the nib growls

Yesterday I spent some time at the park doodling. I haven’t penned much in the past couple of years but it’s an activity I really enjoy and it helps me exercise the sort of creativity I don’t use when programming.

There is nothing quite like a fountain pen with a quality nib on it. I believe it was in my undergraduate years that I received my first such pen. Though I have never owned what one might call a “high-end” fountain pen, I have adopted a Lamy as a practical instrument and it does well enough for fun and profit.

Ballpoints have very little differentiation. They tend to fatigue me quickly as I struggle to apply enough pressure to get the solid lines I want. There are gel pens that make up for this, but they are clumsy and it’s harder to control their wide ink flow. The so-called “space pen” is a pricey improvement but still leaves one without pressure, width, and angle control.

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The missing disc and split in the middle of the nib is crucial for controlling ink flow.

Each nib differentiates itself on the width of the stroke, the flow of the ink, the flexibility or stiffness of the tip, and the reliability of operation. It’s the piece that draws ink out of the cartridge and directs it to the paper. Because the ink is wicked instead of pressed onto the paper it only requires a barely perceptible amount of pressure to get a solid line. Unlike the ballpoint, which digs a trench in the paper as it rolls and scrapes, the fountain pen leaves the paper virtually untouched (but painted) and that enables filling solid regions of color.

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Please pardon the typo if you find it. It slipped by me until after I finished. Ink is permanent.

Paper quality doesn’t matter as much with a ballpoint whereas you can probably see some excessive bleeding in the print above that’s due to the paper being cheap (a freebie notebook thanks to the great folks at SiteGround).

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#texture

Like having a pencil on paper, it’s about the feel, it’s about the texture, it’s about the blank canvas.

Fireproof

For several years people have been telling me how good the movie Fireproof is. I finally watched it on my flight tonight and agree with everything I’ve ever heard about it. It’s a wonderful story. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it whole-heartedly. It’s a simple story about two people who get off track and have no idea how get back, no idea what they themselves even want, and no idea what the journey they embark on is going to be like.

Since I had someone offer to me once before to pay for the movie if money was keeping me from it, I’ll extend the same offer to you – it’s worth it.

http://www.amazon.com/Fireproof-Danielle-Brooks/dp/B0026KS3XI/ref=tmm_aiv_title_1?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Consequences

My best friend sent me a link to the following video. It’s π minutes long and is worth the watch.

The video starts out with a description of a woman dropping her full cup of coffee, which shatters on the ground and splashes all over her. According to the speaker, the first thing to come out of her mount, just one millisecond after it happened, was “Damn you Steve!” She’s a blamer, she confesses, and before she even stopped to examine the situation she spun her gears to find someone to blame; in this case her husband, for coming home a little late the night before which caused her to get less sleep and need that second cup of coffee.

I too am a blamer, and I see it as an outgrowth of a subconscious need for control. That term gets thrown out a lot – well, actually it gets thrown at others a lot – but by itself it’s somewhat opaque in meaning. As I watched this animated clip about blaming, I saw just how much of a need it is for someone, like me, who also needs to have a firm understanding of what’s going on. Everything has a reason, and every action builds towards a progression of events. If something goes wrong, somebody at some point did the wrong thing.

In the video, it’s a ridiculous connection the speaker makes between her dropping her coffee and her husband coming home late, but I know that I too have made similarly outlandish claims. There’s a haze brought on by this control that clouds normal thought and makes it hard to see. Of course, any defense on the contrary, “I didn’t make you drop your coffee,” only fuels the need to prove the blame. In my case, I don’t feel like I need to extract some penance in these situations as much as I need to assert my conclusion about the sequence of events. This hasn’t gone well for me and I’d wager it hasn’t gone well for you. The more it goes on, the deeper the delusion of conflict where no conflict actually exists. You can probably recognize the paranoid end that this line of thought leads to.

Herein is the need for control: need to asses who is fault, need to conform their conclusions to my own, need to drive their responses to these situations. Blaming hardly ever goes well. And yet, from my own perspective, this usually ends up seeming harmless, even helpful. It takes a third party to point it out I think, and therein lies the value of a counselor. The counselor is disinterested in who “wins” or is “right” and can make a simple judgement based on the stories each person tells.

My counselor recently pointed out that I was doing the very thing I was accusing my wife of doing, and it was very hard to accept at the time, but as it sank in the reality came ever more clear. It’s very hard to let go of the control; of the perception that the way I see things is the right way of seeing them. It’s worth it, though, despite the humiliation it can bring, which is why its so important not to allow that sense that we have everything figured out – because it will be that much harder to admit we don’t and therefore grow from it.

I’m not writing this as any sage. Honestly, I’m going through deep self-reflection and learning these things I should have learned or confessed long ago. I hope that if you too jump on the blaming wagon, that you can get off of it before causing too much hurt to yourself and those you love.

Dead

Growing up I found my identity in mastery. I had a gift to be able to figure things out and do them well. School was mostly a joke to me even throughout my college years and I found success in my job. Being accomplished was a comfort to me: when I came home crying in third grade because I felt like I had no friends, it was a consolation to hear that some of my troubles relating were due to my abilities. Success wrapped itself around me and became what defined me, became my drug.

If you don’t already know where this is going, it’s an introduction to a great irony. I’ve learned as much in my years to judge with great suspicion anyone who seems to have things going really well; someone who seems to “have things figured out.” Nobody has it all figured out and nobody is without their own issues. Some people lay out their problems in front of everyone else, others hold it in private. This is me, and you should have been suspicious too.

The great irony then is that I’ve struggled in the most intense way for years with what have been personal failures in the greatest degree. I’ve been difficult to live with and bitter to my wife and followed in the footsteps of my father, whose demand for control was only matched by his need to hide problems and appear fine on the outside. I have failed and failed again to live up to my dreams and expectations, spiraling into defeatism and grochery.

It’s very difficult to let down the smokescreen, and while several of my close friends have tracked along with me throughout the past couple of years, I have tried to keep it mostly hidden from the outside: it is incongruous with my identity: the one who succeeds.

The honest-to-goodness truth is that for most of my life I have been emotionally unstable, scarred from a childhood of shouting and manipulation, perplexingly dependent on having friends nearby, and plagued by depression and anger.

These and other maladies have been continually more difficult to resolve with my faith, which tells me they are the exact kinds of things Jesus wants to take away from me. I haven’t been willing to let them go, and I haven’t been willing to give in. I am the one in charge; I can master it!

At the end of a long journey, I believe I have hit the bottom. I’m not into drugs, not into prostitution, not running away from the law; just plain old spent and foolish and hopeless. I have to kill this terrible identity if I will ever conquer this dark part of my life and draw nearer to God; so now you know – I’m not a success.

I’ve been running a lot the past couple of years. My job at Automattic has helped me to run away time and time again. Each voyage of great adventure has brought with it a marked note of let-down; that my opportunity to see the world was also an indictment on my inability to cope with the stresses as home and with the man I had become.

I’m done with that journey, tired and ready to go home, hoping that I haven’t completely ruined the home I have to return to from my own destructive habits. I will be grateful for your prayers as I learn to repent and try to be reborn into a more honest and life-giving identity.

Unlikely

My company, Automattic, currently employs over four hundred people scattered across the world. Last week I was attending a meetup in Dublin – a jam-packed week where a few of us get together “in real life” to work together. While transiting through the Dallas airport I bumped into Steve, a coworker of mine who I hadn’t yet met. He was wearing a WordPress pullover and maybe something else with a logo on it. Seeing those, I showed him my WordPress bag from Timbuk 2 (something many of us have) and asked if he worked with me. It’s not too rare to meet with coworkers en-route to a specific meetup destination, but Steve was taking personal travel. On my way to meet coworkers in Dublin, I met another coworker at random in one of the larger and busier airports in the US.

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It was one of those “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…” feelings, though only in the probability sort of way

After my meetup, I came to England for the Word Camp London event, a gathering of WordPress developers, users, agencies, hosts, etc… When I realized that I had a few extra minutes before I needed to leave in the morning to catch the tube, I decided to go downstairs and grab some of the free food available for breakfast at my hostel. As I stood there starting on my yoghurt, a woman was staring at me with a confused look on her face. After a short pause she asked, “Dennis?” and I realized that it was Britta, one of the friends Amanda and I had in Hannover while we were there last year.  In the middle of one of the biggest cities in Europe and in the basement of one probably two hundred or more hostels in London, I randomly met a friend from another place and time.

If the probability of these events happening on any given day were one-in-a-million and considering that I’ve been nomadding for about two years, then we find that the chance of this happening at least twice in that timespan is a little more than one-in-four-million (or a probability of 0.000000265956).