Thursday, March 8, 2018

On Writing: Why I Write Pt. 2

 Now that we have the long and relatively boring origin story out of the way we can focus on more important things. The ideas that drive me to write. My “writer’s ethos” for lack of a better term. I’ve been told my motivation to write is both sentimental and romantic. That it lacks a lot of mechanical reasoning. I’m perfectly okay with that. I don’t ascribe to the idea that writing has to have a designed purpose. I’m comfortable with the thought of writing for writings sake. I’m also 100% behind writing for no other reason than to see ink flow on paper or to test the viability of lining up words together just for the pleasure of seeing them sit side-by-side. Writing does not require an end game, many times an end game would completely ruin what needs to be written; and I’m okay with that too.

I’m going to attempt to have a theme for the rest of these posts. This will be difficult for me, because I like to jump around and being constrained by one set of thoughts and ideas is often problematic when I’m writing something mostly from “scratch”. That said I’ll do my best to “color within the lines” as I’ve defined them for each post. The themes will take the form of whatever “reason” to write I’ve identified as being important. All of this is a loose set of rules I’m setting for myself and for you the reader. Since importance is really a poor word for what I’m trying to relate, which shows how long I have yet to go where writing is concerned; a better writer wouldn’t require this disclaimer.

For Part 2 I think we should start with a tangible “reason” to write. This is also likely the most applicable to my job at Karas Pen Co, since the tangible “reason” to write I’ll be covering will be the writing instrument itself. I don’t plan to land on many specific writing instruments since that’s largely subjective, but I will tie this all in to how writing instruments can prompt the act of writing, or foster it, or draw one to desire to write more. The focus will be on the implement itself, and I’ll delve into the emotional/psychological state I sometimes enter with specific pens and pencils, but only as it applies to the writing instrument itself. So much for the boring part of this post, let’s hope the rest of this is more enjoyable to read…and to write.

In the past, I never paid much attention to WHAT I was writing with. For the majority of my writing life, I just used whatever was handy or sometimes what felt comfortable (that really only applies to pencils in my case). When I was in high school and college I made the choice to ONLY write with pencils. My handwriting was far too sloppy for pen use, plus I often needed to erase entire lines of text and start over. Needless to say, pencils were a must. Then I joined the Army, pencils were rarely used. A pen that used black ink was the only acceptable utensil for writing. I used a Fisher Space Pen, the standard black slip cap one, for a long time. It served me for my entire first deployment and most of my second. But even that pen was really only a tool, it never impacted the writing experience in a direct way. I rarely used it for anything other than official documents, my letters were written in pencil.

By the end of my career in the Army I was doing most of my personal writing on a laptop. Journaling, poetry, and stories were all recorded in a stripped-down word processor that took up little space and was designed to hold LOTS of content. I separated from the Army, failed to backup all my files, and subsequently lost hundreds of documents both professional and personal. After that fiasco, I went through a period where my writing was entirely blogging and wasn’t very imaginative or very good. Then five or six years ago, I got into fountain pens.

My wife convinced me that a fountain pen could help improve my handwriting. I immediately went online and started looking at pictures of fountain pens, rather than finding reviews of fountain pens, something completely out of character for me. Needless to say, I ordered a 1940’s Sheaffer in that lovely green and black striated material off eBay. I had no idea the pen needed to be repaired until it showed up to my house, and in the space of a week I was off on a trip teaching myself fountain pen repair. This was the beginning of my education in how a writing instrument can dramatically change every aspect of writing.

There is something almost speechless about picking up a truly remarkable pen or pencil. Again, I’m not speaking to specific brands or styles, simply that a person can be a pen or pencil user for years and then one day they are handed a pen or pencil they’ve never used and it falls into their hand, the heavens open, and the Hallelujah chorus starts playing. This concept is one that I first found when I repaired a rather unremarkable looking Sheaffer Triumph Touchdown. The pen had been a beater and seen a lot of heavy use. It took all my skills at the time to repair it and something over 2 hours just trying to seat the rear plunger seal. But when I was done and the pen was inked up, I set it to paper and started writing and the experience was utterly amazing. It was unlike any other writing experience I’d had up to that time. I wrote a page of largely nonsensical statements and set the pen down. Immediately it was back in my hand, and I think I filled another five pages of random writing before I forced myself to stop writing. I’d experienced a pen that MADE me want to keep writing even when I had nothing else to say.

I’ve since run across this numerous times, with pens ranging from two dollar ballpoints to fountain pens costing hundreds of dollars. It’s always a unique almost unsettling experience, especially when the pen is owned by someone else and you have to give it back. But the experience is one, I truly feel everyone should have. It encourages writing in a way that other forms of encouragement simply can’t. It creates a desire to write that is external but serves to push in a way that isn’t nagging or driven by another human. It is also an external driver to write that can be fully controlled by the writer, so you never feel out of control during the process.

The correct writing instrument is also important because so much that we do today is digital. We discount analog instruments as being old fashioned or not user friendly. But the reality is - writing, not simply putting your brain on paper, but the analog process of writing engages the brain in ways that other forms of communication can’t. There are numerous studies listing the benefits of analog writing. Psychologists prescribe it as stress relief and for those that are experiencing anxiety from being in a constantly connected digital world. And the benefits only BEGIN at those points. I’ve come to understand one way to get over hurdles that are often present to new writers is finding that writer the correct pen or pencil. The right instrument that is comfortable, feels like a part of them, encourages them to write, isn’t too difficult to use, and speaks to who they are; all of these are elements that can turn writing from a chore into a daily experience.

For these reasons I highly suggest going out and picking up as many random pens and pencils as possible. Visit pen stores (yes the exist). See if there is a pen meet up in your area. Attend a pen show. All of these situations will bring you in contact with far more writing instruments than you could ever imagine existed. I would wager a new pen that if given a decent amount of writing instruments, you’ll find one that creates that “moment” for you, and I guarantee it will be a life changing experience.

Too many people are rushing around, spending their time texting frantically, Snapping or Tweeting and they are missing a truly experiential method of communication that transcends all other methods. Don’t be one of those people, I beg you. I truly wish that all of you would be able to find that pen or pencil that can take you from a person with immense amounts of creative potential to a person that willingly spreads that creative potential onto thousands of pages of paper. Unlock the writer waiting inside you, we all have one. It doesn’t have to be a bestseller to be worth a damn; your writer could help change the life of one random person that reads a message you wrote and left with the check at a restaurant. You never know just what you can do until you begin. I say all great beginnings start with a fantastic pen and a blank piece of paper.

Until next time…keep writing…

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

On Writing: Why I Write Pt. 1

I’ve most likely covered this at times in other blogs. I might have even written something with the same title, though likely not on this scale or with the level of introspection I’m going to put into this post. The reason I often come back to this topic, is that it is often on my mind. As a writer, I frequently receive comments or read articles or simply have a thought that prompt me to think about this topic. The answer isn’t always exactly the same, the origin story of my writing is the same, but the reasons or the important circumstances for that period of time might lead to respond differently. This series on “Why I Write” will take the reader from my origin story through many of the reasons I’ve landed on. Some of those reasons will be recurring and others will be one’s I’ve landed on and while I’ve remembered them, they might have only applied to that time in my life. Mostly I want to connect with the reader in a way that prompts them to consider why they write or perhaps help them experience writing differently.

Origins of a Writer

I write because I can’t draw. That statement is anathema to a lot of people. It comes across relatively strong and sure, but at the same time dismissive. You’re reading it but let me be clear I’m saying it in a way that should convey total confidence in you that I mean what I say. I didn’t grow up dreaming about being a writer. I loved to read, but I only fell on writing because I failed time and again at drawing. I grew up dreaming about being a comic book artist.

From the time I could mow a lawn, wash a car, and have a paper route; I read comic books. My mom bought my brother and I comics earlier which started my addiction to them. But she couldn’t afford it very often, so it was more of a luxury. When I was ten or eleven, I began doing small extra chores for money. Mowing our massive front and back yard for five dollars, washing the car for three dollars, I got paper route that paid something like forty-five dollars a month. There were a lot of things I bought: baseball and basketball cards, G.I. Joes, gum and candy, but comic books were at the top of the list.

I grew up in what I still consider to be the comic book revival. Comics fell off in the 80’s some in quality outside of books like Dark Knight and Watchmen there was a lot of garbage coming from the DC and Marvel. That combined with how poorly artists were paid for their work caused a major move in the comic book industry right at the time I was able to start buying comics with my own money. In the 90’s well-known artists left DC and Marvel and started their own studios. Image comics was the collective these studios worked under, and I feel in love with nearly every release Image put out in their early days.

Artists like Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, and Whilce Portracio left major publications, to create new heroes and villains with new artwork and coloring. Spawn, WildC.A.T.s, Cyberforce, and Wetworks along with numerous other titles were born. Unbeknownst to me they brought with them one of the best comic book writers of all time, Chris Claremont. I didn’t care about that, all I cared about was the art.

With a great burning desire I invested every leftover cent I had in sketchbooks, mechanical pencils, woodcase pencils, even colored pencils all in a vain attempt to create my own comic book. I checked out every book on drawing the library had (this was pre-internet so the library was a big part of my childhood) and began trying to teach myself how to draw. I went through hundreds of pages of dogs, cars, dinosaurs, sharks, and other random sketchable objects. Weeks turned into months and I flipped through sketchbooks, my heart sank as I turned each page. There was no improvement. I could sketch rough animals, was slightly better at buildings and cars, but when it came to people I was horrendous. There was no other way to put it, I couldn’t draw a person to save my life. If I couldn’t draw people, there was no way I could create my own comic book.

In a fit of anger and sadness I carried all of the sketchbooks to the trash and tossed them in. Took the leftovers and gave them to my brother. Returned the books on drawing and on a whim checked out Fellowship of the Ring. I barricaded myself in my room and came out when I was done with the series. A new light in my eyes. I went from a fantasy world of comic books to a fantasy world of words. Characters leapt off the page, the thousands of hours reading comics and attempting to draw had only honed my already well-developed imagination; and they enabled me to see every person, place, and thing in Middle Earth as if I was standing right there.

My brother had taken up the pencils and expanded to paints and other mediums. Where I failed at art, he flourished. Inside I was jealous and a bit angry, but he was my best friend and after a while I simply let it go. Art slowly faded as I finished more and more books, before long I was writing, albeit poorly. Derivative stories of superheroes or fantasy wizards and warriors. My brother and I began talking about collaborating on our own comic book. I’d write it and he’d illustrate it. We never did anything beyond a few panels; it is something I still wish we’d accomplished.

My writing overflowed in nearly every aspect of my life. I had always loved essays and reports, not I craved them. I read voraciously throughout junior high and high school and wrote pages upon pages. Everything from fantasy, to reports on small battles in World War II, to poetry, and even a few terrible rap lyrics. I wrote everything by hand until my junior year of high school when I bought an electric typewriter. I’d write by hand when I was out, then take over on the typewriter when I got home. I’d use a three-hole punch and put the typed pages in a binder with the handwritten pages.

Looking back on my origin story, I’m no longer sad and angry about not being able to draw. I found a different medium of creation and expression. Writing is a part of me, it’s integral to who I am and who I’ve become. It’s grown and changed with me as time has gone on. I went from thinking of it mostly as a tool that helped me through school and then later on to secure work to now considering it something of a trusted companion.

Writing is something that transcends the simple task of putting pen to paper. It’s more than arranging letters into words and words into sentences. For me it’s becomes a way to put myself into the very stories and poems I write. I leave part of myself in every piece. It’s not a conscious decision I make, it just ends up that way. What I write is important to me and so I take pride in it, but I also understand that what I write MIGHT be important to others. I just hope that others who read my pieces take away something from it, and maybe they get to know me a little bit in the process too.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Back to School Loadout Changes!

A new year and a new semester, and unlike past semesters and years this time I’ve got some cool new gear to show off! So I’m going to walk you through my previous loadout compared to my new loadout. Hopefully I don’t bore you along the way, but here we go.

I’ve been using something similar to the CamelBak H.A.W.G.500 since I started going back to school in 2015. The pack itself is from 2007, but it doesn’t show a bit of age. The hydration system is still pristine, all the MOLLE is still intact, the plastic snap/buckle system all still function, basically the bag is a BEAST. It’s slightly smaller than a run of the mill backpack/bookbag in both width and depth, but I’ve not found it hard to use except last semester when I literally had a class that required a book too large to fit. For that reason I went with a two bag system last year which worked well, but this was still my MAIN bag.

I’ll go down my must have’s that I loaded it out with. MiquelRius notebooks, I’ve talked about these at length before and will continue. They are far more difficult to find, in fact, I’ve yet to purchase any this year but last year I had four of the 5-Subject notebooks that I filled. I also kept a smattering of 15-20 pens (ballpoint and fountain), a REALLY cheap mechanical pencil, and some random colored pencils in my bag at all times. I carry iPhone accessories in a small cordura pouch from Yellow Birch Outfitters. It holds a charger, cord, and headphones perfectly and has a really small profile. That’s about all of the normal stuff from last year, I’ll get into more detail on my current loadout.

So recently Rickshaw Bagworks released their Cosmo briefcase. I love Mark’s designs, they are elegant but supremely functional and after looking at all the color combinations I knew I had to have one. I chose the Moss-Orange combination. It literally showed up today, so I’m a bit psyched about it still. Regardless it’s freaking AMAZING. If you want all the down-and-dirty details on the bag I HIGHLY recommend checking out Matthew Morse’s review of it. He did a solid job of cataloging the features and maybe I’m not as big of a bag snob as he is, because I don’t really have anything negative to say about the Cosmo. I have a 13 inch Macbook Air, and while I would like the 13 inch sleeve it would only be so I could remove just sleeve by itself. When used with it attached in the bag, the 15 inch sleeve works quite well. The fact that I can comfortably carry a 5-subject notebook and several books plus my laptop with me in a small briefcase/messenger bag is DOPE. My only regret is that it doesn’t have Velcro on the outside for all my patches, but it is supposed to be a little bit more professional so the patches will have to remain on my backpack.

As for the rest of my wonderful loadout. I’ve already mentioned my Macbook Air, it’s also new because this semester was the first where two separate professors said we’d need laptops in class. My old laptop did what old laptops do and died. So I used my student discount and grabbed this lovely gem. It’s fast, has the basics a student like me needs (word processing, internet, and a battery with LONG life). I decked it out with a Mosiso olive snap on case for added protection.

While I’m still search for an adequate replacement for my MiquelRius notebooks I’ve settled on far inferior Mead 5-Subject notebooks. They are NOT fountain pen friendly at all, so I’ve been forced (not really) to use pencils and rollerballs. For that I use a Zebra M-301 mechanical pencil, I’ll replace that with a Karas Pen Co pencil soon. I also carry a black Retrakt R-Type that I’ve swapped in a Pilot Precise V5-RT refill, it’s really the only rollerball refill worth using in my opinion unless you’re willing to spend money on Ohto rollerballs which are also superb. I do carry a grey Fountain K with EF titanium nib and a few other fountain pens (Sheaffer Snorkel, Omas Extra, INK, Carolina Pen Company custom) those are all currently uninked, and I’ll be adding my Lamy 2000 to the bag when I get home.

I have a couple of Field Notes notebooks, specifically the Starbucks larger-format with grid paper in the outside pocket but those two will go away and be replaced by a Nanami Seven Seas Crossfield, literally the best A5 notebook on the market. Perhaps the best notebook period, in my opinion. The paper is simply outstanding, the dot grid is perfect for writing or drawing (I’m not an artist but if I wanted to I wouldn’t’ have an issue using this to draw in). The lay flat design is comfortable. It really is just a superb notebook all the way around.

Besides that I have transferred my cordura pouch from Yellow Birch over. There’s also some random things in the Cosmo I won’t get into, you don’t need to know how many Ibuprofen or Zyrtec I haul around. I’ll likely find a few more things to add to it, but overall I’m super happy with the bag. It’s comfortable to carry with the padded shoulder strap and has just the right amount of space to carry what I need on a daily basis as I wrap up my last in-class semester before my internship. If you’re in the market for a quality EDC briefcase or messenger bag, this is the one!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Welcome to 2018, Now Here's Some Free Stuff!




As a company we do a LOT of giveaways. Whether that's traditional raffle giveaways, social media giveaways of various types, hidden pens, and other random giveaways; it's something we've done for several years. But we've never done giveaways on the scale you're going to see in 2018. For starters, we're running monthly random YouTube subscriber giveaways. If you didn't know about that, you've still got time to get in on that action. In February we're going to be adding monthly random Newsletter subscriber giveaways AND monthly random Facebook follower giveaways. We have yet to release the giveaway items for the Newsletter or Facebook giveaways in February, those will details are forthcoming, sometime before January 29th. We will also be doing random giveaways to members of the Karas Pen Club throughout the year, these will mainly be limited edition or very small batch/one-off items. If my math is correct that will be roughly 45 giveaways, but that's only the tip of the Giveaway Iceberg.

Our big announcement in terms of giveaways will involve a little more than simply subscribing to one of our social media channels. There will be a form you will need to complete that we'd like to get some feedback on to better serve our current and future customers. However, it's going to be worth it because the first 500 people that fill out the form will receive a free pen (one entry per person, duplicates will be deleted). Yes you read that right, we're going to giveaway 500 pens! No they won't be damaged pens, factory seconds, pens we bought from Target, or pens we found on the street. We're giving away Karas Pen Co pens. They will be assembled by our assembly staff and shipped out once you complete THIS FORM.

The form is only going to be used internally. Your information will not be given away or sold. We are not asking for any sensitive information beyond a name, shipping address, and an age range. The rest of the form is specifically focused on your preferences in terms of writing instruments. We really want to get a good idea on what YOU want to use, what YOU like to use, and what YOU'D like to see us do. That's not to say we'll be able to implement exactly what you are telling us, but when possible we'd like to use your ideas and feedback to potentially shape new product designs and releases. Are we getting something out of this? Absolutely, we are getting direct feedback, market research per se, but you're getting the chance to win a free pen and the possibility of seeing your writing instrument desires more better served. We hope you see it as a win-win.

So please, we'd like you to fill out the above form, it's fifteen required questions, one paragraph for your direct ideas that is not required, and some required information about you, the respondent. Make sure you fill out the form BEFORE you send the link to your friends and family members so you can get in earlier on the giveaway pens since we only have 500 of them. But we would like you to share the link to as many people as you can think of, especially people you don't normally associate with being "pen people". We want their feedback as well, and together we might be able to convert them to the "dark side" of Pen Nerd-dom.

Thank you for being such an integral part of Karas Pen Co and what we do. For taking the time to read this and complete the form and for being a part of our future as we go into 2018!

The journey continues this year to new and amazing places; trust me you won't want to miss what we have coming this year!