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My Fountain Pen and Me

October 30, 2015



A co-worker of mine is an artist and she bought a new fountain pen a few months back hoping to hone her calligraphy skills. After she urged me to try it out and I fell in love with it, I decided I would also buy a fountain pen and start using it instead of my usual favorite gel pens. I had had a fountain pen in college that I loved despite its cheap, leaky design, so this was treading old, familiar ground for me.


I initially bought a different brand from my friend’s, not realizing that a Japanese-made fountain pen nib in medium is like an extra-fine nib in Western-made pens. I loved the pen—the feel, the weight (it had a very nicely made aluminum body) the balance, the price—but I couldn’t get past that extra-fine nib. I searched everywhere and discovered that it wasn’t possible to find a replacement nib for these pens. To get a true medium stroke I would have to buy another pen from that company that came with a broad nib (medium by Western standards) and switch them out.


I absolutely refused to do that—it just seemed too silly to by another pen just to harvest a nib—so for my second try I purchased essentially the same pen as my co-worker’s, but in a different color (lime green, to be exact). My mistake was buying from a secondary source, meaning I got a second-quality pen. The barrel sections didn’t match up properly and the nib leaked—finally profusely—and I returned it for a refund.


The third time was a charm. I went to a local pen shop and purchased the same model, but this time in their “standard” color. It is charcoal gray, with a lovely matte finish that is a delight to hold. It is merely an entry-level fountain pen, though of a very high quality, made by a German pen-maker of high repute, but I thoroughly enjoy using this pen; it is my everyday use utensil and I am very fond of it. I have even “commissioned” my husband to create a special pen holder for my desk at work to accommodate its size (it’s a bit fatter than a regular pen), and I currently have five different ink colors to play with for which I am painting a box to match my pen holder.


My thoughts about my fountain pen and my strong attachment have led me to think about my emotional attachment to this inanimate object and I’ve come to a few obvious conclusions:


  • Humans like the familiar. Do we know why 10, 20, or even 30 or more years later we reconnect with objects from our past? The first fountain pen I had was an atrocious beast of a writing utensil, but my memories of having that pen and the pleasure it gave me overrode my practical side and prompted me on a quest to recapture that early enjoyment. And you know what? I’m completely enamored again, after 30 years of being completely happy with relatively normal pens. (Though in my defense, I have always been pretty picky about the kinds of pens I use and usually purchase pens out-of-pocket for use at work when they aren’t on the approved vendors’ catalogs.)

  • Humans like to cut corners. I have asked myself this question several times: knowing I liked my friend’s fountain pen as much as I did, what prompted me to purchase a different pen the first time around? Initially, cost was a deciding factor. I also really wanted a metal pen vs. a plastic one, and finding a decent aluminum fountain pen for less than $50 is difficult. I read reviews and concluded I would like the pen. I DID like it. Except for that pesky nib, which I’d read about and disbelieved. I ended up giving the pen to my college-age daughter who likes fine tip pens. I’m not out much money, but I still wonder why I didn’t just cut to the chase and spend the extra $15 for a pen I knew I would like.

  • Humans can become obsessed with relatively unimportant things. How important is my fountain pen in the whole scheme of my life? My emotional answer is VERY IMPORTANT. The practical answer, however, is that it really doesn’t matter if I own a fountain pen or a stub of a pencil as long as that object serves its purpose. I own five bottles of ink and five converters (they take the place of ink cartridges so I can use the inks of my choosing), I found a Vera Bradley lipstick case in a pattern I love that I use keep the small things together (nibs, converters and cartridges), I’ve asked my husband to create another object designed to both hold and display the pen and I spend a lot of time thinking about new ink colors, papers, and whether I might one day develop the discipline it takes to be an old-school correspondent by mail. I’ve also asked for a higher-priced pen for Christmas from my family. Not that I’m abandoning the current one – oh no – but I’d love to have a nicer pen that I can leave on my desk so I can carry the plastic one around in my purse with less concern about losing or breaking it. And so it begins…or continues…


Why am I writing about my obsession with my fountain pen? Because it speaks to who I am. In truth, I have very few things I’m “funny” about. I don’t like it when someone else uses my pillow, I like towels to be folded a certain way, and I love my pens. I don’t have lovely handwriting (calligraphy escapes me completely) and I’m not a visual artist (though I would love to be able to draw the things I see as I see them), but I love the smooth flow of ink onto the page and delight in the subtle differences of that ink on the downstroke and the upstroke. My fountain pen MATTERS to me. It is an extension of me in a way other objects are not. I am expressed in my writing—even in the doodles on my page during a conference call. I can write with any pen or pencil, but I enjoy writing with my fountain pen in a way I can’t really adequately express. Every time I use it, even on a bad day, it brings me a small sliver of pleasure.


What do I hope you take away from this? Do yourself a favor and find some small object from your youth that you miss and allow it back into your life. Revel in it a bit. Obsess a bit. Enjoy it thoroughly. Give yourself permission to care about something that doesn’t seem important to others, but that gives you great pleasure. Even on a bad day, that object can let a tiny crack of light--of joy--into your life that can lift your spirits and improve your outlook.

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