Weekly Update: Pre-Dawn Running, Ducks, Books and Fountain Pens

It’s been a busy time, what with my new job taking a lot of time and effort, my running and training taking up a good bit more, and the rest of my spare time going mostly to reading lately, I found myself creating less. That’s not great. My journalling has suffered, my drawing has suffered, my blogging has suffered. The truth is that creating is like running: I feel good during my runs and great after them, but it doesn’t make lacing up and getting out the door any less of a struggle some days. It takes more effort to sketch and blog (I’ve been utterly unable to write since my cancer diagnosis, so at the moment writing is off the table), than to curl up with a book, so I’ve been consuming more content than I’ve been creating.

That’s something that I hope will change over the next few days and weeks. I have a lot of catching up and different kinds of posts that I’ll publish here (pen reviews, sketch posts, art supply reviews, planners and Moleskines, etc). And as September is lymphoma awareness month, and childhood cancer awareness month, expect some posts related to that in the near future.

Despite the heat and humidity my running has stayed on track. This morning I woke up at 4:30 to get my long run in before the heat made things too unbearable. The weather is starting to get a bit better now, and I managed to run a little over 9 kilometres. That’s the longest run I managed to finish since my breathing issues started, and it’s a big milestone. I have a 10k race in two months and when I enrolled I wasn’t sure that I’ll be able to complete it. Today was a good indicator that I have a just may be able to do it despite having a busted lung.

Running in the dark and boats at sunrise.

I finished reading Dr Jen Gunter’s “The Vagina Bible,” which I recommend that anyone with a vagina read (it’s very informative and empowering), and Andrew Cartmel’s latest Vinyl Detective novel, “Attack and Decay”. It was a fun and fast read, and Cartmel knows how to write compelling plots and off beat characters, but his insistence on using purple language and calling attention to his protagonist’s hetro maleness is annoying at times. We get it, he’s a dude and he finds women attractive.
Next up on the reading list is likely “The Sentence” which is a Tournament of Books book (and I decided not to continue with the tournament reading list this year), but as I’ve already bought it and it seems interesting, I’ve decided to give it a go.

Ducks, geese and the Vinyl Detective.

I’m using four fountain pens at the moment, and none of them are for sketching (although I write my sketch journal’s out with my Platinum 3776 UEF). All of these are new pens, inked for the first time. The Diplomat Aero is an excellent pen at a great price point with a very unique and elegant streamlined design. The Colorverse Golden Record, on the other hand, is a disappointing ink. This is the second time that I’m using it, and it darkens considerably when left in the pen, becoming more brownish than golden orange.
The Platinum Plaisir 03 is a pretty decent pen for anyone first venturing into fountain pens. It’s a cartridge pen, and I’m not a fan of the Platinum blue it came with, but I’m not going to invest in trying to find other ink options for it.
The TWSBI ECO is an excellent pen, particularly for the price point, and J. Herbin Emerald de Chivor is a really fun, utterly impractical ink. This ECO is the jade one, and it doesn’t glow in the dark, despite its looks.
The Platinum 3776 UEF is one of the best pens that I’ve bought in a long time, because of the nib. Yes, it’s scratchy, no I don’t mind. It doesn’t feel different than my beloved, finicky Pilot Hi-Tech-C and I get more personality from its fine lines than I get with something like a fineliner. Sailor Epinard (this is from a bottle of the discontinued ink, which is now no longer discontinued), is a good, dark and muted green that has a good amount of personality.

Pens in rotation.

Have a great week, and take care of yourselves in these hectic times.

Weekly Update: Ink Washes, Health Scare and Finding My Stride

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.

Lego Orchid set (it’s gorgeous). I find building these sets very relaxing, and as you can see in the background, I have quite a few more to build…

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.

Health

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.

Reading

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.

Quick sketch of squash plants gone wild in a local garden.

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.

From left to right: Platinum Plaisir, Franklin Christoph 45L Sage, Sailor Fude pen, Lamy Lx Rose Gold, Lamy Safari white and red, Sailor Fude pen.

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.

Weekly Update: New Job

There’s been a dearth of new posts this week because I just started a new job, and while it has been great so far, I still haven’t adjusted to it. After being a recluse (out of necessity) for the past year or so, it was a bit of a shock to the system to meet so many new people face to face. I’m not sure yet how my posting schedule or content will change in the coming days and weeks, but I’m hoping that it won’t change too much.

I’ve started the SketchingNow Watercolour course, and I’ve done the first week of classes. This week is all about washes, so I created a grid of all the colours in my palette, showing how each one looks as a watery wash, a juicy wash and a pasty wash (what Mark Taro Holmes terms tea, milk and honey). This was a lot of work, but it did give me a better feel for the potential of the paints in my palette.

There was also an exercise that involved sketching vegetables with a set of juicy washes. Here’s the sketch in progress:

And after it was done:

This was a pretty simple exercise, but nevertheless a lot of fun.

Reading

My reading has been quite eclectic lately. I finished reading “Our Country Friends” by Gary Shteyngart and it turned me off the Tournament of Books list for this year. I’ve got very little patience for the plights of unlikable privileged characters that potter about a story with zero plot except having sex or trying to have sex with each other, and whining about their lives all the time.
I’ve read “Drive” by James S.A.Corey , the first short story in “The Expanse”. It’s completely skippable, so don’t feel the need to read it if you want to get into the series. Also, please don’t start “The Expanse” from this story – it may be chronologically first, but it’s their worst piece of writing so far.
I’ve started reading Ali Smith’s “Companion Piece,” which is a companion piece to her fantastic seasonal quartet of novels. I like her writing so much that I bothered to get a signed hardcover of this book. So far it’s shaping up as an interesting read.

Finally, I’ve plunged back into Henry IIIV’s England with “The Mirror and the Light” by Hillary Mantel. Her writing is mesmerizing and she really brings Cromwell, his peers, family, rivals and the entire period to life.

I’m experimenting with various kinds of new sketchbooks and sketching materials (as well as pens and ink) and I have thoughts about them. I just need to find some time to organize them into something coherent and write it all down. Meanwhile, here’s a quick sketch that I did on a paper bag during a zoom call, using a new brush pen that I’m trying out.

Have a great week!

Weekly Update: Open House at the Municipal Nursery

The past two weeks were a bit hectic, with various social gatherings (I’m not used to meeting people after being isolated for so long due to Covid and chemo) and getting ready to leave my old job and start my new one. The weather is still pretty good, and I’ve been relishing it: running, walking, and sketching a lot. As I’ve gotten used to writing and sketching with this level of neuropathy, I’m trying to take advantage of the pre-summer-heatwave weather to get as much outdoor on location sketching done as possible. I also have a backlog of London and Paris sketches to go through, complete where necessary and post.

I’m back at the gym (I had to freeze my membership during treatments), and enjoying getting back to lifting weights. And I went to see a movie for the first time in more than two years. “Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness” was pretty good, but it had a few too many horror elements for my liking. Another first after a very long time was an evening out at an escape room with my friends. It was a lot of fun, and something that I really missed.

Yesterday I went an Open House Tel Aviv event at the municipal plant nursery. I learned that the nursery serves a wide variety of organizations and gardens all over the city, that urban environments, and particularly seaside urban environments are rough on plants, that the nursery is one of the few of its kind in Israel, and it has been around for 100 years. We saw plants grown from cuttings, talked about plants that can survive the salt and sand and harsh sunlight of beachfront gardens, as well as plants that can thrive in the shade. We saw plants that are pollinator friendly, and talked about local plants vs. imported and invasive plants in the city. It was fascinating, and I could have spent the entire day there. The nursery isn’t normally open to the public, so visiting it and getting such a wonderful insight into it was a real treat.

A sketch of a lady in black work clothes and purple hair, a shaded set of growing tables and a patch of nasturtiums.

Here’s a closeup of Liat, who manages the nursery and was our fantastic tour guide for the day.

A close up of the lady in black work clothes and purple hair from the sketch above.

I’m 3/4ths done with “Our Country Friends” by Gary Shteyngart and I’m probably going to give up on the Tournament of Books reading list once I’m done. I have so many good books that I want to read, that I don’t feel like chancing another tiresome one. What will come next is Ali Smith’s “Companion Piece”, and then “The Mirror and the Light”. There are a few classics that I want to catch up on, and some very good sci fi that’s waiting for me, so as much as I’ve discovered some fantastic books through “The Tournament of Books”, I think that this is where our ways will part, at least for a while. Oh, and Agatha Christie is an excellent writer, and very addictive. I may return to her books in the near future.

I’m exploring various ways to manage my projects, and so far I’m unhappy with all of them. When I was in London I picked up this Penco leadholder and some leads (I have another one in shades of green that part of a sketching kit that I don’t want to break up), and I’m giving the good old PigPogPDA another try while I work things out. This is always my “palate cleanser” system, something that I use while I tweak other, more complex systems into relative perfection. I’ll be using this leadholder and a Moleskine plain pocket reporter.

The Penco Prime Timber 2.0 leadholder in red with brass hardware.

I’ve enrolled to Liz Steel’s Watercolour course. It’s starting a runt through on the 8th of June, and as I’ve had such a long sketching break while my hands were bad, I thought that it would be a good way to refresh my skills and pick up a few tips and techniques along the way. I like Liz’s loose, non standard watercolour style, and her courses are excellent.

Next week on Tuesday is my last day in my old job, and the week after that I start my new job. Exciting times 🙂

Weekly Update: Flowers and Races

This week was busy and filled with milestones. On Sunday I celebrated my 40th birthday. That’s not something that I was sure that I’d get to celebrate: in June and July last year I thought that I was dealing with a much more aggressive form of lymphoma, and I was unsure if I’d live to 40. Being where I am right now in terms of health and life in general makes me feel lucky and blessed.

On Wednesday I participated in my first race since 2019 (I missed a race in early 2020 due to Covid concerns, and then all the local races were cancelled until late 2021, when I was dealing with cancer). I was worried about the crowds triggering my post trauma, and the start of the race was challenging, but then the crowds cleared up and I had a great time.

I sketched a bit this week, working with watercolour pencils and watercolours. I’m still experimenting a lot, and still trying to work out how to sketch plants and foliage. Here’s a very quick sketch from a local garden, done with ballpoint, Faber Castell Albrecht Durer watercolour pencils and watercolours (Schmincke Horadam and Daniel Smith) on a Stillman and Birn pocket sketchbook. I didn’t feel like sketching so I just did a quick study of some rocks and plants, experimenting with textures.

Quick experimental rock and plant sketch.

I’ve inked up all of the fountain pens that I bought on my latest trip. That’s an Oldwin 2000 Years of History pen in silver (gorgeous, with a fantastic nib, but very heavy as it’s large and has a silver body), two Waterman 52s, with lovely flexible nibs. One of the pens is still stickered, and yet in the spirit of use the good china, I inked it. There’s also a Wahl Eversharp in the Kashmir colourway. I think that it’s an Equiposed that somehow got an adjustable nib on it, but I bought it for the phenomenal nib, not the pen body as much. All four pens were bought at Mora Stylos in Paris, and I am very happy with them.

I also popped a J. Herbin Eclat de Saphir cartridge into the Kaweco Collection Sport Iridescent Pearl pen that I bought in Present and Correct in London. It was very difficult not to buy up that entire shop, especially since I visited it twice.

The other two pens were inked up before my trip and are probably going to be written dry this week or the next: a Lamy Safari Petrol with a fine nib that I use for sketching as it has De Atramentis Urban Grey document ink in it and that’s waterproof, and a Schon Design Pocket 6 in 3D Teal that has a Diamine Sherwood Green cartridge in it.

From top to bottom: Oldwin 2000 Years of History, two Waterman 52s (the bottom one is stickered), Lamy Safari Petrol, Kaweco Collection Sport Iridescent Pearl, Schon Design Pocket 6 3D Teal, Wahl Eversharp Equiposed.

The Oldwin is inked with Pilot Iroshizuku Kosumosu, a new ink that I got as a gift from the lovely Mr. Mora. I don’t have many pink inks so it will be nice to give this ink a try.
I still am having terrible luck with J. Herbin inks. Their regular lineup is so watery and desaturated, it’s always been a bit of a let down, especially when compared to the vibrant colours on their labels.
All the vintage pens are filled with Waterman ink, as it’s safe on vintage pens and very easy to clean out. There’s Florida Blue (now called Serenity Blue), Havana Brown (now called Absolute Brown) and my desert island ink, Waterman Blue Black (now called Mysterious Blue).

Ink samples of the all the pens on original Tomoe River Paper.

In terms of reading, I finished reading Ben Aaronovitch’s “Amongst Our Weapons” and it was a really fun read. His previous novel in the “Rivers of London” series, “False Value” got me a little worried that he’d lost his touch (it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t nearly as good as his previous seven books), but “Amongst Out Weapons” is a return to form.
I’ve also finished reading Agatha Christie’s “A Murder is Announced” and boy does she know how to write. The characters, setting, period come to life, and you can sense an intelligent and keenly observing mind at work.
I’m now back with the Tournament of Books, this time with “Our Country Friends” by Gary Shteyngart. If I find this book tiresome, I may yet give up on the Tournament of Books list as I’ve got more than enough good books that I can’t wait to dig into.

Next week is very busy, so I’m not sure if I’ll have time for any long posts. In the meanwhile, please remember to take a break from social media and enjoy your life: call a friend, take a walk, listen to a family member, be kind to someone, volunteer in some way. And if you are on social media, please be kind.

Weekly Update: It’s been a while

It’s been a while since the last update, and since I’ve been travelling there also haven’t been many posts lately. I plan to get back to a regular posting schedule next week, but first, an update.

Health

As the weather changed, and as I had to travel, my neuropathy has seen ups and downs. It was absolutely terrible on the plane, but it’s much better now. At this point my pain level hovers around a 2-3, and that’s something that I’ve learned to live with. I’ve been able to get back to drawing, I’ve started building Legos again (something that I picked up as a meditational/self-soothing hobby during my hospitalisation and really helped me while I could still build them), and I’ve had no trouble typing lately.

Watercolour pencil sketch of the lookout over the separate beach in Tel Aviv.

Reading

I’ve been on a murder mystery roll lately, mostly because April was a travel month. I’ve read three early Agatha Christie mysteries, after not picking up one of her books for years, and I rediscovered how entertaining and insightful she could be. I’m currently steaming through the latest “Rivers of London” book, “Amongst Our Weapons” by Ben Aaronovitch (so far it’s been a very enjoyable read), and I have a Miss Marple mystery (“A Murder is Announced”) before I return to more serious and lengthy reading.

As for the Tournament of Books challenge, I made my way through Sally Rooney’s “Beautiful World, Where Are You?” And found it even more insufferable than “Normal People”. I couldn’t stand the characters, the slow and stilted writing, the self importance of everyone involved, and how little plot there was to make up for all the rest.
Anne Garréta’s “In Concrete” wasn’t great, but I’m not sure that it isn’t a matter of a lot of meaning and innuendo being lost in translation, despite the valiant efforts of the translator. It was at least an interesting book with interesting characters – a sort of female, French take on Tristram Shandy.
The Echo Wife” by Sarah Gailey was a fascinating near future science fiction novel that is worth reading even if you don’t like science fiction. It has a lot to say about what makes us who we are, and how cycles of abuse are created and can be broken.
I’ve started reading Gary Shteyngart’s “Our Country Friends” but I moved to lighter reading while I was traveling. It’s the next book in the challenge that I intend to finish.

Currently Inked

I cleaned out all of my fountain pens before my trip, apart from my Schon Design pocket 6, and two Lamy Safaris filled with De Atramentis Document ink. I bough a few fountain pens, a bit of ink, and a whole host of notebook and art supplies during my trip and I’m planning to break them out and give them a try and review a few during the coming weeks. Meanwhile I still have one Lamy Safari inked up for my sketches, the Schon Design pocket 6 fountain pen which I’m about to write dry, and a newly inked Kaweco Collection Iridescent Pearl. I wasn’t planning on buying it, but I saw it at “Present and Correct” and couldn’t resist. As I bought a few tins of J. Herbin ink cartridges while I was in Paris, I popped an Eclat de Saphir cartridge into this pen.

Other

In other news I quit my job of the past 13 years this week, and I’m starting a new job next month. It was a difficult decision to make, and one that took me a while, but I truly believe that this change will be for the better.

Have a great week!

Weekly Update: Remission and Apple Watch

Long time and no update, not so much because things haven’t been going on, but mostly because I’m still having trouble typing as my chemo induced neuropathy gets worse with the cold, and it’s been pretty cold here.

Health

So my post-treatment PET-CT results came in and I’m officially in remission. That is great news – it means that there’s no active disease that can be detected in scans. Now we wait and see if it really is gone for good (it’s a 5 year wait, but the first two years and the first year in particular are crucial), and deal with the side effects and damage the cancer and treatment left behind. It’s a lot of work, basically another full time job building back my body and mind to a place where they aren’t what they used to be (that’s just not going to happen) but where they are as healthy as they can be.

To that end, I “broke down” and purchased an Apple Watch two weeks ago. I really like analogue watches, which is why I’ve avoided buying a smart watch until now, but at the recommendation of several health professionals I decided to give it a try. As my phone is an iPhone, I went with the Apple Watch series 7 GPS, and as I use the Nike running and training apps (NRC and NTC – highly recommended and free to use), I went with the black Nike version of the watch.

Timex Peanuts watch on the left, Apple Watch series 7 Nike edition on the right.

So far it has been a great purchase. I’ve been using it to track my runs and training, my heart rate, breathing and blood oxygen levels, and for bio-feedback based meditation. I’ve also been using it to track my sleep, which is pretty abysmal and the moment due to the residual effect of drugs that I had to take during chemo and are still in my system (and will remain there for a few months yet).

As for the analogue watches that I love wearing, I gave up on them for a few days, and then decided to just do as a local celebrity does and wear more than one watch at a time. So I have an Apple Watch on my left hand and an analogue watch on my right hand, and though it may seem excessive or eccentric it makes me happy (and I still like checking the time on analogue watches better).

Reading

I finished reading Percival Everett’s “The Trees” and it was excellent. A brilliant, funny, dark and timely novel that proves that contemporary satire can still be written. This kind of novel is why I read the books on “The Tournament of Books” list, as otherwise I never would have heard of it, let alone read it. Highly recommended.

I then read Dr. Jennifer Gunter’s “Menopause Manifesto”. It is a must read: expertly written, chock full of information that I would have had trouble finding elsewhere, interesting and kind. Even if you think that your menopause is years away, or if you’re someone who won’t experience menopause this is still a book that you should read, and sooner rather than later.

I’m now reading Sally Rooney’s “Beautiful World, Where Are You” for the Tournament of Books and not enjoying it much. I really didn’t like “Normal People” and I wouldn’t have tried another Rooney novel if it wasn’t on the ToB list. I know a lot of people like Rooney’s writing, and she’s won several awards for it, but I find it whiny, boring and self indulgent, and so far “Beautiful World” is worse than “Normal People” in that aspect. I’m trying to be open minded and patient, so I’m not giving up on it yet. Hopefully it will improve with time.

Currently Inked

As the weather has been cold my neuropathy has been too painful for me to journal regularly. My fingers feel like someone has taken a set of pliers to them, or else someone has lit a lighter under them. It will be warming up a bit next week, and so I’ve set aside a few pens that I intend to write with. I’m down to 18 pens (!) currently inked, and if I do get to journal as much as I expect this week then I’ll probably write 2-3 more pens dry. Not many of my Diamine Inkvent 2021 pens remain inked, but I’m not going to be able to write them all dry by the end of the month. As March will be a warmer month and more time will have passed from my treatments I’m hoping that my neuropathy will improve and I’ll be able to write more, and maybe even get back to regular sketching.

By the way, in April Diamine will be issuing the Diamine Inkvent 2021 inks in “Red Edition” glass bottles, just like the original Inkvent “Blue Edition” bottles. These make for great gifts as the inks are very good and the bottles are stunning. I still haven’t finalized the list of inks that I intend to buy, but for now it includes Brandy Snap, Night Shade, Ash, Harmony and Thunderbolt or Ruby Blues.

From top to bottom: Platinum 3776, Visconti Van Gogh, Kanilea, Lamy Safari, Pilot Falcon, Lamy Studio, Diplomat Aero

Other

The Pen Addict podcast celebrated 10 years (!) and 500 episodes in an epic and fun episode where Brad and Myke read the listeners’ favourite stationery items. This one is well worth a listen, and is sure to make you smile.

I finished watching “The Book of Bobba Fett” on Disney+ and generally liked it. It would have been nice to have more Bobba and Fennec and have the flashbacks more integrated into the later story line. I didn’t like the cyborgs much, and I wish that it wasn’t so much a “Mandalorian 2.5” season but its own thing. I think that Bobba and Fennec’s storyline suffered because of the tie to “The Mandalorian,” fun as it was. Hopefully they get a second season where they’re allowed to stand on their own for a while.

If you aren’t listening to the “Maintenance Phase” podcast, please do. This week’s episode was about “Super Size Me” and boy did I learn a lot from it.

Liz Steel and Marc Taro Holmes are hosting the One Week 100 People challenge again this year on 7-11 March 2022, and hopefully I’ll be able to join it again, hands be willing. It’s a really fun challenge, especially if you don’t feel confident drawing people. There’s a bonus challenge for people who want to sketch from life, but if I’ll participate it will likely be by drawing from Flickr photos as Covid is still raging out there, and I’m still vulnerable to it.

Weekly Update: PET CT, Pens and Mischief Movie Night In

I haven’t written an update in a long time, because my neuropathy has gotten much worse since I finished my treatments. It’s painful to type, to write or draw, and it gets worse in the cold. Of course we’ve been having a series of cold days here, which has meant that typing a blog post has been a considerable challenge.

Two Egyptian Geese are having a dip in a roadside “pond”.

Health

I went through a PET-CT, my third and hopefully my last, last Sunday. It’s a long and not very pleasant experience, but it’s not the worst thing in the world. This week I’ll get the results and discuss with my doctor what to expect over the coming months. Meanwhile, neuropathy is kicking my ass, so posts will be sporadic until things get a little better.

This contraption injected me with radioactive sugar before my PET-CT.

I also got my fourth Covid vaccine, in the hopes of staving off the dreaded Omicron variant. I’ve been constantly masked and hiding as much as possible at home, but I’ve got a series of hospital visits coming up, so I’m hoping that the vaccine (and mask) will help me avoid infection and stay safe.

Reading

I started a new reading challenge, but I’m taking my time with it. I just finished the fabulous “The Trees” by Percival Everett, and the pretty terrible “All’s Well” by Mona Awad (lots of good intentions, terrible delivery). If you enjoyed “My Sister, Serial Killer,” you’ll love “The Trees”. It is a darkly funny, fast and very clever detective/revenge story that is just a joy to read, despite the very difficult topic.

I’m not sure what’s next on my reading list, but it may just be a non-fiction book before I delve into the next Tournament of Books pairing.

Writing

My hands are making writing problematic, but I did manage to write a pretty long post on the blog this week. It’s a taste of a project that I’ve been wanting to work on even since I got sick, and I look forward to be able to actually sit down and type for longer periods of time to get it done.

Currently Inked

I finished my Diamine Inkvent 2021 reviews with 32 pens inked, and I promised myself that I will write them all dry. That’s the most pens I’ve ever had inked at one time, and it’s turning out to be quite a challenge, but a fun and interesting one. This week I’ve written four pens dry (a Lamy Safari, two Monteverde Giant Sequoias and a Sailor Pro Gear Graphite Lighthouse), bringing the count of inked pens down to 22. It’s slow going because I have trouble using my pens, but I am making an effort to journal each day with them, so I do hope to write them all dry by the end of next month. I’ve been using them in my Moleskine, because I love their format the best, and just writing on one side of the page since I have enough notebooks to afford to do that. That way I can use the pens I like in the notebook I like and not worry about avoiding bleedthrough.

Other Things

I got back to running, which is major. I’ve been a runner since November 2011, until the 7 month break in running that I was forced to take last year due to my cancer and treatments. It was very hard for me to stop running, and it is difficult to get back into it now for various reasons, but I’m lacing up and getting out there and that’s what matters at this point. The most important thing I’m having to learn is to be kind and patient with my body after all it’s been through.

I’ve also watched the charity broadcast of the Mischief Theatre group (of “The Play that Goes Wrong” fame), “Mischief Movie Night In: The Wizard of Paddington Station” . You have until the 31st of January to purchase a ticket to see the broadcast and all the profit goes to charity. It’s a fun, family friendly way to pass an evening and do some good at the same time.

2021: Looking Back at a “Heavy” Year

My hands have been killing me with the worst neuropathy since my treatments began, so I’ve been trying to limit my typing to what I need to do for work. That is why this post took so long to write, and why my posting schedule may be a little off until things improve with my neuropathy.

2021 was a hell of a year for me. It started with me doing Liz Steel‘s excellent Sketchbook Design course. I also took some fantastic and very illuminating tea seminars with Juyan Webster from the Chinese Tea Company. If you have any interest in tea and you get a chance to have a tea seminar with her, I highly recommend it.

Early on in the year is also when a close family member got diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and that’s also when my journalling went on the fritz. This was the notebook I was using at the time, a Moleskine Pokemon Charmander limited edition and I abandoned it 2/3rds of the way through.

Abandoned Moleskine.

Covid was raging, I was working from home, at a new job, and I spent the first quarter of the year trying to fit my drawing and running into the new quarantine rules that kept getting both stricter and more confusing with each iteration. I happily got vaccinated as soon as I could, and I’m still very grateful to the amazing scientists and doctors who came up with vaccines in such a short time frame.
I managed to participate in the OneWeek100People challenge, which is very demanding but also a lot of fun. If you can spare the time I recommend giving it a try.

In the beginning of April I started having shortness of breath (dyspnea) while running. It got worse with time and soon I couldn’t run at all, and then I couldn’t walk very fast or far, climb stairs, etc. After a long and laborious road to get a diagnosis, in the beginning of June I learned that I had cancer, and in the beginning of July I got a diagnosis and started ABVD chemotherapy to treat Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
A few things helped me get through that incredibly difficult time. First and foremost, my phenomenal family (mother, father and brother) that rallied around me and took care of me from the moment of the first diagnosis and to this day. I can’t imagine going through this process without them. Almost as important were my friends, who visited me in the hospital and cheered me up, and kept in touch and cheered me on during the treatments. Finally it was journaling and reading. I started this Moleskine “I am New York” on the day I was first admitted to hospital, and writing in it gave me perspective and kept me sane.

Journal of a bad year.

And books? Books have always been my comfort and escape. I saw a few things on Disney+ while I was hospitalized, but books helped distract me from a lot the most unpleasant and painful parts of this journey.
I was happy to discover that one of my favourite Moleskine limited edition series, the denim ones, was back in stock, and so once I finished the “I am New York” journal I moved into this Moleskine “Skinny. Flared. Bookcut.” one. It’s such a well conceptualized and executed design, it was a joy to use. This was when I decided to regularly use fountain pens to journal with, and just use only one side of the page. I have more than enough notebooks to support that decision.

This notebook took me through the second part of chemo to the end of it.

And now, and the beginning of 2022 I started a new journal, a Moleskine Peanuts Sakura. Pretty, right? Let’s hope I get to fill it with good news and positive thoughts.

A new Moleskine for a new and better year.

Some favourites from the past year:

My favourite pen was the Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass. Quite a surprise for me, but it hasn’t been out of rotation since I got it.

Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass – fantastic and beautiful pen.

Another pen purchase that came in at a close second was the Diplomat Elox Rings and the Diplomat Aero (basically the same pen with a slightly different body design). These are wonderful workhorses, and a joy to use.

Diplomat Elox Rings on the left and Diplomat Aero in Champagne on the right.

I didn’t read as much this year as last year, but I did read a few really great books. Here’s a list of a few standouts among them:

  • The Good War, by Studs Terkel. WWII as I’ve never experienced it before – as seen and told by the “regular people” who lived through it.
  • Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. Not an easy read by far, but a breathtaking work of fiction nonetheless. Worth the effort.
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz. A surprisingly moving tale of a character that you won’t expect to fall in love with, and yet you will.
  • Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, by Hillary Mantel. Why should I care about Thomas Cromwell? How can you not care about Thomas Cromwell after reading these books? An era and place come to life, in a world filled with complex and compelling characters.
  • Nomadland, by Jessica Bruder. Watch the movie AND read the book. Both are excellent, and both offer a chance to look into a part of modern living that we were hitherto oblivious of.
  • Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir. Just a fun and interesting sci-fi novel. If you enjoyed the Martian, you’ll enjoy this.
  • Underland, by Robert Macfarlane. What happens in the deep dark places beneath our feet? A lyrical work of non-fiction.
  • The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller. The love story between Achilles and Patroclus told with great gentleness and heart.
  • Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro. An understated and masterful work of science fiction that explores themes of humanity, identity, friendship and love, among other things.
  • Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead. How can you write a heist novel that isn’t a heist novel but rather a story of a person, a time and place? Whitehead’s writing is exceptional, and Harlem Shuffle is just another proof of that.
  • The Expanse books 1-4, James S.A. Corey. I haven’t read book 5 and onwards yet, but I did read the first four books of The Expanse this year. They aren’t perfect (Holden is a bit much), but they are very good at world-building, with interesting and unique plots and complex and believable characters (apart from Holden, who is a bit much). The books are each written in a different style, and they improve with time.

In terms of art supplies, 2021 was the year of the super-granulating watercolours from Schmincke, and also when I added Daniel Smith watercolours to my palette. Schmincke just announced that the super-granulating colours will be permanently added to their offerings, and that they are issuing three more permanent sets into this series (Desert, Shire and Vulcano), and another limited edition set, Haze.

I’ll be talking about planning for 2022 on one of my next posts. In the meanwhile, have a great new year, and don’t forget to take time and breath.

Weekly Update: Haifa, Nazareth and Too Many Pens.

This week started with a well deserved three day vacation in Haifa and Nazareth. We were practically the only people at the hotel in Haifa, and in the Hula natural reserve, and we took a private tour in Nazareth, well before the holiday rush. Everyone was triple vaccinated, almost everything was outside, and we all got a bit of a break from a very tough year.

Water buffaloes in the Hula reserve.
Nazareth Christmas tree.
Haifa at night.
Ramat Hanadiv garden.

Health

The week started on the rough side. I couldn’t taste anything on Sunday and Monday (due to chemo, not Covid) and my taste only started to gradually return on Tuesday (sweet coming back first, then salty and the rest) and it still hasn’t returned to anything like normal. It’s like someone turned my tastebuds way down. An interesting experience. Neuropathy was also very bad at the beginning of the week, but started improving at around Wednesday.
Next week is my 12th and (hopefully) final treatment, and then my body gets a bit of a rest. It’s carried me very well these past six months through all the treatments, and I’m grateful for it (yes, even though it has cancer).

Reading

I’ve finished reading “Everyone Has a Podcast (Except You)” by the McElroy brothers. I was planning on starting a podcast before I got cancer. I’m not sure whether I’ll move forward with my podcast idea now or not.
I’ve started reading Colson Whitehead’s “Harlem Shuffle” and it is riveting. He’s such a fantastic writer, bringing people, places and past times to life with elegance and style.

I’ve taken a look at the 2022 Tournament of Books shortlist and unlike last year’s list which wasn’t appealing to me, this year I plan on reading the books on the list in my own version of the Tournament of Books. That’s 18 books, of which I have already read the fantastic “Klara and the Sun” by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Writing

Creating an Inkvent post a day has been really time consuming, and I’ve gotten a sizeable amount of writing homework from my therapist. I’m also running a backlog on my journalling because of a combination of vacation plus neuropathy. We’ll see how next week goes.

Currently Inked

Too many pens, because of Inkvent. Also, a few machined pens have arrived and are waiting patiently for me to try them out. Thankfully I have a lot of writing to do, so hopefully that will help me bring things under control.

Other Things

The rest of my advent calendars are now on hold because a daily post for the Diamine Inkvent one is such a lot of work. My usual resolutions/yearly goals plan is officially off as I’m working with my therapist on planning ahead when you have cancer (doable, but tricky). Once I’m done with that I’ll have a dedicated post about it, because I have the feeling that it could help other people in these uncertain times.