Monday, June 30, 2008

Are you a pen geek?

Some people might think they're pen geeks, but I found this test today that can prove to you whether you are or aren't. It's at a cool site - (I found it while searching for domain names to forward to this blog - it's kind of a long name to remember). Pengeek was obviously taken, but stationarygeek wasn't - so I'm taking it. Because, really, I'm an equal-opportunity stationary-products-lover.

I've been hanging out at the American Library Association annual meeting (it's a work thing) and have been collecting some fun conference pens. I'm trying to be judicious in my pen-taking because I don't want them to all just pile up again after getting rid of so many conference pens recently. But I have to say, books24x7 has some good pens. As does the Pitt MLIS program.

I'm hoping to go to Flax, aka pen heaven, on Wednesday. Hopefully they'll have some passion there.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

More Adventures in Pen Buying (and praying for a pulse)

I recently made an excursion to the Brentwood Stationers, a much-heralded mom-and-pop store in the center of hoity-toity Brentwood. Back in April, I went to the Piedmont Stationers in Oakland and apparently the owner of that store used to work for the owners of the Brentwood store back in "the day."

They have a huge collection of filofax stuff, which I quite liked looking at. And I did see some pens by people I've never heard of before. Like a Xenon Gel, a silver barrel pen with a black 7mm needle tip, ergonomic little cushion for your fingers, and smooth writing. For like $3.99, I believe. I also got one with an opaque turquoise barrel. I also bought a purple Pilot Razor Point pen - I just love porous point pens, but for every pen there is a matching piece of paper, and I can never find the right paper for porous points. On smooth paper they run. On scratchy paper, they scratch too much. So it's a continual quest for me to try to find the right notebook to write in with my lovely porous point pens. I also bought two notebooks - a moleskin one for $17.95 (they're cheaper at Borders, but I can't bring myself to give Borders that much money for blank paper. I give them enough money for paper with words on it already).

So the selection was ok. They didn't have the best collection of pens (they didn't sell my favorite Y&C gel pens, for example) but I'd chalk that up to the fact that, according to the staff, a store called Flax, described as 'pen heaven' is close by, so I'll have to make another trip to check that out soon. And their notebook selection was just ok. Not great. But it's not Office Depot, so I wouldn't expect it to be that great.

The thing I noticed, though, was how it seemed that everyone was really uninspired. They were friendly enough, but they just didn't seem to be passionate about stationary. I go to stores like that so I can be a stationary geek and discuss the virtues of pilot pens over pentel ones. Or the binding of a notebook. Or whether narrow rule is better than wide. I mean, if you can't get passionate about stationary in a place like that, where on earth CAN you? Most non-chain store employees are totally into their product - they'd go work at a chain or something if they didn't care that much. So I was expecting a low-level buzz about new shipments of planner pages that were arriving the next day, or whether all gel pens only last about 30 pages and then you're done. But it wasn't there. There was a nice breeze coming from the back door. Cue image of ghost-town sounds like tumbleweeds blowing across a deserted road. I did overhear their end of a phone conversation where a potential customer wanted something that was going to be nearly impossible for them to order, so they told them to go to a ...gasp ...bookstore.

Now I don't know - for all I know they were asking for a miniature replica of the Taj Mahal. And maybe they were having a crappy day and weren't really up for my weirdly upbeat chitter-chatter about how much I love stores like theirs and how I have this blog, and they should check it out. But when I told them I wrote about pens and had a blog (that actual real people read) they just looked at me like I had arrived from Mars. Maybe they don't know what blogs are because they're so into the physical stuff. I don't know. I'm trying not to judge them too harshly, but really, they were so unenthusiastic. It was like they had no idea why I would talk to them about pens at all. I kept hoping so much that a pulse would appear, but none did.

Which is a bummer. I spent $64 there. I really wanted to like them and have it be my new favorite stationary store and take monthly road trips into sidewalk-cafe-celebrity-dog-walker central to stock up on pens.


So on the drive home, I was thinking about how anyone can be unenthusiastic about pens and paper. I mean, ideas become real when people write them down. Symphonies happen because someone wrote them down. They just lived in Beethoven's head until he wrote them down so we can all hear them. A bunch of guys sat in Philadelphia in 1776 and talked a good game, but it wasn't until they wrote it down that it became Independence. It's magic, the power that paper and ink have. How can you not completely get goosebumps being around all that power all the time?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Conference Pens and other assorted Swag Thoughts

I went to the country's largest book fair last Friday, and came away with nearly 100 free pre-pub galley copies of new books. The trunk of the car was loaded. A trunk-full of new books makes me very happy, indeed. But I also made time to stuff some freebie pens into my bulging bags as well. It's made me think about Pen Giveaways, and whether I like them or not.

So as we all know, I have more pens than I will ever be able to use in this particular lifetime. And I have lots and lots of Good Pens (I define Good Pens as basically anything better in quality than the disposable bic ballpoint, medium tip, black ink that I used on my ballot when I voted today). So why do I grab cheap crappy pens from assorted independent publishers I've never heard of and don't care about, as if the Great Pen Shortage is coming?

I've talked about hoarding before, and how I do it, and why. But I'm deciding that I don't really want to hoard all these pens from Ingram Library Services. Because they kind of cheapen the act of writing itself for me. Even when I just write my daily to-do list on a post-it, I want to take it seriously and actually enjoy writing out my to-do list. Which is why I get pretty post-its with flowers and winnie-the-pooh on them. So why on earth would I ruin all that prettiness with crappy pens?

There was a time, relatively not so long ago, when most people couldn't read or write, and the very act of communicating via the written word was reserved for the upper classes. There were beautiful painted manuscripts with gorgeous handwriting written in expensive inks. And writing was special. Though writing is more democratic now (though, sadly, not in all parts of the world, or even our country for that matter) that doesn't mean it has to be taken for granted anymore than it was then. Writing with a pen, and being able to be in contact with people via pen and paper is a special privilege that we get to enjoy, and life's too short to waste our precious writing with a crappy pen that leaks, doesn't feel nice, or scratches the paper.

Thus, I will be donating all my Conference Pens (except the ones with real sentimental value!) to Goodwill.


And on another note, I wrote a real letter this week. It made my hand hurt. I'm not used to writing that much with a pen at once. I'm used to typing. It kind of made me angry. Even when I journal, I'm not writing quickly, so I guess I don't feel it. I'm going to have to do some hand-exercises. Maybe lift pen weights with my fingers.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Can't afford to ride a Ducati? Write with one!

Filed in the "What will they think up next" column. My hubby reads Auto Week religiously, seeing how he's a Car Guy. He saved the April 3 issue for me, in which there was an article entitled "The Pen is Mightier than the V12" - a 2008 guide to auto-inspired fine writing instruments. I guess, if you are sitting on an extra $13,500, you can get a Bentley pen.

Apparently, "the automotive inspired pens are a relatively new, stylish trend - one that is increasing more and more over the last couple of years..." Steve Wiederlight, co-owner of the Fountain Pen Hospital in NYC was quoted. The writer, Aaron Sigmond, ended the article by extolling the virtues of the car-pen. "In the end, you will find the pleasures of returning to a pen, especially one inspired by your actual (or fantasy) automobile's marque, will lead to both self-satisfaction and a greater appreciation of your personal style from those around you."

Yeah, I get it, but I'll tell you what. If I had an extra $13,500 hanging around, I know of lots of other ways to get self-satisfaction. Like buying everything at Target or Sephora.

I checked out the Fountain Pen Hospital website here, and they are some kind of fancy. Definitely not my style. Who knew there were so many expensive pens out there? Though I may decide to splurge and get J a pen made from the wood from a Dodger Stadium seat. Only $180.00!

You can read the entire article on car-pens at the Auto Week site, here.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Muji (and the art of minimalism)

I'm journaling in a Muji notebook. I'm a big fan of Muji stuff. I stock up on the pens when I'm in the UK (89p each - even with a crappy dollar, that's still a great deal). And the notebooks are awesome. All minimalist and unpretentious, with narrow lines (or unruled if you prefer). I get them in the A5 size, which is just perfect for me to journal in for about 3 weeks to a month, depending on my religiousness in journaling. And that's a perfect time for me because I get all ADD and sick of my notebook after then. Plus, they're lightweight so they don't add to the already-considerable weight in my tote bag.

But the coolest thing ever is that Muji has this deal where you build your own pen. You pick the casing, the ink type, and the colo(u)r, and presto-chango, you have a unique super-dooper pen.

I think this is a brilliant exercise in pen-creativity, and I'm a big fan. I just wish they had a store in Los Angeles. I'm very sad that I have to go to Carnaby Street or New York or Tokyo to get them. It's not right that pens of this caliber should be kept from us Angelenos. I know we aren't the most literary set, but dammit, we need to write, too.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Getting what you pay for

I'll be the first to admit that I'm a bit of a Pen Snob. No, I don't require expensive luxury brands like Cross, and I love the Foray brand for Office Depot as I've said before. But I just can't get into Rose Art gel pens, at all. I bought a package of SRX Gel Pens (they're so obscure I can't even find a web link to them) at Target last week, and when my Pilot Precise V7 RT went dry tonight, I thought to try these Rose Art ones. No more. For the first time in a long time, I'm throwing unused pens away.

So I have two things I'm thinking about now, and they are intertwined. First, the feeling of satisfaction I get from finishing a pen. It's such a rare occasion in this world. Mostly people lose track of pens, or switch pens before the first one is dry. Or the dog eats them. Or something. But most people don't just stick with a pen until it dries up and then throw it out.

I try to stick with a pen until it dries up. It's a wonderful feeling of completion when the pen dries up and I get to think about all the things I wrote with it.

It's one of the reasons I hate to throw away pens before they are used, which is the second topic I'm thinking about tonight. It's almost as if all the possibilities of the pens aren't going to be fulfilled if I throw the pen out before its time. The words I won't write with that pen may not ever be written in the same way with another pen. I'm superstitious like that. There's a reason I picked that pen, and there's a reason I saved it to use until the time I did. If I throw it out before its time, those possibilities might never be realized.

But it often keeps me writing with pens I don't like, just because I don't want to throw them out early (this is also the reason I finish books I hate, too - there might be a gem of a chapter up ahead, and I'll never know if I don't finish it).

But not this time. These Rose Art SRX Gel Pens they sell at Target absolutely SUCK.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Piedmont Stationers and Flair Markers

So I spent the week in San Mateo and had two Adventures in Pens.

The first was at Target (I was the winner of one of those "fill out our survey and win a huge gift card" contests in January, so Target is my Store of Choice these days). I lovelovelove Sharpies, especially the ones with really fine points, but I hatehatehate how they always bleed through my paper. I was happy to discover, in the same general area as the Sharpies, these new ultra fine needle point markers from Flair, which write like Sharpies, but won't bleed. I bought two packs (they're $4.99 for a pack of five - black, blue, purple, red and green). I'm markering in all my notebooks and happy to report that there is no bleeding.

My other adventure was today when I went to the Piedmont Stationers in Oakland. It's my boss's favorite stationary store, and ever since she's started her job, and become my boss, and known how in love with stationary I am, she's been telling me how she has to get me there.

It reminded me of the Sussex Stationary shops in the UK. All small and quaint with stuff stored in bookshelves and every off-beat kind of stationary product you could want. And a resident dog. They sold Filofax products, which make me feel like I'm in the UK again. And loads of European notebooks like ones by Clairefontaine.

I spent $46 on notebooks and some wonderful gel pens that are the same kind that I bought in my hubby's university store back when we first started dating. I've been hanging on to them all this time because they're special and sentimental, but now I have new ones, AND I know where to get them, so I'm going to start writing with them. Yay!

Anyway, that's the Exciting Pen Report for this week.

Friday, April 04, 2008

It's been a while since I blogged about pens. That's because it's been a while since I thought about pens very much. It's the whole “owning a house” thing. Other stuff, like installing a double-sided wall heater, seems to take precedence. Call it crazy, but there you go.

The other day, though, I had a wonderful pen conversation with an airport security woman at the Ontario airport (ontario california, not canada). Apparently my bag was deemed suspicious during the x-ray security fun, and they had to go through my bag by hand. It was the pens that set it off. I guess through an xray machine, a bag of pens can resemble a weapon, and so they had to check it out.

So the lady was going through my bag, and opening and closing little compartments, and then she found the pen case culprit. We started talking about pens, and I told her that I loved pens, and was completely addicted to them, and we agreed that pens were fun. She started looking at me funny, though, when I explained that the pouch she was holding in her latex-gloved hand held those pens which were my security-blanket; the most important pens that I need to have with me when I travel because they are comforting. I explained that I knew where each one came from, why I had bought it, how much it was; and that looking at them reminded me of whatever happy time it was when I had bought said pen.

It made me think of photos. We carry photos of people in our wallets to remind us of those people. We aren't actually carrying the people themselves, but something that represents them because it helps us picture them. I'm not the most visual person and images don't really stick in my head very much (the other day I realized that I could not, for the life of me, remember what kind of closets we had in the apartment we were in for 2 years and just left in November).

So I don't really remember, nor, to be blunt, do I really care about looking at photos of loved ones for security. What I do remember, and care about, though, are the feelings I get when I'm somewhere, or with someone. And often those feelings are things I write about with pens I've bought in special places. Often just by holding the pen in my hand, or writing my name with the pen, I can bring back all the memories and emotions of a special time.

For example, on September 11, 2001, I was living in London and over my lunch break I walked down Carnaby Street, past the Lush cosmetics store and I got a sandwich at Boots. I also went to Muji, a great Japanese store, and bought three notebooks, a few gel pens, and some markers, all of which they put in a cute little paper muji bag with sturdy folded paper handles. I remember walking back to my office – it was a glorious day and the sun was making one of its last stands of the summer, and I thought about eating outside in Golden Square, behind my office.

But I decided to go back in and catch up on some work because all morning long I'd been goofing off on email with my friends Nick and Paul about tv, gossip, music, and general goofing-off stuff. I thought I should be responsible and go back inside and finish work, and then perhaps I'd leave early and walk most of the way home.

When I got to my computer, there was an email from Nick to Paul and I telling us to look at Yahoo news because something weird was going on in New York. I looked and I remember seeing a headline about a fire in the World Trade Center. Then another email from Nick. Then I thought I shoud call my parents before the phone lines went dead, as they invariably do for intercontinental calls during times of crises. So I called my parents, they watched the news as I watched the internet, and doodled in my new notebooks and nibbled at my sandwich. We stayed like that for several hours; me doodling, just hanging on the phone with my parents. Finally it was time to go home, and I walked out of the office a different person, as we all did that day.

The point is, whenever I look at Muji pens and notebooks now, I remember that feeling, I remember my parents' voices, I remember the confusion and the sorrow, and I remember very much wanting to be around Americans and eat at a TGI Friday's with unlimited icey coke refills.

It makes just as much sense to me as carrying a glossy paper representation of someone.


In other news, I bought some pens this weekend from Office Max. I'm not usually an Office Max girl, prefering Office Depot because they have a nicer looking logo (I hate courier font in general and especially on a logo) and because Office Depot sponsors Carl Edwards in Nascar, and he's super-cute. When you go into many Office Depot's, they have a lifesize cardboard cutout of him, and I like to pretend to lick it as I walk past.

But I went into Office Max and was happily surprised to see this new line of writing instruments designed for them – the brand is Tul, and it looks all Scandinavian and minimalist and like the kind of pens you'd write with while sitting at your Ikea kitchen table with your perfect laughing baby, and your perfect blond haired husband scaling a perfect Scandinavian cod next to you.

So I was a little bit scared of them, but decided to give them a whirl. And I'm glad I did because I highly approve. The writing is smooth, the tips are strong and bold in the 7mm ones, and very easy to write with in the fine 5mm ones. The pens are nice to hold and just feel good in your hand. Not at all Scandinavian.

Also, I've bought some notebooks from Target's new batch of eco-friendly ones. I like the banana paper you can get at whole foods, and this new stuff didn't look very eco-friendly and recycled, but I guess that's part of the appeal – no banana fibers to distract you from your important writing. They come in many different sizes, too, so it's a versatile collection, and I'm definitely a fan.

In a few weeks I'll be visiting my boss's favorite stationary store in Oakland with her. I'm very excited.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

On Notebooks and cats...

I have been journaling lately in a notebook that is scented. It's a lovely little pink volume, about 6 inches by 9 inches, and has wonderful scratchy pages and narrow lines so my writing is it's tip-top best, and it's scented of strawberries. I can understand the whole idea - scent can stimulate ideas and such - but this book smells like Strawberry Shortcake, and I'm not certain how much I like it.

It also drives the cats crazy. Sometimes they like to sit with me while I journal, which is a lovely purry ritual for us all, but this whole strawberry scent thing has them a little out of sorts. They don't know whether to hunt it, lick it, ignore it, or play with it.

So it's a fun thing to try, and I don't regret starting this notebook, but it's a bit much and I don't think I'll do it again. Scented stuff like that needs to be reserved for stickers and lip glosses.