple of days. Fortunately, this was the early 80’s when the Islanders were dominant. I always had something to look forward to, even if it was as inconsequential as a hockey game.

That’s the trick though. I was in a bad place, wanting to do something stupid and irreversible, so I would put it off until tomorrow. When tomorrow came, I’d put it off again. Day by day, I eventually got to the point where I forgot to put “suicide” on my daily to-do list.

I’ve never felt that way since, but I still remember how it felt. I remember the feeling that everything was horrible, would always be horrible, and that there would never be an escape.

I had a cousin that killed himself when I was in high school. I had a friend who killed himself almost ten years ago. In each case it came as a shock to me. In both cases, I just wish I could have talked to them.

What would I have done if either of them had called me? Hell, I don’t know. Seeing someone in pain can make you feel helpless. I can’t always cheer someone up. I can’t cure depression. I know what it feels like when you want to help, but there’s nothing you can really DO to make things better. What I do know is that when I had some hard times, having someone to talk to helped. The discussion didn’t have to be about whatever had me down at the time. Just having someone to talk to always made the day easier.

When you’re depressed, reaching out seems impossible. Still, try to do it. All I can say is that for those people living and dead who kept their struggles hidden, I wish they had been able to reach out. If you’re struggling and you’re thinking that there’s no good way out or through, know that people do care. I want you to see tomorrow. Tomorrow, I will tell you the same. If you think you can’t get there, talk to someone. Call a friend or family. It doesn’t even have to be about whatever’s got you down. It just has to get you through the next day.

If all else fails, these people want to see you succeed also:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

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Story of my life: Songs

Random brain-dump of songs that remind me of people, places, and events. In some cases this is just a single song representative of an entire album. In every case, the song holds some connection for me.

3 Doors Down, Kryptonite
Ani Difranco, Parameters
Ani Difranco, Untouchable Face
Ani Difranco, Welcome To
Arlo Guthrie, Motorcycle Song
Bob Marley, 3 Little Birds
Carpenters, Top of the World
Chvrches, We Sink
Concrete Blonde, Joey
Dido, See the Sun
Divinyls, Touch Me
Dream Theater, The Spirit Carries On
Elton John, Crocodile Rock
Evanescence, Bring Me to Life
Foreigner, Jukebox Hero
Frank Turner, Love Ire & Song
Iron Maiden, Wasted Years
Jeff Beck, Where Were You?
Joe Satriani, Flying in a Blue Dream
Kiss, Beth
Kosheen, Catch
Metallica, Enter Sandman
Metallica, Ride the Lightning
Nine Inch Nails, Something I Can Never Have
Nine Inch Nails, Hurt
Oasis, Stop Crying Your Heart Out
Queensryche, Silent Lucidity
Rush, Show Don’t Tell
Skid Row, I Remember You
Stevie Ray Vaughn, The House Is Rockin
U2, One
Violent Femmes, Blister in the Sun

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My Friend Is Gone

This is Kitty.

She used to have a different name, but I always just called her “Kitty” and so we eventually changed her name to that. My friend Chad brought her to us on the very first full day that we spent in our new house. For about a year she was an only cat. Soon, she became the oldest of the four cats that I had acquired. For a while it was just four cats and myself against the world. As the other cats passed on, Kitty was the only one left, and for the last five years she was once again an only cat.

Kitty died two days ago on Friday, March 9th, 2018.

The sense of loss that I feel from her absence is immense. After 18 years I have spent more time with this cat than with any other living being. More than with my Dad, more than with my Mom, more than anyone. I used to joke that it was because she couldn’t operate doorknobs. In truth, this cat adored me and followed me everywhere. Like the picture above, she was almost always in contact with me if she could be. When I was home she was almost always at least within my sight. She’s been with me through the best parts of my life and the worst. There have been days when I have collapsed in tears as soon as I got in the door, and within minutes Kitty would be there licking the tears from my cheeks.

Sue and I sat with her for about eight hours on Friday, comforting her as best as we could as she faded away.
The last weak meow she made, and the last lucid movements she made, were to get us to continue giving her belly rubs as we were shifting positions. She never seemed to be in pain. She just got continually weaker until she was gone.

It leaves a scar on my soul to have to dig a grave for my closest friend, carry her to it, and bury her forever. The scar will heal with time, but as with all such scars, part of it will always be there. I was so lucky to have her in my life for as long as I did.

This house has always had a cat in it, until now. There were other cats, but Kitty was the one constant. It was her house, and she was it’s cat. It is less of a home without her.

I miss you my friend. I miss you terribly.

I've Lost My Friend

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2017: Making 2016 Look Like the Golden Age

2017 has been a Jekyll-and-Hyde kind of year. In the larger sense it often feels like I’m living through some of my history books that were dedicated to illustrating where great societies chose to fail, written with the optimism that having learned the lesson, we would be smart enough to avoid such mistakes in the future. Whether we have learned those lessons yet or not still remains to be seen. Personally, it was a good year. There is tension in that disconnect, but all I can do is try not to focus on the things that are out of my control.

The first big event of the year was trading in my one Mazda for a different Mazda. Driving the Speed 3 was the most fun I’ve had while wearing pants. It was the most reliable car I’ve ever owned, so I’m hoping for a good long life out of the new MX-5. It’s also a ton of fun to drive around.

The highlight of the year was the two vacations that we were able to take in August. The first was a trip up to Tennessee in hopes of seeing a total solar eclipse. When I found out that a total solar eclipse would pass over Nashville, I immediately booked hotel rooms for that weekend. At worst, I would get to visit friends up there. Good thing we booked ahead of time. As the date approached it became impossible to find a room anywhere near the totality. The next decision was trying to figure out where we wanted to view it from. I was thinking about Centennial Park or downtown Nashville, but ended up settling (at the last moment) on Edgar Evins State Park which would have a slightly longer totality. Another lucky choice as much of downtown Nashville got clouded over at the crucial moment. We had perfectly clear skies, and it was AMAZING! I definitely plan on going to see the next one if we can.

Next up was a trip to France. I had never been there, and it was just a fantastic trip from beginning to end. I am very fortunate to have been able to make the trip.
Eiffel Tower

It’s starting to sink in that not only are my mosh pit days behind me, but it’s getting more difficult to commit to standing for 4-7 hours for a show. As a result, I find myself getting more choosy about which shows I go to see. With that in mind, there were still a lot of top-notch shows in 2017.

For non-concert events, we got to see John Cleese, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Henry Rollins, and the USA women’s hockey team.

Concerts included Ghost, Iron Maiden, U2, Lady Gaga, Rodrigo y Gabriela, and Muse.

There were others, including some that I got to see for the first time, but the top concert for the year had to be seeing Frank Turner at the Sanibel Writer’s Conference. This was a weird one since it wasn’t a traditional concert venue and we found out about it from a social media post just about a week before it happened. We were not attending the conference, but they said that the evening events were free and open to the public, assuming that there was still space after the conference attendees were seated. We went to Sanibel for a night (about a three hour drive) Not knowing if we’d be able to get in. In the end we managed to see Frank Turner for free from about 10 feet away in a room with only about 100 people in it. It wasn’t strictly free considering it took a tank of gas and a hotel room, and we did make a contribution to the conference for hosting the whole thing, but it was worth it. What a memorable show.

And with that, as 2017 draws to a close, I’ll keep my fingers crossed in the hopes that things better in the coming year.

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