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”

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”

It’s Alive!! Musings on the Nature of the Frankenpens

By Michael W. Harris

The Sailor Pro Gear Slim Purple Cosmos. I love this pen, but it is probably the most FOMO purchase I have made.

It is hard to be a fountain pen enthusiast and be of modest means. Budgets are really tight and FOMO is strong with the endless parade of pretty limited edition pens in swirling colors. You naturally want to get ALL THE THINGS, but rational thought, your bank balance, and the crushing reality that you can only use so many pens and inks in a lifetime (and you cannot take them with you) will, hopefully, bring one back down to earth. So, what is one to do to keep the fountain pen/stationery passion alive and well when you cannot plunk down $900 on a new Visconti at the drop of a hat? How can the stationery junkie in search of their next fix get it while also on a budget?

Some find that rush in the form of cheap Chinese pens bought from Amazon, Etsy, or eBay. Fun to explore, easier on the wallet, and many times mimicking the hot trends of the larger or more expensive brands (looking at you PenBBS faux Conid), these can be a way of exploring different aspects of the hobby without breaking the bank. Continue reading “It’s Alive!! Musings on the Nature of the Frankenpens”

Looking Forward, Looking Back: The Past and Future of The Temp Track

By Michael W. Harris

Pen, paper, and coffee…the beginnings of so many posts this past year.

It has been a year. While I did not go into 2018 planning on doing one post a week, that is how it ended up. It just sort of started, kept going, snowballed, and before you knew it I had a pattern established, and I am loathe to break patterns. And looking back, I am really glad I did it. It was part therapy during what was one of the most difficult periods in my life, part exercise in finding a good writing process as I try to integrate my love for the craft of the written word into my life, and part needing an outlet for some of the smaller scale projects that I want to pursue.

However, more than anything else, I just wanted to write more. I have always loved writing, and it is a big reason why I decided to do a PhD and not a DMA all those year ago. When I thought about which I would rather do, practice bassoon for eight hours a day or read and write for 8 hours a day…the decision was easy to make. And now, with (hopefully) my last degree a year behind me, another year of tumult and upheaval over, and job stability ahead, it is time to think about what the future of The Temp Track looks like.

After a year filled with gin reviews, musing on stationery, some rather personal essays that made some people worry about my mental and physical health (and I share those concerns…hence writing as therapy), and other random musing on life, the universe, and everything, what does 2019 look like?

Let’s first look back before we look forward, shall we? Continue reading “Looking Forward, Looking Back: The Past and Future of The Temp Track”

A Year in the Fountain Pen and Stationery Game: AKA My Top 5 (Personal) Pens of 2018

By Michael W. Harris

It is still (just barely) 2018, and I figured I would try and squeeze in one more post this year before my “state of the blog”/“year that was and is to come” post this coming Saturday. But the only reason I decided to do this post was that in thinking over the past year and the activation of my latent/dormant stationery bug gene, I began to muse on what would be my Top 5 pens that I have acquired over this first year diving into the hobby. What are the pens that I want to keep inked all the time if I could? What if I had to severely curtail my collection because of “reasons,” what would be the ones that I kept?

Platinum Higo Zogan: if its good enough for the G7 and Barack Obama, it is good enough for me.

I will say that there were some relatively easy choices for what to include, while others I had to think about. I have bought (and sold) a number of pens this year, and I love all the ones I have kept, but I haven’t spent a lot of time with some of them so they are harder to judge. For example, my Platinum Higo Zogan is a beautiful pen, and one that I bought as my present to myself for landing the Memphis job. However, it is not on this list as, for as much as I love the design, nib, and the way it feels in my hand, I still sense that I am getting to know it. Plus, I have found that the Platinum fine nibs as not my favorite, and I would to swap it for a medium or broad at some point, or maybe a Platinum specialty nib (like their music nib). Seriously Platinum (and Sailor), start making loose nibs easily available!

What I am trying to say is that my criteria here is rather loose and instinctual. What do I actively reach for when I am inking up new pens? What do I have to force myself not to use in order to keep other pens in my rotation? Continue reading “A Year in the Fountain Pen and Stationery Game: AKA My Top 5 (Personal) Pens of 2018”

Finding Happiness in the Dark: The Aesthetics and Beauty of Stationery

By Michael W. Harris

Pen, paper, and coffee…what more do you need?

I was a late user of Instagram, and it was only when I had found myself largely abandoning Facebook that I decided to dive into the photo-only world of the platform. I needed something beautiful and happy in my life. I needed something to bring me joy amidst the dumpster fire of the rest of the world.

I needed a purely joyful aesthetic experience.

I know that I am not the first to discuss the purely visual aspect of Instagram as it compares to the text forward medium/misery-pit of Facebook and/or Twitter. However, I have never considered myself a person to be driven the visual or even the beautiful. Yes, I appreciate beautiful artwork, a well-designed building, and so on, but to be so fully drawn into a purely visual aesthetic experience like Instagram was something I never considered to be “for me.” Continue reading “Finding Happiness in the Dark: The Aesthetics and Beauty of Stationery”

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”

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”

Of Pens and Gins: My Analog Revival

By Michael W. Harris

I love technology. Let me get that out of the way and established. I can build you a computer, install the OS, and get it on-line and running in just a few days. Need a home theatre system installed but don’t know a coax from HDMI? I can help you with that. Want multiple game consoles running into a single receiver with the ability to record to a PC for streaming your sick [Insert Current Popular Battle Royale Game Here] rounds? I can even get that sorted for you.

This is all to say that I am unafraid and embrace the tech…despite the fact that my most recent game consoles are the PlayStation 2 and the NES and SNES Classics. I have also ditched the home built PCs for a Surface, and my home theatre setup is now a lowly 2.1 system (when I used to have a full 7.1) with a regular TV instead of a projector. And in a sign of what is to come, that system still has a CD player and turntable hooked up.

In many ways, as the technology has gotten easier and less complex to use and install, I have scaled back my own setups—though multiple moves in just three years after living in the same place for seven also has a way of forcing one to scale back. But, in that same time, I have also been drawn to two decidedly older and analog hobbies, or maybe fascinations is a better term: pens (or stationery products in general and fountain pens more precisely) and gins.

I have already talked about the latter at some length, so I will largely set gin aside for now. So instead, let’s talk about the former: pens and paper. Continue reading “Of Pens and Gins: My Analog Revival”