Treasure in the Grassmarket.

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Esterbrook M2.

I’m not much of a shopper. Browsing endless racks of clothing, trying to find something in both my size and style, is something I avoid doing whenever possible. So holiday shopping becomes a game I play with myself: how quickly and painlessly can I find things I would want to give friends and family?

When I heard about the popup market in the Cowgate a few weeks ago, I thought it might offer me an easy way to do much of this shopping at once. It was sure to offer unique items I wouldn’t be able to find on my own, and all concentrated in one place. Problem solved.

Well, not really. I did find a few things there, but most of it wasn’t in the style of anyone I know. (Except for me: I did not know this about myself before the popup market but I am fascinated by bizarre taxidermy, especially of small animals wearing spectacles.)

I was lucky to be wandering around the market with a patient friend, who was also up for checking out whatever was going on in the Grassmarket. (Another market! In a market. Not shocking.) And as we were strolling and chatting our way through that second market, I spied one of the things that even a non-shopper such as myself has learned means Cool Stuff Might Be Here: the wooden-sided glass case.

These glass cases are usually filled with an odd assortment of costume jewellery, rusted pocket-knives, old tins of long-dried unguents, commemorative coins commemorating things no one cares about anymore, and pens. Yes, pens. Usually dented metal ballpoint pens, but still: pens.

So I have to look. And I hate shopping, and I hate browsing for things that I might buy, but I still look.

In this particular case, something caught my eye that wasn’t a dented metal ballpoint at all. It was a plastic box with gold lettering and something was inside it. The gold lettering read “Esterbrook” and I gasped as I read it.

Because I was not raised by wolves, I asked the stall owners if I could open the box and look at the pen. As I was trying to play it cool, my tone was somewhere between desperation and apathy, a teenaged boy’s mumbled squeak.

I would like to tell you that my hands weren’t shaking. After all, vintage Esterbrook fountain pens are not uncommon, and they’re not even all that fancy. But recently I became a first-time Esterbrook Dollar Pen owner and when I fell, I fell hard. So my hands were shaking, a little, as I removed the pen from the case and inspected it. “Mint condition” is too generous but it was certainly in good condition, and I’ll save you the nerdery around the specifics there.

Because I’ve been collecting pens for a number of years now, right about the time I am fondling a pen hard enough to consider buying it, a number pops into my head. That number is the most I would pay for the pen. Another thing pops into my head: the first word I would write with that pen, if it were mine, but that’s less relevant to the actual transaction portion of the experience.

So as I turned this cream-of-tomato-soup red pen over in my hands, the number popped into my head, and the word too, and then I realised there was also a number on a sticker on the plastic box the pen was inside and that number, that number, was a deliriously low number, the type of number not even as high as the number on a menu next to a fancy hamburger. And that was when I knew that this pen, this pen, was mine. The rest was a formality.

The word? Serendipity. Because shopping, as awful as it can be, can also contain moments of serendipity like this one. Plus “serendipity” is just one badass word to write with an Esterbrook M2 fountain pen.

Adore yourself.

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Photoshop lies.

There was a recent spate of graffiti near one of my work sites. I liked this one. The sentiment is good, of course, but if you’ve watched more than a half-hour of television here lately you have also seen this particular advertisement often. And it is as insipid as only a perfume advert can be. I like Charlize Theron’s acting but I’m not sad about this graffito at all.

Random moments, catching up on the past eleven days (whoops) of Holidailies:

  • It is really boring to hear about how ill someone has been, so I will save you that part of the update. But I can assure you of one thing: it is even more boring to be the person living it.
  • The fireplace gets fixed tomorrow! Lately I have deep appreciation for my hot-water bottle, electric blanket, ratty old bathrobe, fleece infinity scarf, and cats, especially at bedtime.
  • Suddenly getting choked up in the Tesco Metro upon hearing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is one way to make a new friend, or at least to test the customer service abilities of a patient cashier.
  • Never underestimate the restorative power of Skype calls.
  • I finally get why you are all raving about Serial. But do you get why I continue to rave about Judge John Hodgman? (Note: these two podcasts are about as different as podcasts get, but they’re both outstanding.)
  • Adore yourself for exactly one minute today, no more and no less. Then you can go back to self-loathing and crippling doubt about your place in the world.
  • Never mention the referendum at a work holiday party, not even in passing, not even as a side comment you were making about something else. “Too soon” doesn’t even begin to cover it. I surprised myself at the mistake, and it went quickly from “oops” to “o god what have I done” to “please someone set off the fire alarm so I have an excuse to run out of here”. And then the fire alarm went off. But it was only a drill, and we all stayed seated, and it never got any better.
  • To settle my roiling stomach, I drank an entire can of ginger ale. It was weird, but not entirely unpleasant, and I think I have finally gotten over my distaste of carbonation. Also, that trick really works!

And a teaser for next post, mostly to tease myself into actually writing it: I found treasure for only £7 in the Grassmarket on Saturday.

Waking up the cats.

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Waking up the cats.

The cats are cold. I’m cold. We’re all cold. Zen was born in Alabama, and Torgi in California, so they aren’t used to it, but I really have no excuse. I was born in the snow belt of the northeastern US and lived in Chicago, and somehow I’ve lost all ability to function in not-even-freezing weather.

I am wearing fleece trousers over leggings, a fleece jumper and scarf, and a bathrobe, and I’m still cold.

We’re all cold and because we’re all cold we’re all sleepy, all the time. But that’s no good, see, because then the cats are wide awake at five in the morning and at that time Torgi has taken to shoving his paw into my ear canal as far as it will go as his way of saying, “Hello, I am hungry now.”

So it is my job, several times a day, to wake up the cats. I do it gently because they are old, more fragile than they used to be, and waking up from purr-lined, fur-lined sleep is a cruel enough experience.

Today I read on Facebook that a friend lost her cat in the most horrible and violent way I could imagine. In fact, I have imagined something similar, whenever we leave the cats in someone else’s care. And I am not a fool; I know that there is a big bad world out there full of nasty things that can steal our loves away. But the reality of it, even removed from thousands of miles and to someone else’s cat, was gratuitously awful.

I woke up my cats this evening whispering into their fur, “Thank you. Thank you for being okay.”

So we are cold. But we are okay. And today that’s enough.

Edinburgh at Christmas.

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Edinburgh at Christmas.

I wasn’t feeling particularly creative today, so I went with the Holidailies prompt, which is: “What are you most looking forward to this holiday season?”

You likely already know that I am FunkyPlaid-less this holiday season. (I am also currently Internet-less, which is nearly as dire.) Right now I am not looking forward to much about this holiday season.

Shortest. Blog post. Ever.

No, no. There are some things I am anticipating. And I think I can kickstart the holiday mood by spending more time at the European Christmas Market. FunkyPlaid and I went once the night before he left, and had a wonderful time hanging out with our friends and drinking hot glüwein. That night I was in the holiday spirit. And if I was there once, I can get there again. I just have to work at it a little.

Writing from: the drafty lounge. Listening to: “American Pie” in the background, glitching out so much it sounds more like a horror film. I guess the TV signal is going soon, too …

Gift of significance.

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One of the best presents in the world is an autographed copy of a book. I was reminded of this just last week. My friend V and I Skype regularly and the last time I was telling her that I’m not in the best mental health lately. No stranger to dips in mental health, I have lots of coping mechanisms, and one of them is re-reading a collection of Ray Bradbury’s essays called Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity. I have a cheap Bantam paperback that I dog-ear and mark up to my heart’s content, and it is cathartic, this reading and mangling of pages, over and over again. She wrote the title down because she was feeling a bit out-of-sorts as well, having just moved to a new home for a new job and learning to establish a new social circle and the rest.

So last week we had an unexpected parcel delivered, which is a strange occurrence because on the rare occasions we do receive parcels we are expecting their arrival. But inside this parcel addressed to me was a copy of the Bradbury collection. It was a nicer edition than my own and in excellent condition, but I was perplexed: I thought certainly someone I had recommended this book to had made a mistake and accidentally had it shipped to me instead of themselves. Then I opened it to the title page: Ray Bradbury’s autograph, which made me gasp, and dated 6/26/1996. 1996 was the year I left everything I knew and moved to Alabama for a guy I met online, a significant pivot-point in my development as a person and as a writer. V didn’t know that about the date, I’m sure, but she opened the door for that lovely coincidence.

Two Bradbury Collections

I’m struggling this year to find gifts of significance instead of convenience for the people closest to me, and I had forgotten the power of an autographed book until now, gripping an old paperback to my heart with tears filling my eyes.

Writing from: a very chilly lounge, as the fireplace is currently broken. Listening to: SomaFM Christmas Lounge. Yes, it’s Holidailies time once more, which means with any luck you’ll be hearing from me every day this month.