Saturday, July 3, 2010

Fountain Pen as Mediator

I lost my favorite pen last week, looked for it feverishly without success despite this great web site: how to find lost things. For seven long days I had a sour attitude while taking client notes, writing in my journal, and making lists using inferior and off putting writing implements. I couldn't take it anymore and in a panic finally ordered two more similar pens off the web. Yesterday I pulled a shirt from my closet and in the pocket was the missing pen! Birds chirped, the sun came out, and my funk was lifted. I even spotted rainbows and unicorns in the back yard.

Why the obsession with this favorite pen? For 50+ years I've been an obsessive doodler, scribbler, and note taker and have tried hundreds, maybe thousands of different tools for writing—from crayons to key boards, from easy to smear crow quill and Speedball dip pens to Design Markers loaded with toxic xylene for quick drying, from maddening Rapidographs that clog to exotic grades of graphite sticks and felt tip markers. Nothing beats the fountain pen I discovered two years ago (Lamy details to come). Here’s why I’m a dedicated fan.

It’s comforting to hold a pen. Like a security blanket I find holding a pen oddly soothing. I type like the wind but the keys clatter, my sentences bump into each other, and important rough drafts disappear thanks to the too-easy-to-use delete button. A fountain pen makes me slow down and think.

A fountain pen is a low tech device, operable in dim light. Computer screens emit serotonin-boosting light and journaling at night by hand in dusky lumens has a calming effect. Plus, when I change the ink cartridge there’s a gradual appearance of the new color—turquoise, red, purple, blue or green (see photo). One takes one’s entertainments where one finds them.

Most importantly, fountain pens glide over paper surfaces effortlessly. Years ago I was a sign painter who dreaded jobs where I had to apply lettering to rough surfaces—splintered wood, untreated boards, and gritty cement walls. It’s like these surfaces resisted my artistic efforts. I know we shouldn't personify paper surfaces; they hate it when we do that. But I still get the feeling that writing surfaces are fussy; I believe that paper resents intrusive pencils, bossy ball point pens, and demanding gel pens.

But the fountain pen! Ahhh. A smooth flow of rich, opaque ink is one of life’s finer pleasures. You know those electronic devices we see on TV with several needles wobbling back and forth—seismographs, lie detectors, EKGs? I believe the rolls of paper on which those wavy lines appear welcome ink with pleasure because the data is applied with grace, delicacy, and finesse. Fountain pen ink is applied the same way. It is not imposed or forced upon reluctant paper; it flows, it glides, it is laid down with grace. And the paper cooperates! It’s the difference between plowing furrows in hard clay and gently planting seeds in prepared soil.

Writing instruments bring together two disparate entities that need help connecting: synapses and stationery. The fountain pen is the perfect media—from which we get the word mediator—accurately mediating between what brains think and what paper receives. By presenting with clarity and gentleness a writer’s thoughts, and representing to the brain how the writing surface is responding, a symbiosis takes place. Whether the surface is a note card, onion skin, or cheap note pad, a fountain pen does the job with artfulness, class, and elegance. It’s a marriage made in heaven.

Lamy details. One need not—but could—spend $10,000 for a collectible fountain pen. After years of experimenting my favorite fountain pens are made by Lamy, $26 - $235 each (ink is extra). I buy the $30 models and love them.


  1. I love this post!!! I don't usually hear you use such flowery language, so I know this is true love. My heart broke over your loss but rejoiced when you were reunited. I never thought the appreciation of office supplies was hereditary, but I guess it must be. that you have two extra pens, can I try one?

  2. This made me LOL: "I know we shouldn't personify paper surfaces; they hate it when we do that."