I finally got the section off that obstinate Spors glass-nib fountain pen. I cleaned out the remnants of the old sac, and it’s ready for replacement as soon as I can order a sac of the appropriate size (the Spors turns out to take a very narrow ink sac). But in all its fluorescent marbled red glory, this pen will write!


I am quietly cursing Frank Spors for having the section glued into the fountain pens he imported, “so that the user will not ‘be so apt to take it apart, twist the ink container (sac) all out of shape and then finally blame the pen.’ ” I’ve been at it for twenty minutes with a hair dryer (not straight through — alternating with gentle twisting), and the section isn’t budging.

Visual Aids

Here are photos of the pens I worked on yesterday. I have another on the table; I’ll probably have at it with polish tonight as Margaret and I catch up on LOST.

Sheaffer Balance


Sheaffer Balance

This is the Sheaffer Balance. The crack runs slong the bottom edge of the lower photo.

No Name Red Celluloid

This is the no-name red pen. No crack, but you can see the pronounced distinction between the two halves of the barrel. Still, it’s a pretty thing, and (as I said) it writes nicely. I want to work on my pen photography (though I know enough from long-ago involvement with commercial photography tyo know that I don’t want to make a huge production out of it).
I also took photos last week when it actually snowed in Durham; here are a couple from that batch.

Snow In Durham


Snow In Durham

Satisfaction And Frustration

Among my many minor competencies, we may now number fountain pen repair and restoration, as long as we emphasize the “minor” part of the phrase. This afternoon I disassembled a smallish Sheaffer; it looks like a small version of an Balance, though not a Lifetime model (no white dot). It’s 4 5/8″ when capped, a lever filler with beautiful carmine pearlescent stripes, and a #5 Feathertouch nib.
The ink sac was the only real problem with this; I extracted the hardened remnants of the sac that had been installed, carefully scraped off the glued-on residue on the section, and attached a new sac. I polished and buffed, buffed and polished, and the renovated pen is quite a beauty. Sadly, it turned out to have a hairline crack from the lip of the cap well up toward the top of the cap. I’ll see about having a more skilled restorer have a crack at it. The pen writes smoothly; the nib doesn’t flex noticeably, but it’s a steady, firm writer.
In the same mail, I received another red celluloid (no-name) pen, but this one defies my every effort to unlock. It doesn’t have a lever; the barrel is bisected rather clumsily, as though it were supposed to unscrew (further down than I’d expect for a blind cap). The section won’t yet let go, and the nib likewise resists my gentle ministrations. Pippa claims that it’s an undercover ballpoint, but I think it’s just a handsome cheapie that hasn’t yet yielded its secrets. I’d give it a soak, but I’m slightly worried about the celluloid. On the other hand, if I can’t get the pen working, the celluloid will remain a secondary issue.
[An hour later: Patience and heat (wet heat in this case, after I tried dry heat for a long while) paid off; the upper portion of the barrel eventually twisted off, revealing a plastic piston. When I finally freed up the piston, it drew and expelled water satisfactorily, and now has proven its mettle as a firm writer.]

Bright Day

The weather is lovely. Pippa and I had cleared out the spare room so as to make room for our Brendan to stay there. We moved the futon from Margaret’s and my room into the spare room (later, we’ll explore the possibility of putting some boxes under it to elevate it), and Michael the friendly, efficient mattress-delivery man dropped off our new mattress. We went shopping and came up with some miscellanea for fixing up several household items. The mail brought an honorarium and travel-expense check for my Missouri travels, but also a very handsome Eversharp Skyline fountain pen from the bishop. Plus, I had won a snazzy Pelikan in an eBay auction, which also arrived today. It’s a terrific day.

Sundry Stromateis

  • Margaret and I used to feel isolated when we had to explain our un-schooling practices (it’s all made somewhat easier by Nate’s and Si’s shockingly successful transition to higher education), but even the NYTimes seems to have noticed unschooling, with gently neutral approbation.
  • The proprietor of a fountain pen site (I commend his Dollar Pens as inexpensive, light, classically-styled everyday pens) generously invited me to join his page of writers who use fountain pens. I wrote a few paragraphs about remembering my father’s Sheaffer 304 translucent-body pens, my mother’s Osmiroids, my own Rapidograph from student days, and so on. While I was writing my response, though, I realized that my appreciation of fountain pens goes beyond mere deliberate archaism, beyond family nostalgia, and involves the multiple kinesthetic and cognitive aspects of handwriting with a fountain pen. I exhort students to work on their composition by urging them to make beauty with words; handwriting with luscious inks, in fine arcs and lines, feeling the nib on paper, and selecting the best words in the best order, engages more of me than does simply typing on my keyboard.
  • Something else I haven’t remembered yet.

Meet Me In Missouri

No, please, don’t — it’s a retreat center out in the middle of nowhere, and I don’t have a long visit anyway. But it’s great to see Ralph McMichael, who brought me out here; and I got to see baby Harper Benko (along with her mom and dad). And Bishop Smith quoted Frank Weston to close his address to the clergy, and he indicated that he collects and restores fountain pens. Now, that’s a bishop!
Tomorrow I have three addresses to give, then I get to collapse in a heap.

Not Drowning, Just Waving

Hard at work writing and incubating my presentations on Mark’s Gospel for next week. I’m working out the series as a supplementary response to Frank Kermode’s landmark The Genesis of Secrecy, framing Kermode’s interpretation from the standpoint afforded by my differential hermeneutics of signifying practices (though I won’t pelt the diocesan clergy with all that jargon). After I sketch my response to Kermode, I’ll demonstrate how the way of reading that I commend would pertain to a Markan ecclesiology.
Ryan pointed me to this article about written English by the late David Foster Wallace; Wallace hits a number of extremely well-balanced points, and I commend it highly. (Unfortunately, the PDF is very hard to read on-screen; you’ll want to print it out.)
Hey, how about the economy? If I were going to be choosing a year in which to become unemployed, this wouldn’t have been my top pick; I’m a little antsy about the whole “find a job by the end of the year” project. Ron points to the impact that the Wall Street convulsions are having on his street.
Sue Garrett pointed me to this “Pearls Before Swine” comic as a conversation-starter about hermeneutics.
I may not have mentioned recently how proud I am of my wife and daughter (and, longer-distance, my sons).
I do like my fountain pens. They provide a marvelous distraction from other matters to which I really, really ought to be paying more attention. On the other hand (“on the other hand, I have inkstains!”), I write more productively when I hand-write my brainstorming and first drafts. I broke out my No Nonsense Pen this morning for writing, and was startled at how beautifully that inexpensive, somewhat homely instrument writes. If only they had invested just a shade more elegance in the design, and were still producing the classic version of the NNP (not this rubberized-grip, long-section parvenue)!


I’ve admired fountain pens as long as I can remember. I recall my father’s Shaeffer Student cartridge pens, with which he recorded students’ marks in a weathered gradebook; I remember the hefty pens from visits and films, that I associated with elegance and class; I remember the Rapidograph that I brought back from France when I was in high school, and my mother’s Osmiroids with italic nibs. I have picked up miscellaneous pens over the decades: a few translucent Shaeffer Student pens of my own, some No Nonsense cartridge pens, Osmiroids of my own, the handsome Mont Blanc pen that my mother gave me when I got my Ph.D., the salmon marbled Esterbrook J pen that she handed down to me, a Pelikan from Margaret, a Stypen in which Nate lost interest, a Pelikan Future pen I bought on a whim. Some are still in the mug on my desk; some have eluded my attention and escaped to further adventures in someone else’s hand.
During my birthday season, I’ve returned to my primal fascination with fountain pens and gone on a mini-spree (hey, they’re a lot cheaper than sports cars) and replenished my fountain pen mug. I supplemented the Pelikan Future with a Lamy Safari; together they’ll provide the simple work-a-day pen support for my writing. I tracked down a couple of Esterbook J’s to complement the one from Mom (I’m a big-time sucker for Esterbrooks — though they don’t have the prestige of the costlier pens, I love their appearance and the way they write). I picked up a few Shaeffer Student pens from eBay, since (as it turns out) they no longer make those simple, hard-working cartridge writers. While I was on eBay, I spotted a couple more distinctive pens: a clear plastic Waterman Phileas, and a translucent purple Waterman Kultur (I can’t explain that one; it was auction fever). I’ll carry the Esterbrooks or the Phileas for more formal occasions. And I’ll love every jot and tittle of them (and every blot on my fingers).
Plus, it’s something Scot McKnight and I can agree about!

Six Unimportant Things Before Breakfast

Jordon tagged me for a trivially revelatory meme, and since (by definition) it won’t touch on anything momentous, I’ll honor his request.
“Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.”
One, I became a (lifelong, so far) Baltimore Orioles fan when I was a kid growing up in Rochester, NY. My favorite players on the Redwings would be called up to play for the Orioles — so I became a fan of the O’s by virtue of being a fan of Mark Belanger (Crikey, I didn’t hear he had died! What a shame!), Wally Bunker, Fred Valentine, and Luke Easter (Luke Easter was batting coach for the Redwings in the day; somewhere my mom or dad has a photo of me perched in Luke Easter’s arms at Southtown Shopping Center).
Two, I’ve used varying forms of fountain pens since high school. During the summer before my sophomore year, I discovered Rapidographs, and I’ve been scrubbing inkstains off my fingertips ever since.
Three, one of these days I hope I’ll have time to take some drawing classes. That’s not a surprise, given my fascination with non-verbal communication, but maybe if I say it in public I’ll have the gumption to get around to doing it.
Four, I have worked as a general laborer in a fish cannery, a flyboy in the press room of a newspaper, and a waterbed installer before I settled into computer graphics.
Five, I began teaching myself Greek in high school. Allderdice offered Latin (I remember what the Latin teacher looked like, but I can’t recall her name), but I tried to learn Greek from a phrase book in study hall.
Six, since I’m foregrounding high school stories, I’ll note that in Student UN in high school, I served as a General Assembly delegate from Malaysia, as Ambassador from Malaysia, and as Chairman of the General Assembly. (Then there was the time I went to the North American Invitational Model UN at Georgetown as ambassador of the delegation from Guyana, and when we ran for co-bloc chairs with Fiji, the ambassador from Fiji turned out to be a distant cousin of mine, which neither of us knew until we got home.)
I hesitate to call out anyone else, but if you read this and no one else is tagging you, then consider yourself tagged from me.

Pens, Hands, and Email

I innocently asked Emory for his perspective on increasing my organization and productivity, and he sent me to his White Paper on Productivity (I think I have some white paper that says something about productivity; it’s probably over there, under the goldenrod paper, by the empty coffee cup). While I was supposed to be learning how to be more productive, I fell under the spell of web pen porn. How can anyone concentrate on work, when you can spend all day ogling fountain pens?
Si’s tendinitis is acting up, which reminded me that I was diagnosed with hypermobility and de Quervain’s almost four years ago. When I read some of what I blogged before treatment, I realize that immobilizing my thumb and taking particular care of how I use it really have affected my condition. The thumb hardly ever hurts, and when some circumstantial effect triggers a flash of sensation, it’s more surprising than painful. So that’s a good thing.
Finally, in the transition to Leopard and my hand-wrought file transfer process, my mailboxes got a little jumbled. That’s not a big deal to the extent that I can dig stuff up through the “search” function of, but it means that my Inbox has just been emptied willy-nilly, meaning that I have unintentionally declared email bankruptcy. Let’s see how long I can go before I fall back into debt.