Blackwing Volume 10.

Just in at HQ: the latest limited release from Blackwing. Volume 10 refers to the essay “10 Days in a Mad-House” by Nellie Bly. The summer 2019 offering is a tribute to investigative journalism. I love this theme.

In a different and more courageous life, I would have loved to pursue a career in such brave writing, such boots on the ground journalism. Studying philosophy, we searched for Truth or the truth as a undergraduates. Then we searched for spots in PhD programs during our MA years, and after that, we searched for jobs teaching at universities. There, we would write fancy book reports and sometimes read them at conferences to 17 people, some of whom might have actually read what we wrote before asking questions that were designed to make themselves look intelligent or to make us look stupid or, best, both. The search for what is true or Truth got ignored and left to enthusiastic undergrads who would, in turn, ignore it. I finished my doctorate and jumped ship, though I’d jumped ship in my heart years earlier. To quote Nietzsche (how pretentious! get to the pencils!) from Thus Spoke Zarathustra:

For this is the truth: I have departed from the house of the scholars, and the door have I also slammed behind me.

I developed a taste for Sebastian Junger, Jon Krakauer, even the perhaps less truthful Bruce Chatwin. Thoreau became my model of the philosopher, the investigative truth-seeker whose search for meaning involves going inside and also outside into the world. If I had a time machine, I’d go back in time and hoard the 2004 version of the Ticonderoga “Black” and also study journalism. So this theme really grabs me.

I also love the oblique mental health angle. I know there are cries of bandwagon lately surrounding mental health awareness, especially when companies attempt to cash in and are guilty of the equivalent of green-washing. Nonetheless, the stigma around mental illness is not going anywhere without awareness, and every little bit helps. I appreciate that Blackwing mentioned mental health and did not harp on it too much. Miss Bly’s piece shed light on common misconceptions of people who suffer from mental illness and their relation to the rest of society. How many misconceptions still exist in 2019?

I couldn’t get these into my grubby hands quickly enough.

In the end, I feel the opposite that I felt over Volume 1. That pencil was so pretty that I didn’t care that the theme was a musician that I find, honestly, boring. This time, I don’t care that much what the pencil looks like because I like the theme so much. First libraries, and now journalism? Blackwing has me paying attention. I don’t know how I actually feel about the looks yet. Or, at least, I’m not sure how to form an opinion that is at all divorced from how much I love this theme.

The pencil sports a “matte grey newsprint finish” with a silver ferrule and [new] dark grey eraser. The imprint is dark grey, and the 10 really stands out for on this no-frills barrel, even more than the #1 did on Volume 1. The core is the extra firm that we have seem now on the 24, the 530, the rare 1917, the 54, and the Natural. I love the texture of the matte finish, and the rather cool grey is a lovely tone. The eraser is dark enough that it looks black; they probably could have saved some money by just using black erasers. What’s really interesting is how much the color of the cedar is set off by the design of this pencil after you sharpen it.

The subscriber extra is a facsimile of a newspaper that is a hard copy of Miss Bly’s essay, complete with a thoughtful surprise at the end that I won’t spoil here.

Some folks have expressed disappointment that the pencil is so…muted or boring. There are already a slew of white, black, and grey Blackwings, in the regular line-up and the Volumes series. I’m not bothered by it. I’d love to see a yellow pencil, some more blue, definitely a purple pencil. But what color would have worked for this theme? Should Blackwing have excluded this theme because no bright colors or interestingly shaped pencils would match it? It’s drab. But is that a bad thing?

Distillation and Archiving.

I have kept a lot of pocket notebooks over the last few years, since my very first Field Notes notebook. Before that, I largely used Moleskine notebooks, usually the hardbound pocket style. Once full, they were handy to sit down with and peruse at a later date, remembering ideas I had for projects, snippets of poetry, chronicles of adventures both large and small, and philosophical paragraphs that I thought I might not keep to myself. Before I had kids, a small Moleskine would last me at least a few months. (I have filled 3/5 of my current notebook, a lined pocket Moleskine, in 3 weeks; I wrote less back then).

The benefit of softbound pocket notebooks is that they’re very portable, and I fill them up very quickly. But their format and their sheer number make going back through these tiny volumes somewhat difficult. I’ve had my distillation and archiving project in mind for a long time, but I’ve never mustered the energy to start it. I am endeavoring to edit and transfer the contents from nearly a decade of pocket notebooks into large hardcover journals.

These are the pocket notebooks that I filled from 2011 to 2012, with three books from late 2010. During this period, I also kept a five-year diary and a traditional journal. But I did most of my writing in pocket notebooks, everyday. The stack from 2013 to 2014 is a little larger than this, and the stack that includes writings from 2015 and on has exploded and includes a reasonable number of hardcover notebooks itself. I have a few hundred of these notebooks to sort through.

I have no intention to copy the contents of these notebooks wholesale. I’m setting myself up at the start to be very selective regarding what will make it into the hardcover journal, in this case, a Moleskine expanded edition that I wrote about this spring. I’m not sure what the time commitment for this project will be, but I don’t want it to get out of hand and get in the way of actual capital w Writing.

I have heard the legend repeated that Marcus Aurelius ordered his journals to be burned when he died. A disobedient servant preserved them, and because of that, we have the rich philosophical book today that inspires many people. I am definitely no emperor and philosopher like Aurelius, but I have asked that my journals be burned if something happens to me. (However, I’m wondering if these distilled archives will be exempt from my macabre request.) My best friend and I have a pact that whoever dies first will burn the other’s journals — though I suspect that we will burn them all on a camping trip sometime in the next 30 or 40 years together and then play music to the ashes.

I realize this post is a rambling procrastination before I crack open some notes that are almost 10 years old. I imagine how much paper and ink and graphite I may have wasted complaining about a neighbor, taking notes on when a character uses a certain kind of stationary item in a television series, and just testing writing implements out over and over again. Is it a larger waste of time and resources to scour these various semi-disposable notebooks in an effort to gleen nuggets worth remembering and worth archiving? Will the trip down the proverbial Memory Lane make the entire endeavor worth it?

Am I just creating an egotistic and/or narcissistic commonplace book of my own words?

Best Outdoor Sharpener?

Part of me wants to claim a container sharpener for my favorite balcony sharpener. And I’ve…been known to leave a large crank sharpener out there. But I find myself returning to the Masterpiece more and more lately. I drop the shavings into plant pots, though I wonder if I might have radioactive geraniums this year, after sharpening the latest release from Blackwing. What are Comrades’ favorite sharpeners for writing outside?

Mechanical Pleasures.


We are lucky to publish another essay by the wonderful writer Vivian Wagner (see her 2017 piece here). Many thanks to Comrade Vivian! What do other Comrades think of mechanical pencils?

Mechanical Pleasures, by Vivian Wagner

I know what David Rees says in How to Sharpen Pencils: 鈥淢echanical pencils are bullshit.鈥滭/p>

For a while, I agreed with him. I鈥檇 fallen in love with all kinds of fancy, fabulous wood-cased pencils 鈥 and that love affair continues to this day. On principle, I stayed away from mechanical pencils. I had everything I needed with my Blackwings and Tombows and Mitsubishis.

One day, though, I found myself at my college鈥檚 bookstore, hanging out, as one does, in the stationery aisle. I happened to see some packages of Bic Atlantis 0.5mm pencils for a few dollars each. I鈥檝e always liked Bic Atlantis ballpoint pens, and these seemed worth a try. I hesitated a moment, what with my loyalty to wood pencils and the fact that Rees鈥檚 words were seared on my conscience.

But, I thought, what the hell? No one鈥檚 going to know. So I bought a few to try out.

Reader, they were lovely. Even with the basic, French-made Bic lead in them, they were smooth and fun, and 鈥 as a bonus 鈥 I didn鈥檛 need to sharpen them. I could write and write and write 鈥 something I spend a lot of time doing 鈥 and I didn鈥檛 have to stop to refresh my point.

They weren鈥檛 wooden pencils, to be sure, but they were just fine. Better than just fine, in fact. They were a good, useful addition to my daily routine. I began carrying one with me in my journal, finding it was easier to have a mechanical pencil on hand than a wooden pencil while teaching and going through my day, when I couldn鈥檛 always stop to sharpen. In the evenings, I returned home to my wood pencils at my desk, but the Bic mechanicals quickly became a part of my everyday carry.

I discovered, as well, the world of nice, soft, dark 4B Uni and Pilot leads, and these changed the game even more. Suddenly, it was truly a pleasure to write with mechanicals.

Since that fateful day in the bookstore, I鈥檝e discovered that Bic Atlantis 0.5mm pencils are pretty hard to come by these days. Those packages I found, apparently, were old stock. I鈥檝e been experimenting with a few others, including a Ohto wooden Sharp Pencil, a TWSBI Jr. Pagoda, and a Pilot G-2, and a few others. I like all of them, but my favorite is still the Bic Atlantis 0.5mm, maybe just because it was my first.

I still love wood-cased pencils, but I鈥檓 here to say that mechanical pencils have a place, at least in my world. And they aren鈥檛 bullshit.


Vivian Wagner lives in New Concord, Ohio, where she English at Muskingum University. She鈥檚 the author of Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), The Village (Kelsay Books), and Making (Origami Poems Project). Visit her website at VivianWagner.net.

Father’s and Son’s Top Seven Pencils.

I love the theme of intergenerational pencil discussions. My daughter and I have them on a regular basis, though my son (at just about 19 months old) just yells “Puh!” for now. Luke recently posted a piece by a father and son review team:

“My 17-year-old son has taken an interest in my growing collection of Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602s and he and I share a mild (in our minds, anyway) obsession with finding the ultimate writing wood pencil. After collecting an assortment of recommended pencils for comparison, we sat down and conducted our unscientific test…”

Read more at Pencilism!

Drawing on the Couch.

2019-10-03 11.34.26
(Charlotte, enjoying a Good German Pencil at Carma’s Cafe last week.)

The Little Man went down for his nap early today, while Mama was at a knitting class. On a quiet Sunday afternoon, Miss Charlotte and I sat on the couch with notebooks in our laps and my pencil box between us. I told her she could use whatever she wants. There are no taboo pencils in our house, not ones that can be reached by children.

First, she took a new Staedtler Noris (HB) and colored for a while.

“Look, a pencil from France,” said I, showing her a green Bic Evolution. She took the General’s Kimberly (B) out of my hand and colored with that for a while instead. She drew a picture of me as a “little boy” and a rainbow with a short Blackwing Pearl. She took up a Staedtler Wopex and colored with it until she chipped the point. Then she put it back and picked up a Mono 100 (HB).

“I like this pencil. Can you give me one — from The Archive?”*

“Sure,” I said. “What do you like about it? The color?”

“No,” Charlotte said. “I like the way it’s made.”**

She colored with a Hi-Uni (HB), asking, “What’s this one?”

She took the ultra-smooth General’s Draughting and said, “I’m being quiet.” Was she talking about the Silent Glide of that smooth core?

Soon, it was naptime for her, too. We read Shel Silverstein on the couch that smelled a little like cedar.

*(Her emphasis.)
** (I’m not making this up!)

Hen’s Love for Pencils.

We love Rad and Hungry at Pencil Revolution. Those good folks are continually spreading The Pencil Message and gathering pencils from afar to share with Like Minded Individuals. Plus, Hen sent my daughter a box of really cool pencils last year that Charlotte still uses and talks about. So my ears were already open to Awesomeness when this was posted, and I was, well, moved. Please, Comrades, read Hen’s post about how she got into pencils. It will strike a chord with a lot of Comrades.

Why Pencils: A Penchant for Paper.

pench_paper
Heather has been reviewing pencils for quite a while now, and I have been thoroughly enjoying her reviews — being a reader of her blog for literally years. A recent post really struck a chord with the Pencil Lover in me:

“For whatever reason, pencils have a charm for me that pens, even fountain pens and inks, just don’t. They seem friendlier, somehow. Homelier. More comfortable. You can always count on them to write. You don’t have to worry about the ink drying up, or about tricky issues like feathering, bleed through, drying times, fading, or waterproofness. You can break them in half and they still write. You can forget about them for a decade or two in the back of your desk drawer and they’ll still write. If you take notes in pencil, you can count on them to last, unless someone burns them or goes after them with an eraser. You can’t always count on that with ink.”

I feel like I should add some sort of commentary in an Academic way to justify this quotation. But Heather’s piece is very well-put, perfectly, already. Check out the rest of the post here.

On Memory, at the Pratt Chat.

Here is a very interesting piece on memory and poetry from Comrade Brian on Pratt Chat:

How is your memory? When it comes to certain things, my memory is like a steel trap; but otherwise, it鈥檚 more like a soggy noodle. I鈥檝e always been impressed by my friends who can quote things verbatim, especially long works of poems. My one friend can recite Poe鈥檚 The Raven from heart, and I had another friend who recited Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner while we were sailing on the Chesapeake one day (a perfect setting).

But memory and poetry have a long, interlinked history鈥攁nd some may even argue genesis鈥攖ogether, going back to the first poets, who most likely sang the epics from memory accompanied by a lyre. And during Shakespeare鈥檚 time, it was pub game to begin reciting a line of poetry from memory, and your partner had to finish the poem, or so I remember one of my English teachers telling me. (More here.)

Note: The friend who can recite “The Raven” by heart is Yours Truly. I double mastered it when my daughter was small and didn’t like the light on for reading sometimes but still wanted to hear poetry.* But Coleridge by heart — that’s impressive!

I think an interesting feat of Pencil Memory (and I can think of a few Pencil Bloggers who can probably do it; I can’t) would be to recite the Pencil Dynasties from the great German pencil companies!

[*I am also known to spout very loud renditions of Shel Silverstein poems at people named Paul.]

The $425 Dollar Pencil at Big Spender.

425_pencil
Market Watch has a column called Big Spender, which was about pencils this week. At least one other pencil blogger and I were interviewed, though the piece came out a little short on quotations and details. It was largely about the expensive version of the Perfect Pencil. I am probably one of the few pencil bloggers who does not own one of these beauties, and I probably sound like I hate them in the article, which was my fault for doing an interview early in the morning on only one cup of coffee. Faber-Castell, don’t get me wrong. I would love to own a Perfect Pencil. Hopefully, one day I will. I’ve actually been using a lot of German pencils this summer, and Faber-Castell’s pencils are usually of almost unbelievable quality — and I’m holding the relatively un-luxurious Castell 9000 behind my ear right now (grade B and getting shorter everyday). I should pick up a sub$400 Perfect Pencil soon.

Wired interviewed quite a quorum of pencil bloggers for a piece on pencil sharpeners which will be out soon. We’ll link to it if we can.

Pencil Revolution Turned 8!

orginal_header
With a few long-term lapses in posting*, it feels odd to outright celebrate 8 years of this here Humble Pencil Blog. We were not posting for at least half of that time, not regularly. But I think this little anniversary bears mentioning, if for nothing else, because a lot has changed in 8 years:

1) Many muchly far-too-big-numbered less American-made pencils.
2) Smartphones.
3) The role and popularity of blogs.
4) Social media, etc.
5) Etc. etc. etc.

I think we’ll celebrate this week with some blasts from the proverbial past.

Today is also Hemingway’s birthday. We celebrated at a wedding last night with mojitos.

*[Notably, summer 2006-2010 when Your Humble Editor was writing a dissertation and “doing” two years of National Service in AmeriCorps.]

Hipsters and Pencils.

DSCN0202
I certainly don’t mean to open a Hipster Shooting Gallery, firing at hipsters or other people. Nor — given the fact that hipsters seem to adopt things I like (beards, rye whiskey, bikes, etc.) and the subsequent fact that I probably look like an older and wider hipster — do I necessarily exclude myself from the School of the Hip. Even if I’d rather be counted out.

But I have noticed something that I’m sure many Comrades have noticed. There’s this whole 鈥渁rtisanal鈥 and 鈥渃raft鈥 and 鈥渟mall-batch鈥 movement going on. There’s no question. But I’ve noticed that pencils are fitting into this in bigger and bigger ways. Pencils are showing up more and more in advertising for products and services aimed at the hip crowd. I read somewhere (I forget where) that a lot of the low-fi stationery trends are 鈥渉ipsterish鈥 and that brands like Field Notes have been extra successful as a result.* To be sure, the shops that seem to cater to hipsters around my house all have a decent stationery section.

DSCN0201

If paper is cool, certainly no ordinary writing implements will do. No Bics or gel pens. Wood and graphite and the accoutrements/accouterments thereof all the way! Take this ad (above) from a local watering hole in Baltimore. There are myriad examples I will let Comrades find on their own, for enjoyment and/or scoffing and/or edification.

I live in a pretty hip spot, and there are benefits (good coffee shops, stores with stationery) and obnoxiousness (kids telling you about the neighborhood in which you grew up like their discovered it). I’m waiting to hear someone in expensively battered boots wax philosophical about the benefits of using a 鈥渟imple鈥 pencil’s eraser as a smartphone stylus in our of our hipper coffeeshops.

I’ve been known to employ Blackwing erasers on my non-smart-but-touch-screen-phone. But never in public.

*[I might point out that Field Notes have also been successful because of their level of service.]