Given that this blog started in July, it’s been a long time since I posted. I’m not writing this to excuse the absence — this is a space for fun and is not my job — but because July ended up being such a terrible month that even pens and paper didn’t bring me enough joy to find the energy for posting in August.
The not terrible part of the terrible: The third week in July I had to go to the ER and undergo emergency surgery in the middle of the night. Hospitals are strange places in normal times, but are beyond weird during Covid. My husband dropped me at the door with just my insurance card and phone — no bag, no pens, no journal, no Macbook. I hadn’t expected to have to have surgery, hadn’t expected to stay the night, and, as has been my practice even for trips to grocery stores during the pandemic, didn’t want to bring anything extra that would have to be set down on a surface I hadn’t cleaned. I was released four days later, having seen no one I knew as visitors were not allowed and only having been able to write with the disposable pen and paper USC Hospital left in my room. The strangest part of it? The day after surgery I had to be retested for the virus (I was tested the first time on admission) because someone in the room next to me had just been diagnosed. Happily I was negative and was moved to another floor with everyone else who was a confirmed negative. A few days later, when I was recovered enough to be released, husband picked me up at the door and I went home. My wound recovery has been rockier than I’d like (don’t ask), but I’m doing fine.
The terrible part of the terrible month: Just before midnight on July 26, my beautiful mother died after surviving two and a half years of treatment for pancreatic cancer. This is cliche to say, but cancer is a terrible thing and she sadly suffered a lot throughout her treatment and illness. She died peacefully and gracefully at home, slipping quietly away from my dad after 53 years of marriage, 60 years after they’d met in high school. I don’t wish her back with us because I know she was suffering and was beyond any possible treatment. But I miss her. She was a passionate person in everything she did and endlessly supportive and loving toward me and my brother and sister.
She was, however, not a fountain pen person — not a pen or stationary person in any respect. Her fountain pen story was of borrowing my dad’s pen when she went back to college shortly after I was born and dropping his pen on its nib. Because my dad is a pen person and liked to buy things for her, she usually carried a ladies Cross ballpoint pen in a little sleeve in her purse. This was not a special or sentimentally kept pen, nor was it even a single pen. There were at least four or five that I remember. A number got lost (or at least misplaced) over the years, probably because since she didn’t care very much what she wrote with, it wasn’t important to her to buy and keep spare refills. My dad would pick the pens themselves up for her at thrift shops or garage sales, sometimes with a matching pencil (that she never used — she even worked crosswords in pen) which she would thank him for and pop in her purse. My mom had the lovely handwriting of someone educated at Catholic grammar schools in the 1950-60s, but was pretty utilitarian about stationary as well as pens. She used good stationary and note cards if someone bought them for her, but was equally happy with cheap, pretty ones from the drug store. She found my father and my enjoyment of good pens and paper harmless but more than slightly baffling.
With all that happened in July, I ended up spending the first two weeks of August grieving, recovering, and doing what I could for my dad whose own grief dwarfs mine. This meant I spent the last two weeks of the month trying to frantically catch up with my work because classes at my university started the last week of August. Everyone at my job said I should take all the time I needed, but the facts are I’m in my fourth year as an assistant professor on the tenure track. I teach at California State University Dominguez Hills, in interdisciplinary studies and, like almost all faculty in the CSU system, am teaching all online this semester. However much time I might need or have needed, my students needed me to be ready to start the semester. Doing my best for students and working on my teaching are hugely important to me, as they were to my mom who spent a large part of her career as a high school English teacher and vice principal. She would never have wanted to be the cause of me not doing work or letting my students down.
Now we’re at the end of Week 2 of classes and I finally feel a little in control of my teaching and have a sense of what needs to be done this month for my research (put briefly – a lot!). This was a lot of text to get to the stationary portion of the post. All this is to say, what I normally do a week or two before the start of a semester (set up a new bullet journal and update my research one) I’m doing now. I go through at least three bullet journals a year, one for each semester including summer. Despite what it looks like above, I don’t do the lovely decorating that’s part of a lot of people’s bullet journal practices. I do spend a couple hours setting up each journal and as part of that, I decorate the cover page of each with some pretty paper. Other than that, it’s all pretty utilitarian. I use the “official” bullet journal notebook for the semester one and a regular 8.25 x 5.75 one with a dot grid pattern for my research journal.
I use TomBow brush pens as highlight colors for my future log and make a basic one page weekly spread to keep track of appointments with a task list on the other side, using Micron pens in 03 and 05 to make lines. I didn’t take a picture of my September spread before I filled it in, but it’s the basic bullet journal structure of a vertical numbered calendar with a monthly task and goal list on the other side. It is somewhat colorful as I get a lot of pleasure at using my currently inked fountain pens. I use my Pelikan 140, which Gena Salorino at Custom Nib Studio made into flex pen, to make headers and then write with another pen, usually my beloved M400 Tortoise (more on this pen in my next post), to do running dailies, make lists, sketch out class plans, and take meeting notes.
Before I switched to using a bullet journal three years ago, I used Passion Planner. My reasons for using it was a liking of the system and loving of the company’s politics. But in the end a combination of my bouts of irregular usage coupled with my hating having blank pages meant I kept abandoning my planners. My bullet journal lets me stop and start without having accusing blank pages. It also gives me an excuse to write with my pens. I feel accomplished each time I fill a journal up and label it with the start and end date.
So new semester. First full semester teaching in a time of COVID. At least my notebooks are familiar.