Walk into any trendy coffee shop today and you’ll see dozens of caffeinated techies hunched over their laptops. Or folks in line, scanning the latest texts and emails on their smartphones. It’s all so predictable and boring. If you really want to set yourself apart from the frazzled masses, you’re going to have to go old school. And that means buying a fountain pen.
Look, I love my laptop, tablet and smartphone as much as the next technology addict. But despite their immense usefulness and versatility, they sometimes wear me out. Especially social media. Good Lord, Facebook alone can kill an entire morning. And if you’re a blogger like me, God help you. Between the analytics, search engine optimization and posting schedule, it can get downright hectic. Which brings me back to the blessed fountain pen.
A fountain pen can be a temperamental instrument. It takes time to adjust to. But it will force you to slow down. To be more in the moment. To think more deeply and introspectively. And that’s the zen of fountain pens.
You’ll find that a lovely Moleskine notebook or similar journal will complement your fountain pen. Different papers absorb the ink differently. There are different inks, too. If you look around, there are still some fountain pen dealers out there. The Fountain Pen Hospital in New York and Bittner in Carmel both come to mind. There are also many on-line dealers, but visit a store if you can.
My first introduction to these elegant writing instruments began with my father. An administrative law judge, Dad had perfect copperplate handwriting which flowed from his favored Parker 21 fountain pens. Big, fat, black pens with a needle like nib and silver cap. They came in other colors but he liked the black ones. Other pens would follow. He had a lovely Waterman I inherited when he passed away. Mostly, though, he was a Parker man.
All through grade school I used to watch my father composing legal decisions on long yellow pads. Sometimes I’d sit at the same table, doodling while he wrote. Mostly I just watched him write. His pen seemed to glide across the page. His cursive was immaculate. It was like watching a master calligrapher.
It wasn’t long before I began pining for a fountain pen of my own. Wisely, Dad said I wasn’t ready. I was stuck with the Bic ballpoints. Occasionally he’d let me write with his pens and I quickly learned how to use them. The Parker nibs were medium size and I loved the way the ink flowed, jet black and glistening wet. I learned to give the ink a few moments to dry and found that the pens forced me to slow down just a bit.
When I graduated from high school Dad gave me my first fountain pen. A Parker, of course. It followed me to college and helped ink many a term paper. I loved that the pen had an internal filling bladder that required the use of an ink bottle. I bought Parker “Quink” ink at the university book store ( I doubt the book store carries fountain pen ink anymore). I could have used Parker ink cartridges, but I liked the ritual of reloading the pen from an ink bottle. Like Dad always did.
My fountain pens tagged along for graduate school, but by now I also had an electric typewriter (I know, even that sounds archaic). After graduation, I entered the law enforcement profession and soon found my fountain pens impractical for field use. Ball points were needed for the triplicate citation books, and fountain pen ink tends to run on rainy graveyard shifts. It wasn’t until my promotion to Lieutenant, an administrative position, that my fountain pens were drafted back into service.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down in public and had someone comment on my pens. “Wow, now that’s a pen,” one fellow blurted out in a Starbucks. I was writing in a leather journal with my Pelikan M1000. The M1000 is a big, green fountain pen with a huge nib. It’s hard to miss and really makes a statement. Another time I was in a restaurant writing in my leather pocket notepad with my beefy Sheaffer Legacy fountain pen. The waiter said, ” Hey, that’s a fountain pen. My grandfather used to use those. Cool.”
Fountain pens come in many shapes and sizes. Some can cost thousands of dollars and others are relatively inexpensive. Ironically, the expensive ones don’t necessarily write the best. Whether you’re a lefty or righty, there’s a fountain pen out there for you. There’s even a guy named John Mottishaw who can craft the perfect specialty nib for you. Know this too. Once you go down this road you’re unlikely to turn back. Fountain pens become addicting in a way that gel writers and ball points just can’t compete with.
The zen of fountain pens is that they allow you to step away from the inbox, bright screens and frenetic pace of life. They are a portal back to a simpler time. When you could sip coffee and compose your thoughts carefully. They harken to fathers long gone, whose Parker Duofolds penned love letters from the war front.
The zen of fountain pens will slow your pulse and add a measure of elegance to your life. And in this fast paced, technological age, maybe going old school with a fountain pen is just what the doctor ordered? Take it from me, it’s a prescription that heals a weary mind and hurried spirit.