Archive for March, 2010

Inking on a Rainy Afternoon

I thought we were in for Spring weather, but March certainly is fickle in Ohio…


Pen Review: Parker 45

I posted recently about the Parker IM, which I bought for a friend through the ebay seller lewertowski. Of course, I took advantage of the opportunity to test out a Parker for myself, so I also purchased a blue Parker 45 with a medium nib.

The Parker 45

Parker 45 in package

Interestingly, the (gold-nibbed) Parker 45 came in cheaper packaging than the steel-nibbed IM. I guess I always assume that a gold nib means higher quality overall, but that’s certainly not true. The IM came in a solid plastic case, almost like a glasses case, while the 45 came in this thinner clear plastic case. I appreciate less packaging as a general rule, but the plastic is wasteful in both pens’ packaging.

Cartridge included

So the Parker 45 includes both a converter and a cartridge, while the IM came with only a cartridge. However, the cartridge included was one of those pull-catridges, as opposed to the twist (piston converter) that I’m used to. I also have no idea what the little metal ball is for– does it help with the physics of the suction, I wonder? If anybody has an answer, I’m curious to know. In any case, I ended up purchasing two higher-quality piston converters, one for the IM and one for this pen.

The included (lower-quality) cartridge

Old converter (top) and newer converter (bottom)

So here’s the catch. I was under the impression that the standard Parker converter would fit the Parker 45 (maybe I mis-read something in the ebay description). And certainly the newer converter fits, but I don’t think it fits quite perfectly. It seems to “plug in” fairly well at the very top, but then leaves a gap between the cartridge and the body of the pen, which leads to it seeming a bit loose. I think you can see in the picture below:

That slight gap causes a "wiggly" converter

Nonetheless, the converter worked– I’ll have to switch them out in the future to see if the other converter performs any better. On to the writing experience…

Parker 45 nib

Ah, a lovely semi-hooded nib. I don’t often write with medium nibs, so this is a bit of a new experience for me. I’ve found that I have to adjust my handwriting, because otherwise a medium nib obscures all the smaller letters. Still practicing! But this nib makes for a lovely writing experience, not flexible but definitely soft enough to have some nice line variation. The medium nib almost has some stub-like qualities, with the downstrokes being wider than the cross-strokes. and it leaves a wide enough line for some lovely shading. I also found that this nib allows for a big difference between writing at a low angle and at a more upright angle (with the pen being more perpendicular to the page).

The only drawback I’ve found is that, compared to the Parker IM’s steel nib, this nib sometimes has trouble starting up at the beginning of a stroke. I can’t tell if I’m rotating the nib, or if the flow just goes dry, but it is a bit obnoxious in any case. You can see an example of this in the last picture.

Gifts are Everywhere

One of the things I love about Lewis Hyde’s The Gift (which I recently wrote about here) is that, after reading it, gift giving shows up everywhere. Hyde calls this phenomenon the “gift economy” — and considering this guy decided to do this after being laid off from his job, I think the economic comparison is entirely appropriate.

The gift economy can only exist in small groups: in tribes, religious communities, etc. I think part of what appeals to me about the gift economy is that it describes rurality— the way that rural areas develop communities of gift giving, with both the positive and negative traits. You can’t raise a barn by yourself, you know.

Yet Reed Sandridge (the guy in the article) is a perfect example of taking the gift economy into large cities– where it may not develop into a whole economy, but it can certainly surround an individual. Beautiful.

Pen Review: Parker IM/Profile

So a good friend (another English major) recently lost his pen case, which had all his fountain pens, and cheapies too. It’s always a bit of a heartache when a writer loses his or her tools– I still get pretty emotional about having a journal stolen in high school. So I wanted to buy him a starter fountain pen to begin rebuilding his collection, and I found some great prices on Parker and Waterman fountain pens through the France-based ebay dealer lewertowski.

Parker IM case

The Parker IM is no longer in manufacture, but still fairly available, especially through international dealers. It comes in a charcoal plastic case, and although it doesn’t come with a converter it does include a cartridge. Instead, I bought the “luxe converter” (again, through lewertowski’s ebay store), which is definitely a high-quality converter and fits perfectly.

Soo, I kind of love the body of this pen. Although it’s plastic, it’s definitely well-made and doesn’t look or feel cheap. The “girth” (is that a technical term for fountain pens?) is fantastic for those with larger hands, or, in my case, for those with carpal tunnel who can’t grip slender pens 😦

Cap-side view

"butt-side" (definitely not a technical term) view

I love the blunt ends of the pen body. They make the whole pen feel sturdier, and I think they probably add to the weight of it as well. One benefit of this design is a pleasurable experience when posting the pen: the cap encounters some air resistance when being posted, and thus sort of slides down gently (though securely) into position.

ah yes, the nib!

The Parker IM comes with a steel nib, and I chose a fine nib. The design is very simple, with no shoulders or breather hole. Richard Binder describes it as a “long thin ‘spike’ feed,” which was later adapted into the Parker 75. I have no experience with Parker fountain pens, so I don’t know if they traditionally run wide– but this one certainly does: it writes like a Lamy medium.

As for the writer experience, this nib is super super smooth. It never had any trouble starting up right away, and didn’t skip or leave any uneven lines. I’m not sure how it would write with a dryer ink, but I filled it with Tahitian Pearl and it writes beautifully. There’s no line variation (unlike the Parker 45), but it leaves a wide enough line for some shading.

As for a summary, I’d definitely recommend this pen for someone looking for a sturdy and reliable daily writer, for someone on a low budget, or starting out with fountain pens.

Tell Me, What’s An Artist To Do With A Gift?

No matter what the “answers” are, a good place to start looking is in Lewis Hyde’s “The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World.” This book, along with Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” is one of the two foundational texts for my ever-evolving ethic of Rurality. Not to mention, it changed my life (you know, how beautiful it is to say that about something without any irony!)

Brief summary, before moving on to the topic of this post

The Gift was published in 1983, and on its journey to becoming a “modern classic” (as described by the back cover), it has been recognized by writers like David Foster Wallace, Margaret Atwood, and Zadie Smith. In fact, (before I ever attended Kenyon or took a class with Lewis Hyde,) I remember Foster Wallace being a bit giddy in one of his essays about Hyde…

Basically, Hyde argues that art (in today’s world) exists simultaneously in two economies: a gift economy, and a market economy. Art’s natural economy is the gift economy– something that emerges from a gift to the artist, and given away by the artist. The gift economy is one that is constantly moving (instead of accumulating, as it happens in a market economy). And of course, because art is a gift and not a commodity, this means that there is nothing in the process of making art that assures an income. Which brings me to…

Act III. The Artist Graduates.

…by which I mean, of course, me. I’ve been trying very hard not to let my angst about graduating seep into this blog– which might explain the lack of text-based posts lately, and the proliferation of image-based posts. In any case, my angst is no different than any student who has chosen a major that doesn’t exactly buy into the market economy. My resume looks something like this:

English Major concentrating in Creative Writing, with a Women’s and Gender Studies Concentration. General Rural Academic has experience in nonprofit work (i.e. Habitat for Humanity) and nonpaying work (i.e. being a Woman Farmer). Also has experience being a freelance artist, but that was before she had to pay her own health insurance. Knows how to buckle down under The System (waited tables in high school) but would rather not do it again. Seeking a creative, collaborative position after graduation, and not in the euphemistic Human Resources sense.

So. What I’ve noticed (as graduation creeps ever-closer) is that even a small liberal arts college like Kenyon is fostering doubts about the legitimacy of a creative person in today’s world. First of all, I’ve never been so busy with meaningless work in my life, which has left almost no time at all for me to research post-grad options. (And to think that college is supposed to help open up options for life after graduation! Sigh.) Second of all, Kenyon functions, at a very foundational level, as a good ol’ boy network– one with strong ties to Wall Street and “old money” alums. As a lower-middle-income woman student, I’ve consistently felt excluded from this networking system. And yet, despite all the evidence that this network would only connect me to corporate positions, I still have a lingering jealousy of the possibilities that rich alums can offer.

What I want is alternatives— the “third option” between selling out and living in poverty –that I know exists, but that the Career Development Center hasn’t been able to help me explore. In fact, the Career Development Center is fairly mystified as to why I would want an alternative path.

Not Quite a Solution

So I am spending this spring break writing, and reading, and making art– and flailing around the internet for futures. It’s funny how I feel so open to a thousand different possibilities, and yet researching job websites on the internet is making me feel closed-minded. Wanting to do something subversive? Something creative? Something that I might feel passionately about? …Well that’s just unheard of.

…but if you do hear of anything, drop me a line.

Yet another exam season

…making me neglect my blog again. My apologies! It’s funny how being so mentally stimulated elsewhere in classes makes it so difficult to collect my thoughts without some sort of prompt or essay question. I haven’t asked myself in a long time, “what do I want to write about?”

Maybe I want to write about gender, which is the central topic in my senior seminar for Women’s and Gender Studies majors. I seem to be on a different wavelength than the other women in the class–and although we have a fantastic class dynamic, I do feel some underlying discomfort and isolation. I think a lot of this has to do with our differing economic and social backgrounds– most of my peers have come from high-income prep or boarding schools, and a lot of the reasons why they take WGS classes is because they’ve experienced objectification from men, and struggled with body image and eating disorders. Women’s and Gender studies has helped them to assert a sense of self, and self-worth.

The reason that I take WGS classes, on the other hand, is for humility. Looking at the larger histories, society, and cultures, reminds me that I am not a totally independent and autonomous being– that I am very much shaped by these larger forces. And it has forced me to take responsibility for my participation in those larger forces: my privilege as a white person, for example, is connected to the oppression of a non-white person, and I have been complacent with that most of my life.

Although this sort of education has at times led me to feel guilty, shameful, and even sometimes utterly heartbroken and full of sorrow, it has also pushed me past that point– to a place of connection, communication, and healing. I’ve had to learn how to confront my pride and listen— just listen, openly and humbly, without defensiveness or anger –to other women’s experiences, and to feel empathy for them… and sometimes, to feel a little righteous anger on account of the sheer injustice that surrounds the lives of women.

I say this because much of the tension in my seminar tends to be about issues of appearance, and self-presentation. A lot of the women in my class have a paranoia about stereotypes of feminists– that they’re masculine, butchy, etc., etc. And they are also conscious that simply dressing in a different way doesn’t in itself lead to liberation, which is absolutely true. In fact, many of those “alternative communities” can have equally strict rules about how to dress in order to fit a certain identity. So as a result, the other women in my class tend to still dress femininely almost all of the time… and I definitely do not.

This relates back to my experience in gender studies being a process of humility. Because my education has been a process of de-emphasizing the self, I no longer view my appearance as an extension of my “Self”– that is, my identity. And actually, this has been an excellent way to think about (or not think about) how I present myself to the world. It has allowed me to develop a sense of playfulness, particularly in terms of appearance (what we call “gender performance” in gender studies classes). Now, I make playful (or playfully political) decisions about how I want to dress, or wear my hair or makeup, in different contexts– because I don’t feel any angst about that appearance being connected to some sort of “boxed in” identity.

So, for example, I wear my hair short at Kenyon. I do this because a) I enjoy the low-maintenance style, b) because it makes me feel empowered, and c) I feel uncomfortable with the attention I get from men when I wear my hair long. BUT, I also wear my hair short because d) no women at this college have short hair! And yes, I do believe that it’s really important to have a diversity of appearances in any given context, because otherwise you’ll never know that there are other possibilities! And this diversity of appearances applies to more than “femininity” –it also has to do with racial diversity, and diversity of backgrounds. So yes, my short hair is a political decision– and a personal decision, and a playful decision. I’m sure I’ll have long hair after I graduate, in some different context later in life.

A moment of deviousness my Junior year (last year)

I do think that the fact that most of my peers still dress femininely almost 100% of the time does say something about their methods for liberation. I think it represents an (unconscious) unwillingness to give up the privileges that go along with dressing femininely. The result of this is that these women are unable to connect with the experiences of women who don’t dress femininely– and I don’t think that that is a productive feminist method for liberation.

I have to make similar requirements for myself. Even though I’m more comfortable dressing androgynously, or gender-neutrally, I think it’s important for me to wear a dress every once in a while. It helps me to remember what it’s like to be a woman walking around the world in a dress– the different ways that people look at you, talk to you, make eye contact with you, etc.

My point of all of this is: It’s important to transgress. But it’s also important to feel comfortable.

(It’s important to do both.)

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