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Archive for March, 2013

Something Abhors this Vacuum

Posted by Dirck on 14 March, 2013

I’ve been doing a lot of complaining this week, so I want to preface this entry: what follows is not a complaint, but merely an observation of a phenomenon.  I think if it had happened in a week with less griping, it might have been a complaint, but in the current context it’s not that big a deal.

As part of a slow lead-up to the changing of pace I intend to undertake, I was cleaning out some pens this morning ahead of the mad scuttle to work.  One of these was the TWSBI Vac 700 which I’ve had filled almost as long as I’ve had it– there was a little break while I took this picture:


Most of that time I’ve had it loaded with Mont Blanc Royal Blue.  I bought the ink primarily to get at the bottle, one of those delightful “shoe” style jobs which make filling a pen relatively easy even in the face of low ink levels.  However, it turns out that the colour, at least as it was interpreted prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, is really quite nice, so I’ve been using it rather than following the original plan of tipping it down the sink to make room for a needy Herbin ink.

Cleaning the 700 is, or (if you can stand the clumsy foreshadowing) should be, a straightforward exercise.  Unscrew the knob, pull it back, run it in, ink and water swap places under some pressure, and with one or two repetitions, the pen is clean.

Except… that bit about pulling it back.  It has been rather a while since the last topping up, but I don’t remember the action being quite this stiff.  Push down… and also rather stiff.  So stiff, in fact, that I lose my grip a little; this is something the TSWBI approach to the vacuum filler doesn’t encourage, since a hesitation in the down-stroke tends to release the seal between the Piston Seal and the Shaft.  Sheaffers are more forgiving in this department, but almost no other, so I don’t mind it too much.  A little more fumbling, with seemingly better lubrication, and a dose of water enters.  Push it out, and let’s do that once more for luck.

…and, geez, that really is stiff this time.  A little more effort and the large man imposes his will upon the pen!  The shaft moves freely!

In both directions.  Because, peering through the barrel, the Piston Seal is no longer attached.  That’s, to quote Doctor Horrible, not good.  In the very little time remaining before departure, I whip off the section, and tip out the Piston and Valve Seals.  Intact!  All I care about!  Socks, shoes, hat (in that order, as it’s important) and I’m away.

I have been reflecting upon the matter, though.  I think what happened that the ink, a terrifying old German recipe– it smells like a much older ink than the early 1980s batch I take it for– decided that rather than sitting idly in the barrel in an inefficient manner, it would keep busy by slightly compulsive cleaning.  Over the course of time, it dissolved the silicone grease on big seal and the barrel walls, or at least lifted it away.  The ink itself and the water which entered before the big grab were insufficient to smooth the movement of the seal, and it stuck.

I hope that the specific ink has a primary role to play in this, at least.  While I’m all in favour of object lessons on the topic of regular pen maintenance, I don’t like the notion that carefully lubricated parts going utterly dry over a short time.  A relatively short time.  Say… when did I last fill that thing?

The positive aspect of this event, apart from its acting as a sterling reminder to not just leave pens sitting about inked for weeks on end, is that it given me an excuse to not rush out and instantly buy the latest iteration of the TWSBI Diamond, the 580.  Even though I really would like to.

Today’s pen: Waterman Préface
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Violette Pensée

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Unhappy Customer

Posted by Dirck on 13 March, 2013

This is probably the sort of thing one should not air publicly.  However, I name no names, I ignite no bridges not already merrily ablaze, and I claim the internet’s privilege of self-absorbed whining.  Stand clear of the vent, folks; he’s about to blow some steam.

I sell stuff on Etsy, in lieu of having some sort of ecommerce thing established on my own site.  I’m a very small fish, it’s convenient, and it lacks the pace of auction sites while presenting one’s wares to a global market.  I’d set myself up there with a notion of flogging not pens but craft-bound books… back when I hadn’t realized just how impossible doing anything with books was in a son-inclusive world.  However, they admit vintage items with a very broad definition of “vintage”, charge little in the way of fees, so I’m a happy guy.

Late last year I got a hit on a Parker Arrow I considered excess to requirements from a chap in Russia.  Attached to the order was a note (which I will put in a different colour and fake comic-opera accent to keep the conversation straight as it develops): To be sending tracking number also.

I can do that, say I, but it costs a lot more than the basic Small Packet International Air postage that I generally rely on and to date haven’t had a problem with.  Here is a link to Canada Post, so you may see for yourself that the least expensive form of tracked shipping is actually pretty expensive.  I leave it up to you what you want to do, but the shipping costs are on you.

OK.  Choose Small Packet Air and hope for the best.

I send the pen, I send a note about sending the pen, and weeks pass.  Then I get another note, in mid-January– Is no pen yet!  Maybe you give me Canada Post tracking number now?

But there is no tracking number.  Here’s a suggestion; leave it until February 1, and if it hasn’t shown up by then, we’ll say it’s officially lost, and do something to keep the loss distributed between the interested parties; I’ll refund half the amount paid, including the shipping, and that way we’re both out a pen and half the money on the transaction.  Balanced.

February shambles upon us, and I am told there is no pen.  Post office tells me, if have Canada Post parcel number, they can seek.  Which is great, but there is no number.  Since you didn’t object to the previous suggestion, here is half the money you sent me.  I wish it could be otherwise (because, frankly, I’d rather have either all the money or the pen).

And then, we get this, just this past week (and this is almost unedited): Parcel with boots with shipped on Dec 11, 2012 arrived today!  Guys who sent me it check with the Canada Post where the parcel and how many days to wait until the application for the loss.   Shipping method was the same like with you.  Why it seems to me that you either do not send a pen or too lazy to reach the postal office?

Now… I didn’t respond to this until I’d had time to step into the post office again and make absolutely sure I wasn’t missing something.  Which, as it happens, I was not.  Charitably, I will assume that Russian fellow’s boot senders were using the similarly named International Parcel Air service, which has tracking, insurance and about thrice the cost.  I am, I’ll admit, right at the end of my charity rope, since there’s that accusation of either negligence or outright fraud right at the end.  Counter-accusation is possible, of course, and if the devil upon my left shoulder has it right and there’s a Russian criminal mastermind even now writing grim things in Cyrillic with a Parker Arrow, he’s ahead by half of what he paid for the thing.  But that’s where it lies.

The lesson I take from this; make it absolutely clear that the responsibility for choosing between tracking or cheap shipping, and all the consequences flowing from that, rest with the buyer.  I’m unwilling to entertain this sort of nonsense in the future.  I’d still rather have an(other) content pen buyer at the far end of one of my transactions than one who is, perhaps, simmering with the sense of having been done in the eye by some dirty foreigner, but if I have to have the latter in my world, they should at least have a completely clear sense that they’re the ones who handed  me the stick.

Today’s pen (the fruit, I note, of a perfectly civil international Etsy transaction): Sheaffer Sovereign Snorkel
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Bleu Myosotis


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Change of Programme

Posted by Dirck on 12 March, 2013

After yesterday’s slightly Luddite spasm, I’m going to be brief and remain on point with pens.  I’m pondering changing my approach to rotation.

Right now, as the persistent reader is well aware, I’m on a two-for-the-week arrangement.  This works well enough, and with the background pens that are also in battery, I’m never at a loss for a pen to take with me.  I also keep my Regular Job records relatively festive, which isn’t particularly important to Them but it keeps me from going completely bonkers in the face of repetitive mental stress.  It is also a much better way of going than the daily change I was putting myself through back when I started this little screed, since I don’t find myself needing to clean a lot of pens all the time.

However… I do find myself chafing a little.  All those pens, and only two each week.  That leads to some sitting very idle indeed, and while I’m sure they’re not given to antics to keep themselves amused (although that John Holland has some rather scandalous stories) there is the concern about not getting the use out of something one would prefer.  I’ve been having thoughts of culling in a serious way, all of which start, “Man, you don’t use half of these things…” and that’s a habit of thought I really want to clamp down on.

I’m thinking, therefore, of shifting gears in honour of the looming appearance of equinoctial long-eared Pope-designate not seeing his shadow while hopping about distributing Ostara treats… or just because it’s time for a change.  Something along the lines of an arbitrary number of pens put in ink, and used in a very loose rotation (never twice back-to-back, but possibly more than once a week if whim strikes), and kept running either through the course of a month, or replaced only as they run out of ink.  The latter approach to replacement is appeals to my lazy portions, since it means only flushing one pen at a time, but my novelty-seeking elements suggest a month is enough to get so very bored with a given roster.

There will be a pause before this new approach is instituted, though, as I want to give some thought to exactly what that arbitrary number should be and what rule I’ll follow.  Any howls of protest or suggestions will be welcomed.

Today’s pen: Waterman Préface
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Violette Pensée

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Head in a Cloud

Posted by Dirck on 11 March, 2013

Today provided one of those upsetting little coincidences which, depending on one’s inclination, can be seen as support of precognition, as evidence of synchronicity, or as a simple coincidence in a world so filled with things that coincidence is inevitable.

As I was paddling about the house this morning, I was listening to what was once a book on tape, transformed into about 200 MP3 files (I’d bought the tape, I’m not distributing the files, all is kosher).  I was musing upon the postage-stamp size on my player, and the vast concert-halls worth of noise that could be contained within.  My musings then turned in the direction of cloud storage, and I’ll return to them after the coincidence.

In a lull at The Regular Job, I had a look at this blog posting, in which a new book about the current efforts to solve problems by creating brisk, shallow, technical solutions to them (many of which problems weren’t really problems until the solution was on offer, naturally).   While not right on track with either the evident thesis of the book nor the criticism thereof, I thought it was an interesting conjunction with my earlier thoughts.

Cloud storage, sez I, is definitely to a solution to a problem that doesn’t appear.  I can understand the utility, certainly, but I guess my age is such that I can’t bring myself to trust it.  If my data is going to get corrupted, I want to be the one accidentally pouring juice into the hard drive or not inspecting for mouse-nests in the wiring with sufficient regularity– that’s not the sort of duty which I want to hand off to some anonymous person in a possibly-distant land.  In the same way that I like to have that old book-on-tape cluttering up my house, even if I do get the content by other means, I want some tangible artifact of my data to cling to.

Likewise, I far prefer buying discs to watching things through on-line services.  I know where a disc is (usually).  I have a great say on the matter of availability.  Browsing through Netflix (whose browser is an excellent reproduction of walking through a video rental store after a tribe of baboons has been through), one keeps finding things marked as going away after a certain date.  Did you really like that film?  Did you mean to share it with a date, whose interests are similar but who has never seen it?  Too bad.  It was pulled from the service a week ago.  That doesn’t happen with the lamentably bulky cabinet full of discs.

All of which is really no big deal, up to the point that the providers of the technical means decide that there’s no need to support your preferred format any more.  I’ve got a few old games on 5¼” floppies that I’d really like to revisit, but that’s not on, is it?  My big tussle upgrading my computer’s OS a while back was largely because the company doesn’t put stuff on physical media anymore; one had to download it.  It’s not too far a step from that to, “Why would you want a hard drive? The application is in The Cloud!”

Swell, unless one is somehow cut off.  A downed phone line would do it at my house.  I can go on a nice long hike in a complete cel/G4/WiFi desert with my little MP3 player as it is, but if it were a mere receiver….  Heading out to the quiet old cottage out at the lake to work on the third draft of the novel goes out the window, too.  My analogy is that of a man who decides to remember nothing more than how to breath and walk, and the location of the books he’s written everything else down in– that works so long as he can get at the books.

Vaporous concerns, of course, but like the oldster who kept a sock full of cash under the mattress as a consequence of living through the Great Depression, I’ve seen enough infelicities caused by media changes to make me mistrust the good intentions of those who decide change is due.  It also has precious little to do with my usual area of concern, except for the tenuous link of “hey, writing something down is an extremely non-volatile and high-compatibility means of storage!” line, and that sort of gets undercut by the end of the last sentence.

While I’m vaporing, I want to also cry out against Google Glass, which I shall hereafter call Google Goggle.  Again, I can see some of the utility, but I can also see enhanced opportunities for missing out on what’s happening around you because you’re trying to add “connectivity” to your regular, waking world; rather than remembering your child’s first steps, you remember the overlay of text and icons indicating that you’re successfully recording it and that you have four emails waiting and it’s 23° and you have an appointment in an hour.  I can also see (for those who don’t subscribe to SideWalkALERT™) enhanced opportunities for tripping over crap that went unnoticed because some friend’s lunch picture tweet just overwhelmed your entire sensorium.  Worst, I can see a lot of employers making the damn things mandatory, in the same way that Blackberrys made most mid-level business professionals in North America into a myopic hunchback from about 1998 onwards.

Hopefully, I’ll have my time machine ready soon, and can retire to slightly pre-Industrial England, with occasional visits to 2001 for medical and dental exams, and of course for fresh supplies of ink for the fountain pens I won’t be able to use in front of the locals.

Today’s marvel from the future and/or past: Sheaffer Sovereign Snorkel
Today’s ink that won’t clog same: Herbin’s Bleu Myosotis

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Posted by Dirck on 8 March, 2013

Yesterday, one of my nation’s cultural icons came to the end of his path.  I won’t be a complete hypocrite and suggest that I liked his music particularly– the opening lines of “Sudbury Saturday Night” are the closest of anything he did to something I enjoy– but I honour his efforts in the direction of positive patriotism.  The video attached here is mainly for my brother, who is a fan.

I’ll point out that it’s blinkin’ long, too, but so was the man’s career.

Today’s pen: Parker Falcon 50
Today’s ink: Iroshizuku Fuyu-Syogun

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The Craftsman Fallacy

Posted by Dirck on 7 March, 2013

I was recently involved in a bit of a circular discussion on a forum, which reminded me of a very common error people fall into while staggering around the error-laden fields of Sheaffer history.  This is a particular hole I’ve had a foot in, and while I am about to get a little pedantic on the topic I don’t mean to belittle anyone who has yet to realize that they’re astray (and tarred with a mixed metaphor to boot).  Let’s start with a picture:

This is a Sheaffer Craftsman

How do I know it’s a Craftsman?  There are many who will say at this point, “Look at the cap– that sort of  thin band is the sign of a Craftsman model.”  This is not entirely incorrect, but it’s in the same family of logical error that would suggest that you know a man to have black hair because he’s wearing a hat.  Craftsmans do indeed have wire-mouth caps… if they were made after about 1941 and before 1952.  Observe:

Yes, it is a Craftsman, but it’s from before the window under consideration.

Compare this to the shape of the green one I start with– it’s from the early 1940s.

After 1952, the shape remained similar, especially in Canada and Australia; US versions had steel points and caps, and were more obviously a change of pattern.

There is, then, a chronological component to saying “That band therefore a Craftsman,” but it’s not as wide a window as you might think.  You see, within that more-or-less decade of wire-rim Craftsmans, there were also these:

You might think this was a Craftsman…

…but you wouldn’t mistake this for one.

Before the introduction of the Touchdown filler in 1949, that attractive understated cap treatment was present in three other models– the Admiral and the Sovereign shown above, and an earlier incarnation of Cadet which I haven’t a picture of.  I’ve played a little unfair, as the Admiral in its US production also had a two-tone point (see below), so the difference is less obvious.  However, even in these two there is a point of differentiation.  On Craftsmans, the point’s impression contains 33, while on Admirals one finds 5 and on Cadets 23.  Assuming all the parts currently in the pen are original, this point-marking is a far safer for making definitive model identification than the cap.

However, during the very brief period of the Thin Model Touchdown pens, which is apparently the only time during which the Craftsman carried the Touchdown filler (as opposed to the very slightly different TipDip rig), the Cadet bowed out for a short time (returning as a TipDip with rather different trim in 1953) and the Admiral and models more expensive lost the wire-band:

There’s the pretty US-style “Feathertouch” point. The blue item above is a dour Canadian.

…which means that for a Touchdown Craftsman, one is certainly free to say “wire cap = Craftsman”.  Which is probably where the misunderstanding started.  Since I don’t have a perfect grip on when the various models of the 1940s appeared, it may also be possible that it’s true for a small pre-1945 slice of time.  However, I’d still advise attending to the point rather than the cap, as it’s a lot harder to swap points than caps.

Have I convinced you?  Will you spread the word?  Be gentle in doing so– as I said at the top, it’s only one of the legion of easily-adopted mistakes that hang about Sheaffers, and no one is believing in it out of wickedness.

Today’s pen (because I’m a bit of a masochist): Parker “51″ Fantasy Demo
Today’s ink: Pelikan black

…and by the way, it was indeed a huge struggle to not write “Craftsmen” each and every time.  The preceding it goofy-looking, but grammatically appropriate.

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Modern Vintage Old New Love Hate

Posted by Dirck on 6 March, 2013

There’s a statement of theme, eh?  I have only a couple of items to consider through the filter of the title, and that’s probably a good thing.

Thing one– yesterday’s pen.  This guy:


This is a very complete blend of Modern and Vintage, Old and New, since the carcass is an all-new production of a vintage shape, and it has been filled with the guts from a 1943 pen with some body problems, and the refitted filler mechanism I was going on about last week.  It’s pretty neat… to look at.

I find, however, that I cannot wholly endorse the Kullock-made vacumatic body.  I won’t go into tedious detail (as you know I’m capable of) but will merely say that the machining of the tail is such that getting the blind cap and the body to present a smooth face took far too much wrestling, and even getting the filler to fit at all was a misery.  For those who know the process– the only way to keep the diaphragm from twisting was to set the pellet in the cup after the assembly was in the barrel.  Yeah.  Honestly.  It looks neat, but it’s not worth all that effort.  The aero shells are probably less of a struggle to deal with.

But… I love it in a way, because it writes so nicely.  Getting the writing parts mated to the body also took more work than I welcome, but it seems very happy in there.  This doesn’t reduce my simmering low-grade hate the shell, because those parts have been writing sweetly since before the Axis surrendered in Tunisia, and do so now less because of what they’re mounted in than despite it.

Thing two—


I discovered yesterday something very exciting about Wahl-Eversharp Pens:  they exist!

This is not the result of my having a mild stroke at some point after writing my site’s reference page about the company. Rather, I had not noticed until the very day that the new website got up and running that the company is once again a going concern.  Happily, I kept my excited, fannish squealing internal, and thus avoided unemployment and likely commitment.  I’m more excited than I can say about this development, this modern revival of a old marque, turning out vintage designs in new materials.  Even better, the pens are… well,  not inexpensive, but within the realm of possibility for even a low-income pen loonie.  The most expensive, all-metal, plated versions will only require me to put up a dollar a day to get one within the next year (and, since I’m not convinced that those have the same cool blind-cap access for filling, I may get a lesser model all the sooner).

So… love the pens, love the fact of their production, love the prices (with limited fervor).  Where’s the hate? Oh, Ive got it, and it’s the pure stuff– self-loathing.  This is an item of startling news to almost no one who isn’t me.  Somehow, despite my constant creeping about of fora and intent sniffing of the virtual winds for the scent of pens, this long-growing and far-from-secret effort at regeneration eluded me.  The website’s appearance was, it seems, the final event in the process; the culmination of all the chatter I totally missed was really a grand unveiling at the LA Pen Show back in mid-February.

Apparently I’m still watching too much TV.

...and I've got it set up the wrong way up, too.

…and I’ve got it standing the wrong way up, too.

Today’s pen: Parker Falcon 50
Today’s ink: Iroshizuku Fuyu-Syogun

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Posted by Dirck on 5 March, 2013

A sign of how distracted I was yesterday: I completely forgot that I’d already come up with a topic for the entry, and that it was one that was very easily addressed.  While my son’s bout involved a great deal of unfortunately literal debriefing, I owe a retrospective glance at the just-concluded International Correspondence Writing Month.

Well, I did manage to get to the bottom of it, and it was, despite the big stumble in the middle, not too terribly difficult.  The interesting thing is that not more than a half-dozen of the recipients were regular correspondents, and of those only one was done out of the natural sequence of exchange, as I didn’t want to get all clingy not to throw out the correct pacing of to and fro.  Happily, a number of my regular correspondents sent something either just before or during the month, so I could plump up the numbers without being very desperate.  Also helpful was the InCoWriMo site, with its list of willing victims recipients of unheralded mail, and which I’ll touch on again presently.

What truly surprised me about the writing side of the enterprise was the relative ease and speed of dashing off a brief note.  My regular correspondents will be surprised to learn that I suffer through drafting letters almost to the same degree as Gilbert Norrell, for fear of getting well down one of my common over-inflated and slightly baroque sentence only to find that by the time I’ve landed at the terminal punctuation that I’ve got a mismatch in the quantity of subjects and objects, or a change of tense, or perhaps a misgendered pronoun (guess how long this sentence took to work up…).  I couldn’t really do that with all the InCoWriMo items, and since many of them were a single page I took the plunge and just wrote out of my head– not unlike what I do here, but without the option of a backspace key.  Very little scratching out of foolishness, mainly correct spelling, and a letter down and folded in under an hour!  Astonishing.

Less surprising was the fact that I got so little inbound mail during the event.  I did not, as an exchange in the comments a couple of entries ago points out, join the brave band of folks who offered their addresses up on the aforementioned list.  Being the age I am, I have a long established habit of not admitting who I actually am to the internet, and despite it being about as safe as getting mail at all, I balked like a big coward.  Those who wonder at this bit of information, by the way, in conjunction with the address of my web site; my brother made a point of registering all the family as domain names during one of those phases when there was a lot of domain camping, and I’m not one to look a fait accompli in the mouth.  I was, in fact, rather surprised to get a couple of letters from non-regular correspondents in the course of the thing, who had scraped up my address from entirely legitimate sources; that “non-” is going rapidly by the board.

At the risk of becoming overwhelmed with regular correspondents, I think I shall participate again next year.  Not only does it support the international postal system in a trying time, its not that big a hassle and if my own reaction to the unexpected apparitions is anything to go by it brings delight to those on the low end of the slide that starts at the yawning trap of the big red post box.  Also, you get a non-cropped one of these if you ask nicely:


Splendid, is it not?  Well worth the price of admission.

The following chart is going to take a little looking back at my records; don’t take it as definitive until at least the 8th:

InCoWriMo I: Things I think are worth counting
  •  Pens Used:
    • Fuliwen 2024
    • Italix Parson’s Essential
    • Kaweco Sport
    • Lamy 2000
    • Parker 45
    • Parker “51”
    • Parker Duofold
    • Pelikan M600
    • Sheaffer Balance
    • Stipula Passaporto
    • TWSBI Vac 700
    • Waterman 52
  • Inks Used:
    • Diamine Steel Blue
    • de Atramentis Elderberry
    • Herbin Lis de Thé
    • Herbin Orange Indien
    • Kaweco blue-black
    • Mont Blanc Royal Blue
    • Noodler’s La Couleur Royale
    • Organics Studio Cobalt
    • Pelikan black
    • Pelikan blue-black
    • Private Reserve DC Supershow Blue
    • Sailor Jentle blue-black
    • Skrip blue-black
  • Letters Sent:
    • 2 Journals
    • 3 Multi-page
    • 24 Single Page
  • Letters Got:
    • 5 Multi-page
  • Countries Contacted:
    • Argentina
    • Australia
    • Canada (it’s big– I can count it, even if I’m in it)
    • Great Britain
    • Norway
    • The Netherlands
    • United States

Today’s pen: Parker “51” Fantasy Demo (yes, I did put it on the page)
Today’s ink: Pelikan black (for fear of staining)

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One Sick Chick

Posted by Dirck on 4 March, 2013

I’ll bet I’ve upset the prurience-seekers of the Googlesphere once again.  My own sick urges are thus satisfied.

Sick urges are also the foundation of this abbreviated entry.  My son has some sort of viral enteritis, and has spent the weekend in a state of projectile fluids.  Rather than add to the weight of parental worry blog content the internet already creaks under, and unable to get my mind onto more productive tracks, I’m leaving off for today.  Seek entertainment elsewhere, for all I’ve got to offer contemplations on ick, electrolyte supplements, and laundry techniques.

Today’s pen: Parker Falcon 50
Today’s ink: Iroshizuku Fuyu-Syogun (bowing to the notion of oh, god, yet more snow this week)

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Surviving Well

Posted by Dirck on 1 March, 2013

Today’s film pursues the theme from Wednesday.  Be prepared to weep a little.

I worry slightly that someone might say that this proves that being bullied is a character-building thing; that without that oppression, we lose this sort of art.   I think art can manage without that particular fertilizer, frankly.  Probably even bear earlier and sweeter fruit.

Today’s pen: Lamy 2000
Today’s ink: Herbin Lis de Thé

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