Unboxing the Box of Pen Addict Awesomeness (BOPAA)

Guess what package came in the mail?

It could have been my Planck keyboard, or my order from iHerb, but I don’t think their shipping label looks like this:


In case you hadn’t heard, Brad Dowdy of The Pen Addict became a full-time stationery person a few weeks ago, and launched Pen Addict memberships (I tried to make a “refill” joke, but couldn’t come up with a good one). One of the perks of being a Pen Addict member is the chance to win some “monthly giveaways of awesomeness”, and I have the honour of being the first winner of the Box of Pen Addict Awesomeness (BOPAA):

I’m not going to review the BOPAA in detail item by item — I don’t have a reviewer’s patience or meticulousness, and that’s what we have Brad and all the other amazing stationery reviewers out there for. However, as the recipient of the first-ever BOPAA, I feel it is only right to share the fun around a little.

Are you going to use that Field Notes?

Yes. I am.

I’m a recent Field Notes subscriber — I only subscribed from Winter 2015, so Snowblind is my first Colors edition. There’s a reason for that: until very recently, I hadn’t worked out a good pocket notebook system.

I’ve kept pocket notebooks for years, but I’ve tended to go for a smaller form factor than the 3.5” by 5.5” notebook, because that size gets beat up too much in my pocket. I tended to go for the really small Moleskine or Leuchtturm hardcover notebooks, which held up better than Field Notes.

A few months ago, I got myself a Fodderstack XL. What I really wanted was a Brasstown and a regular Fodderstack, but Nock Co had the Brasstown and Fodderstack XL in a limited edition Sky Blue/Bluejay colourway as a package, so I decided to get that — and it was the Fodderstack XL that found its way into my pocket, not the smaller Fodderstack.

A Word. Notebook ordered through Grouphunt, a caddy I made to hold Post-it flags and memos, and a Cold Horizon Field Notes that I picked up at some random shop that has since closed down, with a Pilot Metropolitan and a TWSBI Diamond 580 in the pen slot.

A Word. Notebook ordered through Grouphunt, a caddy I made to hold Post-it flags and memos, and a Cold Horizon Field Notes that I picked up at some random shop that has since closed down, with a Pilot Metropolitan and a TWSBI Diamond 580 in the pen slot.

So — with that problem solved, I am now very much a Field Notes user. And so, the Packet of Sunshine Field Notes will join its fellow pocket warriors in waiting:

Everything to the left of the index cards (Nock Co. DotDash) is partially used, and everything to the right of the index cards is new. See the leftmost Field Notes? That’s why I stopped using Field Notes for a while — I wore them down too much before I was done using them.

A stash of notebooks on my desk, ready to be called into action.

A stash of notebooks on my desk, ready to be called into action.

Are you going to use that Blackwing 1138?

Yes. I am.

This one is a much less straightforward answer. When Palomino announced the Blackwing subscriptions, I seriously thought about signing up — but while the Blackwings are easily my favourite pencils, I am not a frequent pencil user.

“Be reasonable,” I thought to myself. “What are you going to do with 48 pencils a year?”

“Use them,” said the devil on my shoulder.

I did not subscribe.

Palomino came out with the 725. I play a Fender Stratocaster.

I gritted my teeth and did not subscribe.

Palomino came out with the 211. One of the last things I got into before I left New York City in mid-2014 was hiking, and I joined a hiking club, Wild Earth Adventures, because I didn’t drive and needed a ride out to the trails. “Yadda yadda yadda John Burroughs yadda,” Charlie, our guide, would say. “Yadda yadda yadda John Muir. Look, there’s a deer footprint in the snow.”

I. Did. Not. Subscribe.

Palomino came out with the 1138. I groaned. I’m a filmmaker by training, if not by profession, and the 1138 was begging me to buy it. So I had a stern conversation. With myself.

“You are a user of things, not a collector of things!” I said sternly. To myself.

I thought I heard my collection of unread books, unused pens and unopened notebooks sniggering quietly.

The last time I remember having this conversation (with myself) was mid-January, and I went to bed feeling quite proud of myself for demonstrating such self-discipline and force of will.

The next morning, I opened my email and found this:

Ugh. Now what? Do I sharpen the pencil to use it, or do I keep it and admire it and show it off to visitors? “Let me show you one of my most-prized posessions!” I could say. I could open my drawer, gingerly retrieve a solid beechwood box and unclasp it to reveal…

“It’s just a pencil,” my visitor would say.

“No, it’s a Blackwing 1138!”

“Well, it sure is a fancy pencil…”

“Do you know who gave it to me? Brad Dowdy!” I’d say.

My visitor would look awed and amazed.

“The guy from Mr. and Mrs. Smith?”

“… Yes. Yes, that’s it,” I would say, and then excuse myself, sit on the toilet and cry.

Long story short, I got myself a Blackwing subscription, so that I could have my pencil and use it too.

My Blackwing 1138 in its rightful place, among its fellow pencils in a sea of pens and Sharpies. Pinocchio pencil just casually hangin’ out.

My Blackwing 1138 in its rightful place, among its fellow pencils in a sea of pens and Sharpies. Pinocchio pencil just casually hangin’ out.

Enough with the grandmother stories, loot please!

Okay, okay.

What’s great about this BOPAA is that a lot of this is stuff I’d love to try, but that I would never have bought for myself. The Rhodia ColoR pads, the Sailor Storia inks, the markers — you don’t need me to tell you this, but Brad has great taste in stationery.

(Except for what you said about the Staedtler 925-25 in Episode 152. What is wrong with you?)

Loot time:

I don’t really use pigmented inks, but I can definitely get behind a good purple. Violet pride!

Steady hands. No tripod. Depth of field is probably 3-4 millimetres. 

Steady hands. No tripod. Depth of field is probably 3-4 millimetres. 

I’ve used a Propus before, so this one isn’t new to me. At the speeds I highlight, the Propus window isn’t terribly useful, but it does work. Personally, my highlighters of choice are the Pilot FriXion Light series, which kind of obviates the need for a tip window.

I got a bit too excited and tested most of the loot before I took pictures of it, so you see some staining on the Propus highlighters.

I love the smell of notebook in the morning.

I love the smell of notebook in the morning.

I don’t know what you do with a notebook that you’ve never tried before, but what I do is put it through its paces with my most regularly-used writing implements.

Here's my Palomino Blackwing 602 at the Steinbeck stage. I think I bought this at Foyles in London, nearly two years ago. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that it’s taken me nearly two years to get one pencil to the Steinbeck stage. I promise to use my Blackwing subscriptions more diligently than this.

On the other hand, it’s got an orange eraser.

I scanned the test page into my HP Envy 4500 printer, and here’s what the scan with default settings looks like:


Forgive the weirdo Jinhao Frankenpen line, I’m still learning how to flex a nib. The Sailor Storia Magic Purple acquitted itself admirably — it’s easily the best ink I’ve used with my glass pen, which may or may not have to do with the fact it’s a pigmented ink. I’m going to have to find some excuses to use it now.

The five highlighted lines were written with the Tactile Turn Mover, so that’s Pilot G2 ink that’s smearing.

What is really impressive about the Rhodia ColoR pad is what's on the back of this sheet:

Other than a couple of tiny, tiny splotches thanks to my poor flex nib control, there is zero see-through and zero bleedthrough. Of all the writing paper I’ve tried, this is the only one that’s had this result. I’ve managed to bleed through Tomoe River paper with my Jinhao Frankenpen, so this is some crazy paper.

All right, it’s time to put the toys away. The highlighters and markers will go to the little designated spot for highlighters and scrapbooking stationery on my desk:

Meanwhile, the Sailor Storia Magic Purple will go in the ink cupboard until it gets called up for duty:

Nothing personal, I like the Magic Purple just fine, but only a few inks get refilled often enough to stay on my desk. Kon-peki, Yama-budo and Heart of Darkness are the only inks with permanent spots, and everything else is negotiable. As you can see, Magic Purple is in some mighty fine company up there in the ink cupboard.

So that’s it: that’s what I’ve done with my Box of Pen Addict Awesomeness.

Thank you, Brad. May all future BOPAAs be as awesome as this one.

An Overhaul

Geez, I haven't written here in 16 months.

I started this site more or less in college, when it was set up to be a sort of portfolio-blog, a place where I could showcase both my audiovisual work and academic writing for the purpose of eventual employment and/or graduate school. Those concerns are no longer relevant, and a lot of the stuff that's housed here no longer makes sense to keep online.

For this reason, I've decided to archive most of my blog and parts of my portfolio, so for the time being everything will be in bits and pieces as I move things around.

I'll continue to write, but what about, I don't know yet. Probably a bit about side projects, language, travel, reading, film, documentary, theatre, music... and a lot about everyday carry and pens.

Why people protest

I wrote this three days ago, before the Hong Kong protests turned violent.

This morning I had a conversation with someone who, apropos of nothing, said, " What they're doing in Hong Kong is stupid and isn't going to work. You think China will give way?"* It's a comment that betrays that peculiarly Singaporean "pragmatic" approach to life, the universe and everything. It's also the kind of comment that pushes all my buttons.

What does it mean for a protest to "work"? Presumably, the protesters are protesting for a reason, and there are concrete demands that the protesters want to see met. So I suppose we can say that one view of it is that a protest "works" when the protesters get what they want.

This is an awfully utilitarian -- and awfully naive -- view of protest, in my opinion. The very nature of protest is that it is always directed by those without power against those with power.** Anyone who has the power to effect change without protest would effect change without protest. Because of this, most protests always look like -- and feel like -- they are going to fail, at least in the beginning.

That is also why protests can feel like they skirt the edge of legality: precisely because by the time a protest happens, the protesters have already tried nearly all the institutional channels for change and failed to achieve their aims. Singaporeans, believing in the inerrancy of the government, might feel that this shows the illegitimacy of the protesters' objectives -- "if you asked for change and didn't get it, the change you wanted must have been a bad thing" -- but that is merely a symptom of our collective political illiteracy.

So why do people protest?

Think about what people risk to be part of a march, a sit-in, a strike, a picket line. They give up their time and energy and money. Often that time and energy and money is not trivial: it is the livelihood that their families depend on. They risk retaliation by the very powers that they protest against. No less significant is the fact that they risk the comfort and stability of known quantities for the mere hope of something better. Why? Because they are convinced that they or someone they identify with is suffering an injustice; because the present situation has become so intolerable that even the shadow of something better is worth fighting for.

And that, I think, is why people protest: to bear witness to an injustice.* Yes, protests always have stated political aims that are part of the "why" -- but people join protests even when they feel that the hope of actually effecting change is miniscule, so that cannot be the sole motivation. So perhaps the protest "fails", in the sense that the protesters don't get what they want. But what cannot be denied is that they drew attention to their cause and invited people to join it if they felt the same way; a protest says, "hey, this thing is happening, and we don't like it, and we want it to be known." That is the spirit that drives protest.

* God only knows what this person thinks of protests to show solidarity. To be fair: I used to think they were stupid too. I don't any more. ^

** My INFP stripes are showing. ^

*** Somewhere in my files I have an essay that I wrote for class, arguing that the purpose of a documentary is to bear witness. ^