On the last Friday of my recent trip to London I stumbled upon the most magical place in West End (Harry Potter play included): The Phoenix Garden.
I’ve never felt more like Mary from “The Secret Garden” in my life: right behind the Phoenix theatre, in the last place you’d ever expect, is a beautiful community garden. At first I thought it was a private garden, one of the many gardens around central London that are accessible only to residents or others lucky enough to have their keys. I was taking a shortcut from Charing Cross Road to Shaftesbury Avenue when I saw the wall around the place, and inside glimpses of the planting. I was about to pass by when I noticed that there was someone sitting with their carry on luggage on a bench.
“That’s not right for a keyed garden,” I thought to myself, and went to investigate. I met a duo of lovely ladies at the entrance, volunteers that told me a little about the place and told me to go exploring. It was love at first sight.
The Phoenix Garden is a community garden, run by volunteers and funded by charitable donations (I donated and I urge you to both visit them and donate to them). It was founded on a parking lot, which itself was founded on a WWII bomb site, so talk about challenging growing conditions! Rubble, rubble everywhere and not a bit of earth. It’s also a very small plot, only 1/3 of an acre, which gets very little rainfall. The volunteers managed to create a sustainable green oasis that feels much larger than it is, requires no watering, and is a haven to wildlife. Sitting there, a minute from the bustling Charing Cross Road and you’ll encounter birds, squirrels, bees, and even frogs within moments of sitting on one of the garden benches.
The garden feels larger because it has been cleverly planned: there are winding paths, tall plants that screen you from the rest of the garden and provide privacy, little hills and deep valleys. It’s a miracle of planting and construction.
The planting is quite varied and suitable for dry and relatively warm conditions (a bonus of being a city garden), so there’s a lot to look at beyond the wildlife.
It’s also a wonderful place to just sit in and decompress and unwind. You can’t help but smile looking around you, taking it all in. Take some time off your next West End visit and go say hello to its secret garden.
I have too many pencils which I don’t take the time to use. Inspired by this episode of the Pen Addict podcast I decided to literally do a random draw: I randomly drew a pencil from the pile, and then I randomly drew something with it. Today’s pencil: the General’s Pacific 365 #2.
It’s a classic looking #2 (or HB) pencil, with for some reason three or four fonts on the barrel, depending how you count the numerals. It’s made in the USA, out of California incense cedar, and has a little red thing on the top that looks like an eraser, but trust me, I wouldn’t try to use it as one.
The green foil imprint quality is not great, with the “Pacific” imprint chipping the pencil’s coating. The coating itself is pretty thinly layered, but the core is perfectly centred and sharpens like a charm.
You can see the available shades that the General’s Pacific is capable of producing in the closeup of the sea turtle above. If you’re looking for a #2 writing pencil that could do for a quick sketch in a pinch, the Pacific ought to do the job. It doesn’t smudge and holds a point very well.
I erased a word between the “S” and the “LATIONSHIPS” on the left side of the closeup above. It erased out pretty well, even though the writing was dark and done with some pressure.
The phone above shows you the maximum darkness I was able to produce with the General’s Pacific. It’s not bad, considering that this is clearly not a pencil made for drawing, but one made primarily for writing.
If you’re buying from CW Pencils and are looking to add a workhorse cedar pencil with a fondness for fonts to your order, the General’s Pacific is a pretty good choice.
This week I celebrated two years of daily journaling. While I’ve been keeping journals for years, until the last two years I’ve only done so sporadically. Journaling was something that I did only when things got really rough, to keep myself going, or when I was travelling, to preserve the memories of my trip. I used pocket notebooks for my sporadic journals, as it was more important for me to capture things than to reflect on them. It was a utilitarian process, not an enjoyable one. I knew that once I decided to really start a journaling habit, that would have to change.
So the first thing I did was pick a notebook that I knew I’d want to use, and use daily. The only rules were that it had to make me happy, and that it had to be large enough for me to be able to actually write in it, not just jot things down. I wasn’t looking for the best notebook with the best paper in the best format (I don’t think that exists, actually, but for us stationery geeks the search is always on), just a good enough notebook for me.
I also decided very early on that I couldn’t use a fountain pen for this, because I wanted a pen that I could write with even not under the most ideal circumstances. I was also planning for both the notebook and the pen to bash around freely in my bag. These were going to be used and look used.
I chose Moleskine large ruled hardcover notebooks as my notebook of choice, and the uni-ball Signo RT 0.5 gel ink pen as my pen/refill (UMR-85N) of choice. I wanted a sturdy lined notebook that I’d enjoy using and looking at once it was done, and after years of neglecting the Moleskine for other notebooks I came back to it because of some of their limited edition designs. I knew that I was going to use the uni-ball Signo RT 0.5 as my pen or refill of choice (inside a BigiDesign Ti Arto or Ti Arto EDC), so I didn’t need fountain pen friendly paper. I had decided to pick up the steady journaling habit by starting with a travel journal, which I already had some experience with, and then carrying on from there. On the first evening of a trip to London I happened to walk by the Moleskine store in Covent Garden, and I decided to go in and check out what they had. There was a beautifully designed Batman limited edition notebook in exactly the kind of format I was looking for, and it was only available for sale at the Moleskine stores. I bought it, unwrapped and stamped it with the Moleskine Covent Garden stamps, and I haven’t looked back.
That pen and notebook combo has hardly changed over the years. What has changed is the format I use to journal, and the amount of daily journaling I do. When I started out I was used to only jotting a few lines down here and there when I journaled, so I knew I couldn’t expect to write 4-5 pages per day right from day one. Starting with just a paragraph to half a page a day, I pretty quickly moved to one page per day of just writing.
Then I saw a Neistat Brothers video on Youtube and realized that I could use my journal as a visual capturing device as well, and anything could go in it, so long as it made me remember a moment or a place.
That’s when the notebooks really started to get bloated. From clothing labels to business cards and ticket stubs, if I can put glue on it and it’s visually appealing or evocative, it goes in. I almost always also write a little note for future me, to remind myself what I’m looking at and why it’s there. That change really made these notebooks a kind of personal artifact for me, and I can’t say how precious they’ve all become.
At a certain point I started getting ambitious, moving from writing one page a day to two pages, then four pages, then six. That’s when I had to take a step back and make sure that I wasn’t burning out on journaling for all the wrong reasons. I enjoy writing and I enjoy journaling, but I’m also trying to write fiction, and my journal can’t become something that consumes that, an excuse for not writing. It’s also easy to get carried away and want to finish the notebook as fast as possible just so you can open a fresh one, or brag (even if it’s only to yourself) that you’ve finished a notebook. Nowadays I write one or two pages a day for most days, moving up to more pages only if I really have something special to write about.
Life also happens, and oftentimes it’s scary and ugly, a black hole that threatens to consume all that is good in your life, including journaling. My mom got unexpectedly and very seriously ill last year, and we’ve been struggling with her disease ever since. When she was in hospital I couldn’t bring myself to journal. I backlogged those (thankfully few) dark days, and I realized that I would have to accept that as much as journaling is important to me, family comes first, so backlogging is going to have to become acceptable. I try to backlog as little as possible, but some days just demand that.
I also draw a little in my notebook, tiny thumbnails of things that I want to remember later, or that I just feel like drawing. These are usually food doodles, as I don’t really like to photograph my food.
If you’re looking for some journaling tips, I wrote two posts on that subject here and here. If there’s one thing I can leave you with it’s that if you want to journal, you need to figure out a way to it make it work for you, and be ready to adapt as your life changes over time. There is no perfect journaling system, or perfect journaling notebook, there’s only what works for you.
Went to the Tel Aviv Pride Parade 2019 with the wonderful Tel Aviv Urban Sketchers group. Met a lot of lovely, joyful people in the crowd, and managed to draw two watercolour sketches before the heat and crowds got to me.
People were so kind with their remarks and the vibe and music was just awesome. Tel Aviv Pride is just one more reason to love my city.
One of the most iconic things about Moleskines is the “In case of loss, please return to” on the front endpaper. You are supposed to write your name and address on the supplied four lines, together with an enticing, but not too enticing reward. According to Adrienne Raphael this feature of the Moleskine sees little use. If you’re Casey or Van Neistat you label every notebook cover with Whiteout, offering a cash reward.
I just write my name and email, and with “let’s talk” in the reward line. I started filling the “In case of loss” at first because at the time I could barely afford to buy a Moleksine and they were really difficult to obtain, so I wanted a chance to get them back if I ever misplaced them. Over the years filling these lines has become a habit, a ritual that makes the notebook mine instead of just another notebook. I never thought that I would come in use.
Until last year.
I used my Moleskine to journal during a night flight from London to Tel Aviv. In the rush out of the plane I didn’t notice that I forgot my notebook in my seat pocket, together with my beloved Ti Arto. I got home at around 3 AM after a sleepless night, and crashed to sleep. When I woke up a few hours later and realized that I lost my journal you could hear my howl around the block. I beat myself up and then contacted the airline (the brilliant British Airways), as well as the Ben Gurion and Heathrow lost and found, in the faint hope that someone found my notebook and didn’t toss it out with the garbage.
A few hours later, while I was still mourning my loss, I got an email.
The Customer Service Manager on my flight had found my notebook, saw my email address on the “In case of loss” page, and had emailed me. There are good people in the world, and one of them was the manager on my BA flight.
Two weeks later my journal arrived through the mail, and I nearly cried when I saw it.
You see, when I first filled that from page this wasn’t a special notebook. I had bought it on sale, it wasn’t a favourite limited edition of mine, and I had just randomly selected it from the shelf when I filled my previous Moleskine.
But then I wrote in it.
By the time I lost it the notebook contained memories of my dog, which died two months before, notes from my London trip, ideas for a short story, and a lot of snippets of everyday life. It had become meaningful, irreplaceable.
So when you crack open a new notebook, any new notebook, take a moment to jot down your name and email at least. You may plan on only using it for grocery lists right now, but you never know what the future holds.