Embracing Simplicity and Familiarity

Despite my many months of neglecting this site, people still show up every day. And sometimes they even ask questions. The most frequent question is whether I’ve made any changes to the adapted Bullet Journal approach that I described in posts like Making Bullet Journal My Own and My Search for a Two-Book Bullet Journal Setup.

I’m always doing a little bit of tinkering with my daily journaling approach, but these days I’m more focused on simplification than on finding the perfect journaling workflow. I have a tendency of overthink things, and the search for the perfect paper-based system led me to a place where I was thinking more about the system, pen, and paper than about what I was actually trying to accomplish each week.

My first simplification was to stop looking for the perfect notebook. It turns out that the perfect notebook was sitting in front of me all along. It’s called Field Notes. While there is something to be said for the superior paper options and on-page real estate that larger notebooks bring, Field Notes books offer two big advantages. First, they are easy to carry with me at all times. And second, if I use them daily, they fill up quickly. Filling up notebooks feels very satisfying. Now, I get to feel that satisfaction every week versus once a month with an A5 notebook.

While I’m a longtime Field Notes fan, my descent into fountain pen madness significantly curtailed my Field Notes use. I know that plenty of people make fountain pens and Field Notes work by either not sweating the feathering and bleeding or by carefully selecting their inks and nibs. But even as I found some serviceable combinations of my own, I was never quite happy. Eventually, I came to a realization: as much as I like fountain pens, I like Field Notes more.

I love the tactile quality of fountain pens. They feel great to use. But Field Notes notebooks have both tactile and emotional appeal for me. It’s not just that Field Notes are a throwback product. Field Notes themselves now hold nostalgia for me. They’ve been around for nearly a decade in their own right, and my life is in a much different place now than it was when I first began using Field Notes. It’s better in most ways. But as I get older, it’s easier and easier for the practical demands of family life and my career to tamp down the “anything is possible” spirit I had a decade ago. As silly it seems, looking down at a familiar kraft Field Notes book brings that feeling back in a small way.

I began my move back to Field Notes by adapting my two-book setup: one for lists/collections and one for day-to-day stuff. Eventually, I simplified further and went down to one book at a time. I’ve become a bit more pragmatic about augmenting my notebook use with electronic systems when it makes sense. For example, collecting books to read on an Amazon wish list is much more efficient than maintaining a written list in a notebook when you're not looking for an excuse to play with your fountain pen.

Pen and paper still can’t be beat for thinking, planning, and holding myself accountable for producing, though. The simple system I use now includes the following components:

  • Backlog: I set up the first two-page spread of every new Field Notes as a master list of things I need to get done. It’s not a list of life goals. It’s a mix of items – some very important and some very trivial – that I want to try to complete within the next one-to-two weeks.
  • Waiting: The second two-page spread is where I log things that other people commit to do for me. I just kind of eyeball it periodically to make sure that the right follow-through happens.

The subsequent pages in each Field Notes book are a mix of daily journal pages and notes. My journal pages start off as to do lists, drawing from the backlog and other ad hoc things that come up. At the end of the day, I often append a more traditional journal entry to get my thoughts out on paper. It’s not the perfect catch-all system, but it generally keeps me sane and on-track.

Embracing simplicity in my system and the joyful familiarity of Field Notes kind of flies in the face of good pen blogging. At the same time, I’ve never felt more content with my approach. I definitely miss using my fountain pens daily and trying new notebooks, but I also value the comfort and familiarity that comes with using the same setup every day.

The Path Forward

I started this blog as an escape. I had a job that I liked but didn’t love. But there were a lot of reasons to stay. The pay was pretty good. My team was amazing to work with. While there were travel demands, I was able to work remotely most of the time. The problem was that I was feeling bored and creatively constrained. I had the freedom to serve up creative ideas and work on interesting projects, but I often felt like the corporate machinery would take so many bites out of them along the way that they either died or no longer resembled what I had originally envisioned.

So Modern Stationer was born as a small place where I could always do things my way. For a while, it really helped. Then, it started to hurt a little. Once I got a taste of doing things my way – and of the joys of engaging with the amazing pen and paper community – I was hooked. I wanted to do it all the time. I daydreamed about making it more than a hobby.

There are many talented and driven people out there who have made similar daydreams reality. It's a difficult, multi-year process, but there is clearly a renaissance happening with analog writing tools that is creating opportunities for people with creative ideas and a willingness to work hard.

Putting aside the question of whether I actually have what it takes to pull something like that off, the big question for me was whether "living the daydream" would truly bring me happiness. I wasn't sure that it would. While I've fallen hard for analog writing, I still really love technology. I've been doing it for 20 years, and I would miss being a part of whatever is next. And just as I came to the realization that it was my job – not technology as a whole – that I needed to walk away from, the ongoing chase for the next pen, ink, or paper to play with and review on the blog began to wear on me.

I still loved using pens and paper as much as ever, but the constant shuffling around of tools and workflows was stressing me out rather than bringing me enjoyment. It was undermining the calm and clarity of thinking that brought me back to pens and paper in the first place.

So, back in May, I shifted gears. I picked one pen and one type of notebook and set out to find a new job at a smaller technology company where I would have more freedom to do things my way. I continued to tweak my task management, notetaking, and journaling workflows along the way. This was a pretty terrible idea during an insanely busy period of keeping my existing job afloat, juggling a job search, and being present for my family. But I felt like my system buckled under the increased demands, and I was thrashing around to get things back on track.

It also made writing here hard. I wasn't trying new pens, inks, and paper, and I felt like I had exactly zero good insights to share about paper-based workflows.

I'm coming out the other side now. I start my new job on Monday. Only time will tell if it was the right move, but I'm really excited and optimistic. I also feel like I am about 80 percent of the way to a functioning workflow system.

So what does all of this mean for this blog? I'm not really sure. Kicking ass at my new job is really important to me right now, but I've missed writing here too. I'm going to start showing up again, but I'm not going to put pressure on myself to achieve a specific post frequency or schedule. I'm not going to chase new products to review (yet). I'm not going to worry about building an audience or brand. I'm not going to check traffic stats. I'm going to write when I have something say and take pictures when I see something fun or interesting. That's the simple plan for now.

It's nice to be back.

Lamy 2000

One of the first big milestones along the fountain pen journey is that first jump over the $100 mark for a pen. In addition to breaking through a financial barrier, it’s a step that brings gold nib pens into reach for the first time.

Two common choices for pen buyers at this stage are the Pilot Vanishing Point and the Lamy 2000. I chose the Vanishing Point path when my time came (with zero regrets), but I always knew that it was just a matter of time before I revisited the Lamy 2000.

One thing that held me back from purchasing a Lamy 2000 is the collection of war stories I had heard about people encountering nib issues out of the box. While this type of thing comes with the territory with fountain pens (and is solvable), there is something very off-putting about companies selling pens in this price range with poor quality control.

While there have been great Lamy 2000 deals popping up on Massdrop and other sites in recent months, I decided to pay the standard street price from Goulet Pens in case I hit any quirks that required customer service. (We call that foreshadowing in the blogging business.)

Appearance

Thousands of words have already been written about the Lamy 2000’s iconic design. Its designer, Gerd A. Müller, worked alongside the famed industrial designer Dieter Rams at Braun before joining Lamy, and the Bauhaus-inspired design ethos that Braun is known for is certainly present in the Lamy 2000’s timeless design. The pen was introduced in 1966 and has changed very little since its debut.

The barrel of a standard Lamy 2000 is made of a black textured fiberglass material called Makrolon. Uncapping the pen reveals a distinctive brushed steel grip and a hooded nib made of platinum-coated 14-karat gold.

For the most part, the Lamy 2000 flies under the radar screen. If you use it in a conference room full of people who aren’t into pens, it will probably go unnoticed. However, it reveals itself as “not just any pen” to those who take the time to inspect it more closely.

Design and Build Quality

The Lamy 2000 is a piston filler, though this is not obvious to the casual observer. The piston nob blends seamlessly into the barrel, an impressive feat of design and manufacturing.

With that pleasantry out of the way, I’ll move on to the fact that my experience actually operating the piston was quite poor. Though it worked (at first), it felt a bit sluggish to turn. It was definitely not as smooth as other piston fillers I’ve used, including much less expensive ones like the TWSBI 580.

I thought that perhaps the piston operation would smooth out a bit with use, but the opposite ended up being true. It felt even more “off” on my second ink fill, and when I was cleaning the pen out in preparation for a third fill, the piston stopped drawing liquid in nearly completely.

I wasn’t really all that enthused with the idea of disassembling the piston on my brand new pen, so I emailed Goulet Pens for any advice. They pointed me to a YouTube video that stepped through how to grease the Lamy 2000 piston by coming in through the barrel with a Q-tip. It was easy enough to try, and it did get the piston functioning again. Nonetheless, it was a pretty disappointing out of the box experience for a pen in this price range.

The Lamy 2000 has a small ink window integrated into the barrel. It’s a nice touch and well executed, but it hasn’t been all that useful to me. I tend to use fairly saturated inks, and I can’t always tell if I have a good ink supply or if there is just some dark ink coating the inside of the window. It’s definitely better than no visibility, though.

The Lamy 2000 clip is one of the better ones I’ve come across. Clips feel like a low quality afterthought on many pens, so the clip on the 2000 really stand out. It's spring loaded with just the right amount of tension, and it has a simple but distinctive look.

Another noteworthy design element is the manner in which the cap affixes to the pen. There are small tabs between the grip and the barrel that the cap clicks on and off of. It’s very convenient to be able to remove and replace the cap without twisting. The friction level is just right, so the cap always feels secure.

Usage Experience

The moment of truth: how did the Lamy 2000 actually write? The answer: extremely well. To my relief, I did not encounter any issues with my nib. It’s a very smooth writer. I opted for a medium nib. It’s definitely on the broader and wetter end of the medium spectrum, but it’s quite nice.

With the medium, I do need to limit my use somewhat to paper that I know is fountain pen friendly. If you want to use the Lamy 2000 as an everyday driver, a fine or extra fine is probably a better option.

I’ve heard others mention that the Lamy 2000 nibs have a bit of a sweet spot. I think this is true to a degree, but I find that I can just grab it and write without much thought. I would describe it as being ever-so-slightly less forgiving to writing angle than some other pens versus having a pronounced sweet spot.

Maintenance and Cleaning

The Lamy 2000 is kind of middle of the road in terms of user serviceability. While it’s not obvious, you can actually unscrew the grip section from the barrel. This provides access to the ink chamber for more thorough cleaning. It also makes it possible to more throughly flush the nib and feed, or even remove the nib altogether.

Servicing the piston is a little more dicey. If you search around online, you can find information about how to do it, but it’s a little intimidating to me. There are other pens, such as the TWSBI 580, that I couldn’t wait to take apart and tinker with. I have no such desire with the Lamy 2000 piston system, in part because I can’t really see what is going on inside.

Value

The street price for the Lamy 2000 is around $160 at speciality pen retailers like Goulet Pens, Pen Chalet, and JetPens. As I noted above, the Lamy 2000 is definitely a good candidate to buy from a trusted retailer, but there are bargains to be had if you’re willing to roll the dice a little. For example, as of this writing, you can find certain nib sizes on Amazon in the $125 range.

Whether you’re paying full street price or receiving a bigger discount, the Lamy 2000 is a very good value. However, I don’t have any regrets about not jumping in earlier. While the Lamy 2000 is definitely a pen that I plan to hang on to for the long haul, it hasn’t become a “go-to” pen for me on a daily basis.

I think someone making the jump to the $150 mark to experience a gold nib would be better served by the Pilot options in this range (e.g., Vanishing Point, Custom 74). There are also some excellent steel nib pens in this price range, such as the Edison Collier that I reviewed previously. I actually use and enjoy that pen much more than my Lamy 2000.

Final Thoughts

The Lamy 2000 is an iconic fountain pen and is a great addition to any collection. The quality control issues it’s known for are a significant turn-off for me, but I think the pen’s distinctive design and excellent writing experience make it a worthwhile trade-off.

The Lamy 2000 is often included in “first ‘nice’ pen” recommendation discussions, but I don’t think it serves that need well. That said, I wouldn’t fault a newer fountain pen user for succumbing to its charms. Buying the Lamy 2000 in person or from an online retailer with a reputation for good customer service will mitigate the potential risks.

Note: A big thanks to Christine Conrad Lane (AKA my wife) for a major photo assist on this post.