Just Pens and Pencils

Writing instruments are to some, an extension of their personality and to others, an extension of their hands. For those who have professions or hobbies that bring them into contact with particular instruments in a use other than jotting meeting notes or writing checks, they tend toward finding something they like and sticking with it. Still, there are people walking around in the world today that have no regard for what they write with. I find that idea strange because I belong to the world of the former, rather than the latter. I have a preference for even the common #2 pencil (Dixon Ticonderoga, but only to a certain length). I also find a preference for common writing instruments as well as expensive one. I have a favorite marker (Sharpie) and a favorite disposable pen (Uniball Signo). I have a preferred lead softness (depending on the activity) and size (also dependent on the activity).

There are things to consider like the paper used (vellum, cotton, muslin, recycled and virgin content), the tooth of the paper (rough, medium, and fine), the type of writing engagement (dipped nib, converted nib, ballpoint, roller ball, technical lead, sharpened lead), the size of the engagement (Parker makes twelve different nib sizes), the angle of engagement (some nibs are custom ground), the type of ink used or the softness of lead preferred (vehicle, pigment, binders, additives, 2B, B, HB, H, 2H, 4H), and the activity being performed (writing, drawing, sketching, technical drafting, calligraphy).

I have used several technical pens and pencils during my time. I enjoy precision so venture into script using fountain pens was a stretch for me. In time, I grew to enjoy feeling the paper beneath my nib. Knowing when my thought weren’t flowing because my pen wasn’t either. I’ve also become enamored with with the technical nature of caring for the fountain pen. Disassembling, cleaning, reassembling, and loading the converter is a welcome and enjoyable aspect to ownership. The same is true of technical pens and pencils. After use, they are cleaned and put away rather than just set aside. The better the equipment, the better the maintenance, the better the experience.

Use is another important factor to consider. I enjoy rolling a technical pencil in my fingers as I draw the line, striving to keep the tip of the lead as evenly worn all around the edge, thereby drawing the perfect line weight stroke after stroke. Equally, I enjoy chiseling the point to make sure some lines are thin while other enjoy the broadness of graphite on paper. These are all aspects to using the writing instrument as you like, bending the tool to meet your expressive needs.

Sometimes we gravitate toward expensive instruments with particular a build list for use with expert, as well as everyday, tasks. Sometimes not. It’s really individual. The next time you pick up a common writing instrument, feel the weight in your hand. Spin it in your fingers to acquaint yourself with its physicality’s. It could change the way you live (or, at least, the way you write about living)!

Image by Kamujp, Flickr Creative Commons, No alterations.



Many people around the world, who don’t have gun rights or property rights or public lands, don’t understand the American gun culture. They always ask why the per capita gun ownership numbers are so high. How is it that America is in love with the gun? That’s because they don’t stop to consider the context.

I can’t speak for the whole of America, and certainly never having lived in the giant cities of the United States, I can’t give any insight, but in the Great Plains and the American West, we have a lot of land. When I say that, I mean that we live in places where our neighbors live miles (kilometers) away. Aussie’s and people living in Africa probably understand what I mean. Because we have so much room, and that room is occupied by many game animals and few humans, we have a history and culture dating back more than 100 years (that’s old for us) where we actively hunt. Today, some hunt for trophies, but most hunt for food. It’s not that we need to, necessarily, although I suppose there are probably some that still do. We enjoy the sport and the meat. We plan to fill our freezers two or three times a season. We like the idea and practice of self-sufficiency. We like free food. We like feeding our family.

To that end, everyone in our families knows how to operate guns. We shoot shotguns and rifles, and we’re familiar with all manner of handguns. My grandmother carried a .38 caliber revolver in her car to shoot rattlesnakes around the house in south Texas. She was protecting her children, not her second amendment rights! But without that right, she would not be able to do that without breaking the law. Could she have killed it with a hoe? Sure! But who wants to get within five feet (1.5m) of a seven foot (2.1m) snake?

Yesterday, I went shooting with my son. Since the age of seven, he’s been shooting guns. He enjoys the plinking of a .22 caliber rifle, but as pulled the trigger on a 5.56 x 45 NATO and a 7.62 x 51 NATO. He likes small-framed pistols but has shot a 9mm, .40 cal and a .45 caliber handgun. All of this is to say that we Americans (at least the ones I hang around with) don’t have guns because we’re crazy. We have them because we like them. We like to shoot them, clean them, operate on them. We like to participate in competitions with them. We like to hunt with them. We have guns that perform different tasks. Could we own just one? Sure. But why? We could also only have one car or one child. But why? We have the means to have more than just one, so why stop at one? Some people have more than one house. Why would a family need more than one house? Because they want another one and they can afford another one.

So, yes. America has a gun culture and there are many people who have and use guns regularly who don’t also carry out nefarious deeds in the dead of night. Therefore, next time there’s some school shooting or bell tower incident in the States. Remember, we’re not all crazy; just that one person was. They intended to inflict harm. They had purpose. and unfortunately, they used a gun to commit horrible acts of violence.

Photo by John Reece. No alterations.

People We Know (but really don’t)

Every day for the past five or six years, I have visited the blog of Mr. Steve Tilford. He was born into a regular family in Topeka, Kansas in the 1960’s. Through good genetics and  a willful spirit, he began spending his time and childhood energy enjoying the outdoors and riding his bicycle. It was because of this that he found his way into bicycle racing and soon became a young professional athlete.

He traveled the nation, the continent, and the world racing bicycles for various teams, and when he retired from the professional world with a list of palmarés in road biking, mountain biking (including an induction into the mountain bike hall of fame), and cyclocross (Masters World Champion), he continually repeated it all for fun. There are many people who have stories to share about their experiences meeting and racing with Steve.

The word “stories” is a good segue into Steve’s blog, http://www.stevetilford.com. Not only did he invite you into his daily life, which was filled with traveling, riding, skiing, and racing, he also shared how something that day reminded him of the days when he was in this race or that, a ride here or there, or something he’d learned from one of the vast array of American professional riders in many disciplines. His head was filled with remarkable stories for those of us who read it daily and only wished to be on the fringes of competitive racing that so many of us either enjoy or aspire to. Many times, folks would ask him to write down this vast array of stories and publish a book; they wished he would capture both the narrative of a first-hand account of some historic race, or to impart the lessons learned, knowledge gained, and wisdom accrued from living such a life.

When I opened my browser this morning, I found a post from Steve telling us that he and his good friend Vincent, were driving from Utah where they’d been mountain biking the past week, back to Vincent’s house where they would plan their next adventure. Sadly, and that is the word that sparked this entry, when I opened my browser this evening I saw a post from Vincent: Steve and Vincent and Steve’s dog Tucker, were involved in a late-night auto accident and Steve lost his life in western Colorado.

When I read that my jaw hung open and I genuinely felt sad. Yes, I have personally met, talked with, and raced against Steve Tilford. But like so many other that can say the same thing, I didn’t know him. Today, I am sad that a person I never really knew, but kept track of daily for the past half decade, lost his life. I have lost a daily honorific ritual. The cycling community has lost a wealth of knowledge. For all close to Steve, I send my most heartfelt condolences. For me…I think I’ll go ride.

R.I.P. Steve Tilford

American Bison

Bison are primarily prehistoric creatures. They have not been bred and manipulated to meet industry or customer demands. Instead, they have been left to live as wild a life as elk or deer, moose or caribou. Not even nature has changed the design since we only have two varieties alive in the world today, the European Bison and the American Bison.

When the land masses were connected, bison freely moved between the Asian and North American continents numbering in the millions of animals. Before the age of the modern guns, herds in the five and sometimes six digit size, were commonplace on the plains of USA and Canada (before they were nations). They ranged from just below the Arctic Circle to present-day Mexico. Today, they live on public lands and as part of private herds.

While they have never been truly domesticated, they have been managed. Separated from the commercial cattle herds for health reasons, some ranchers today raise them to market for the niche meat industry. People who want to witness these massive animals must visit zoological gardens or nature preserves because of their scarcity. But specifically because they have not been commercialized to the same degree as American meat cattle varieties, (and since they were nearly hunted to extinction in the 19th century) they have become rare.

To me, it is tragic that an animal that so symbolized America and the American West that it once graced the U.S nickel, would today be relegated to history and lore. I find these animals to be both brilliant and beautiful. Not brilliant in the sense that they are smart or clever, but that they survive the harshest climates and continue to survive as a species for thousands of years.

As exciting as seeing roadside wildlife, spotting a herd of bison always compels me to stop and draw in the wonderment of our past pioneer spirit of freedom and tenacity, as embodied in the American Bison. I’m glad they’re mostly still living a free life. To think that such an animal should be owned is almost a criminal thought. The American Bison is truly an awesome spectacle!


Books and Reading

I’m reading a good book right now. I haven’t finished it so there are no spoilers in case you’re reading it, too. And, I won’t be reviewing it until much later, either. It’s called Tales From the Radiation Age by Jason Sheehan. It’s an entertaining story set in an apocalyptic future. It mixes science and fantasy, and the author uses almost every creative muscle in his body to describe the masses of imaginary creatures and situations that the main character encounters.

The reason I’m writing about it today is because I recognized something about my reading style  that I sort-of knew, but now only proudly declare: I like reading out loud!

When we’re children learning to read, we are asked to read aloud to allow the instructor to know we’re actually reading and we’re pronouncing the words correctly. That’s the technical aspect of reading.

What some people develop is a cadence to reading aloud. They are practiced enough to know how to add inflection and feeling, to take dramatic pauses and add make the story more enjoyable for the audience. I’m sure that’s what voice actors do for a living. Well, I like to do this, too. And, I’m fairly good at it, if you don’t mind me saying so.

I’d like to think I started getting good when I read to my son when he was little. But what I suspect happened transpired when I was still in university. I would read aloud to myself while pacing up and down academic corridors late at night in an effort to understand, and sometimes memorize, material and information. I chalked it up to being an aural learner. Perhaps I am, but now I’m finding I enjoy pleasurable reading in an auditory way. That is to say, I like reading to myself. Now here’s the tricky part; I don’t listen to audiobooks!

It’s not that I don’t like them or have some artisanal need to smell the pages of a new paperback. Nor do I eschew technology. I simply like to see, process, and speak the written word. If you haven’t read out loud in a while, try it. Are you any good at it? Were you ever? Practice a little and see what happens. Who knows? Perhaps we’re both voice actors with unfound careers awaiting us!

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons: Boston Public Library. No modifications.


There’s a lot to unpack in that word. It can mean a thousand things in a thousand different contexts, but for me, it’s life. During the economic depression of the 2008 housing crisis in America, thousands of people were laid off from their jobs and forced to find work elsewhere. Many tried to stay in their fields and some were able to do that. Many, however, were forced to try their hands at something new. Something they were capable of, and perhaps even trained for, but hadn’t explored until then.

Skills are important in any life. We gather them through schooling, work, and life experiences. Some are innate in our personalities and we need only recognize and cultivate them to add them to our list of useful tools. What makes skills particularly useful in life is the part they play in reinvention. What happens to a person who decides to reinvent?

I have read and heard stories of people who move through life being unsettled. They seek more and different opportunities that are both within and outside their spheres of influence and understanding. Many go back to school to learn new skills and trades; some opt to move into another employment opportunity and explore it manually. But the underlying question I struggle with, and it’s the same one that some teenagers face when graduating from high school, is what do I want to do? Perhaps the difference between me and high school grads, is my accumulation of knowledge and experience. Those things help me differentiate between what I think I can do and what I know I can or can’t do.

But maybe that’s the hitch! Grads often see the world wide open without borders or constraints. They see their opportunities as vast and endless and only seek to explore what catches their eyes and interests, not what fits neatly into their toolbox of skills and abilities. Perhaps the difference is rhyme versus reason. What do my dreams say and what does my mind accept? Isn’t this the age-old question? Do we not all struggle with this very question at least once in our lives? Sometimes the question is as simple as deciding whether we want that Snickers and whether it’s better for our diet if we don’t. Other times it’s pausing to consider how fun the Corvette would be to own, on our way to purchasing that used pickup that fits our budget and our needs. Heart versus logic.

But how does this question get answered at the life-level? Differently for everyone, is the obvious answer. I love questions like this and the only thing that makes them more enjoyable is when there’s more at stake than a Snickers. I don’t mean that I crave the unknown and the risky. Not at all. What I mean is that, when decisions have magnitude and one has time to ponder the eventualities, it’s a real treat to entertain.

So, what life-changing decisions are you thinking about?

Photo by Flickr user Morgan. No modifications made.

Creativity Needs Process

In an article in The Red Bulletin (vol. 6 Issue 9) this month, Lars Ulrich, drummer for the thrash metal band Metallica, offered three tips on How to Become a Rock Star in 2017. Being a creative person myself, I’m always interested in how other creative people pursue their creativity through process. Of course, he’s speaking as both a creative musician who, I assume, has a singular passion for his instrument and the sounds it makes, but he’s also speaking as a member of a band who collectively have to find a mutual process in order to stay relevant, make loads of money, and fulfill their need to continue head-banging into retirement.

Bearing all that in mind, he gives three bits of advise: a) Find like-minded people who are as passionate as you are, b) Stay true to your own vision and ideals, and c) Remain committed. As I read the article, and I should tell you that I’m a giant Metallica fan from my teenage years and would read and watch (and own) anything Metallica, I was looking for that portion of the article that asked about process. I’ve seen their movie Some Kind of Monster (2004, Paramount Pictures) and that was probably the best presentation of what a collaborative environment looks like for those guys.

Now let me say that I know these are just sound-bites. His answer doesn’t hold any real wisdom or thought (at least, I don’t really think it does [benefit of the doubt]) so I have to ask whether these are three things that all rock bands need, or is this a pretty standard template for any group that decides to work and create together? An acting troupe, a film crew, or a circus. They are all groups of people that want to showcase their individual creativity in a collective medium, and make money in the process.

And before I go any further, I don’t disparage the pursuit of creativity for financial gain. I’m sure some will read this and turn their noses up against the notion that art (or a product born from a creative process or outlet) should somehow be above the dirty medium of money. But let’s face it, nobody ever goes into business to lose money! Nobody! So, give people a break and allow them to be authentic in their medium and support themselves and their family in the process. Wouldn’t that be a novel idea!

Finally, what I wanted to say, was that I think the three points Lars gives us is a generic answer to a question that has been asked of him for quite a number of years. What I’d really like is for Lars and James and Kirk and Robert to take some time in their waning years (sorry for the sharp jab, boys) and write down their thoughts about the creative process and how, a) they pursue the self-satisfaction portion of their craft, and b) how they find the collaborative process affects that personal desire for satisfaction.

In the end, I’m a sucker for process. I want to know how YOU do it. I want to know what YOU find inspirational or strategic or confining or liberating. I’m a student of process.

Random Madness

This week, a lone lunatic driving an SUV in London decided it was time to mow people over on his way to breaching security at the Parliament Building. On the day of the incident, I was not there. On the day before, I was.

I was walking on the pavement across Westminster Bridge where people were injured and killed. I walked alongside Parliament Square where he turned and picked up speed toward the gates of Parliament. I crossed Abington Street beside St. Margaret’s church on my way to Westminster Abbey. All of this travel one day before someone randomly (or perhaps not so randomly) decided that “today was his last day.”

In the days since, I have imagined myself in the situation. I look into a possible future and ask myself, “What I would have done on the bridge, crossing the street, or beside the gate?” Years of tactical training and tuning my senses to my environment cause me look automatically at the world around me, in a different way from “normal” people. I know that. I heard people’s conversations. I pay attention to the tone and tenor of different voices, though I sometimes can’t understand the language. I watch body language and eye movement. I carry a gun, always.

I say all that, so I can say this; in that situation, there was nothing I could have done to prevent what happened. I could not have done anything on the bridge except dodge the SUV and help the injured and dying. I could not have done anything on the pavement except dodge the SUV and help the injured and dying. I could not have done anything crossing Abington Street except dodge the SUV and help the injured and dying. If I were carrying a gun, there was no action of violence that could have prevented what the special forces and police units that surround Parliament daily, didn’t already do.

Now, understand…I would have moved toward the threat, as I have been trained to do. I would have acted on the violence using violence. Had more people been involved in that attack against the sovereign government of the UK, I would have acted purposefully in stopping and securing (and maybe, killing) those who would randomly kill for their own goals and purposes. I would have brought an ass-kicking with me, to be sure.

When one person, acting alone and without warning, causes chaos, panic, injury, and death, there is nothing much anyone can do to prevent it. The talking heads have been saying that since we started experiencing random violence a decade ago. Are there things our intelligence community can do to help stop these acts? Yes. That is not my area of expertise so I won’t “armchair quarterback” that statement. I will only argue the point that it’s possible.

This was written by someone who was close enough to examine only the tangible bits of experience to have a personal opinion and nothing else. As the days move forward, I may have a different perspective. But today, I can only say that I’m glad I was a day early and I’m sorry there were others who were not so lucky.

Authentic Moment


During the conclusion of the article “Should we Resurrect Dead Buildings,” Mr. Betsky starts thinking about authenticity in architecture. I would argue that this could be the same conclusion with anything, in any moment. His argument for not resurrecting designs of the past is that they aren’t authentic. They aren’t new. They don’t respond to current context, nor do they solve present problems. They are simply the paint-by-numbers representation of the original.

I think that’s true for this architectural argument. So, too, do I think this is applicable to relationships. We can never resurrect a lost love or a romantic moment because the context is always different. We could write a play and act out the moment, but while it’s representational of the original, and might even fill a romantic pang from our own experiences, and it might even share our remembrances with others, it will never be authentic because it exists out of time.

Authenticity, then, is a function of time. It occurs and exists only in the time it was meant to respond to and never occurs again. If we lives with RAM brains, we would never remember what has passed and everything would be authentic because we are living in the now.

It is what it is and can never be something it is not. Print that on a t-shirt!

Photo by CamiliaTWU, Creative Commons, no changes made

Should we resurrect dead buildings?

A Full Measure

“Do you think she meant what she said?” He looked over at me with the expression of someone trying to discover the secret to the magic trick he’d just witnessed.

“What?” I said, looking up from the sketch I was working on. Admittedly, when I work on design solutions, I tend to close off the world around me. “What are we talking about?”

“This morning in that meeting in the editor’s office. Becky said offhandedly that she didn’t think I was giving this project my full time and attention.” The furrow in his brow deepened. I couldn’t tell if it was out of concern or annoyance.

“In my experience,” I began, “whether joking or not, people generally say what they mean. If they’re too self-conscious about the possible repercussions from the statement or they think it’ll cause too much drama, they may shroud it in distracting emotions like humor or indifference. But, yeah, I think she meant what she said. The question for you is, was she right?”

“What kind of response is that?” he said defensively. “I always give full time and attention to my work!” he exclaimed. Incredulity  washed across his face, causing me to count that with my “really?” face.

“Are you telling me that you haven’t been distracted at all since…you know? That you’ve always been fully present? How many times have you avoided my phone calls in the evening or been too busy for meetings?”

Thinking back to the events and we’d both experienced in the past two months prompted me to remind him that neither one of us had been fully present after getting back from Badger Creek. The events of those three nights and the investigation that has persisted since then have drawn our attention in every direction that didn’t involve work.

I know where my bread is buttered. I know that I must produce drawings each and every day to continue to pay bills. I know that sometimes the events of daily life interfere with the rigor of project schedules. I also know that work is my escape. It does indeed allow me to close the outside world and allow for the slow progress of time. They say that heals wounds. Right now, that’s what I’m banking on. (part one)

Image by Stephen Depolo, Creative Commons License, No Modifications