Desert Island Desks

A little while ago I had an idea for a series here on The Cloister wherein I would ask people what one pen, ink, and paper they would choose to have if they were stranded on a desert island. I was going to call it Desert Island Desks, a play on the title of the radio show Desert Island Discs.

As I thought about it more, it became apparent to me that there were some problems with the whole thing:

  1. It would be a lot of work finding people to contribute to such a series.
  2. In the unlikely event that I found myself willing to put in said amount of effort, those posts would quickly overwhelm my own "Original Content".

But the idea (and ridiculously clever name) just wouldn't go away so I did what any reasonable person would do: I registered the (shockingly still available) domain name and started an entire new site for it. But it's not just any kind of site. No sir (or ma'am). It's a Tumblr with submissions. This solves both of the problems listed above: the posts have their own place to live and The People can now come to me.

Submissions are wide open, so come to Butthead on over and tell me what's on your Desert Island Desk.

Object Permanence

Ask any fountain pen nerd what the first thing they look for in an ink is and most will probably respond with some variation of "the pretty colors". It makes sense; one of the primary draws of using a fountain pen is the vast number of ink colors available.

Ask me what the first thing I look for in an ink is and I'll probably respond with "permanence". It's something I may be a little obsessive about. Possibly because I'm just egotistical enough to think people a hundred years from now will care about the things that I've written, but more likely because my Italian heritage has gifted me with somewhat oily skin and anything that isn't at least somewhat permanent smears like a mofo on me. But I do like the pretty colors too.

In my quest to find colorful, non-boring inks that also offer some kind of longevity, I have developed a rigorous scientific test to sift the wheat from the chaff. I don't do this test with every ink I try, just the ones I think may be worth keeping around. And because I'm here to help, I now share it with you:

  1. Get a Q-tip or other non-branded cotton swab.
  2. Dip one end of said swab into the ink bottle/sample vial/pouch.
  3. Make some kind of mark on a piece of paper with the inked-saturated swab.
  4. Label said mark with a known permanent ink (I use a Sakura Pigma Micron).
  5. Fill a basin of some kind with room temperature water.
  6. Submerge your piece of paper completely in the basin of water.
  7. Set a timer for 5 minutes.
  8. Have a drink.
  9. When the timer has elapsed, remove the piece of paper from the basin of water.
  10. Observe which inks survived and to what extent.

Below are the results of two of my recent tests with some comments. Both were done using white Tomoe River paper, if that kind of thing matters to you.

These are the inks I currently (as of this writing) have in my pens.

  • My beloved Noodler's 54th Mass. came through like a champ.
  • Both of the KWZ Iron Gall inks lost their original color, but retained their iron gall-ness.
  • I was pleasantly surprised at how much of the Pelikan, Sailor, and J. Herbin stuck around.
  • I wasn't sure what to expect from Blue Steel, but it, too, looks almost iron gall-ish.
  • I was both surprised and disappointed that Oriental Red completely poof disappeared.

For this test, I deliberately chose inks that were supposed to have some kind of water-resistant qualities.

  • The KWZ Iron Gall once again did its iron gall thing.
  • Both of the Sailor inks are pigmented, so it's no shock that they stayed put.
  • Noodler's Fox may be worth looking into as a solution for my Red Problem.
  • When I selected the inks for this test, I thought Black Swan in Australian Roses was more water-resistant than it actually is. A quick look at the Goulet Noodler's Ink Properties Chart shows that I was mistaken.
  • I expected Bad Belted Kingfisher to come through a little better than it did, given that it's part of Noodler's "Warden" series. On the other hand, Liberty's Elysium exceeded my expectations for a "partially" water-resistant ink.

And there it is. Don't you feel all scienced up now?

Books Read in 2015

Time for the annual affiliate-link list of books I read in the previous year. Far and away the best book I read last year was Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation. If you're into literary Paris in the early part of the 20th century, I highly recommend it.

What Is Tao?, Alan Watts

Cosmic Trigger 2: Down to Earth, Robert Anton Wilson

Cosmic Trigger III: My Life After Death, Robert Anton Wilson

Journals 1914-1927, André Gide

The Camera, Ansel Adams

The Mind's Eye, Henri Cartier-Bresson

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation, Noel Riley Fitch

The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses, Kevin Birmingham

The Selected Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941, Ezra Pound

Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

Collected Poems 1909-1962, T.S. Eliot

Confessions, Saint Augustine

The Portable Dante, Dante Alighieri

The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord

Simulacra and Simulation, Jean Baudrillard

Specimen Days & Collect, Walt Whitman

Moby-Dick, Herman Melville

Notebooks 1951-1959, Albert Camus

Caligula and Three Other Plays, Albert Camus

PELIKAN The Brand, Detmar Schäfer

Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, Friedrich Nietzsche

How Proust Can Change Your Life, Alain De Botton

Letters from a Stoic, Seneca

On the Road, Jack Kerouac

On Writing, Charles Bukowski

Exile's Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s, Malcolm Cowley

The Heart to Artemis: A Writer's Memoirs, Bryher

In Praise of Shadows, Junichiro Tanizaki

The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry, Ernest Fenollosa

The End of the Poem, Paul Muldoon

Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, Ezra Pound

The Essential Haiku, Robert Hass

Matsuo Bashō, Makoto Ueda

One Hundred Poems from the Japanese, Kenneth Rexroth

Ezra Pound: Poet: Volume I: The Young Genius 1885-1920, A. David Moody

Ezra Pound: Poet: Volume II: The Epic Years, A. David Moody

Guide to Kulchur, Ezra Pound

You Only Have One First Time

I don't do well in crowds. They give me a claustrophobic feeling and generally send my anxiety levels through the roof. It therefore makes perfect sense that my first pen show would be the largest pen show in the country (or the world, as their mostly horrible web site claims). Nothing like diving into the deep end, right?

It all came about one day in the Pen Addict Slack Group (join here but guard your wallet well). Fellow Slacker and (relative) local Dan(Don) was lamenting his inability to attend the show. In an uncharacteristically spontaneous move, I offered to drive us both there if he could get to me. Our original plan was to leave at ass o'clock on Friday morning, attend the show and the planned Pen Addict meetup, and then drive home at ass o'clock at night. The pieces were falling into place.

As the date approached, we both began to reconsider the wisdom of our plan. While we were too late to get the show rate for a room at the hotel, the regular rate didn't seem unreasonable, especially compared to the potential cost of losing our lives when I fell asleep at the wheel. So we booked a room for Thursday and Friday nights. And waited.

Eventually Thursday came and we were off. We hit some minor traffic, but otherwise the trip was uneventful. Once arrived at the hotel, we checked in, stashed our non-pen luggage in the room and headed to the bar.

To save myself the embarrassment and guilt over forgetting someone, I won't make a list of who was there; you know who you are. But hands were shook. Pens were swapped. Ink was sampled. There were Nakayas. There were Shinobii. And of course Pilots, Sailors, Pelikans, and other proper nouns. In all my excitement and inexperience I ended up taking very poor notes on what I actually tested. At around 12:30 they kicked us out of the bar so the cleaning crew could come in.

Flat Dan joins us at the bar.  

Flat Dan joins us at the bar.  

Friday was the day I did all of my shopping. Dan(Don) and I had an early, overpriced breakfast at the hotel buffet with Lori Todd of Franklin-Christoph. Before registration even opened, we were in the main show room, browsing and getting on nibmeisters' lists (where applicable). The main attraction seemed to be the prototypes being sold by Franklin-Christoph. The now-famous and much desired "Coke bottle" Model 66 was a favorite, but I settled on a Pocket 20 in Vintage Green with a steel Masuyama medium cursive italic nib.

After registration finally opened at around 10, most of the vendors were fully armed and operational. Dan(Don) and I walked around some more and found our way to the Edison Pens table. Prior to the show, they had released a preview video showing off the pens they were bringing. I caught sight of a shimmery green Pearlette. It's a pen that has long been on my wish list and I knew if it was still there when I walked by it would be coming home with me. It was and it did.

Our next visit was the Vanness Pens table, where I bought two bottles of Akkerman ink: #8 Diep Duinwaterblauw and #21 China Town Red on the recommendation of Mr. Brad Dowdy. Most of the rest of the day was spent bouncing back and forth between the Franklin-Christoph table, where I bought a bottle of their new Terra Firma ink and a Penvelope 6, and the Vanness table, where I trolled Brad and Jeffrey and bought a Nock Co Lookout in their new Forest/Sunshine colorway. And thus concluded my shopping day. I spent a fair amount of money, but I don't think I went crazy. There were trays and trays of Pelikans, both vintage and modern, but I didn't even look at a single one. I was too afraid of what I'd walk away with.

The Haul. Yes I bought two green pens.  

The Haul. Yes I bought two green pens.  

After the free happy hour provided by the show, it was time for the Pen Addict Meetup in The Sauna. There was pizza and lots of people. The Goulets were there and that caused quite a stir. Dan(Don) won a sweet bottle of Iroshizuku Shin-Kai engraved by Vanness Pens to commemorate the event. I threatened to steal it while he was sleeping, but didn't follow through. We all ended up in the bar again for more pen swapping and stories of the day's conquests. I was exhausted by 11 so I turned in a bit early and apparently missed quite a bit of fun.

Saturday was a day for doing one last lap of the show floor and saying goodbye. The place was packed. Fortunately we managed to find everybody but Leigh Reyes and Thomas Hall. They were at an Apple store getting Leigh's phone fixed. It took some minor convincing, but Dan(Don) got me to make a stop on our way out. We met up with Leigh and Thomas at a Barnes and Noble Starbucks near the Apple store and sat around chatting for a little over an hour. The calm, quiet atmosphere of the four of us sitting around a table seemed such a juxtaposition to the chaos and madness we had just left at the show. But it was the perfect ending.

We finally got on the road and Google Maps decided to take us the scenic route back to 95. On the plus side, we got to drive past the Pentagon, the Washington Monument, and the Jefferson Memorial. But all the while I kept asking, "Where the hell is she taking us??". Eventually we made it back to New Jersey, Dan(Don) got on his train and I headed home. The trip was over for us. Over the next day we both watched with a little sadness the updates the new friends we left behind in D.C. made to the various social networks. Next year, we're staying until Sunday.

I was asked what the highlight of the show was for me. It was all such a whirlwind that I hadn't really thought about it, but I eventually came up with an answer. It was Thursday night. We had just checked in and put our bags in our room. We went down to the bar to see who was about and found The Table. We didn't really know anybody. I sat down next to Thomas Hall, whom I had interacted with minimally in the Slack group or anywhere else previously, and he started talking to me like we had known each other for years. It was my official welcome into the pen show world and I will never forget it.

You have chosen...wisely

Editor's Note: I recently finished reading Moby-Dick. Some of the analogies in this post may reflect this.

You don't remember where you first saw it. Someone posted a picture on Instagram. Or wrote a review on their blog. However you first saw it, the important thing is that you saw it. Somewhere. Your white whale. Your Grail Pen. The pen that always seems to be just out of your reach. It's too expensive. It's been discontinued. It's too expensive because it's been discontinued.

You search.

You deliberate.

You almost pull the trigger.

Then one magical day the stars align. The price is right. You have the money. Queequeg-like you launch your harpoon.

If it's at a pen show you consider yourself lucky. Lucky because you don't have to wait for someone to ship it halfway around the country (or worse, halfway around the world) before you can get your hands on it. Congratulations, you may skip to the penultimate paragraph.

If you can't get to a pen show or saunter on down to the local pen shop, you procured it online. So you wait. And wait. You keep refreshing your package tracking app. That makes it get there sooner, right? On the positive side, you have ample time to agonize over what you're going to ink it up with first.

Finally it arrives. You stare at the box, filled with trepidation. What if you've hyped it up so much in your head that it can't possibly be anything other than a disappointment? You open the box. It's like opening the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Daintily, with kid gloves even, you take the pen out. Do you dare mar its pristine beauty by shoving it into an ink bottle? You do. You put the pen to paper and at long last you write with it.

Hello new friend.


The Vanishing Point or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Plunger


I guess this is a pen review. But it's not just a pen review. It's a heroic tale of one man's growth and the realization that sometimes, just sometimes, changing your mind is ok.

If you want a real, actual review of the Vanishing Point, Josh Ginter wrote a pretty good one over at The Newsprint somewhat recently. And as usual his photography puts mine to shame.

Anywho, let's begin.

I hate pen caps. I hated them before I got into fountain pens and I hate them even more now that I am. While twisty bottom pens are a small step up from capped pens, give me a clicky top pen and I'm a happy man.

Needless to say, as I began my fountain pen adventure (penventure?) I was on the lookout for some clicky tops. It didn't take long. It was probably on the Pen Addict Podcast. My ears probably perked up. The Pilot Vanishing Point: essentially the only clicky top fountain pen. I probably got excited. Until I ventured out into the wilds of the internet and looked at pictures of the pen. To say I was unimpressed with the design is an understatement. What the hell was that giant thing poking out of the back?

It's giant! 

It's giant! 

For over a year anytime anyone mentioned the pen I stuck up my nose and questioned their sense of aesthetics. Then one week as part of their Pen Addict podcast sponsorship, Pen Chalet was offerering a discount on the Vanishing Point. It wasn't a great discount, but it was enough that I figured what the hell and bought one. I had just decided to switch from using Field Notes as my main Notetaking Platform™ to the Midori Traveler's Notebook and my thinking was that while I wasn't crazy about the design, the pen would work really well with it [an idea I probably got from Patrick Ng. (Extra parenthetically, look at the wear on that pen; man it's beautiful)].


I was right (or Patrick was right), it works great. The all metal body is solid and durable. It feels like a tank. I'm not in the least worried about tossing it in my bag and getting damaged from clanking around. I originally bought it with a fine nib, but added a medium nib unit later (easily swappable nibs FTW, as the kids say). Both write beautifully and even though I generally prefer a fine/extra fine nib for everyday writing I'm really digging the medium. Some people complain about the clip getting in their way, but those concerns evaporated the first second I held the pen; it fits my hand like a glove.

I can only think of one negative aspect of this pen for me: you can't check the ink level in the converter without completely disassembling the pen. This is not a huge demerit, however. It's fairly obvious when you're running out of ink no matter what pen you're using.

This whole experience has me questioning my own sense of aesthetics. Next thing you know, I'm going to start thinking that the Lamy 2000 is an attrative pen....

Life Hack: Keeping a Baron Fig Confidant Closed

I recently started using a Baron Fig Confidant (Juggler Edition) for a project I'm working on. I'm enjoying the notebook. The paper is good, the pages lay flat, etc., etc. There are tons of reviews out there if you're looking for one.

One thing most of those reviews will also tell you is that the book doesn't close completely after you've cracked the spine. It's true. But, my friends, I have found The Solution: the big, thick, red (or white) rubber band supplied by the lovely folks at Write Notepads with their equally lovely notebooks. It fits perfectly. Snug enough to keep the book closed, but not so snug that you feel like the rubber band will snap.


It also makes for a handy pencil holder.


Boom. Consider yourself Life Hacked.

A website for tinkerers

Álvaro Serrano:

If you’re anything like me though, your interests are not only multi-dimensional, they’re ever-changing, fueled by an endless sense of curiosity and a deep desire to understand the inner workings of things.

Álvaro ponders something I, too, have been pondering lately. What is this site? It's not a Pen Blog. It's not a Tech Blog. It's not a showcase for my incredible photography skills. It just is.

Or is it?


Wednesday Wanderings - If you only start reading one new site this year

And if that site isn't this one (let's face it, it shouldn't be), you could do a lot worse than making it Analog Senses by Álvaro Serrano. I've only recently started reading it, but there's something truly phenomenal going on over there. His writing is impeccable. His commentary is insightful. His pictures are delightful. If some sadistic deity forced me to keep only one feed in my RSS reader, it would be this one. Really.

Some recent highlights:

For serious. Hie you hence. Go. Now.

BONUS LINKAGE: If that deity were slightly less sadistic, he/she/it would also let me keep The Newsprint.