The Refinement Phase: On Establishing a Pen Rotation and Stable “Collection”

By Michael W. Harris 

I am a collector by nature.

Top tray in my large pen case. A few empty slots for some custom pens.

Over the years, I have collected pretty much all the sorts of things that people collect at one point or another: baseball cards, coins, stamps, comics, various types of books, CDs, vinyl, DVDs, Blu-rays, and so on and so forth. And today, it has extended, in a “relatively” small way, into watches, knives, and bags.

However, knowing that I am both an obsessive collector and also a person of limited means, when my growing fountain pen obsession begin to accumulate at a rapid pace, I quickly moved to set limits on said collecting. But the new, shiny “acquisition phase” of any hobby is tricky. You are learning your tastes, what you might like to collect, and also just trying to learn about and experience all that you can while also having fun. Continue reading “The Refinement Phase: On Establishing a Pen Rotation and Stable “Collection””

Nib Shootout: Spaghetti Western Edition

By Michael W. Harris

Pretty Viscontis All in a Row

It was never my intention to end up with four Visconti pens (not counting my TWScontis) all with different nib materials, but so it was that a could not pass-up deal on a Pininfarina with the so-called “Chromium 18” nib (whose exact metallurgical composition and how it differs from plain steel I shall not litigate here) found me in possession of steel, chromium 18, 18K gold, and 23K palladium nibbed pens. The loan of an Opera with a 14K gold nib completed the set of Visconti nib materials (not counting the seemingly Delta inspired “fusion” nib) meant that the Italian Standoff was on. Continue reading “Nib Shootout: Spaghetti Western Edition”

A Modest Fountain Pen Proposal: Do Away With Vintage & Modern

By Michael W. Harris

I am still a relative newcomer to the pen and stationery hobby, but like so many, once I dive-in, I tend to devour and learn all that I can. It is my personality and is most assuredly an off-shoot of my librarian/archivist/academic tendencies. So it was that, pretty quickly, I became a bit confused and annoyed with the rather loose definitions of the terms “vintage” and “modern” by those in the community. Ask 10 hobbyists how they would define “what is vintage and what is modern,” and you would probably get at least 5-7 different answers, if not 10! For me, this is a problem because I need some guidelines at the very least!

We could try and use the qualifications that are applied to antique/vintage car registrations, which can vary between state and country, but they usually label as vintage anything that is between 20 or 35 years old. This, while giving us a set length of time, also yields a moving window, meaning that—eventually—everything becomes vintage. Which might be fine for some…but not for me. And my feeling that way is due to how people will talk about a “vintage inspired design,” not unlike how some talk about vintage clothes, which points to a more aesthetic criteria for what is vintage vs. modern. (For example, see the cover story of Pen World February 2019, which touts, “Vintage Inspiration” in a story about Armando Simoni Club, Wahl-Everysharp, Conway Stewart, and Bexley, pp. 42-9.)

Continue reading “A Modest Fountain Pen Proposal: Do Away With Vintage & Modern”

Blue Dots: A Taxonomy of Hues

By Michael W. Harris

I Love Blue

I love blue, it is my favorite color by far (with purple a medium distant second), and even better is that the color has a fascinating history in our culture. It is a color that is sad and joyous. It is the color of royalty and the color of the commoner. It is one of the rarest naturally occurring colors and yet is also the color most associate with both our planet and its two most prominent features: water and sky.

And it is a color that has been among the hardest to produce for dyes and pigments until relatively recently. It is a color that at one time was so prized in Western art that artists had it written into agreements how much patrons would provide for them, and it was reserved for only the most import subjects in art: Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

I will not attempt to rehash the history of blue here, but the links to the following YouTube videos will provide a more thorough (and entertaining) recap of this fascinating color:

My interest in the color blue is multifaceted. Historical, philosophical, material culture, and sociological. However, for this post, I will focus on a single aspect: categorical. Continue reading “Blue Dots: A Taxonomy of Hues”

America’s Best Ideas: The Voyager Missions and National Parks

By Michael W. Harris

The Golden Record

A little over three years ago, I wrote a post on why I believed (and still do) that the Voyager Missions and accompanying Golden Record is one of the best things that America has ever done. Part of my fervent belief of this is that the Record presents an aspirational view of humanity and our future. The Record as a goal for us to work towards. And part of why I wrote that, in 2016, as the world was starting to spiral into Trumpian Oblivion, was that it provided a counter to that negative outlook.

You see, I am a cynical person by nature. I have a deep repository of cynicism that I thinly veil with a healthy schmeer of sarcasm. I have, outwardly, lost all belief that humanity can dig itself out of the mess that we have created for ourselves. If a Cylon asked me if I believed that humanity was “worthy of survival,” I would probably (in my cynical view) answer “no” without skipping a beat. I would probably follow up with “Burn the motherfucker down. Honestly I am surprised we haven’t done it already ourselves. Sorry to make you go to the trouble.” And before I could take it back, the missiles would be launched to the strains of “All Along the Watchtower” and “bye, Felicia.” Continue reading “America’s Best Ideas: The Voyager Missions and National Parks”

Pancakes are Love (and Other Lessons Learned from my Grandmothers)

By Michael W. Harris

I still use the copy of the recipe I wrote down while talking to my Grandma Jackie.

There is a line in the 2008 Wachowski’s movie Speed Racer that, even though it is largely a throwaway line uttered by what will soon turn out to be the film’s villain, has always stayed with me: “Pfannkuchen sind Liebchen. Pancakes are love.” Now, Google Translate informs me that that is not entirely accurate, that “Liebchen” actually means “sweet heart,” but I still like the sentiment because pancakes will always be love, specifically the love of my Grandma Jackie. And I can totally hear her saying “sweetheart” to me.

Growing up, Grandma Jackie, my dad’s mother, and her pancakes were something I looked forward to whenever we visited St. Louis or spent our summer vacation fishing at Montauk State Park in southern Missouri, the Harris family’s ancestral lands (at least in the immediate past). In the very best Midwestern tradition, breakfast at Grandma’s was a true feast: sausage, eggs, bacon, hash browns, biscuits and gravy, milk, coffee, orange juice, and, of course, pancakes. It is no secret that Midwesterners love their food. The church potluck is basically a cliché for the Methodists and Lutherans, to say nothing of basically inventing tailgating. But our love of food goes beyond needing big meals to get ready for a long day working the farm. In the Midwest, food is love. Continue reading “Pancakes are Love (and Other Lessons Learned from my Grandmothers)”

Inspired By Modding -OR- How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love TWSBI

By Michael W. Harris

A TWSBI family portrait. Since this photo was taken 3 more have joined the family.

I have been “deep” into the stationery game for a bit over a year now, and I feel like I am starting to hone in on my tastes and figure out what I really like and dislike. However, some things still do surprise—such as just how much I liked writing with a Sailor King of Pen that a fellow Memphis Pen Club member recently bought. I had always assumed it would be way too beg for me, but instead I am now entertaining expensive thoughts. But of all my recent realizations a year in, the most surprising was saying to myself, “You know, I think I could get rid of most of my pens and be happy with just my modded TWSBIs.” Sure, there would be a few others I would keep, such as my so-called “Tier 1” pens, but this was a shocking thought, especially because TWSBI was one of the first brands I tried and quickly decided was not for me. Continue reading “Inspired By Modding -OR- How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love TWSBI”

Shine on You Crazy Raga: Pink Floyd, Jazz Improv, and Indian Music

By Michael W. Harris

It has been a long while since I wrote anything about music, so I am going to dip my toes back into an idea I have had since the days of teaching World Musics-Asia back at the University of Colorado Boulder: Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” off their 1975 album Wish You Were Here, is a perfect Western adaptation of the Indian music raga form.

Hear me out. I will not argue that they consciously or deliberately did this, I have no proof of that nor do I believe they did. Pink Floyd wrote “Diamond” to be a raga with the same amount of purposeful thought that they wrote Dark Side of the Moon to sync up with Wizard of Oz. Rather, I would just like to lay out my reasoning why it is a great encapsulation of the form, albeit done through the lens of Western musical style and tonalities. Continue reading “Shine on You Crazy Raga: Pink Floyd, Jazz Improv, and Indian Music”

Random Thoughts about Life, Librarians, and one certain Tuesday

By Michael W. Harris

The interior-exterior of Pickler Library at Truman State University

I began, rather unknowingly, my career in libraries one afternoon in September of my junior year at Truman State University. At that time I still had my sights set on a professional trajectory in music, either as a performer or teacher, with bassoon as my stock-in-trade. I mainly began working in the Music and Media Library as a means to earn my work study dollars, and I had an in with the boss because my sister had worked there previously. I would continue to work there for the remainder of my undergrad.

The next three years. Continue reading “Random Thoughts about Life, Librarians, and one certain Tuesday”

chapter one {Prelude and Earth’s Death: Depression and the Apocalypse}

Note: This post is part of my on-going “hauntology project” series. You can find all posts in this series using the category “hauntology.”

Melancholia is a difficult movie…no…a brutal movie to get through. It is a punishing two hours and fifteen minutes in which all the moments of rest and humor come in the first thirty minutes. And this includes the eight-minute montage of slowly moving, beautifully rendered, pseudo living paintings that culminates with the end of the world, all of which is set to the strains of Richard Wagner’s Prelude from Tristan und Isolde. It is a hard movie to watch, and is even harder to recommend.

I guess the upside, if there is an upside, is that if you can’t get through the entire film, at least you know the ending: the world ends. But how the film gets there—how it slowly builds as all mirth and joy leaves its world, and the viewer and characters are stuck in a claustrophobic, opulent country castle as the world grapples with apocalyptic happenings (and yet, you see nothing of that outside world on-screen)—is masterful to watch. It just isn’t enjoyable to view. Continue reading “chapter one {Prelude and Earth’s Death: Depression and the Apocalypse}”