Saturday, August 08, 2009

More fear and loathing. Everybody's doin' it! Also, pen geekery writ large.

aug8 002

Ironically, these tend to be the times when I obsess the most over the tools of the trade, as if I could make everything turn around if I could just find the right pen or ink or paper or typewriter or what-have-you. And I don't give up writing when I feel like this. I'm just disgusted by every word is all. I write, but feel guilty and miserable for trying, sick that I had the hubris to try and run with the big dogs at times, when in reality, my stories are pale pablum not fit for human consumption.

There, you see what I did just then? Mixed metaphors all dumped together in a navel gazing whole that needs to go on that burn pile. ASAP.

But back to the obsession thing. Pens. I recently spent a bunch of time slummin' it with "inexpensive" pens--it's all relative, of course. Most of these were pens I've picked up over the years--I have a cup o' pens in almost every room of the house. Some rooms have two. It's a sickness. They pretty much all have good and bad points. Ballpoints, for instance, are available everywhere (often for free) write practically forever (some of the super smooth pens like the Pilot Dr. Grip Center of Gravity being the exception--they don't last much longer than gel pens), dry instantly and will write on even the roughest, spongiest paper. They're a carefree lot, ballpoints are, and there's a certain freedom to using them: no worries about paper quality or stray moisture, and they smell mahvelous.

Downsides? Yes, many. First and most obvious, they put down a rather anemic line. "Black" ballpoint ink is typically more of a streaky purplish-grey. It can be hard to read.

Their biggest downside for me, though, is that because of their thick, pasty ink, they require a certain amount of pressure to write with, which in turn also makes you grip them more tightly, all of which leads to hand and wrist cramping. When I hear people say, "Oh, I could never write more than a few words by hand," I pretty much assume they've never used anything but ballpoints. Don't get me wrong, ballpoints are great in their place, but I don't like 'em for intense writing.

I also have a number of gel pens around the house, mainly a handful of the ubiquitous Pilot G-2. I like these a lot. They put down a nice dark line, almost always write immediately even when they've been sitting, the ink is (mostly) waterproof and archival. They do require a little bit of hand pressure, but are much more comfortable than ballpoint. As you write, they have a slightly sticky feel to them, which grows on me, actually. It's like...I dunno...writing through honey. Gives you a feeling of control on the paper, but i do find it hard to really zip along with them. Also, they smear. Sometimes a lot. And they're pickier about paper than ballpoints are.

The biggest downside to them for me is that I could go through 'em like water. For me, they typically last somewhere around 40 comp book pages. That may sound like a lot, but it really isn't. On a typical day outside of NaNoWriMo season, I may write four pages in my journal and another four in my story notebook--I get 150-200 words a page, at a guess, so we're not talking a ton of words, honestly. At that rate, I go through a gel pen in five days, provided I don't also use it at work. Seems wasteful to me, especially since most of the time the refills cost as much as the pen, so you're throwing away a pen a week.

Next up would be rollerballs, I guess: liquid ink rolling ball pens. I've used Uniball rollers now and again for years. I'm also a fan of the Pilot v5. Roller balls can be rather like a compromise between gel/ballpoint pens and true fountain pens--with their water-based inks, they only need to touch the page to put down a line. But if the ball doesn't roll freely, they skip, and many styles don't have water-resistant ink.

And now I come back, as I always do, to fountain pens. Do they have downsides? You betcha. They can leak, many of the inks can fade or wash away easily (I'm looking at you, Waterman Florida Blue, or would be if you hadn't vamoosed), they aren't readily available, they can be expensive, their watery ink and pointy nibs are incredibly finicky about paper, and you have to hold them at the right angle or they won't write at all. You have to guard against dropping them or co-workers mangling them, because if a fountain pen nib gets damaged, it isn't as though you can just swap in a refill to replace it--the nib is an integral part of the pen, and it's relatively fragile, especially if it's a gold nib on a nicer pen.

Also they (and the ink and paper that go with 'em) are addictive. If you have the slightest tendencies toward office supplies geekery, for the love of Pete stay away from the things, or next thing you know you'll be cruising Fountain Pen Network at all hours of the day and night, hiding pen and ink acquisitions in the backs of drawers, endlessly scribbling about scribbling, and planning how to obtain your next hit.

I'm primarily an ink addict, though at this point I tend to stick to Noodler's Black and Noodler's "near bulletproof" colors, mostly thanks to the bad taste Waterman Florida Blue left in my mouth (not literally...I'm not *that* much of a junkie...): some of my old journal pages are approaching unreadable, and we're not even talking about much time here. I'm not sure I *want* anyone to read my notebooks in a hundred years, but I'd like to be able to read my own notes for at least five or ten or twenty years.

As for pens, in the last ten years or so I've been fortunate enough to own or try many of the flagship standards out there. My favorite pen is the Parker 51 I picked up for $30 about three years back. It's very, very user-grade: the cap is dinged and worn, the pen has lots of scratches and such, and the ink sac is stained. But writing with that pen is a transcendent experience--no pressure required at all, the words almost float onto the page as I think them. Everyone should have the experience of writing with a pen like that at least once.

I also have quite a few knock-around Chinese Hero 329s and 616s (they come up in packages of 10 for next to nothing on eBay now and again). I give these away to anyone wanting to try a fountain pen, though they do require bottled ink (rather than cartridges). They're also fun to fill with colors I don't use a ton of.

My most recent expensive pen acquisition was a total impulse buy, which I lay squarely in the court of one Marko Kloos, AKA The Munchkin Wrangler: it's a Lamy 2000 like the one at the top of his blog page, with Lamy's XF nib (making it more of a fine in most other worlds). I am very, very impressed with it so far. It's beautifully understated, extremely comfortable in the hand, and very smooth on the page. It holds a ton of ink, too. It may give the 51 a run for its money, especially once we get used to one another. There's also something to be said for a pen that is still being made. Nice to know I *could* replace it if I had to.

Um...I think I had a point, but I lost it somewhere along the way. Babbling as security blanket, I guess. I'll go back to writing bad prose now. ;-)


Anne said...

You are a brilliant writer, a brilliant poet! Please, do not burn the things you have written! You give me much inspiration and joy, and I am sure there are many others who feel the same way about your lovely words. Keep it up, this dry, lonely world needs you!

Duffy Moon said...

I totally dig what you've written about the self-loathing. I go through those cycles (seem to be cycling quite a bit more rapidly these days).

But then you go and write a very entertaining post - entertaining to someone who's not even a pen addict.

Not yet, anyway.

(*suddenly realizing the trap you've laid for me, and shaking my fist toward the Pacific NW*)

Joe V said...

I too like your writing, and can relate to your lament about pens, being a terminal office supply junky. I've never liked rollerballs or gel pens. For ballpoints I like Parker the best, followed by Zebras.

But my Pelikan M100 is by far my favorite pen. I like the piston-style refill, and using bottled ink. So far I've only used Parker's Quink blue/black, and my first bottle is running on dregs, but I've a second bottle ready to go.

I was writing a short story in a handmade, center-stapled booklet made from Staple's bagasse cane sugar pulp paper, and somehow the booklet got wet. One side of most of the pages are smeared, but it's still readable. Oh, the things we struggle with for our low-fi technology.

I suppose ballpoints, on paper, would be considered the best pen from a technology standpoint; but it's like my love of old film cameras, there's the human side to operating these tools. Modern digicams are better by every metric imaginable, except using them and seeing the results.

I suspect many of us retro-geeks are more process-oriented, enjoying the manual labor.

Thanks for the post.


Mike Speegle said...

Man, LFP, don't let them old scribblin' blues getcha down. The cure is just to write even more.

Or learn to play the harmonica.

Monda said...

I'm with Mike. The only cure for the scribblin' blues is to write some more. Scads more.

Or, um, buy another cool notebook/pen/typewriter.

For everyday writing (and I do a LOT) I use a Parker 88 Rialto ballpoint with a black Parker gel refill. I go through a refill every five or six days and buy them in huge quantity. i don't care - they are The Bomb. Wouldn't give them up for anything.

Except a nice Parker 51...

Strikethru said...

Nice overview of your pen experiences. I am very impressed that you write that much by hand. My hand gets very tired after just a few sentences which is why fountain pens are nice, they just float on the page.

What Anne said. Keep writing. I think your blog is always lovely.

Little Flower Petals said...

Thanks, gang. I swear I wasn't fishing for compliments!

Joe--with ya on the piston fill thing. The new Lamy 2000 is also a piston filler, and I'm amazed how much ink it holds. My 51 also has a capacious capacity. Spoils me a bit for converter type pens, though on the bright side, those mean you aren't stuck with the same color ink for a long time. By the way, partially thanks to you, I recently picked up some of the Staples bagasse paper, in composition book form. They're on sale locally for .99, and I figured...why not? So far I'm impressed! It's lovely to write on. Seems made for fountain pen use.

Monda, I remember your mentioning how much you like Parker's gel refills. I actually bought some for my Jotter (the one that rides in my pocket briefcase), thinking I'd put it in once I used up the initial ballpoint refill...but that refill just won't die! I'd estimate I've written a few hundred pages with it at this point, and it's still going like the Energizer bunny. I suppose there's no one holding a gun to my head and saying I mustn't just set it aside for awhile while I try the gel....

Speegle, as it happens, I do have a harmonica. Hm.

Woke up this mornin' *blues riff*
My muse she'd done left *blues riff*
I'm writin' nothin' but garbage,
And it's got me sooooo miffed.

OK, maybe I'd better leave the harmonica alone.

Mike Speegle said...

That's awesome! What kind. I gots me a Hohner Big River and Lee Oskar. I can really only play "Ode to Joy" and "Rainbow Connection" by memory, though. Jackson uses the Lee Oskar to great effect as well. that I think about it, could I take you up on one of those Hero's? For a moment there I was going to abstain, but then I realized you were offering FREE PENS. My pride only extends so far. I don't see your addy anywhere, so hit me up at and we'll hash out the deets.

Mike Speegle said...

Rather "What kind?"

Sigh...proofreading is a harsh mistress.

mpclemens said...

I'm still getting all kinds of crazy happiness from the mega-cheap Yafa "Aldo Domini" pen that I got from Office Depot clearance. It's the smoothest one I own, and I love it in all its cheap-steel-nib glory. I like my new shiny ref Sheaffer, but it's going to take some surgery to get the piston working again. But now that I know that the Lamy is piston-fill, I can feel that resolve chipping away...

Little Flower Petals said...

It's a Special 20 I've long time. Since my early teens. Key of C. To be honest, I've never gotten much beyond "You Are My Sunshine" and "Red River Valley," but I get it out now and again and goof around with it. Once upon a time I spent *ages* endlessly trying to learn to bend notes in order to play some bluesy type things. I got there, sort of, but...I made an awful lot of noise in the process.

I imagine your son *loves* yours! Kids do tend to have a certain way with harmonicas, don't they? ;-) Eek!

I'll drop you a note about the Heros. For others who might have questions, my e-mail address is spelled out at the very bottom of my blog.

Mike Speegle said...

Bending is hard, but making a lot of noise is the best part of the process, I think. Plus, the harmonica is definitely one of those instruments that you an horse around with a sound a little like you know what you're doing.

Jack actually plays the nicer Lee Oskar. I have been relegated to the Big River ever since he made the other one smell permanently like milk.

speculator said...

Send me your address, and I'll send you pencils! Yes, pencils that will make you want to write!

Whenever I get into a writing slump, I start reading; somehow (at least for me) this always works.

Being a full-time archivist, of course I wouldn't want you to destroy your documentation of your thoughts!
(My fountain pen of choice: the Waterman Hemisphere;
ballpoint of choice:
Ballograf Epoca)

Little Flower Petals said...

Speculator--I believe you're right: reading does help. And I've been slacking off on that lately, too. I need to make a library run. My brain needs to do some cross-training!

Hm...I'll have to drop you a line back channel about pencils. ;-)

Marko said...

Sorry about the Lamy 2000 thing

(You'll thank me later, when you've written with that L2K for a few months, and you find that it still never fails to put a smile on your face when you pick it up to write.)

And keep writing, whatever else you do. Any writing is better than no writing at all. Monda is dead on: the only cure for Writers' Ennui is to write some more.

Little Flower Petals said...

I'm honored that you stopped by!

One thing that fascinates me about the 2000 is that I can look at pages of my writing and spot which I wrote with the 2000 even amongst other writing with pens with similar nib widths and the same ink: my handwriting is noticeably better and more relaxed. It just fits my hand really well. I'm liking it more all the time.