Thursday, September 24, 2020

Getting Into Fountain Pens

Featuring the Sailor Pro Gear Slim, Yuki-tsubaki pen. I now have... a few more pens and inks now than I did back in July. Most of these inks are samples though, I don't own many full bottles.

I bought my first ever fountain pen - a Pilot Metropolitan - back in early July, after seeing Adina post about her favorite fountain pen inks. Since then, I've been completely enamored with writing and journaling with fountain pens. Though I've only been part of the fountain pen hobby for three months, the size of my collection is already formidable. And judging from various comments and posts in the many super-active online fountain pen communities out there, I'm far from the only person who started their participation in this hobby - and then escalated very quickly - during these recent months of COVID-19 social distancing! 

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Just the pens and bottled inks I mentioned in late July, including the ones sampled in the photograph - plus a converter for each pen that needs one, so I can actually use bottled inks - totals to a retail value of approximately $240 (including the dozen ink samples at ~$2 each). Everything discussed in that post was purchased at the US retail price. (Some Japanese pens and inks can also be readily obtained more cheaply from gray market sellers, including on Amazon, because they retail for significantly less in Japan.) And, ah, I now have... at least a few more pens and inks than in late July. In short, fountain pens can be a fairly expensive hobby. I'm even omitting the not-insignificant cost of fountain pen-friendly notebooks and paper! 

It's interesting to me to think about how this hobby and its associated online communities are similar to - but also different from - my fashion hobby and its relevant online communities. Though I can't exactly say I'm an expert in either hobby, of course. 

To tell the truth, I can barely even claim to be that knowledgeable about the relevant online communities either. Outside of keeping this blog and responding to comments here, I'm basically just a "lurker" or observer. I'm extremely shy - even when online and mostly anonymous - and only rarely interact directly with other people in any of these hobbies, whether on Instagram, Reddit, or otherwise. So my thoughts do need to be taken with that grain of salt.

Similarity: Lots of Small Businesses and Independent Creators to Support

Much like with fashion, there are many small businesses and individual creators and artists in the fountain pen space. Fountain pens are a fairly specialized, niche interest after all.

I mentioned in my recent money diary that I've been shopping online for some of my fountain pens, inks, and fountain pen-friendly notebooks from Yoseka Stationery, a small independent shop that's local to me. (They're great, and I highly recommend them!) From looking at Yelp, I understand there aren't many other brick and mortar stores in NYC that stock a wide range of fountain pens and inks. Fountain Pen Hospital may be the only dedicated fountain pen shop in the city. 

Super-large companies like Amazon do sell fountain pens and related supplies. Target even has a limited selection of slightly below-retail Pilot Metropolitan fountain pens and Pilot Iroshizuku fountain pen ink (only four colors, and only Take-Sumi and Asa-Gao are below retail at the time of this writing). Though it may generally be best to avoid such non-specialist retailers, at least for ink. When ink is not packed properly - as the specialized retailers generally all take special care to do - disaster can ensue. But I should note that most new fountain pens come in very secure packaging, generally in small padded boxes, so buying the pens themselves from a big-box retailer probably doesn't carry particular risk of damage in transit. I've read anecdotal comments about counterfeit Lamy pens on Amazon, however, so that's something to be aware of. 

There are also larger stationery or fountain pen online retailers that are still relatively small businesses, in the grand scheme of things. In addition to Yoseka Stationery, I've enjoyed shopping from Goulet Pens, Jetpens, and Goldspot

Monday, September 21, 2020

On Justice Ginsburg

A photograph of Justice Ginsburg with other members of the Harvard Law Review. She was the first female member of the Law Review, and one of only nine women in her Harvard Law School class of over 500 students (archive.is link, if needed). Due to family reasons, she ultimately moved to New York City and completed her 3L year as a graduate of Columbia Law School instead.

I was devastated to learn of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's passing last Friday. Justice Ginsburg was a trailblazer in the profession, entering it in a time when women were, by and large, unwelcome. 

Three years ago, in July 2017, I wrote a blog entry discussing some of Justice Ginsburg's personal writing, focusing mainly on her opinion piece about her "Advice for Living," which she wrote for the New York Times in October 2016 (archive.is link, if needed). In that entry, I made sure to emphasize just how extraordinary she was, just how extreme the obstacles were against her and against all women who sought to become attorneys in her day:
I had to search hard for a readily accessible online citation for how things were: "Upon graduation from Columbia Law School with top honors in 1959, [Justice Ginsburg] received no job offer from any law firm in New York City, presumably because white shoe law firms were aghast that a woman, a mother and a Jew would dare think she was qualified for the job." She has also written that, back then, law firms simply "would engage no women" as a matter of absolute policy. [See Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, The Changing Complexion of Harvard Law School, 27 Harv. Women's L.J. 303, 307 (2004).] 
So I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that all women attorneys practicing today - regardless of political views or preferred judicial philosophy - should reasonably consider Justice Ginsburg to be a role model, someone who helped make it possible for us to participate fully in the profession today.  We are all, in a way, part of her legacy to the profession. While the legal profession remains an extremely challenging one for women and minorities to navigate, it has come a very long way since the early days of Justice Ginsburg's career. 

By now, you've probably also seen that, long before she was appointed to the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg was a brilliant attorney. In that time, she argued several key cases before the Supreme Court that developed our gender discrimination jurisprudence under the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution, practically from the ground up. 

One nuance that isn't always fully headlined in non-lawyer discussions about gender discrimination law is that - based on their facts - the landmark cases that Justice Ginsburg argued also made clear that women's rights are everybody's rights. Just as the law must not restrict the rights of women based on antiquated stereotypes about a woman's "proper" role in the home or in society, the law is also not to burden men based on those same stereotypes: husbands of those serving in the United States military should be entitled to the same dependent spouses' benefits as the wives of those in the military, Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677 (1973); widowers should be entitled to the same Social Security survivors' benefits as widows, Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, 420 U.S. 636 (1975); and boys should be entitled to purchase alcoholic "near-beer" beverages at the same age as girls, Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190 (1976).

After hearing about Justice Ginsburg's passing last Friday evening, I am currently staying off Twitter and limiting the time I spend on news sites in order to protect my mental health. Up until now, I've never before in my life felt the need to separate myself from social media or from the news like this, but last Friday pushed me over that edge. I simply cannot tolerate hearing about what the President or Mitch McConnell are saying right now, for at least a few more days. 

I have also made donations to the Biden/Harris campaign and to the "Get Mitch or Die Trying" fund. (Sadly, I understand that the polling data shows Amy McGrath probably has no real chance of unseating Mitch McConnell, so the latter fund donates to other Democratic senate campaigns that have a better chance.) With regards to the Supreme Court as an institution, and regardless of how Justice Ginsburg's seat is filled, I don't really see any way around needing some radical change to the structure of the Court, such as by court-packing. This was true even before last Friday, and it remains true now. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Social Distancing Life Lately: Six Months and Counting

via Unsplash


When my colleagues and I abruptly rushed home from Luxembourg in mid-March, none of us could truly have imagined that, six months on, life would still not be anywhere close to normal. As we transited through Heathrow that day - after having booked new tickets last-minute in the wee hours of the morning, upon being woken up by concerned friends and family back home following the President's sudden announcement of a proposed Western Europe travel ban - the pandemic didn't feel real yet. Barely anyone at the airport was wearing a face mask. Things still looked almost normal, even if we knew they were not. 

Local Policies in NYC 

Now, six months later, NYC has - since June or so - controlled the spread of COVID-19 better than many other places in the US. Yet the prospect of resuming any substantial new indoor activities here - things bringing bigger groups of people together in closer quarters than the retail stores or museums that are currently open with drastically limited capacity - still feels potentially perilous. For the attorneys amongst us, participating safely in in-person court proceedings - particularly jury trials - and in-person depositions still feels like an impossibility. (Especially when we keep in mind that at least some participants or attorneys typically need to travel from out-of-state for such events.) 

Our state and city government are generally moving slowly and cautiously to gradually allow more significant indoor activities. In-person schooling at NYC public schools may restart in phases starting next week, on a partial schedule for the families that opt-in. Restaurant dining rooms may be allowed to open at the end of the month, at 25% capacity. 

Personal Comfort Levels

Completely separate from the issue of what's legally allowed, there's also the question of my personal comfort level with additional activities. I would not be happy about being forced to attend in-person court proceedings anytime soon. Nor am I willing to put others and myself at risk by partaking in indoor restaurant dining before a vaccine becomes widely available. Nothing short of a court order - and the fear of being in contempt of court - or a serious family emergency would get me on a plane before I'm vaccinated. 

I am somewhat apprehensive about when my workplace might start requiring attorneys to come into the office more often. New York officially allowed white-collar workplaces like law firms to reopen with certain safety precautions back in early July. But up to now, state law has also required that categories of employees who can perform the vast majority of their duties from home - attorneys included - be offered the choice to continue working from home, something I've availed myself of to the fullest extent. I'm not sure when that state policy might change.

K and I have loosened up somewhat since I last wrote about our ongoing social distancing experience in late July. We've both had our long-overdue haircuts now, and we each felt quite safe with all the new safety precautions at New York salons. In the next month or so, we'll probably both go to our first routine doctor's appointments since the COVID-19 shutdowns began. As mentioned in my recent money diary, we also ended up needing our building's superintendent and then a contractor to come in to our apartment for some repairs, across a few different days. And that also felt just fine, with everyone wearing masks and given NYC's continuing trend of favorable COVID numbers. 

While we've applied for absentee ballots, we may yet decline to use them and choose to vote in-person instead - most likely by early voting - knowing there were... some issues... with absentee ballots actually getting counted during the recent New York primary. To be fair, our election procedures have changed to directly address these problems, including to allow voters to track their own absentee ballots and have an opportunity to cure alleged defects instead of the ballot just being thrown out.

But I think it's fair to say our household is technically still practicing fairly strict social distancing. Outside of the errands described above, we are still staying home except for essential grocery and pharmacy trips, which we continue to limit to approximately once every three weeks. And our friends in NYC are still not quite ready to socialize yet, even outdoors.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Money Diary: COVID-era Staycation, Part 2


And here's part two of the COVID-era staycation money diary I started last week! When I left off, a contractor was in the process of replacing a large swath of floorboards in our living room, and we'd relocated our coffee table and office chairs to our bedroom for the duration of the work. The repairs were going to take three days total, factoring in that certain things needed time to dry or set. 

Only day one of the work had been completed so far, and the contractor needed to come in at 9:00 AM the following two days. This meant we needed to set our alarms for 8:00 AM to have enough time to get dressed and eat before the contractor came by. That's a very early wake-up call by our standards, alas, but we'll be glad to have the repairs done before we're technically back to work next week. 


We wake up at 8:00 AM so we can cook and eat before the contractor arrives at 9:00. The easiest and fastest dishes we can make are either grilled cheese, like we had on Monday, or eggs and bacon, like on Tuesday. So it's grilled cheese with mozzarella (Trader Joe's pre-sliced fresh mozzarella log, to be exact) and prosciutto again! I cook and K cleans up after. 

We mask up when the contractor arrives, before letting him in, and then we stay masked if we're in the living room while the contractor is working. We have an ample supply of disposable surgery masks, because my mom and her friends in California participated in charity drives to order dramatically large quantities of surgical masks and other PPE to donate to local hospitals, senior centers, and the like. While doing those orders, they also bought enough surgical masks for their families, so my mom has kept my sister and I well-supplied. 

That being said, now that K and I know we need to settle in for the long haul when it comes to COVID precautions, we're trying out some reusable, washable fabric masks. A friend of a friend recommended "Happy Masks" a small company that sells masks with an extra filter layer sewn in, and that's what K and I use today. I find these Happy Masks very comfortable because the elastic ear loops are quite secure, yet also quite soft, causing no discomfort even after several hours of staying masked up. The front of the mask is shaped so there's some space under the mask (like with a N95 or a cone-shaped mask that's molded or sort of 3D in shape, so only the edges of the mask sit on the face) and the fabric isn't directly in contact with the nostrils and mouth (like with a standard disposable surgical mask that's fully touching the face). I like the Happy Masks a lot, but I don't have enough knowledge about the science to vouch for the relative merits of the extra filter layer they sew in.