I Think I’m Learning Japanese

In my quest to burn through all of my money and leave time at work as quickly as possible, the Polar Pencil Partner and I have booked our next international adventure. This August we’ll be winging it across the Pacific to Japan! As a result, I am taking a pretty big plunge: attempting to learn Japanese.

Trying to learn other languages has always made me feel frustrated and vulnerable, but I think making a good-faith effort to pick up what you can of the local tongue(s) is courteous and respectful when visiting a country whose predominant first language isn’t your own. I bristle when I am abroad and encounter other Americans who so obviously don’t share this viewpoint, and I actually get a little offended when I attempt to start a conversation in the local language and the other party switches to English without at least letting me try. And anyway, from a purely practical standpoint, I’ve found that even if you only know a little bit of the local language, and a local with whom you’re conversing knows only a little bit of yours, you can often meet them halfway and manage to piece together a semi-coherent conversation.

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Buy me some peanuts and pencil slats

It won’t be long before professional pitchers and catchers report for spring training, and that has me thinking of how handwriting and baseball have a lot in common. In either case, they’re much better when the cylindrical instruments used are made of wood. The baseball season ends early in Alaska, when the collegiate players who come up for summer ball return to their campuses before the semester starts (and the snow flies). Thus, I caught my last in-person game in Seattle last August. Let me just say, I’m a purist when it comes to baseball. I think the Designated Hitter rule is garbage. I think a Greg Maddux complete game is infinitely more exciting to watch than anything Bryce Harper will ever do. So, you know I kept score. And you know damn well I used a pencil to do it.

Unfortunately, the problem with keeping score on paper these days is finding a scorecard to do it on. I was lucky that Mariners included a scorecard in their program for their bout against the Blue Jays (two teams I care nothing about), but when I went to see the University of Washington Huskies play nearly a year ago, the whippersnapper staffing the merch booth gave me the “what’s that?” look when I asked for one. Obviously, I need to buy a scorebook.

Then the question becomes: which scorebook? I’m sure I could grab whatever is on the shelf at Play it Again. I fancy myself a connoisseur, though. Any other baseball/writing lovers have a favorite? I’d love to hear about it. In the meantime, I’ll keep scouring Amazon in search of a contender for the pennant.

The Alpino Junior, revisited

Thanks to a great and informative comment from reader Raúl, I have some more information on the Alpino Junior pencil, which I recently reviewed. You might recall that I speculated about the different aesthetic qualities of the barrel, as well as the wood that composes the casing, between the eraser-tipped version and the dipped one. Raúl ‘s comment sheds some more light on that question.

Apparently, Alpino pencils — previously manufactured in Catalonia — are now made in China. I’m assuming that the transition from Europe to Asia likely corresponded to a change in wood, and aesthetic design. Also worth noting is that the eraser-tipped version clearly displays “SPAIN” as its country of origin, while the dipped one is silent on the issue. I’m guessing that I picked up models of the pencil produced both before and after the transition from Catalonia to China.

It’s awesome to be able to put together a more detailed and accurate story of the Alpino Junior pencil. At the same time, I’m a little bummed that they’re no longer made in Spain. I have nothing against things made in China, but part of the fun of this blog is trying to scrounge up pencils from all over the world, and it’s getting harder to find ones that aren’t made in China. Mixed feelings. Anyway. Thanks for listening to my TED talk.

Thanks Raúl!

If you’re not using undated planners what are you even doing

Daily expressions of gratitude are important. Studies have shown that those who express gratitude on a regular basis are happier and healthier. Faithful folks profess the power of prayer, and as atheistic as I am, I have to agree: taking a moment every evening to profess to God, Allah, or whoever may be within earshot that you’re grateful for the specific things that you are is worth the time and effort. So today I want to say that I am grateful for undated planners.

The paper planner is what led me to become a pencil nerd in the first place. It was proof positive that writing things down with a pencil makes me more likely to stay on top of them than relying on a website or phone app to keep more organized. If you’re not using a paper planner, I highly recommend it.

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Praise for the humble composition notebook.

We all love our good paper, right? You know I’m a sucker for a nice creamy tint. Tight, subtle ruling. A little tooth. Substantial weight. Resistance to bleed-through and feathering of ink on the rare occasion I want to use a pen. I feel you, paper snobs.

But sometimes — and lately, it seems, more often than not — I just need something that works. I don’t need to shop around for “the one”. I don’t need something special. I certainly don’t need to drop $20. I just need some paper that I can write on, bound up securely in a manageable shape and size, with a cover that can take some abuse (and won’t make me feel bad about destroying).

In other words, sometimes I need a good ol’ Composition Notebook.

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Save a tree, write on paper

21st-century “common sense” holds that we should do everything on the computer because it, allegedly, saves a tree. The logic goes like this: paper is made from trees. Cutting down trees is bad. Computer screens don’t use paper. Therefore writing on a computer screen is good.

I’m sorry if I’m being offensive here, but I think that this is a pretty dumb way to look at it.

I think we are probably killing more trees than we save — or rather, depleting more resources, affecting the climate, and generating pollution — by putting everything on the internet. I think it’s high time we start considering our “digital footprint” as thoughtfully as we do our physical one. And although we are facing intense environmental challenges today and mastery of new technology will be required to address those challenges, it’s folly to think that “high tech” is always better — or cleaner. It is, after all, modern technology that causes climate change, waste, and pollution.

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Chicken scratches about pencil blogging

I’m about a month into my contribution to the pencilblogosphere and my interest hasn’t waned. In my personal experience, that’s been kind of the threshold for whether or not a blogging project will sustain itself long-term, or just be a passing thing that falls to the wayside as I move on to rambling about a new topic.

I also received a mention on Bleistift, a pencil blog that is on my personal routine reading list, as well as a kind note from its author. That was followed by a bit of actual traffic and comments to the Polar Pencil Pusher blog. So, I take those as two signs that this blog might actually become “a thing”, as the kids say. Lately, due to these milestones, I have been thinking about where things may go with this blog, and decided to note some of those thoughts here.

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“Why on earth would you use a pencil and paper?”

Where do you start writing a blog about pencils and such? I guess the best place to start is with the question I get most often: why?

Supposedly, wood-cased pencils and notebooks are obsolete. We don’t need a planner anymore, because it can go in our phone. We don’t need a notepad anymore, because our notes can go in our phone. We don’t need a diary anymore, because we can journal or tweet or Facebook on our phone.

We don’t need to live in the real world anymore. We can just live on our phones.

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