A year ago, on the 13th of July 2021, I started my first round of chemo. I was hospitalised and connected to oxygen at the time (my tumour was so large that it had collapsed both of my lungs, and my lung capacity was well below 35%). My last run was 1.2km on the 3rd of May 2021, done at a crawling pace on a treadmill. My lungs couldn’t carry me through my runs, and I had started feeling it from April 2021, but tried to push through it as my GP insisted that I was OK.
Today is the last day of July, 2022. This is my running distance for the month:
Running was one of the things that I missed the most while I was hospitalised and then throughout chemo and the months immediately after treatment, when my body was too broken down to carry me through a run. Words cannot express what running means to me. They just can’t.
I ran more than a 100 kms this month, lacing up for 21 times, getting back to a baseline of 5k runs five times a week. Despite the heat. Despite the humidity. Despite my lungs and my PTSD.
I only wish there was a way to send a message back to the me that lay in that hospital bed connected to the chemo IV, to let her know where I’d be a year from then.
It’s been a while since I posted an update, and there’s been fewer posts than usual during the last two months. This is mostly because I started a new job in June, and it’s been longer hours and more work than I anticipated at first. I am enjoying myself, but the change means I have less free time, and that I need to prioritise things differently to better fit the things that I care about into my life. Was moving from a cushy and undemanding job to an interesting and fun but much more demanding one a mistake? Time will tell, but so far I’m not regretting the switch.
As I’m starting to find my footing, I’ve been able to find more time for my hobbies. During the early days of my new job the only thing I did was work, exercise, sleep and eat. Then reading came back into my life, and journalling and sketching followed. Meanwhile the Sketching Now Watercolour course is over and I only had time for the first week, but thankfully the materials are all available online so I’ll be able to complete it all eventually.
What’s left my life almost entirely so far is watching TV, and I doubt that it will regularly return. In terms of media consumption, I read and listen to podcasts and that’s about it. I will watch specific things on Disney Plus or watch Adam Savage make things on YouTube, but even that isn’t something that I do often these days. It’s not a value judgement on TV – it’s just that I have less time now, and of the things I could easily get rid of, this was one of them.
Another thing that went out the window is social media. I’ve stopped checking Twitter and Facebook regularly. The only thing left is Instagram, which I still spend too much time on for my liking, and as Facebook starts messing with it I may likely leave as well.
I had a bit of a health scare in late June. It was 6 months after my last chemo treatment, and I had some blood work done for a check up with my hemato-oncologist. One of the results was extremely low, and it was for a test that people rarely get and I certainly have never gotten before, so I had no baseline to compare it to. What little information I found online indicated that I either was going through kidney failure/had a kidney tumor or had a rare form of blood cancer (beyond the blood cancer that I already had). Two sleepless nights later my hemato-oncologist (bless her), told me that everything was OK. The rest of my blood work was good, and this test was meaningless for people in my condition. She never asked for it, and I don’t know what possessed my GP to ask for it. In any case, I am now officially well enough to go on the regular post treatment checkup schedule, which means once every three months. Yay!!!
I’m running five times a week now, four 5ks a week and I’ve now started to work in a long run in the hopes to get back to running 10k. It’s tough running in this heat and humidity, especially with my lungs not being 100%, but I’m pushing through and enjoying myself. Running is my meditation, and has remained that way even though I now also meditate as part of ACT.
I’m also going twice a week to lift weights in the gym, nowadays with a mask on to avoid COVID. I’ve been vaccinated four times, but am now working from home again and staying masked as I can’t afford to get sick with the state of my lungs. Practically nobody is wearing masks anymore, and almost everyone around me is sick, so it’s been frustrating to try and stay healthy under these conditions. I’m hoping that the Omicron variant vaccine will be available here in a month or so, and I’m keeping an eye on the numbers to know when I can go back to the office and see people face to face again.
I’ve finished Hillary Mantel’s “The Mirror and the Light”, the third and final book in her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. I’ll write a more lengthy review of it on Goodreads, but I will say that I got tired of the book at around the 60% mark (it’s about 900 pages long), and it didn’t really recover from that point on. I can see why Mantel struggled with this one, and I don’t regret reading it, but it’s not as good as the previous two books, and it could have done with some robust (and perhaps ruthless) editing.
I’ve also finished Ali Smith’s “Companion Piece”, which is a companion piece to her seasonal quartet of novels (Autumn, Winter, Spring, Summer) and is excellent. You don’t need to read the quartet to enjoy this book, and “Companion Piece” would also be a good introduction to Smith’s writing. It’s written in stream of consciousness style, although it’s fairly easy to understand (nothing as complex as Joyce), and there’s a joy in her writing, compassion, insight and humour that make reading her always an enjoyable and worthy pastime.
As these were a bit challenging to read, I had an Agatha Christie “palate cleanser” in the shape of two novels: “The Man in the Brown Suit” and “Crooked House”. “The Man in the Brown Suit” is a detective/adventure story that was originally light hearted, but today just doesn’t work. There’s too much racism and sexism to bear, especially if you know anything at all about the history of South Africa, diamond mines, and labour relations in Africa. “Crooked House” was one of Christie’s favourite novels, and it’s a fun and interesting book with many original characters (and yes, also spots of racism).
Pens, Pencils and Notebooks
I’ve been playing around a lot with ink washes lately, as I’ve written here. They’re a fun and quick way to add colour to a sketch, and having a limited palette makes me appreciate colour values more.
I’ve written almost all of my fountain pens dry, with the exception of a Franklin Christoph 45L Sage with a S.I.G fine nib (filled with Bungobox June Bride Something Blue ink) and a Platinum Plaisir filled with the blue cartridge it came with. The other fountain pens I have inked (two Lamy’s and two Sailor Fude pens) are used for sketching and not writing. I’ll likely fill up a few pens next week.
The BigIDesign Dual Side Click pen arrived from the kickstarted that I backed, and it’s fantastic. I hope to have a review up next week, but so far I’ve really enjoyed using it, and I think that it’s their best pen yet (which is saying something).
I’ve decided to start switching around the pencils that I use, instead of writing one down to a nub. I’ve been using a vintage Eberhard Faber Mongol pencil this week, and a Musgrave Tennessee Red one. They’re both #2 or HB pencils, but the Tennessee Red one is much softer and darker.
I’ve changed the way I use my notebooks, streamlining certain things, consolidating notebooks on the one hand, and starting a new notebook (MD A5 blank paper notebook) for insights and ideas that I would have previously explored on social media and now prefer to explore in private, on paper. I’m no longer chasing likes for these things, as I’m more interested in giving the thoughts in my head time and space to grow and change, and Twitter and Facebook are the last places to allow for that.
All the Rest
I’m back to decluttering my house, a project that I had started working on before I got sick and until now didn’t have energy to get back to. Yesterday I found a stash of half used notebooks that I forgot that I ever had, and it was bizarre to go over them and read what my pre-Covid, pre-cancer self thought about life in 2014-2015.
This is the Musgrave Tennessee Red pencil presentation box:
Gorgeous, isn’t it? Just look at that reddish and golden timber. It glows:
The pencils inside are equally beautiful. They’re made of Eastern Red Cedar, in the USA, and this is the 24 pencil presentation box. I have two of these, as well as a paper box that has 12 pencils. I’ve had them for a few months, but I haven’t had the nerve to sharpen them until earlier this week. They were just too good looking to sharpen.
Now this isn’t to say that these pencils are perfect. Musgrave points out on their site that these pencils can have modest visible wear due to the soft nature of the wood, and the core may be slightly off centre. A rummage through the pencils that I have proves that these warnings are justified. But it still is a gorgeous pencil:
The pencil is lacquered which does protect the wood somewhat, and a lot of thought and care went into designing the imprint on the barrel (text, colour, font, symbols) – and a lot of restraint too. The imprint, ferrule, and eraser don’t call attention to themselves. This is a pencil that’s all about its beautiful, sweet smelling wood.
The Tennessee Red is a joy to sharpen. The cedar smell is intoxicating, and if the pencil wasn’t such a good one I may have just sharpened it all away. But it comes with a smooth, dark lead that feels and behaves like a B grade despite being a #2 (or HB) pencil. It’ll be a delight to sketch with this beauty. You can see it in action below, on a Baron Fig Confidant.
These aren’t cheap or widely available, and if you are outside the US they are even less cheap and more hard to come by. They are, however, worth the price and worth making an effort to find, and not because they are the best pencils in the world, but because it is clear that someone made an effort to make a modern American pencil that doesn’t shame its Eagle and Eberhard Faber vintage counterparts. It’s a beautiful, sweet smelling, wonderful woodcased pencil that is a joy to use and would make any stationery lover smile. And who can’t use a reason to smile these days?
In my sizeable collection of notebooks and sketchbooks I have maybe one or two handmade ones. I tend to not buy handmade notebooks because the paper quality is oftentimes sacrificed in favour of cool covers or bindings. However, when I saw the Peekaboo Pride notebook on Pencil Revolution’s Etsy store, I couldn’t help but give it a try. The binding looked amazing, and I trust Johnny Gamber when he says that the paper inside is good.
The notebook is small, 10cm x 12.5cm, and beautifully made. Every little detail is well designed, starting from the band that the notebook came wrapped in. You see the care and character in every part of this little notebook, which is precisely why you’d want to buy a handmade notebook in the first place.
The cover is made of “Kraft-Tex” which is a textured, durable, flexible, card-stock like paper. It’s ripe for customisation if you enjoy customising your notebooks.
The spine is where the notebook really shines, and it’s what gives the notebook it’s “peekaboo” name. The notebook is made of six signatures the colour of the pride flag, and the cutouts in the spine allows you to see their colours. The threads used for binding are also pride coloured, and the result is stunning:
The cover of the first signature has a Pencil Evolution stamp embossed on it. That, together with a label inside the inside of the back cover is the only branding on the notebook. Very subtle and tasteful.
I just love the back label. There’s such pride of craftsmanship here:
Here’s a look at the colourful signatures from inside. Everything about this little notebook is perfect, and makes me smile:
And inside each signature you get glimpses of the multicoloured thread used to bind this notebook.
I was worried that the paper wouldn’t be fountain pen friendly, but I had nothing to worry about. The Neenah’s Astrobrights paper is very fountain pen friendly, despite not being coated paper. That means that inks dry quickly on the page, and it means that you can use this little notebook for pen and ink wash sketches.
There’s no bleed through, even with the Sailor Fude nibs that lay down a lot of ink, and there’s very little show through.
The paper was so well behaved that I decided to see how well it would take to an ink and wash sketch. Here’s the basic sketch, done with a Staedtler 0.1 pigment liner.
Then I laid down ink washes, and the paper behaved beautifully. It didn’t deteriorate, the colours popped on it, and it was fun to use.
Here’s the other side of the paper. It’s amazing that there’s no bleed through and very little show through. This paper behaves better than my Stillman and Birn Alpha with ink washes.
The Peekaboo Pride notebook is phenomenally well made, with excellent paper, and it’s just a joy to use. I’m close to finishing my pocket Stillman and Birn Alpha, and this little notebook will be the next sketchbook in line to replace it. I won’t be using it for watercolour (no paper this thin has a chance of handling watercolour washes), but it’s great for pen and ink sketches, and for ink washes.
Inspired by Gabi Campanario I’ve taken some waterbrushes and filled them with diluted shellac based ink from Sennelier. At first I only had Burnt Sienna ink that I bought years ago from Cornelissen and Son (one of my favourite art supply shops in London), but I purchased a bottle of Prussian Blue and Cobalt Blue to add to it. The bottles have pipettes which make using them to fill a waterbrush convenient, unless the brush has a valve on the body, in which case you’ll need to dip it inside the bottle, and you’ll have issues filling it fully.
Here are some sketches done with the Burnt Sienna. The first one was done with a fountain pen and a single waterbrush filled with pretty diluted Burnt Sienna and was drawn on a Stillman and Birn Pocket Alpha. This was when I discovered that the ink dried lighter than I thought, and that layering it on this paper isn’t really an option. I didn’t get enough of a gradient, and it didn’t take long for the paper to start to disintegrate from the ink. Note also that the ink dries fast, and getting perfect washes with a waterbrush is practically impossible, even in such a small format. But I liked the result enough to experiment with it some more.
I then filled another waterbrush with a much less diluted Burn Sienna and water solution. Here’s the same Stillman and Birn Pocket notebook but a sketch with a little more gradient because I used two different ink/water ratios. I like the result better, especially on the trunk.
Then I got the Sennelier Prussian Blue that I ordered, and I filled two brushes with it, one diluted with water at about a 50/50 ratio, and another practically undiluted. I had enough of the Alpha paper, so I switched to 300 gsm cold press watercolour paper from Clairefontaine. Here’s the sketch, done with a Staedtler 0.1 pigment liner (I didn’t want the lines to distract from the wash):
And here is the result with the ink washes applied:
I used the dark blue for the shadows on the rocks, and this time I could actually work with the ink (due to the quality of the paper) and blend between the Burnt Sienna and the Prussian Blue.
I loved this result enough to give these ink washes more tries. I will say that there have been some issues with them so far:
Many of my waterbrushes (most of my Pentel ones) didn’t allow the ink to flow to the brush bristles.
Some of my brushes leaked, and so I won’t be carrying them around in my bag without a ziploc bag to protect my bag contents from them.
The Cobalt Blue ink that I bought contains copper. It came with a warning label, and I’m not going to use it before I make sure I have a leak proof brush for it.
The behaviour of the ink is entirely dependent on the quality of the paper, more than any medium I’ve used before (including watercolour).
Waterbrush bristles deteriorate pretty quickly, and make fine detail work and brush control more difficult.
All that being said, I enjoyed using them enough in my sketches to continue using them for a while, and I recommend giving shellac (calligraphy) ink in a waterbrush a spin.
PS – these inks are NOT FOUNTAIN PEN FRIENDLY! If you put them in your fountain pen they will ruin it.