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An Embarrassment of Riches

Posted by Dirck on 15 September, 2010

I had what might be called a Buddhist moment yesterday.  As with any philosophical experience, it was rather uncomfortable but probably good for me.  Sort of like a trip to a chiropractor or a big bowl of spinach.

I was reading in a travelling journal I share with several other correspondents, and apart from the content (close secrets, of course, simply because it is a private correspondence) was enjoying the various inks in which it’s written– we’re all fountain pen types.  Blues, browns, greens, even some reds, a garden of writing indeed.  For reasons no doubt having to do with the way my neurological wiring is laid down, this prompted me to reminiscence about my early days as a fountain pen user, back in the days when the smallest computer you might lay hands on was a “mini-” rather than a “micro-” and a VCR cost as much as a small car.

My earliest fountain pen was the simple and lauded Sheaffer cartridge cheapie.  This situation was prompted by mere proximity– the local drug-store carried them, and that’s where I went for my 10¢ comic books.  This (not actual) choice rendered me dependent upon Sheaffer’s cartridges, since I not only didn’t really know about bottled ink, but wouldn’t have known how to get it into the pen.  Sheaffer cartridges were not, in my part of the world at that time, available in a wild assortment of colours.

And here we get to the philosophical line– am I any happier now, with my dozen and more inks, than I was in those innocent times of black, midnight blue, and peacock blue?  How far past a sufficiency is a bloating plethory?  Certainly, I might spend less time getting out of the house if I didn’t stand before the ink trough trying to decide what ink suits the day’s mood– is it blue, bluer, not so blue, plum, plummish, or a variety of brown?  Does having the power to make this choice enrich me somehow?

I’m not a great Buddhist, frankly.  It’s not that I don’t examine my desires, but I don’t mash them to death under a weight of appropriate contemplation.  I’m well on my way to dropping the philosphical ball on this one as well.  I would in all likelihood get just as much writing done if I settled on Lamy blue-black or Diamine Majestic Blue and stopped fussing… but I don’t think I’d extinguish the underlying desire for novelty by that means.  I may be in a better place, spiritually, in having a pile of different colours on hand so I’m not constantly distracted by wondering what life might be like writing with another colour.  We’ll overlook for the moment the many other colours of ink I’d like to have in reserve.

I do remember enough of that early ink experence to know that colour infidelity is not a new development.  Back in that three-colour life, I still became anxious to change colour long before I had used the last cartridge in a package of five.  The monkey-mind was firmly in the driver’s seat, even then.

I should take some solace in the fact that by focussing so firmly on this issue I’ve entirely suppressed the ongoing desire for new and diverse pens… or had until just now.  Great.  Now the monkey is screaming for a Pelikan M400.  Where’s Frank Buck when you need him?

Today’s pen, clutched in a figurative prehensile tail: Parker 50
Today’s ink, not notably banana-scented: Lamy blue

4 Responses to “An Embarrassment of Riches”

  1. succubus said

    I have a drawer full of pretty colors of inks, and for purely practical reasons, I anticipate I’ll be using Lamy blue-black exclusively for the next 3 months if not the next 9 months. I rotate the pens for variation. The P51 and the Swan Leverless with a #2 nib are completely different animals.

    There’s always pen trade (although my pens trades often seem to end up in eventual acquisitions) – you want to borrow my chick stick to satisfy your M400 longings?

    • That’s very tempting, but it could either spoil an imagined perfection (which would, in a doctrinal way, be a good thing, but as mentioned above I’m not great at the Buddhism) or lead to an ugly cross-border custody dispute.

      …but I’m not ruling the notion out.

  2. sophie_vf said

    well – if it’s any consolation, I figure that if Buddhists didn’t care about colour, they wouldn’t make these sand mandalas: http://www.flickr.com/photos/limesally/123443949/

    (tongue in cheek! tongue in cheek!)

    I came along a similar FP path as yourself – Sheaffer cartridge pens from the drug store and I was sufficiently excited when I found ink came in peacock blue. And now, I am forever trying to stuff the newest bottle of ink into the most inconspicuous corner I can (J Herbin Vert Olive, for the record). I actually think I am slightly happier about having more choice. As long as I have the storage space for it.

    • Oh, that’s just gayly-coloured sand of a consistent texture that just happens to by lying around handy for use– a natural occurance not unlike the Lego Springs just outside Billund in Denmark. 😉

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