Henry the Pen Man

Find out more about Henry here on his site, and here on the famous “Has anyone heard of Henry Simpole” threads (one and two) on the Fountain Pen Network. Henry’s moniker was Truffle Finder. People are writing kind words and their memories of time spent with Henry here.

This is my favourite Henry story, and if you’re remotely interested in Esterbrook you should give it a read.

Read here about the Jasmin pen. I’ve attached photos of mine below.

You can see both Henry’s beautiful work and his hallmark here.

Henry the Pen Man

Some Thoughts on Productivity Systems

In the beginning of the month I started working in a new team, in a new career path, in a new technical job, under new circumstances. After working for two and a half months from home, I now work half a week at home and half a week at work, in a pretty empty office. I haven’t met all my team members, as we work in separate “capsules,” ensuring that if one of us got sick at least 50% of us would remain unaffected and capable of working. After 17 years of being a Mainframe system programmer, I’m now a DevOps engineer. I’ve been training for the past six months for it, and I love the work, but it’s still not the easiest switch to make. I have a new set of managers, with a new management style, and my old job keeps calling on me, which results in some wild context switching.

And meanwhile the world is burning, as incredible stupid leaders worldwide decide that their pockets are worth more than other people’s lives.

I’m not a huge fan of change, and so my productivity systems tend to stay around with me for years. During the early days of the pandemic, when I just started working from home, I thought that this was temporary. On the second week I realized that the mess of notes in whatever writing pad was around would need to change. And my mindset would need to change.

I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

I tried to replicate my old work setup at first (a large Moleskine squared hardcover with only the daily todo part of bullet journalling), keeping my home setup intact (a Field Notes with a running todo, lists, trackers etc). That held until I realized that I was starting a new job in a place that moved at a completely different pace than what I was used to. I was also no longer a manager, so the focus of my work was different. I needed to tear everything down and start over again.

I went back to digital task management. I’d tried OmniFocus for a while two years ago and didn’t like its complexity. I had used Things for a good long while before that but stopped and change back to a paper notebook once I decided that I had to have a physical barrier between work and home to have any balance in my life. Those were wild times, and I’m glad that I made that choice, but now it was time to bring Things back into my life. I’ve been using it since the 1st of June, and while it isn’t yet 100% set up to perfection, it’s working well so far.

I’m now managing both work and home from Things, because I can’t handle the added hassle of remembering to lug which notebook where every day, especially now, when I’m not yet set up in my new place. I also don’t realistically think that I could have kept track of my work in a paper notebook right now. I’ve “outgrown” it.

The issue is that I still love paper notebooks, and I still love writing with pen and pencil on a piece of paper. I still keep a pad next to me when I work and scribble ideas on it, but this switch has dwindled down my daily stationery use significantly.

As I was clearing my old desk I found physical evidence of all my years of work there: notebooks full of todos, meeting notes, project notes, ideas and problem solving pointers. I could see the work that I’ve put in. My new system is searchable, but it’s still an amorphous pile of bits somewhere in the Cloud.

I don’t recommend this eraser. It’s just one that makes me smile.

When I went into quarantine I had an inexplicable yearning to get back to the first ever real productivity system I used, the PigPogPDA. I loved my Moleskine pocket plain reporter notebooks, set up just right, full of all the important information that I might ever need. I had shopping lists, trackers, drawings, story ideas, directions, packing lists, cheat sheets in those notebooks: they were my everything at the time. I also remember how terribly expensive they were for me, and how difficult to obtain. Every page was precious, and I had to be careful not to waste any. I used the Hi-Tec-C and the Staedler Mars technico lead holder for that, and these little notebooks lasted for ages and travelled the world with me. Only in the past three years have I stopped using them, replacing them with a much simpler system in Field Notes pocket notebooks. Out of nostalgia I brought one back to life. It has done a lot to cheer me up and give me a sense of stability during these hectic times. Yes, I know it’s just a notebook. Sometimes “just a notebook” is all it takes.

If I have any advice to offer it’s this: be kind to yourself and pick whichever system works for you, and doesn’t make you work for it. Pick something that you’ll enjoy using. If it’s a sleek app, let it be a sleek app. You’ll find use for the notebooks in your cupboard eventually. If it’s notebooks, then make them entirely your own. That’s the joy of using paper planning anyway. And don’t be shy of saying: “This doesn’t work for me anymore”.

So I’m back to digital planning, and I’m going to find a way to have fun with my pens and paper somehow (I still journal and draw and write after all). This is something that’s likely to change as the times do, my work and my life circumstances do. So long as I don’t fall into the trap of Productivity Pr0n and forget what all this is in service of, I’m fine.

I’m fine.

Some Thoughts on Productivity Systems

New Year’s Resolutions Update

So back in the beginning of February I published a post about how I use my notebooks to manage my “New Year’s Resolutions” (i.e. yearly goals) in the hope that it will help people craft SMART goals for themselves that they can actually achieve. I explained in that post that I use a “stretch goal system” that allows me to hit my goals if I put in some basic regular effort into them, and then push myself gradually as I see how the year develops. For each “stretchable” goal I tailor the stretch goals based on my performance in previous years, and based on where I want to put more effort in any given year.

I wrote these goals at the end of 2019, and then, by the end of February and the beginning of March Covid-19 turned my life upside down. More and more restrictive “stay at home” directives have been issued, my travel plans were cancelled, I cancelled my participation in one 10k race, and my participation in the Disneyworld Star Wars Rival Run 5k and 10k races was cancelled, my dentist cancelled my yearly checkup appointment, I started working from home, the last few weeks of my DevOps course moved to remote Zoom lessons, and my planned move to a DevOps team required a bigger struggle than I anticipated. Also, unrelated bad things happened in my family, because that’s how life is.

Never have my stretch goals or resolution planning been tested to such an extreme, and that includes the annus horribilis of 2018.  So how did my resolutions fare?

My messily written 2020 resolutions.

Overall, better than I expected. Here’s the breakdown and some (hopefully helpful) thoughts:

Exercise goals: These were a mixed bag, but they could have been much worse. All my races were cancelled and it appears that there won’t be any races this year. This just means that I had to get back into Virtual Races, and I’ve enrolled into the Disney one (so expensive, but I decided to splurge because it looks like I’ll be saving a lot on racing fees). That will take care of some of my race goals, and I’ll just have to figure out one or two more to take care of the rest. My running at first really hit a snag because of the restrictive lockdown, so I had to learn to run in really tight circles. The plus side? I managed to break my 5k record, and I’m challenging myself to run hills more. My NTC workouts got a huge boost because I’ve been staying at home and Nike has been killing it with some great workouts lately. After the first two weeks of lockdown depression, alone and away from my family, I realized that not exercising was practically killing me. So I’m running and training every single day now, no matter what. I highly recommend the NTC app: it’s free, has great workouts, and a super friendly design.

Writing goals: These took the biggest hit, because of the terribleness of things around here and in the world, and because until April I was swamped with DevOps course work. I’m forcing myself back to writing, and it has been slow, but hopefully it will pick up.

Reading goals: I’ve managed these the best, despite everything, and it’s mostly because reading has been a blessed escape during my darkest hours. I can still completely disappear into a book, and even terrible books give me things other than current affairs to be mad about.

Drawing goals: These also initially took a hit, but I’ve put some effort into them, and with ideas like my “Vengeful Fortress” one I get a drawing, writing and a somewhat D&D-esque game all in one. My drawing classes have been on hiatus since March, and I have no idea when they’ll return.

“Using my stuff” goals: In March and April things got worrying job-wise, so I put shopping on hiatus, and I’m even now careful about stationery shopping sprees. My notebook use needed some rethinking as I started working from home, but I’m back on track now, and using a lot more of the stuff that I’ve purchased. The only downside is that some of my stuff is at work, and right now I have no way of getting to it.

Journaling goals: This has been a rollercoaster in April and this month as well, partly because I was swamped and partly because I was too depressed to write. Trying to get back on track and deal with the feelings of those days that I’ve missed now.

Social goals: These are the only goals that I’m going to utterly have to rethink. Some of them have moved online (board games, meetups), others will just have to be postponed to later this year or to next year.

I’m trying not to be too hard one myself, but also challenge myself to get things done. Past me thought these goals were important, and present me still thinks most of them are. Where an extra effort or some extra creativity needs to happen I’m trying to make that more conscious effort. I’ll see by the end of summer where things shape out and re-tailor everything for what looks to be a difficult winter.

Keep moving, keep looking ahead, take care of yourself and your loved ones, stay at home, and be kind to yourself.

New Year’s Resolutions Update

Journaling: The Last Page

A handwritten journal is an artifact in a way that an app can never be. It’s tactile, endlessly flexible, there to be used and customized in every way possible. Tear out pages, glue stuff in, doodle, scribble, sketch and write whatever you wish however you wish. There’s no autocorrect, nothing editing or censuring your words. Analogue journalling is about freedom, flow and pure creativity.

This is my last day journaling in this journal, and tomorrow I’ll write up the last page and start a new one for the thoughts of that day.

Every time I finish a journal, I use the last two pages to summarize what that journal contains and means to me. Analogue journals are fantastic, but they do make searching for old entries a bit of a chore. Luckily I don’t find myself looking for an old entry that often, and if I do the last two pages help me narrow it down to the specific journal, and the dates and titles to the specific entry.

I also like taking the last few pages as a chance to reflect on the time the journal covers and how things have changed (and I have changed) as the time has gone by. There’s usually about three months in each journal, sometimes more, so that’s a good chuck of time to look back on: short enough to make it simple to summarize and contextualize, and yet long enough to have some impact and meaning. This journal contains two trips abroad, my decision to move into a new career path, and a pandemic that wrecked havoc on everyone I know (including me, of course). That’s quite a lot, even for a journal that covers a relatively long span of time (almost 6 months).

It’s also full of bits and pieces that I stuck in, to make the page come to life. So here’s part of the Diamine Inkvent packaging that I glued in after I opened the last window and before I tossed out the box:

I just ripped out a panel that I liked. This journal is for me, not Instagram, and it can be as messy as I need it to be.

Cool clothing tags also sometimes make it in, especially if it’s from a piece of clothing that I really like:

This tag came of one of my favourite sweatshirts.

I got a lot of Star Wars themedvinyl stickers as a gift near the end of last year and a lot of them ended in my journal:

Even the silliest of things can be used to brighten up a page:

See that bleedthrough? It’s fountain pen bleedthrough. I don’t give a damn. If I wanted to write with a Sharpie in here, I’d write with a Sharpie. Use what makes you feel good.

There are little drawings and illustrations everywhere:

Messy, messy handwriting. 

And bits and pieces of washi tape that were leftover from other projects:

The point is, tomorrow I finish another journal, a small analogue memory artifact that is entirely mine. I created it for me and me only, and it was worth every minute I put into it.

If there’s one habit that you can pick up during your time at home these days, pick journaling. You’ll end up getting quite a treasure in the end, and I’d be truly surprised if you won’t enjoy the process.

Journaling: The Last Page

Vintage Beauty: Corgie 907 and National Pencil Day

It’s National Pencil Day and I decided to celebrate. Last year I picked up some vintage pencils in a stall in Spitalfields market in London, and they’ve been languishing unloved in their box ever since. The truth is I felt that they were too pretty to sharpen and use, which is both understandable (I mean look at them!) and silly. Pencils are meant to be sharpened, period.

So I broke out the “Corgie” (à Paris) 907 pencils, which are natural pencils coated with a thick layer of lacquer that makes them both shiny and satisfying to hold. The French appear to be more restrained in their choice of imprint fonts, but they go all wild when it comes to the wrappers around the pencils. Behold, creativity let loose:

Stunning, right?

Here’s the imprint (it’s hard to photograph, as the lacquer gets in the way. There are basically two fonts in use, and a very charming bugle logo. The Corgié à Paris factory was active from 1923 to around 1986 (thanks Brand Name Pencils) and if I’d have to venture a guess I think that these are from the ’60s, but it’s really hard to tell.

The grain on these pencils is fantastic. Just look at that:

Unlike some vintage pencils whose wood has dried out and become brittle with time, the Corgie 907s sharpen like a charm. They’re not very nice smelling (they just smell old), but there’s nothing to complain too much about.

These are No. 0 pencils, which makes them about 2B-4B, depending on the manufacturer. They’re soft and dark, and a joy to draw with, although they don’t hold a tip for very long. The graphite does smudge, but it doesn’t crumble, and there’s a good amount of feedback while using them. Here they are with some Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer watercolour pencils in use:

I had to sharpen the pencil three times to get through this A5 page. Not great for writing, great for expressive drawing. 

Go sharpen a pencil, and have some fun drawing or writing a little something for yourself.

Happy National Pencil Day!

Vintage Beauty: Corgie 907 and National Pencil Day

Vintage Beauty: Eberhard Faber Colorbrite

Continuing the theme of “vintage pencils are awesome” today I’m using the Eberhard Faber Colorbrite red violet 2154 (which proudly notes that it’s both “woodclinched” and made in the USA). I counted 5 different fonts on this pencil, not including the 2154.

The fonts are my favourite thing on this pencil, although the end cap is elegant too and the colour is really unique and vibrant.

Go have fun with some pencils and listen to the birds for a while. They sing some hope into these dark times.

Vintage Beauty: Eberhard Faber Colorbrite

Pelikan Ocean Swirl, Sailor Peacock and Last Run Outside

I’m using my pens to cheer me up a little, as we get ready for even more serious movement restrictions, and as the political and economical situation here go haywire. This was written using a Pelikan M805 Ocean Swirl with a fine nib and Sailor Peacock ink. The lighting situation at my desk doesn’t do this ink justice – it’s beautiful.

I managed to squeeze in a 4k run this morning. As I avoided people, I couldn’t run further than that, but I’m glad that I did. The weather is perfect for runs right now, and I really miss my running, but today’s run looks to be the last I’ll be able to go on for a while. I usually run along the waterfront, but so does everyone else, so I ran in parallel streets. This is a temporary goodbye to the sea, and I hope that it’s not a long one:

Stay healthy and safe, and look for the little things and little moments to keep you happy.

Pelikan Ocean Swirl, Sailor Peacock and Last Run Outside