The Pelikan M491: A Pen History

By Michael W. Harris

My fountain pen history began in May 2013 with the gift of a Pelikan M200 in marbled green. While it took another five years for that gift to flower into a full-blown hobby, because of my first fountain pen being a Pelikan, the brand has retained a special place in my heart and mind. So much so that I hope to acquire a number of Pelikans to compliment that first M200. Call it a “flock” of Pelikans, if you will.

A Flight of Pelikans

To date, I have picked up three additional pens from the brand: a Special Edition M120 in Iconic Blue, a M200 in blue marble (a pre-1997 model at that with slightly different features), and the subject of today’s post: the M491 from the 1960s. This last pen is all sorts of weird: from its left oblique nib to its model number, the M491 is just an oddpen from the usually rather sedate and venerable German Brand.

Word of caution: this is not going to be a typical pen review. Rather, this is going to be more a history of this writing instrument, how it came about, what makes it so odd, how it came to be in my collection, and why I love it…quirks and all. Continue reading “The Pelikan M491: A Pen History”

My Personal New Year’s: The Birthday Hike and Recommitment/Reflection

By Michael W. Harris

I have never been one for going in on the hype surrounding New Year’s and resolutions. I get how some people can see the ticking over of a calendar year as an important or significant moment and a good time for reflection and making a commitment for the upcoming year. I understand the hype, but I never really bought into it. It was never, for me, a special or memorable moment (New Year’s 1989/1990 notwithstanding for entirely different reasons), and I treated New Year’s Eve like most other nights, just one with an added excuse to stay up late and maybe marathon Lord of the Rings or Star Wars.

Somewhere along the line, though, I started to use my birthday to actually reflect and look ahead. Which is entirely strange in retrospect since for so long I actually shunned openly celebrating my birthday and would even avoid telling people when it was (thanks Facebook for ruining that!). It was a slow process, to be sure, to change this mentality, but change it did. First, I had to accept getting older and to stop judging my “progress” along the path of the “life goals” checklist against my peers. And I guess that that making peace process can be seen as part and parcel with my newest and perhaps most significant birthday traditions: the birthday hike.

Not always undertaken on my birthday, but always birthday adjacent. Continue reading “My Personal New Year’s: The Birthday Hike and Recommitment/Reflection”

On the Meaning of Pens and Gins: Eros and Thanatos

By Michael W. Harris

The deeper I have delved into my hobbies of pens and gins, the more I was struck by their opposed temporal aspects. Part of this came out of my previous post about how pens do have a timeless quality to them. They are created, tools to be used, and maybe passed down to a new generation as treasured family heirlooms. They are markers of our existence. Proof of our lives and a piece that might live on to carry small part of us forward with it.

Gin, on the other hand, is the opposite of all that. It is a product that is, first and foremost, a consumable. Enjoyment of it only comes through using it up, leaving only the bottle, and a possible hangover, behind. Gin, unlike win or whisky, is also “cheap” in the pantheon of wine and spirits. There is little point in “saving” a bottle in the hopes that it becomes rare, like scotch or whisky, or improves with age, like some wines. And there is certainly no reason to acquire some gins to only save and pass on. Gin will always expire with the emptying of the bottle.

But the longer I thought about it, the more complex the reality of this notion became. Within each is part of the other. Life and death. Eros and Thanatos, as Freud might argue. In creating objects for our posterity, there is an inherent meditation on our death. And in the enjoyment of good spirits, there is a celebration of life.

Granted, drinking too much can kill you. And while the pen is mightier than the sword, I doubt it will actually kill you—unless you are James Bond, a ninja, or Marcus Brody fighting Nazis in a tank with Henry Jones, Sr.

Barring that highly unlikely scenario, or accidently drinking poisoned ink (DON’T DRINK THE INK!), pens will not kill you.

And yet… Continue reading “On the Meaning of Pens and Gins: Eros and Thanatos”

The Makings of History: Vintage and Modern Heirlooms

By Michael W. Harris

Time is a funny thing.

So often, we are enamored with thinking about the future or the past that we often don’t stop to consider how what we are creating now might be considered, in a similar fashion, by those in the future. Moreover, if we do consider the now, it is usually in terms only of ourselves or those immediately around us (i.e. our immediate family), and almost never in relation to future generations that we can barely conceive of.

The products, tools, and/or traces of the past can fascinate us, and we will rehab or otherwise bring back to life “vintage” ideas and trends. In essence, make all things that once were old new again. Conversely, we can also become fixated on the latest trends or gadgets. Dream endlessly of what is to come: the flying car, jet packs, trips to Mars, VR, and so forth.

However, lost in this dash to either recreate the past or design the future, is a lack of consideration of our present needs alongside what might be necessary or even useful to the future. And if we do think about what we might pass on to the future, we tend to overthink a “legacy” and fail to consider those who are left to reckon with that legacy.

And all of this is the long way of getting to the topic at hand: our current romance with analog and the debate of vintage vs. modern pens. Continue reading “The Makings of History: Vintage and Modern Heirlooms”

The Curated Life: Social Media, Identity, and Image

By Michael W. Harris

The word “curated” or “curation” is perhaps a bit overused these days. We talk a lot about how we “curate” our photos on Instagram or Facebook, or “data curation” for academics and scientists. Or how we might “curate” our collections for display in the home. Believe me, I am just as guilty of these things as the next person, if not more so, and I am not saying this is good or bad (yet). However, what I do believe is that the word itself, “curate,” has become one of those buzzy words, and whenever I heart it I just want to go all Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word…” Continue reading “The Curated Life: Social Media, Identity, and Image”

A Playlist of Parting -or- Mentally Leaving Virginia

By Michael W. Harris

Note: A playlist of all the songs I discuss here is available on YouTube here. It is also embedded below to listen to while reading.

A few years ago, around the time of the 2016 election, I wrote a post reflecting upon the Japanese principal of mono no aware. Around that same time, about a month before, I also wrote a post on three albums that reflect the mood of fall. In my mind, these two posts are very much linked in spirit even if I do not explicitly link them in writing. The spirit that I speak of in the “Autumnal Playlist” post, the cold fragility, the feeling of passing, is very much the feeling of mono no aware. Which, if you do not click on the link above, is a recognition of the impermanence of all things. An acceptance. And while there is a sadness inherent in that acceptance, there is also joy in it, because in ending is also beginnings. In every death, there is also life.

Such is the mood that I find myself in as I prepare to leave my home of less than a year in Williamsburg, VA, and begin a new life in Memphis, TN. And as I have been mentally reconciling myself with this change, and all that led to it (to be discussed in a more detailed upcoming post), a few tracks have entered heavy rotation in my listening. Continue reading “A Playlist of Parting -or- Mentally Leaving Virginia”

Finding Reservations in Parts Unknown: Anthony Bourdain and the Travelogue (and my own hopeful travels)

By Michael W. Harris

Better late to the game than never

It is much to my detriment that I never really encountered the works of Anthony Bourdain until after his death, but it is a process that happens to me more often than not (I had barely listened to either Prince or David Bowie until after they died). Regardless, my only prior experiences with his work was the graphic novel Get Jiro, which is really fun, and a few episodes of Parts Unknown that a friend sat me down to watch during a visit this year. I really enjoyed these dips in Bourdain’s work and gave me a lot of respect for him and how he approached other cultures. He was upfront with his background, never shied away from who he was, and approached others from a place of respect and eagerness to learn.

As a person who studies cultures other than his own, I have a lot of respect for that. And also as someone who has a healthy disdain for the type of person who adopts the stylings of cultures they study in some forced “rejection” of being American or White or Western (or whatever their background is)—it is refreshing to see someone respect, enjoy, and truly love other food and cultures while also being secure enough in their own identity to just be themselves. Continue reading “Finding Reservations in Parts Unknown: Anthony Bourdain and the Travelogue (and my own hopeful travels)”

Ginology 7: Cadenhead Old Raj Red Label

By Michael W. Harris

Basic Info
Type: Dry Gin
ABV: 46%
Botanicals: Juniper, Coriander, Seville orange peel, liquorice, Angelica root, orris, cinnamon, cassia quills, nutmeg, saffron
Base: Grain Neutral Spirit
Distilling Notes: The saffron is added post-distillation and is what gives Old Raj its distinctive yellow color in the bottle.

Prior to moving to Virginia, Cadenhead’s Old Raj Blue Label was the most expensive bottle of gin I had ever purchased at a hair under $50. In “The Commonwealth,” though, many of the bottles I have purchased have been in the $40-50 range, and if I were able to get Blue Label here, it would likely set me back around $70.

Alas, I am not able to get it, and the gin at hand, Old Raj Red Label (the different is that Blue is bottled at 55% ABV vs. Red’s 46%), had to be purchased in the District of Columbia and transported back to Williamsburg. The Red Label still costs me around $45 plus the tank of gas getting up to DC and back…not to mention the shortened life span I now have having to have driven through DC traffic.

The price premium, though, is well worth it. Old Raj is a wonderful gin to drink in any form. Straight. Rocks. And probably any cocktail you think to mix it in. The taste is not as out there as Dog Fish Head or Monkey 47, and it isn’t as heavy on the citrus as Tanqueray No. 10. However, it is more “interesting” than Beefeater without calling attention to itself.

The distinguishing feature of Old Raj is, of course, its yellow color which comes from the addition of saffron post-distillation, which is also part of what also gives the gin its higher price. In addition to this, it gives the gin its slightly different flavor profile and helps set it apart from the more staid gins without veering into the more out there craft gins that are spurring forward our current gin-revolution. Continue reading “Ginology 7: Cadenhead Old Raj Red Label”

The Return of the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine

By Michael W. Harris

So many memories…

In less than a month, a big part of my childhood and teenage years will be returning to comic book shops across the world. After a too long, three year hiatus, the Fantastic Four will be back and with it a big part of my love of my first and abiding hobby.

The adventures of Reed, Sue, Johnny, Ben, and the other extended members of the First Family (both blood related and not), were not the first comic book I ever read, but it was the one that captured my attention and imagination. The reasons for this are numerous: the crazy sci-fi adventures across time and space that were quite different from the standard supervillain of the month punch-ups that I had read before, the more relatable problems of a family of adventurers and the group dynamics that came with it, and a cast of characters that felt both relatable and real (well, as real as unstable molecules clad superheroes can be).

It is established canon that each of the FF’s individual powers is somehow reflective of their personalities: a woman who feels invisible in a patriarchal society (though who also turns out to be the most powerful of them all…a wonderful twist added by writers in the 1980s), a flame powered hot-headed youth, a rock-solid friend who would stop a bus for you, and the greatest mind on the planet who is constantly reaching and stretching his imagination to ever greater heights. But deeper than that, I also saw something of myself and my life in each of the member of the Fantastic Four, both aspirational and how I felt about and viewed myself.

Let me explain. Continue reading “The Return of the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine”

The Middle Children of Technology: Living [Digital/Analog] in a/n [Analog/Digital] World

By Michael W. Harris

Nostalgia Bomb for my generation. [image found on web, not mine]
I always love seeing the looks I get when I tell people that I have schoolwork COMPUTER files dating back to sixth grade. Now, for some that would not be that remarkable, but for me, sixth grade was 1992-93. The first web browser only went public in 1991. The first version of Windows was released in 1985. And the ubiquitous Apple IIe that was the first computer in my elementary school lab was released in 1983.

These files of mine are not things I created at school, though. They are Word and Excel documents I made at home for school projects. Papers, reports, etc. The odd personal or Boy Scouts project files are also included, but most are school reports. More importantly, though, is that they are still saved and with a little work could be made accessible again (currently the file formats are no longer readable with the newest versions of Office, but there are ways of migrating them). And this is not theoretical. The files are not stored on obsolete media. Yes, they were first saved on 3 ½ inch floppies, but from there they were first migrated en masse to a 100MB (mega…not giga) Zip Disk in 1999 and from there ported to a 128MB jump drive in the early 2000s. And today these files live both on my 200GB microSD card that is my main data archive, with a back-up stored on a 5TB external hard drive (these drives are named “The Library” and “The Matrix of Gallifrey” respectively). Continue reading “The Middle Children of Technology: Living [Digital/Analog] in a/n [Analog/Digital] World”