How I Write a Pen Review

Chris Bowler said it best in his Tools & Toys article, On Mindfullness and Quality "...quality items not only endure, but they also endear." I've had an unspoken set of rules for the items I choose to spend money on, and subsequently review. Chris accurately put into words the three things I had been using to determine whether I buy something, how much I use it, and what value it brings to my life. Those three rules: Efficacy, Longevity, Quality.

Efficacy is the capacity or power to produce a desired effect. This is probably the most direct way you can calculate an item's value to your life. Do you reach for this item every time because you know it's going to perform and get the job done exactly the way you want? It boils down to how good is this thing at being a thing?

Longevity is the simplest of these to understand. Is this item made to last? This can be measured a few ways. Materials play a big part in how long something can last. I'm pretty sure my aluminum Karas Kustoms pens are bombproof, and my Saddleback leather wallet will supposedly outlast my lifetime, so the fact that I won't have to spend money to replace because they've broken is a nice feeling.

Quality is probably the hardest thing to measure. You often know it when you see it, and you sure as hell know it when it isn't there. Quality is the feel when you hold it, or when you dig into how a product was designed and produced. Filson bags or Field Notes notebooks are on different ends of the spectrum, but pick each one up and you'll get a feel for what quality means.

Though not all quality goods possess the qualities of efficacy and longevity, it's in the overlap with one or both of those features that magic happens. Those are the products that are worth spending the most time and attention finding, and then spending your money on.

My pen reviews aren't really like a lot of others. You won't find me breaking down the weight and size of the barrel, the engraving on the nib, or the virtues of a cartridge or converter system. There are a lot of reviews from great bloggers like The Pen Addict or Ed Jelly that will help you determine whether or not you should buy a pen. Those are always the first place I go when deciding what my next pen purchase will be too.

Pen reviews for me are about how they fit into my life. With each pen, I'm looking at those three factors, efficacy, longevity, and quality. For the most part, the pens that I buy fill a particular need and there isn't a ton of overlap. I said it in my Vanishing Point review, pens are meant to be used. If I'm going to spend, more than $150 on a pen, I want to know that I'm going to use it, and not just on occasion.

I care about how smoothly a pen writes in a Rhodia, or if a pen can handle being carried in my pocket next to a Benchmade, or if the refills a pen takes can give me the finest blue black line imaginable in my Field Notes. Those are the things you will find in my pen reviews.

That's not to say I don't buy some pens for just plain fun. I collect various Lamy Safari and Al-Star pens because I love the colors they come in, and it's a blast to them with inks of a similar color from my growing collection. Plus, it's always nice to have a reliable pen when someone asks to try a fountain pen for the first time.

At the end of the day, how well a pen meets those three criteria determines how much it is going to be used and how much value it brings to me. The more value a pen brings, the more favorable the review, and the more often I write with it, because, isn't that what pens are for?

Mindfulness to Intention

mindfulness, intention, lettering, brush calligraphy

My 2014 started on a couch; a wet nose in my face, a faint champagne headache, and a word bouncing around my head.

After letting my friend's dog out and waiting for his family to rouse from their new year's hangovers, we sat in the living room of a rented house and watched 'The Today Show.' Somewhere between Matt Lauer and the other starters and Hoda and Kathy Lee's wine-soaked antics, some guy (whose name and religious affiliation escapes me) was on to talk about choosing a single word to help define how you live your life in 2014. It sounded silly at first. One word to dictate how you behave for a whole year? No way.

But, I kept thinking about it. After spending 2013 floundering in an attempt to figure out what the hell to do with my life (no real luck there), I wanted a way to focus on what I was doing and why. A number of my favorite writers, Patrick Rhone, Leo Babauta, and The Minimalists, write about being mindful. It seemed that mindfulness was the perfect word to shape my 2014.

I'm not entirely sure how to judge how mindful I was in 2014. I don't know if it's something you can truly measure. I fell short of being mindful quite a bit (I cannot tell you how many hours I lost to Threes! which you should check out). But in some instances , I made it out okay. I committed to training for, and ran my first half-marathon. I job hunted in a new city, a process that was an emotional roller coaster. I moved my life to Austin, Tx, but I brought along my lovely girlfriend, Colore' Grace.

I was more mindful with my time and my passions in 2014. I took a class with the amazing Lauren Essl of Blue Eye Brown Eye to follow a rekindled passion from childhood. I then took a second class to grow that skill and build some amazing friendships. I devoted my time to improving my calligraphy and lettering, and shared some of that on my Instagram account and my blog. Slowly, very slowly, I started sharing some of the writing that I fill my Field Notes with every day.

All of these new habits, I carried with me into 2015. With the new year though, I didn't just want to be mindful of what I am doing, I wanted to have a purpose. Despite it's newly minted status as the buzzword du jour, I wanted to live 2015 with intention. Instead of simply being aware or mindful of how I spend my time/attention/money, I want to do things with a purpose.

At this point, I'm two and a half months into living 2015 with intention. I'm spending more of my time doing the things I love with the people I care about, and I'm making the most of the time that isn't entirely mine (my commute for example). I've been reading more, listening to an insane number of podcasts, and lettering and shooting photos with Colore more than ever. There is no better way I could think of to spend my time.

Perhaps the biggest impact in intentional living has come from adopting the habit of meditation. I started using the amazing Headspace to guide the process. Those 10-15 minutes every day help immensely. It is helping me learn to settle my mind and be more calm reacting to change and the ups and downs of life. I'll write more about the meditation habit once I've been doing it for longer, but as of this moment, I have a 72 day streak and I have no plans on breaking it.

On a daily basis, I'm filling memo books and my Hobonici Techo with my thoughts and ideas. I'll be using those to report on my progress, and I'll be checking in here every month. What do you do to help keep your intentions top of mind?

Give a Damn

give a damn

This is not something that you do for others. This is not about how others perceive you. This is how you live life and motivate yourself to do something. You are not here to sit around watching who-knows-what on TV all day. You can, and should, do something.

This, is how to give a damn.

  1. Wake up. Hit snooze a maximum of once. Getting out of bed is key to giving a damn, because if you don't make it out of bed, well, you're never going to get anywhere.
  2. Don't just consider taking a shower. Do it. People respond better when you present yourself as well-put-together. Smelling nice is part of that.
  3. Pick out some clothes that are more than just sweat pants and a t-shirt from the last college function you attended. Looking like a sloppy college kid doesn't tell the world that you want to be taken seriously. But hey, maybe you don't.
  4. Check the mirror before you head out the door, you did brush your teeth, right? Maybe tell yourself that you're the best or you're going to have a good day or some cheesy shit like that. Say it out loud. You don't even really need to believe it, something about saying it out loud might make it stick after a while.
  5. As you stand waiting for the next whatever you have to do to start, resist the urge to pull out your phone and check FaceTwitStagram for the 87th time today. You're not missing anything vital in the digital world. Instead, look at the people around you. Ask someone how their day is going. This time, really listen to the answer instead of thinking about what you're going to say next, or worse, what you're going to have for lunch.
  6. Pay attention in class, in a meeting, or with a customer. Or, uh, don't. If you don't care, try making it look like you do. Maybe it will make you start caring about what you do and the people you're around. That's never a bad thing.
  7. It's probably time for lunch now. Resist the urge to sit alone and stare into that little chunk of glass and metal and light for your entire meal. Catch up with someone you haven't seen in a while or, whoa, meet someone new. Assuming you're a remotely interesting person, you'll probably have something to talk about. Make sure not to check your phone as people talk to you, it shows people that their time and what they have to say isn't interesting enough for you. That makes you an asshole. Most people don't want to be assholes.
  8. Act like you do care about the quality of the work that you put out. If you're folding t-shirts, make those the best damn folded t-shirts the world has ever seen. If you're behind a register, talk to the people that you're helping, show interest in them beyond, "Your total is $8.76 sir," and they're likely to show an interest in you. If you're answering email at the office, make your responses clear and make every effort to help the people you work with. This stuff matters. It makes you feel better and people are far less likely to think that you're just a lazy millennial with no direction.
  9. Look at your social media persona. Do you really need to get into those stupid little arguments with people on Facebook? Do you really like that photo of someone's dog? Is there really a point to all that noise? Maybe it's time to put that aside for a bit. Not completely, but maybe you should spend more time engaging with the world in front of you than worrying about the digital world.
  10. Unless you're an absolute hermit, you're probably involved in something outside of school or work; a club, committee, some odd sport like pickleball. Look at your involvement in that. Did you follow through in creating a budget for the next meeting? Did pull your weight helping put on an event? Are you the best damn pickleballer you can be? If not, you should try more. Prove that you want to be there. Not for others, for yourself.
  11. Assuming you've done the work that you were supposed to do (riiiiight) it is probably time for some "you time." You could fire up the Xbox and pwn some noobs in Call of Duty and of course you have to catch up on the last season of Downton Abbey, but there are some many other ways to spend that time. Read that book you've been meaning to finish. Learn something that you would never learn in a classroom. Do something!
  12. At the end of the day, look back in the mirror. Was your day any better? It isn't nearly as hard as it all may sound. Be present in your own life and be a presence in other's lives.

All of this is not to say you cannot like playing video games, watching sports, reading blogs, or even checking Facebook. This is about focusing your attention on your every day actions and the way you present yourself. You should give a damn about something. Be interested. Be passionate. Be well put together. You don't need a sixty dollar haircut; handmade Italian loafers; a thousand dollar suit; just utilize what you have and make it work.

Look like you give a damn. Act like you give a damn. Live like you give a damn.

whatever this is


In some capacity, I have always been a writer. The heavy boxes of filled journals, diaries, and notebooks stashed around my apartment and my parent's house is proof of that. Now, I go through a Field Notes Memo Book every two weeks and I have no less than six fountain pens full of ink.

I wrote my way through elementary school developing a cursive that later became the foundation of my calligraphy. My mom insists on keeping a twenty-page chronicle of my summer vacation (complete with Yelp-quality reviews of the places we went, Carl's Jr. and Pizza Nova were highlights) that I wrote in third grade. Prolific may not be the word, perhaps thorough is putting it politely.

Pen and paper got me through the bullying and depression that came with junior high and high school. I wrote with a lot of anger and self-loathing, but it still helped me find myself. High school debate taught me how to sharpen my words and wield them in arguments with a semblance of finesse, much to the chagrin of my parents I'm sure.

College saw more notes and a bit more disposable income. I picked up a Lamy Safari my junior year and never looked back. My love for good pens and paper quickly became an obsession (with no help from Brad of The Pen Addict.

I picked up other passions along the way: photography, calligraphy and lettering, running, cycling, but I always return to writing as a way to work through my thoughts. Which brings me to whatever this is.

Given the number of notebooks I've filled (nineteen and counting in 2014), I have something to say. I want to share — my passions, my thoughts, my fears — little pieces of who I am. Sometimes, it will be things I need to hear myself. My hope is that putting them out in the world will make them stick for me, and maybe help someone else too. I can't promise it will always be good, but it will always be me.