by Mike Shea on 20 November 2003
My obsession with Moleskine notebooks, fancy pens, archival quality paper, and archival ink is bordering on dangerous. Regardless, I think I have found the perfect combination of low-tech materials to pacify me. The Moleskine pocket sketchbook fits perfectly in a pant or jacket pocket, has 80 pages (40 leaves) of thick solid paper. Ink will not bleed through it and the lack of lines makes it suitable for both sketches and text. It is durable, portable, utilitarian, and inexpensive. For daily notes and junk, the plain notebook has twice the pages but they are far thinner and ink can bleed through it. They can be picked up in abundance at Barnes and Noble for $10 a piece.
The snob factor of these books is so heavy that I almost get an allergic reaction like Cayse in Pattern Recognition. Reading over the Metafilter comments on Moleskine notebooks or even the intellectual ego stroking on the Moleskine site itself makes one want to throw it in the mud and scream at it that people are starving to death in Africa while we pontificate about the smooth simu-leather cover of our jerk-off notebooks. Still, there is something about this notebook that makes it like no other. Why not accept that the $10 book can be a muse. Holding one makes you want to write. How can that be bad? Still, the snob factor will turn a lot of people off.
This leads us to pens. In all of my web research I have found hundreds of sites discussing the durability of paper over time. Good acid free paper means the paper won't yellow or flake up on you in a hundred years or so. Ink, however, appears not to have these standards. Logical minds tell us that ink acidity or composition doesn't really matter over time, but seeing the "archival safe" label on certain pens makes me raise an eyebrow. Unfortunately, you can only tell if it matters in about 500 years and I plan to be busy then, so I have to only guess that the "archival safe" label is legitimate and not just typical marketing propaganda.
On the cheap side, the Pilot G2 Retractable Gel-ink pen is an "archival quality" pen you can pick up for about $1 each. The G2 ink refills are used in both the cheapo G2 pens mentioned above, or the Pilot Dr. Grip Gel pen, a nicer thicker pen with a soft holding area.
Some of the nicer snobbier pens can use the Pilot G2 refill instead of their own. I found that by cutting about 3/4 of an inch off of the back of the G2 refill and recapping it with the little black cap at the end, I could fit a G2 refill into my Sensa Stylist. It took two or three attempts to cut it just the right size. Use the original refill as a guide to know just how big it should be. Update: I broke my Sensa Stylist because of a refill I had cut a tad too big and forced in. It stripped the inside and now the pen is ruined. I am in the process of shopping for a nice snobby pen that uses the G2 refill.
I ordered a Waterman Phileas as another nice pen that can hold the G2 refill with no modification. This gives you a nice pen with a cheap archival ink refill you can pick up at almost any grocery, drug, or stationary store. If you can't find the G2 refills separate, you can just buy a pack of 12 G2 pens and cannibalize the ink from them. $1 per ink refill isn't so heavy a cost.
I am aware of how this discussion sounds. Pulling out your Moleskine sketch book and your Sensa Stylist pen with a modified G2 archival ink refill is the intellectual's way of masturbating in public. I shudder when I think of what Tyler Durdon would do to such things or the people who use them.
The pen and the notebook are worthless without the words you write. You could have a $500 pen on a book that will last 500 years and still be writing bad metaphors and tacky poetry that would make a third grader puke. Few of us, myself included, have very little of \value to say. But with something as cheap as a $10 notebook and a $1 pen, the tools are no longer the limiting factor. Winston Smith in Orwell's 1984 risked his life to write down his stories. It was his communication mechanism to the future. The pen doesn't matter, the paper doesn't matter. Only words matter.
I am also aware that discussions of methods of communication are worthless and circular. It is like talking to your friend about the clarity of your new cell phone or sending around RSS headlines that talk about how to send RSS headlines. Communication about communication doesn't help anything. There is no reason for it. The discussion of notebooks and pens isn't getting us anywhere. Discussing what we write is. Discuss the world around us, the world between us, and the world within us.
Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @mshea on Twitter. If you enjoyed this article, please use this link to Amazon.com for your next online purchase.