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?

Writing Outside.

Our next Erasable Podcast episode will be about writing outside: camping, cafe’ life, the veranda, wherever you like to write out of doors. I haven’t been camping myself in almost exactly six years, and the person with whom I went camping the last time, as off at the woods this weekend with his family.

What are some favorite places, special pieces of equipment, or thoughtful strategies used by Comrades for alfresco writing?

PLUMBAGO issue #3.


In the last year or so, Andy (from Woodclinched and my co-host of Erasable) has been spear-heading a stationery-centric magazine, Plumbago. Started as a Zine in the first issue, the second issue was so polished that I think it became a magazine.聽The upcoming third release is the fiction and poetry issue, and, this time, it has the heft and gravitas of a literary journal. You’ll find:

Father Kyle Sanders writes a story from the perspective of an Eberhard Faber American Naturals pencil

A collaboration between poet Judy Wilson and fine graphite artist Diane Wright

Harky Jewett presents a type-written science-fiction story about the fate of mankind

A big, bright graffiti-style portrait of some of our favorite pencils

The 5 winners of the six-word story contest, illustrated by Becky Aiken

Original artwork by Ana Reinert of聽The Well-Appointed Desk

And lots, lots more

There’s even a bad poem by yours truly that ends in gore/a goring.

Comrades can pre-order the issue to be sure to get a copy. These have sold out quickly both times before, and this one will likely go just as fast. You’ll even save $2 off of the $10 cover price.

Lest one might think it’s all about the funds, “Revenue from this zine go directly to printing, assembly and mailing costs, and leftover revenue will be donated to [Heart to Heart International], an organization dedicated to providing door-to-door medical aid to victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.”

Why are you still here and not ordering this amazing publication?!

Plumbago, Volume II.

If you don’t listen to the Erasable Podcast and are not a member of our ever-growing Facebook group, maybe you missed the first issue of Plumbago, the zine edited by Comrade Andy Welfle. You’re in luck. Issue II is about to drop:

At long last,聽Plumbago聽is back! At 36 pages long, this zine will be chock-full of writing and illustration. We鈥檙e celebrating the spirit of the hackwing; what we call a pencil modded from its original design to suit the user鈥檚 style and usage preferences. You鈥檙e buying a pre-order to help fund the printing and distribution of this zine.

Just a few features you鈥檒l find here:

– 鈥淲hat I鈥檝e Learned from Field Notes鈥滫 A piece by urban sketcher Tina Koyama
– 鈥淩abbinic Musings in Graphite鈥滫 about how pencils aid in the intense study environs of rabbi school by Mordechai Lightstone
– 鈥淗ow to Keep Score at a Baseball Game Using a Pencil鈥滫 A piece by Gregory Dresser
– 鈥淎re You *Too* Obsessed with Stationery:鈥 A quiz to help you measure your sickness
– A comic by the Mad Penciler
– An editorial by Dr. J. Frank, encouraging you to lovingly destroy your pencils
– And lots, lots more.

Pre-order the upcoming second issue, and you will get a PDF of the first issue and maybe another little surprise too.聽Hurry, and click here to get 聽your copy, while they last!

In Praise of Moleskines.


I’ve been working on (and off) a review of the Moleskine Voyageur travel journal, and my thoughts about Moleskines in general kept slowing me down.

I turned the later into their own essay, and the good folks at The Cramped published it last week.

“I am writing to praise what鈥檚 become 鈥 to my mind 鈥 the聽humble聽Moleskine. The brand seems to be flourishing these days. There are always more licensed editions to buy, more planner options, more colors, more accessories. There is even a聽Moleskine caf茅, and I will marry whomever whisks me away there. While I feel like Civilians are as into Moleskines as ever, within the fancy聽stationery community (and especially the stationery blogger community), Moleskine can be a dirty word. I might even be guilty of writing them off, but 鈥 for me 鈥斅爄t all started with a Moleskine.”

Read more, and thanks again to Patrick and Shawn!

Hemingway Hemingway Hemingway.

If we lived in the magical world of Beetlejuice, this could conjure Papa. While scholarly and popular interest in Hemingway both seem to rise and fall rapidly, at PRevo HQ, we’re big Hemingway fans. One of our first posts was one quoting Mr. Hemingway:

“When you start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none. So you might as well use a typewriter because it is much easier and you enjoy it that much more. After you learn to write your whole object is to convey everything, every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader. To do this you have to work over what you write. If you write with a pencil you get three different sights at it to see if the reader is getting what you want him to. First when you read it over; then when it is typed you get another chance to improve it, and again in the proof. Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it. That is .333 which is a damned good average for a hitter. It also keeps it fluid longer so that you can better it easier.”
Hemingway on Writing, pg. 51 (exerted from By-Line: Ernest Hemingway, pg. 216).

I have often wondered what Papa might make of a pencil blog, a pencil podcast, seasonal Blackwings, artisanal sharpening. Would he tell us we’re wasting time that we should spend writing or living? Maybe he’d point out that, while he fetishized certain objects and mentioned brands of items, drinks, guns, etc., he never tells us what kind of pencil that he liked. He just wrote with them. I have trouble imagining that someone with such a penchant for ritual would not have a favorite kind/brand/model of pencil. I’ve tried mightily to ascertain what Hemingway wrote with. If you can’t actually use the same notebook for some spell or charm, maybe a pencil would do the trick?

Past Hemingway goodness featured on Pencil Revolution.

Pencil for Long-Term Writing, Part 4: Accoutrements.


(Continued from 2010, Part 2: Pencils, and Part 3: Paper, and the original post in 2010.)

We will conclude our series of posts about maximizing the performance of pencils for long-term writing with a short look at pencil accessories.

Sharpeners
For journaling, I almost always prefer a long point. I like a point that starts sharp and is able to continue making neat lines without having to stop and sharpen every paragraph, or even every page. And the concave point produced by a crank sharpener like the Classroom Friendly model fits the bill perfectly. On the go (or if you prefer more control of your point), the KUM Masterpiece makes an insanely long point/longpoint and does not draw as much attention in a cafe’ as cranking a large metal contraption might.

Erasers
The best erasers for preserving pencil writing will not smear, will erase completely, and they will not mar the paper. Generally speaking, some kind of plastic eraser fits the bill for all three of these requirements. This blog is lacking in eraser reviews, but I generally reach for the Staedtler Mars plastic eraser or the Faber-Castell version for journaling.

Blotters
As mentioned earlier, I prefer a piece of an old map, a cut sheet from a Rhodia pad, or some other smooth and flexible paper for my blotter sheets. This helps to keep your journal neat in the first place, and stationery nerds seem to gravitate toward maps. Win-win.

Do Comrades have other tips or pieces of gear they use for keeping pencil writing safe for future Revolutionaries?

Pencil for Long-Term Writing, Part 3: Paper.


(Continued from 2010 and also Part 1: Pencils.)

We have established that pencil is the perfect medium for preserving your writing for the future. We recently examined what to look for in a pencil for journaling and/or long-term writing and some examples thereof. Today we will look at paper for keeping your pencil writing safe.

There are several details on which to reflect when selecting a notebook or journal if you plan to fill it with pencil, and this is even more true when one wants to preserve the writing forever.

Binding
Spiral bindings 聽can allow聽pages to rub against other other, creating smearing and thereby affecting the legibility of your writing for the future. Write Notepads & Co. solves this with an enormous rubber band. Generally, if I am going to carry a notebook around for more than a week, I prefer something with an elastic closure like this or like a Moleskine. A staple-bound Field 聽Notes book lasts only a week; so there’s little time to smear. The Write Notepads pocket books are tightly-bound with the PUR spine, and they do not rub much either. Also, consider that an notebook crammed into 聽your pocket will not move very much against other paper, that聽the fabric of your pocket (and your butt/leg/etc.) will likely keep the pages together anyway. For bouncing around in a bag, I never use a book that can open a even a little on its own, allowing the pages to mingle. Graphite is not to be trusted in the open like that!

Tooth
I avoid papers with too little or too much tooth. For instance, anything with more tooth than (and sometimes even including) a Scout Books pocket notebook will collect more graphite from the point of the pencil than the marks which one seeks to preserve. This results in dust and smearing and a generally untidy notebook. This is fine sometimes; pencil is not always tidy. But for writing which we seek to protect, smearing can render words, lines — even pages — illegible. Even worse is paper which is too smooth. The writing never even has much of a chance to stay put. The paper on Rhodia pads, for instance, is a lovely and smooth surface on which to skate a piece of graphite. However, I would not trust words meant for future generations to聽such glassy paper.

Ruling
An overly-tight graph or narrow lines can cause one’s writing to bunch up, resulting in less crisp lines. Something around the line-spacing of a Moleskine and 1/4 inch is my own preference, though I often just forgo any guide whatsoever too. Try to go line-free with pencil and the intention that your writing with last forever. Be bold!

Archival Quality of the Paper
These days, most major-branded books (Moleskine, Field Notes, etc.) are bound with acid-free paper. Since graphite does not react with paper anyway, this is, I assume, slightly less of a issue than when using ink. However, brittle and yellow paper can cause an issue for any writing medium.

Balance
As in pencils, the key is balance. I like a paper with a medium tooth, light (or no) lines, and a binding that will not allow the paper to rub against itself. As with pencils, this is harder to explain than it is to give examples of.

Write Notepads & Co. – This is probably my favorite notebook paper right now. The 70# stock takes graphite wonderfully, and the minor stiffness of the paper combines with the PUR binding to hold the pages still. The texture is nearly perfect, and they use a nice 1/4 inch line-spacing which聽is a great balance of efficiency and comfort. Plus they are made in my hometown, and Chris is a friend IRL. But I still claim not to be biased. Their books聽really are that good.

Moleskine – I swear that Moleskine has been quietly (because loudly would be admitting the paper was inferior before?) improving their paper. The texture is lovely for your less soft pencils, and the elastic keeps everything in place. If you hit Target at the right time of year, you can steal one for a few bucks from the clearance section. I like to remember that a Moleskine in 2002 led me to being lucky enough to co-host a really fun podcast.

Paperblanks – I have not used one of these in a while, but the paper is very stiff for nice pencil lines. Some of the covers get a little…LOOK AT ME for my taste, but the subtly-designed ones work well. Ghosting/graphite transfer is very low on this paper, even without a blotter.

Baron Fig – In speaking with Joey and Adam, I learned that this paper was designed, in part, for pencil, and it shows. The texture is lovely, and the themes and special editions they produce appeal to me greatly.

Field Notes – The newer 60#T version of the Finch Paper Opaque Smooth is lovely for pencil. I’m not sure why it works so much better than the 50# version, which I find to border on too smooth. These do fall open and allow pages to rub together in a bag. I generally get only a week of pocket carry out of them, however; so I do not experience this issue.

What are some papers/books Comrades like to use for long-term writing and/or journaling in pencil?