Friday, January 30, 2009

5 second interview with Susan Jane Gilman and review of her recent book "Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven" (She's also a Fountain Pen User!)

I just finished reading Susan Jane Gilman's Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven.

Having previously read and enjoyed Kiss My Tiara: How to Rule the World as a SmartMouth Goddess and Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, I was really looking forward to Susan's memoirs of her mid 80's backpacking trip to communist China.

One word: "Wow." Then four more. “Are you kidding me?” One more: "Wow."

Susan and a casual acquaintance from Brown University, sit at an iHop planning a year long backpacking trip around the world. They plan to go to China, India, Bali, Thailand… Each of these girls are 21 years old and have little to no real world experience- which doesn’t stop them for traveling to a communist country at a time when very few Americans had been permitted to venture behind its walls.

1986 means no internet, no cell phones, no GPS, and international collect calls take hours to be patched through.

Once they begin their journey, Susan’s friend Claire seems to start acting differently than the girl she knew from college. Meandering through Hong Kong, then on to Beijing, Claire becomes overtly paranoid of the people around her. She develops a fever and is taken to a filthy hospital and Susan has to pull her away from the doctor that wants to give her an injection using a rusty needle. Claire eventually recovers, but her paranoia increases until she suffers what appears to be a psychotic break. They are lucky to befriend a Canadian nurse that helps them to return safely home.

I cannot even begin to fathom what Susan went through on this journey.

Susan is an excellent writer that tells a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat. There were parts of this book that I read for hours at a clip because I wanted to know what happened next.

Highly recommended.

So being the curious person I am, I wondered to myself what kind of journal Susan took with her on this harrowing journey, as well as what pens/journals she might be using today. I was delighted by her response:

"When I traveled through China, I was a student on a budget, and so my materials were simply 1) cheap and 2) lightweight. I used Bic ballpoint pens that I'd probably taken from my dad's office, and my journal was the thickest but lightest thing I could find, a "Jumbo count" spiral notebook measuring only 9.5 x 6 inches with 200 college ruled sheets. (Soft cover spiral notebooks, as I quickly discovered, are bad for writing -- they fall apart easily, get wet & warped).

I now know better. For whatever it's worth, my "drugs" of choice these days are great little French bound notebooks with lined graph paper (see and omniBall rollerball pens. For special occasions, like book signings, I've got two Waterman pens -- a black fountain pen and a red rollerball.

I love fountain pens, but they're not always practical when I'm running around, and I love heavy, fancy pens, but I don't own one. I lose pens like I lose umbrellas."

Check Susan's website for dates on her upcoming book tour to promote "Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven." If you are lucky, she'll sign a copy for you with her Waterman fountain pen!

Read her blog: A View From A Broad

Thursday, January 29, 2009

You are now a proud owner of a fountain pen. But if you are like me, you are the only person you know that uses one...

Pelikan M200 Fountain Pen on Moleskine

So where can you go to talk to other fountain pen enthusiasts?

I highly recommend the The Fountain Pen Network but I'm warning you now... It can be very addictive. It's one of the friendliest groups of people, (over 20,000 registered users) willing to help with questions, or just to discuss fountain pens, fountain pen inks, and the best paper to use with your favorite pen/ink combination.

There is a marketplace section where you can buy/sell/trade pens and inks, a section to get repair advice, as well as brand specific areas for discussion pen manufacturers such as Pelikan, Montblanc, Sheaffer, etc.

Lots to see, but thankfully, no annoying ads on the site. Membership is free- the site being user supported through member donations, and also via sales of exclusive Noodler's brand inks created specifically for the FPN.

I've also recently been made aware of an Asian forum, called MoonBang SamWoo which is the Korean forum similar to othe FPN. They have over 4100 active members including many members in Korea, China etc.

Per my friend Kevin, "MoonBang Sa Woo (Sa meaning 4) in Korean & Chinese means 4 friends of the writer/thinker: Brush/pen, Paper, China Ink stick, and Ink grinding stone. They named their organization MoonBang Sam Woo (Sam meaning 3) as they are into fountain pens and 3 friends (Pen, Ink, and Paper/notebook).

Moon (Writers) Bang (Library/room) Sam (3) Woo (Friend) **Rooted from very old Chinese word."

Now be sure to go and mingle- and tell them Biffybeans sent you!

Monday, January 19, 2009

1966 Ronson Wedgewood Jasperware Table Lighter

Wedgewood Table Lighter 1966

I went through this period back in the early to mid 90's of collecting vintage smoking paraphernalia. I enjoyed collecting table lighters primarily from the 30's and 40's, but this 1966 Ronson Jasperware Wedgewood table lighter was a special find.

Like many people that become obsessive with their collecting, I had several guide books on vintage lighters and would sit and mark off the ones I owned, note when and where I bought them, and how much I paid for them. I'd also sit and look at the ones I didn't have, but desperately wanted to add to my collection.

Case in point, the Ronson pictured above. I used to LOVE Wedgewood, and all of the tinier pieces that they produced, and I LOVED Ronson table lighters so it went without saying that I would HAVE TO HAVE this particular lighter for my collection.

This was before I owned a computer, (or even knew how to use one) and before I knew of Ebay. If I was to find a new lighter for my collection, it was from a flea market, antique shop, auction or garage sale.

So one day, I'm out driving in a slightly rural area. I see a sign for a garage sale, and pull over. It's a real garage sale in that it was actually being held in the person's garage. I get out, walk in, and see that there are shelves of antiques set up all around the inside of the garage.

And then I see it. My mouth goes dry. I whisper to myself, "there it is...." I calmly walk over to it and pick it up to make sure it's not a replica, because there were many knock off's made to look like Wedgewood.

It's the real deal, but this was no normal garage sale, this was a man selling antiques from his garage and he knew what both what he had and it's current market value. I paid him his $25 asking price because I'm not a good haggler. He could have asked me for $50 and I still probably would have paid it. It was just one of those things I just *had* to have.

So now, a dozen years later, I have this lighter and it's wrapped in tissue paper, packed in a box in the attic. It's not a useful or practical object, and I no longer have a place to display it, nor would I really want to. It's just not important to me any more.

And that's the thing I'm really focusing on these days. Do I really need to buy things that aren't useful or practical? Maybe if I'm lucky, someone will trade me a fountain pen for it.... LOL

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

You have to read this. Seth's Mother in Law Rocks. And no, I don't hate him at all.

Seth, my friend over at the Good Pens Blog, has taken to photographing his friends and relatives pen cups.

You MUST read what happened when he wanted to photograph his Mother in Law's pen cup.

This is the kind of outward generosity that moves mountains.

And yes, that is a Montblanc...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Liberated From the Scrap Pile at the Public Library


Today, on a trip to my local public library, I discovered that they were using their old card catalog cards as scrap paper. I was heart broken. I felt I just *had* to liberate a few as personal mementos. I looked through about a dozen 3 inch stacks of cards to find some that looked particularly interesting. Most of the titles and authors started with the letter "P".

I guess A-O were already used up. I love that I found the card for Norman Vincent Peale's book, "The Power of Positive Thinking".

I just came to the realization, that most teenagers don't even know what a card catalog is. They just sit down at a computer terminal and click "search" to find what they need.

I started reading at the age of four, and have owned a library card for as long as I can remember. I grew up at a time when they would slip a piece of pink paper into a pocket inside the front cover of the book. These slips of paper would be hand stamped with the due date, and would be re-used as scrap paper when the books were returned. I'm so ancient. :o)

So what will I do with these cards? Not sure yet. I was contemplating painting then with watercolor washes and drawing on them. (Mandalas - could you have guessed?) Or maybe I will leave them intact. Either way, I'm happy to hold them in my hands. To look at the different font types. To turn them over and see the impressions that the typewriter keys made some 30+ years ago. To look at the smoothed and thumb worn edges from thousands of school children that had to find books for school assignments.


I'm beginning to sense a pattern.... Uplifting colors for Mandala Monday

Watercolor and Ink mandala

Watercolor and Pitt Artist pen in a Linen Cachet watercolor Book.

Doodled over previous watercolor. Is it finished yet?

Watercolor and Pitt Artist pen in a Linen Cachet watercolor Book.

Oil Pastel Mandala

Oil Pastels in a Canson All Media book.

Hotel painting in Atlanta.

Watercolor in a Linen Cachet watercolor Book.

Happy Mandala

Watercolor and Pitt Artist pen in a Kunst & Papier Sketch Journal

Happy colors

Watercolor, Prismacolor pencil, and Pitt Artist pen in a small Fabriano Classic Artist's journal

What wonderful paper.... Watercolor mandala

Watercolor on Fabriano watercolor paper. (The exact type is currently escaping me)

All art created by Biffybeans.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Writer's Inspiration: The Moleskine Book of Lists

Rhodia ePure, Large Moleskine & my current favorite fountain pens

If you ever experience writer's block, or if you would like a way to keep the creative juices flowing, you might want to start a "Book of Lists." I have one large Moleskine journal set up as a "BOL" and I use it to list out whatever comes to mind.

Such as:

Concerts I've been to
People I can remember from elementary school
People that have broke my heart
Books I've loved
Movies I hated
Favorite foods
Favorite Music
Birds I've seen
Pets in my life
My old neighbors
Top meals ever

Lists such as these can trigger a lot of memories and material to write about. Be prepared to put pen to paper when the juices start flowing!

Tell me - do you keep a book of lists?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I used to make jewelry....

Wire Wrapped Stone Pendants

I used to make a lot of hand crafted jewelry, but no so much any more. I was up in the attic last night, digging through my left over beads & supplies when a flood of memories came back to me.

I could look at almost every single bead and remember where I bought it. Did I buy it at a bead show? While I was on vacation? Ebay? Each bead carried with it the memory of why I chose it, and in some cases what I had wanted to do with it but never did.

I think I started stringing up beaded necklaces around the end of 1999, and I stopped somewhere around the time my dog Beaner passed, late in 2005. I can remember bringing a tray of beads down to the living room to sit and work with while in was in his convalescent phase. Once he was gone, it just no longer held my interest. I instead turned to drumming, drawing & writing. Such is life.

Dalmation Jasper, Black Onyx and Carnelian

Throughout this journey, I would string up pretty beads into "one of a kind designs."

Yellow Jade and Garnet

I then moved on to working with a little bit of wire wrapping.


Cold connected metal work came next, with me sawing out pieces of copper, brass and silver - hammering them, smoothing them and turning them into small geometric pendants.

Wrapped Blue Kyanite

But then something had moved me back to wire. I wanted to wrap it, coil it and weave it. This was the last phase of my hobby. I'd take big stone beads like you see in the first picture at the top, or tumbled stones like the Kyanite wand above, and I'd wrap them in various ways. I had felt that after so many years, I was finally on the path of creating a style I could call my own but then...

I just stopped.

Every now and again I'll go upstairs and pick through my beads, or wrap up a stone that a friend gave me, but that's about it.

Honestly? Last night I missed it just a little - but I know it will always be there if I decide to pick it up again.

Nothing good has to be over until you decide it is.
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