Saturday, August 08, 2009
More fear and loathing. Everybody's doin' it! Also, pen geekery writ large.
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. ;-)