The Fountain Pen

Posted: December 27, 2011 in opinion, personal essay
Tags: , , , ,

Even in the 70’s the fountain pen was becoming old-fashioned and nearly obsolete, what with the recent release of Flair™ felt-tipped pens and the ubiquitous see-through hard plastic barreled Bics™ that were coming into vogue and would dominate the world market (and land fills) for decades to come. Yes, believe it or not, young whippersnappers, there was a time before felt-tipped pens in my living memory. A time when the major means of communication in a schoolroom was squeaky chalk on a dusty blackboard, and homework was done with a chunk of wood and lead (known in The Day as pencils). I am That Old.

Humankind has witnessed an unrelenting parade of writing implements, from dip quills to fountain pens, to pencils to ballpoint pens to felt-tipped pens to gel pens. Each improvement makes previous “models” rare, collectible antiques or curiosities to gawk over. Pencils have gone the way of the dinosaurs. This constant waxing and waning of writing products keeps us on edge. We don’t want to miss the release of the “next” Sharpie Retractable™ or gel color. Our writing tool hunger knows no bounds. The culture of writing implements is an arena where eager eagle-eyed office supply junkies roam the store aisles muttering “pens” under their breath like stiff-armed zombies in video games mutter “brains” under theirs.

It boils down to this – a pen is an ink delivery system. That’s all they do. Don’t we feel silly now? The problem is that some do it better than others, some don’t do it at all and some do it sporadically. Some cover nicely and some don’t. So it is not that we need so much ink delivered, it’s that we need it delivered the WAY WE WANT IT. We are an independent folk.  That is the basis for humanity’s love of the pen.  For instance, I won’t put up with a scratchy fountain pen to write with, but I will draw with it. But I won’t put up with a scratchy ballpoint pen at all. Life’s too short to mess with a scratchy ball point pen, but I know there are people out there that WILL tolerate it. I can’t conceive of WHY, but they WILL. Because I’ve been on the business end of too many scratchy ballpoint pens in too many places, like signing the check at a restaurant or borrowing a pen at the pharmacy check out. Oh yes, you feel my pain. The dang thing worked for the guy ahead of you but can you chicken scratch out your John Hancock here to save your life? You cannot. And because we are a thrifty folk, that pen will be there the NEXT time you come back to that restaurant, because there is a piece of ratty-assed paper at the register that they keep resuscitating that pen with. They Code Blue and IV Stat and press and squiggle and that bastard writes for them and then they hand it to you and it’s dead as a fence post and makes a deep furrow on your paper where your signature should be.

We didn’t know how good we had it with ballpoints until gel ink came along, reanimating the search for the Holy Grail of pens. Which gel is better? It’s a hard question to answer in the 90’s forward because although they were new, they pretty much sucked out loud. Talk about unpredictable. I had a boss that bought them by the dozens and laid them out on his desk, not just because he was obsessed but because they gave up the ghost so fast that he had to select another, and another, to finish signing his name. Who hasn’t been entranced by the fifty pen set at Sam’s Club and finally seduced to part with their $20 only to get home and find that out of fifty pens, eight of them write smoothly, twelve write sporadically and a full thirty need cold fusion to blast that gorgeous ink out of them, which you can SEE but not ACCESS. And here’s the other thing about gel pens—white ones. Whoever manufactured the first white ink pen should be tarred and feathered although they would probably enjoy it. They have wreaked upon humanity the final blow, the completely unattainable search for perfection. That would be a white pen that writes. Not only that, it must write for a while, and if you inspect the average white pen that MIGHT be the answer to all our misery, you will find that white pen has only been given, in the factory, HALF of it’s life potential. The barrel is only half-full, and I say this not in the optimist/pessimist, “The glass is half-empty” kind of way but in the way of, the barrel is only half-damn-full of white ink.  Immediately, your bliss in finding a white pen that delivers a line of opaque white ink, that is not the size of a railroad tie nor quanta, that covers black paper or paint and does it consistently and with a good attitude is going to have a life shorter than the chick in Love Story. Every time you use it you are contributing to it’s encroaching demise and this you cannot ignore. It taunts you. You have the perfect pen that you cannot use because using it will use it up and even though you BOUGHT it to use, it’s too good to waste on the likes of you. You pen snob you.

My husband is a pen snob. He is not a snob in any area except pens, and he doesn’t own any good ones except ones I’ve bought for him. Because he’s too cheap to buy good pens, but not too proud to use ones given him, like Amish people who don’t believe in electricity but will sit all night in your living room watching your TV. And when I say he is a pen snob believe me, because he turned his nose up at the Sharpie Retractable™ in microscopic fine point and that pen is as close to heaven as any of us will ever get on earth. He said, and I quote, “It isn’t all that, Terry.” This puts a perspective on the last eighteen years of my life. Because if you don’t like the Sharpie Retractable™, and you are alive, there is something quite wrong with you; something so hideously, insidiously evil that H.P. Lovecraft is looking frightened.  H.P. wrote with a fountain pen and would have given his left nard for a Sharpie Retractable™–at least the OPTION of it. But no, my husband prefers his G2™.

We live in troubling times, my friends. We live in a world that wants a dried up Bic™ to be immortal, a white pen barrel to be full of ink, the Sharpie Retractable™ to be universally loved (so that it will be around forever), and the fountain pen, with ink cartridges, readily available. Doesn’t seem like much to ask, does it?

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Comments
  1. Honey, I’m with you all the way on this one. I actually uncapped my fountain pen this morning, and then checked to be sure there was ink in the barrel, and relented to my Country Inn and Suites freebie!

    I don’t own a Sharpie retractable, but you can be sure I will, by New Year’s Day! I laughed and agreed with every observation here about ink delivery systems. I’m amazed we still have them, considering the ubiquitous keyboard.

    • crickyn says:

      ann, thanks for the support. when it comes to pens and their unpredictability, we need all the emotional connection we can muster. the whole thing got started when my mom sent me a pen set because it contained a fountain pen. we used to be stenographers back in the day and were using them all the time. i really like writing with one but man, oh man, the baggage that comes along with every pen you buy is enough to make you run to the keyboard for sure…but sometimes, you just gotta longhand. good hearing from you, hope your holiday was beautiful through and through. tl p.s. my husband frowns on pens with slogans on them, just so you know. but you gotta do what you gotta do.

  2. I’m going to see if I can find the Sharpie retractable! I LOVE gel pens but when I go to use them, usually something is wrong. I had this good gel pen in silver and as I was working on a project just recently, it came out great for about 2 minutes and then it was clear? Pens. What can you do? I have the same problem with glue though! I know a lot of people use UHU glue sticks because they don’t wrinkle the paper. But for me, after a few days, the glue doesn’t work any more and the piece falls off! This just happened to me again!!! Will I ever learn? Back to soft gel medium or even Elmers. I’ll just put weights on it like I usually do for a day or so.

    • crickyn says:

      hi karenann
      i think you will like the Sharpie Retractable, they have a couple different sized points and I’ve given them to art journaling students and everybody seems to like them. But pen preference is so subjective. I think we all struggle with the glue problems you mention and I like (so far) Elmers disappearing purple ink glue sticks and I swear by matt Mod Podge for collage (I made a rhyme there) and Lineco’s bookbinding PVA for finer paper work. I’ve definitely had paper that I used a glue stick on unglue very quickly, but so far the Elmer’s is holding on. Hope some of that might help, but I do think the climate and stars aligning correctly have just as much influence as anything else! Peace, Terry Lee

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