2021 has finally arrived! Every year since 2015 I’ve kept a list of yearly goals in a Baron Fig Confidant. I still call “New Year’s Resolutions” despite their being SMART goals and not pie in the sky resolutions. Over the years they have expanded to be ever more specific and quantifiable: I started with one page, and now have a main two spreads with related lists spilling out to adjacent spreads, and an entire notebook dedicated to capturing my reading goals.
2020 was a weird and challenging year, and it managed to land a large, hard hit on me on its very last day. These goals were written before I got bad news regarding the health of a close family member (Cancer, not Covid), which means that there’s a good change that 2021 will shape out worse than 2020 in terms of my goals. However, ever since 2018 I build my goals with those kinds of emergencies in mind, and so most of my goals, if not all of them, should be attainable.
Some of my usual goals are off this list, because I’m afraid that Covid will not be over so soon. For the first time ever a significant chunk of these goals is professional. I’ve changed careers, and new opportunities have opened before me – creating professional goals makes sure that I take advantage of those opportunities.
My writing and journalling have taken a hit in 2020 (particularly the latter part). Hopefully with some concerted effort that will change in 2021. I’ve made significant progress in terms of fitness in 2020, and I plan on maintaining the course in 2021. I’m also putting some effort into taking time to enjoy my hobbies. If I don’t prioritize them, then they just get left by the wayside.
Finally, for the first time I’ve created a yearly theme, that is part of the yearly goals and yet also a separate entity. 2021 is the “Year of Clearing Out”. That means decluttering my apartment, pruning my podcast/book/viewership lists, and getting rid of some recently acquired bad habits (mostly doom scrolling on Twitter, but not just). This may end up being a theme that will spill into 2022, but the idea is to try and tackle it in 2020, to build a good foundation for the years to come.
2020 was a pretty terrible year for most people, which is why I debated whether to even go over my 2020 goals or just talk about my 2021 ones. In the end I decided to talk about them, because 2020 really stress tested my system of yearly goals/resolutions.
At around March I thought that I’d have to trash the whole thing, as we went into our first lockdown of the year. My travel plans were cancelled. Any option to meet friends went out the door. My plans to change careers were at risk. I couldn’t even run, because the first lockdown involved extremely strict rules and the police were constantly around my house, yelling at people to go home and fining people. My writing was on the rocks, my drawing course was cancelled, and for the first time in my life I spent Passover alone.
After some debate I reminded myself that my goals were built with failsafes in mind, since my 2018 annus horribilis, and so I had a chance of completing most of them, even if I’d miss any “stretch goals” that I had in mind. The basic goals were there to keep me focused, motivated and moving in the right direction. In the end they worked. The got me working out when I couldn’t run, running in circles (literally) when I could only move in a 500 meter radius from my house. They got me to keep on reading, keep on writing (not as much as I would have liked, but I’ll take it), and to dare to make the career change that I promised myself.
I hit most of my basic goals, missed a few completely, and got a few more partially. Yet the point of this post isn’t to brag, as my year could have shaped out worse than it had. The point is that I would have given up on myself if I didn’t have a plan that I thought that I had a fighting chance to accomplish, given the circumstances. I couldn’t participate in any races, but I enrolled and ran in several virtual races. Races keep me motivated to run, and running makes me feel better and gets me out of the house. I couldn’t go the gym, but I could do NTC workouts at home, so I had a chance to get that in. Reading provided me with an escape, and my reading goals and reading journal provided me with motivation to read, and to read books that were challenging as well books that were comforting. I couldn’t meet up with friends to play tabletop and RPG games, but thanks to Discord, Steam and Zoom we could still play together.
All of these things required extra effort in a year that really did its best to convince me that it would be a good idea to give up in advance and write the year off. The infrastructure that my goals provided kept me on track, and helped me salvage something of this terrible year. They also taught me how to structure my goals for 2021 better, but more on that in a separate post.
I’ve enrolled into Liz Steel’s Sketchbook Design online course, as I like the way Liz designs her notebook pages and I’ve taken an Urban Sketchers workshop (in Porto, 2018) which was excellent. Liz sent the first intro videos to the course to her newsletter subscribers, and so I decided to pick a sketchbook for the course (which starts on January 4th) and draw the tools that I plan on using in it.
The sketchbook that I chose is a Stillman and Birn Beta softcover A5 sketchbook, because it has watercolour friendly paper and I wanted to try that paper out. Here’s a sketch of my tools done with a Lamy Safari Petrol fine nib fountain pen and a Lamy Safari Dark Lilac medium nib fountain pen, both with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black.
Here it is after applying watercolour:
Here’s my Winsor & Newton Travel Watercolour box, filled with Schminke watercolours (some of them on their second or third refill from the tube). I love this paint box so much that I used my previous one until it fell to pieces. This is my new one, and it’s holding up well so far.
The fountain pens that I’ll be using: Lamy Safari Petrol F nib with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, Lamy Safari Dark Lilac M nib with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, Lamy Safari Charcoal EF nib with J. Herbin Bleu Pevench, Sailor Fude MF pen with Noodler’s Lexington Grey (Bulletproof ink).
My non fountain pens are my beloved Saedtler pigment liners in 0.3 and 0.7 and a Uni-ball Signo broad white.
The pencil I will use is a vintage Eagle Turquoise “Chemi Sealed” H drawing pencil. I just love everything about these pencils, and I really wish that they were still in production.
My brushes: a Raphael round travel brush, I’m not sure what size. There’s a good chance that I’ll replace it with a better round brush as the course progresses, as I’m not enamoured with it. The black brush in the middle is a Winsor & Newton Series 7 no 2 Kolinsky sable brush. The white and silver brush below is a Rosemary & Co R12 Sable/Nylon Dagger brush, and it’s a brush that I haven’t 100% mastered but that I’m growing to like with use.
That’s it for my tools at the moment. I’ll update this blog with my progress as the course takes place, and I’ll be sure to note if my tools change throughout.
My Pen Chalet exclusive Typewriter Retro 51s arrived this week, and the mint one is a perfect match to my Hermes Baby (and Hermes 2000) typewriter keys. I’m happy that I splurged on this pen and the copper Typewriter edition. They are both utterly unnecessary pens that make me smile without breaking the bank. I have 11 typewriters, but these are the first typewriter themed Retro51s that I’ve bought. I only slightly regret not getting the red one as well.
It was a virtual convention kind of fortnight, and in both cases the pandemic afforded me the opportunity to go to a convention that I normally wouldn’t have been able to attend. The fun and pretty well run one was the Disney Pin Trading 20th anniversary event. I’m not a huge Disney pin trader by far – I have pins from my Disney races and a few others that caught my eye, because I’m so aware of how easily I got fall down that rabbit hole. But I was curious enough about the behind the scenes of pin creation and well aware that is probably going to be my only chance to attend such an event that I enrolled. It was interesting and fun, and a generally well thought out event that didn’t feel like a “we’re doing the same thing only on zoom” kind of thing. I wish that I could say the same about Kubecon, the second convention that I attended. It’s a poster child of how not to run a virtual convention. Still I managed to learn quite a lot from the hours that I squeezed in, and I plan on catching up on more video sessions next week.
This weekend was stormy, so no long run today. I had about a month of perfect running weather so far, and it looks like I may yet make my 2020 running distance stretch goal of 700km run total this year.
In a fit of anger and frustration I created an “obituary” page for 2020 in my journal, but one that listed the bad moments of the year. It ended up taking four pages, but I managed to find something positive about most of the moments and events of the year, so it cheered me up.
TV (or streaming to be exact) has been one of the high points of the past few weeks. I don’t watch much of it, but “Ted Lasso”, and the new seasons of “The Mandalorian” and “Star Trek Discovery” have been great to watch. Also I’ve been playing “Pandemic Legacy Season Zero” and so far it’s excellent and distinctly different from its predecessors.
I decided to upload the pages from my journal entry today, as a sample and perhaps an inspiration for anyone wondering what to journal about. There’s nothing big or grand here, no deep felt angst, just small observations about my day that will bring it back to life later on. I made an effort to make my handwriting neater than it usually is, and I cut out a page of what happened later in the afternoon as it involved a family member suffering an injury and getting hospitalized, and I want to protect their privacy. Otherwise it’s a fairly standard entry. What’s missing is a title (added after the entry is completed and in this case not something I want to share) that summarizes the day. Oftentimes I glue things in instead of drawing something, and sometimes I just write in a rush and the page is just dense, messy handwriting.
I use a Moleskine Large hardcover, in some limited edition or another (in this case Pokemon Charmander), and a gel pen of some kind or another. Today it was the Karas Kustoms Ink v2 rollerball with Uniball UMR-85, my favourite refill. I don’t mind the show through, it helps me get through the fear of the blank page, and there’s no other notebook that has the Moleskine cover and internal design, so after years of futilely trying to replace it with something else, I just shut out the voices of the detractors and allowed myself to enjoy what I love and what works for me. Please do the same.
I was going to write a blog post reviewing the Viarco 3500, and so I started writing a page of notes in my usual pencil review notebook (the Baron Fig Confidant). Once I started writing I realized two things:
The Viarco 3500 is a good looking but boring pencil. It’s an HB/No. 2 pencil that’s slightly gritty, slightly dark and soft and not much different than other branded pencils of its kind, like the Ticonderoga or the Palomino Golden Bear.
I wanted to reflect about the difficulties of drawing.
So here’s my page of notes on the Viarco turned into reflections on the drawing process:
This isn’t a “woe is me” post. It’s a “embrace the suck and take courage” post. Perspective is HARD. But it’s worth learning. And learning again. And learning again. And boy is it worth practicing. Why? Because while nobody is born knowing how to draw in perfect perspective, practically everybody can tell when the perspective is “off”. You can tell yourself that it’s an “aesthetic choice,” however, I do believe that you are cheating yourself out of something when you don’t even try to get the basics down. I know, I tried to do that for literally years. I have good enough hand-eye coordination that I could cheat some people some of the time. Then I tried learning it from books. I drew the boxes, the shaded ball, the room with the door and window, and I told myself that since I copied them so well, I now “knew perspective”. Hah. The minute a teacher sat me down and told me to draw the corner of a room, a still life of some boxes and a vase, and an old shoe the truth was all too apparent. I didn’t grok the principles behind those boxes and skylines and spheres and so I couldn’t extrapolate from them to the real world. I now have 11 plus years of knowing groking those principles and I still tell you that it’s hard.
You can cheat, and I did and sometime do cheat, the eye with colour and crosshatching, but it doesn’t take an art critic to point out that something is “off” in the drawing. The same goes for poor composition choices, muddy pigment mixtures, colours that unintentionally clash and cause unease. These are all very technical skills that require a good amount of studying and a great amount of practice to master. It doesn’t help that most of them are difficult to learn from books and tutorials and are still best taught in a live art class. It’s also frustrating that you usually work and work and work with little or no progress for some time and then suddenly your hand and eye and mind click and you jump forward a level or two. It’s so easy to give up before that. I have several times in the past. Then I found a new teacher and I got back to the grind.
Why do it? You don’t have to. Instagram and Facebook likes are independent of your drawing skills, and more related to tags, followers and how colourful and eye catching your work is. If you’re doing it for that, then there’s no point in doing it. But mastering the basics allows you to advance all your drawing skills at once, with great leaps and bounds. Every breakthrough I had with the basics allowed me to draw better, faster, with more confidence and to tackle subjects and locations that I otherwise would have avoided.
So, the Viarco 3500… It’s a good looking pencil to have around. Perspective, colour theory and composition? If you have any interest in drawing I highly recommend investing in mastering them.
My little cat (I have two, a little black and white cat, and big black cat) managed to drop a desktop table sharpener on my banker’s lamp and it cracked the glass lampshade clear in half. So I had an interesting but unexpected project today: I bought a replacement lamp shade and took the lamp apart to get rid of the broken glass pieces. A youtube video and a Philips screwdriver took care of the taking apart bit; let’s just hope that I can put it back together again.
I got my Battleworn INK 2.0 Karas Kustoms grab bag rollerballs today. This was my first Karas Kustoms grab bag and my first ink rollerball and I’m very pleased with both the colours that I got and the way the INK 2.0s look and feel. These are chunky but relatively light pens, and I look forward to using them and maybe reviewing them in the future.
The INK 2.0 uses the Pilot G2 LG2RF refills, which are larger than the usual G2 refills, and built a little different. I haven’t yet tried to swap them out for a different refill, but I suspect that they won’t accept my beloved Uni-ball UMR-85, which is something I was aware of ahead of time.
These are the pens and some of the notebooks that I’ve been using today (I’m not getting much fountain pen use lately): my beloved Orange Crush Spoke pen, and the new purple Karas Kustoms Battleworn INK 2.0 rollerball.
Field notes came out with a new addition to their National Parks series, which I’ll probably pick up on my next purchase there. They’ve got an offer for a free decal for purchases made by the 30th of August if that speaks to you.
I had an issue with my Ti2 Techliner where my favourite gel ink refill (the Uni-ball UMR-85) and basically all gel ink refills dried out and stopped writing a few words after I uncapped the pen. While ballpoint refills like the Jetstream faired better, they also would “fade out” after a few lines, and then, after some coaxing, return to normal. It couldn’t be that the refill was drying out, as after capping the pen, it wrote well enough again for a few words. It was a refill problem, as the same refill wrote perfectly fine in a different pen.
I tried searching for answers and asked around in the Pen Addict slack but got no answers. It was frustrating, since I liked the pen, but couldn’t use it because it wouldn’t work with my preferred refills. I had a feeling that the magnet at the tip of the pen was what was causing the ink flow issue, but it only yesterday did I figure out how to bypass the very thing that was holding the pen together.
What I did was change the order of the parts in the front section of the pen. The original order was refill, plastic spacer, red o-ring, magnet and then the section screwed over that. What I did was reverse the o-ring and the magnet so now it’s: refill, plastic spacer, magnet, red o-ring, and then the section. The result is kind of pleasing to the eye, and more importantly it fixed the flow problem completely, and now I can actually use this fetching pen.
I tend not to review Field Notes because they arrive so late to me (due to postal issues, not Field Notes issues) that it seems irrelevant to review last quarter’s edition when everyone already has the new one at hand. Covid-19 has made the postal problems even worse, and so only now, and after contacting the wonderful Field Notes people and getting a reshipment, have my Vignette notebooks arrived.
What also arrived were my Field Notes Rooster 2020 notebooks, which are part of Field Notes’ yearly sponsorship of the Morning News and the Tournament of Books. I read all of the books in the Tournament of Books shortlist this year, for the second year in a row. I didn’t post reviews of them all in this site as I didn’t enjoy the last 3-4 books, and I didn’t feel like posting negative review after negative review.
I did, however, love this year’s Field Notes Rooster special edition notebook, and it is by far my favourite Rooster special edition notebook that Field Notes ever issued. It is a squared notebook, and not lined, for the first time ever, and the bold red and black print on the cover is much more striking than their usual craft or cream choices for this series.
The fact that these notebooks (sold as singles, with the proceeds going to literacy related charities) arrived so late means that I have a had a few months to think about the Tournament of Books 2020 reading list.
I enjoyed the 2019 reading list more, but the 2020 list was overall a good, interesting list of contemporary writing that I for the most part would not have read otherwise. There were a few mediocre books on it, and a few that I really disliked, but as a whole it wasn’t a bad list. I may try reading next year’s list too.
I wrote a few weeks back that I was struggling with my notebook setup, and things have changed since then. I’ve settled on using a blank large Moleskine hardcover in Reef Blue and a Pilot Hi-Tech C 0.4 for a running list of work projects and related notes.
I use the right hand side for a running tasks per project (I still manage major project points in the Things app), and the left hand side for related points, reminders and ideas. Each project has at least one spread, and I drop in pages with ideas and things to remember in between the project pages.
The Pilot Hi-Tec-C (also known as the G-Tec-C4) is not a pen that I would recommend because it’s so very delicate and unreliable, but I used to be a fan years ago, and in a burst of nostalgia (and against my better judgement) I’ve gone back to using these pens. There’s something about the barrel design of this pen, combined with it’s needle tip that makes me enjoy writing with it. Again, I wouldn’t recommend it, as you’ll rarely see a refill through (the tip will bend, or it will become to scratchy to use, or it will dry out and become unusable) and in general the Uni-ball Signo DX are much better 0.4 tipped gel ink pens. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and this is what I prefer for daily work use right now.
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.
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.
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?
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.