I don’t get to look in at FPGeeks as much as I’d like. This is largely due to my own habits and amazing powers to forget the existence of common things, and I’m sure with a little application I could fix the problem. I’m delighted to find, therefore, that the thing I saw there yesterday and want to react to is quite recent.
That thing, entitled Why I Use Fountain Pens, is itself a reaction to an entry elsewhere, with the highly inflammatory title Why I Don’t Use Fountain Pens. I find I want to react to both of them, largely because of the effects of cabin fever.
Let me first turn to TonyB’s baffling declaration, which is helpfully laid out in enumerated reasons–
1. Fountain pens are distracting.
…When you use a fountain pen, it’s all about the pen. You have to always be conscious of how you’re holding the pen, how it’s moving, how the ink is flowing. If you let the fountain pen get out of the correct position, it won’t work. You’re forced to focus on the act of writing itself, rather than on the writing.
Well… yes. I agree with the heading, at least. The specifics I diverge on, since what he’s complaining about there are things that come under the heading of “use makes master”. I don’t find myself thinking about all that stuff, any more than I really think about how to work a clutch in a standard transmission. Once, perhaps, when these were new and unfamiliar things, they were problematic; I know the transmission was, for a while, but since there was no training given nor available when I started on fountain pens I may have just fallen into it naturally. I was no more dogged about gaining skills of that sort than the average kid.
Distraction is a danger, though, as the various sensual aspects of the pen (which I know I’ve written about at some point in the past) can take over from the act of composition. Gosh, the pen is just so pretty, the light twinkles so on the ink as it tumbles onto the page, the sigh of the point across the paper is both a sound and a harmonic in the fingertips…. Yes. Distracting… but so enjoyable, I can’t see why one would deny it but from some kind of “pleasure = bad” puritanism.
2. Fountain pens are too much work.
Look, I already have enough to worry about between car maintenance, taking care of the computer equipment I use to make a living, keeping up with little repairs around my apartment, and the general minutiae of daily living.
Fountain pens have to be cleaned carefully after use, stored just so to prevent damage or leaking, filled before use. I’m not interested in having to worry about my writing instruments like that on top of everything else. It’s just unnecessary hassle and, for me, takes all the fun out of pens.
Again, I can’t say I completely deny this claim, although it is being made to sound a good deal fussier than reality. Indeed, I contemplated it briefly in the past, examining the different sorts of work represented by fountain pens (acute, maintenance) and ballpoints (chronic, shoving the damn thing across a page). So, yes, but no. I’ve made my choice, and I’ll defend it with every ounce of effort I’ve saved in not having to shove a ballpoint across a page.
3. Fountain pens are too expensive.
As I’ve said before, my absolute favorite pen to date is the Pentel EnerGel, especially now that it comes in so many different variations. Not one of them costs more than about US$10.
I know that there are good fountain pens to be had for under US$50. But, let’s be honest, most of you are spending hundreds of dollars on fountain pens. Maybe I’m just cheap because the idea of parting with that kind of cash for a pen makes me cringe.
My recent purchase of a Pelikan M600 has rather shot my counter-argument in the foot, but I can still cling to the idea that the amount I spent on that fountain pen was less than some Mont Blanc ballpoints. This is not, I’ll freely admit, a very good argument, and my Bolshevist spirit sags in dismay that I have to trot it out. For the most part, though, I’ve not been spending hundreds of dollars on individual pens– yesterday’s Snorkel, repairs included, cost rather less than the $50 mentioned above. And while I’m a big idiot who keeps on buying fountain pens, that’s not really the point. He’s relying on a manufacturer being consistent in making many of the same model of pen in a variety of colours all with much the same performance, and on that manufacturer not deciding to discontinue the model, because once one of those EnerGels runs dry, it’s done. Any single pen I have, if I like the performance, I can keep coming back to it, applying different colours, and never really care if it’s long out of production (like yesterday’s or today’s pen). There is also an economic argument, which I’m setting up to make in a few days, but for now I’ll leave it at that.
Like Dan over at FPGeeks, I’m never going to say TonyB is wrong nor wicked for what is a subjective choice, especially one that is reasoned out and, one hopes, based on having tried it and not liked it. Dan’s response is, though, not without some things I want to pick upon too.
1. Fountain pens are a reflection of their owner.
I’ve always liked my possessions to be personal and unique. Fountain pens offer so much more personalization than any other writing instrument. The number of materials, colors, and sizes fountain pens come in is staggering. Then there’s the theme pens that honor people, events, or locations around the world.
Add to that custom made pens, the possibility of nib grinds, flexible nibs, and bottled inks in every color you can imagine, and the fountain pen starts to become more like a fingerprint that uniquely identifies you.
Actually, I have no issue with that whatsoever, but apart from some of the more specific custom modifications (one will never make a medium stub Bic Stic) I don’t think this is unique to fountain pens. Someone who uses only fuscia sparkle gel pens is definitely making a personal statement.
2. Fountain pens bring people together.
I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m not very personable. But, I can’t count the number of times someone has started a conversation with me because they saw me using a fountain pen….
I can. Seven. There have also been a couple of declarations of disinclination which apparently were meant to indicate to me that I was doing something wrong, but the primary response I get to using a fountain pen is blank indifference. Perhaps this is geographical, and the people of Iowa are more given to admiring decent pens than the people of Saskatchewan (we can be a reticent bunch), but I wouldn’t put this down as a bit plus for using pens. To a certain extent, I might call it an impediment; how does one get any writing done with hordes of pen-admirers flocking about?
3. Fountain pens offer the ultimate writing experience.
…Like a Ferrari or McLaren, vehicles that are able to get you from point A to B, you can’t fully appreciate them until you get them on a track, filled with race fuel, and taught how to drive them.
I tend to shy away from use of “ultimate” since it can also be used in the sense of “last” or even “fatal”, but this does accord somewhat with the point about distraction that I made earlier. The examples of high-end cars is misleading, though, since it implies less expensive examples are less fun on the track. My Pelikan is a sublime pen, but it is not as much better than a Sheaffer No Nonsense as the difference of carness which lies between a Ferrari coupe and a Ford station wagon. A fountain pen has to be a bad example of the breed indeed to fall down in the performance category.
I’ve tried living life on the ballpoint side of the tracks. It’s not for me. Like any convinced zealot, I’ll pity those who can be satisfied with the other lifestyle, but unlike rather too many convinced zealots, I’ll not call for their destruction. Baffling though ballpoint use is, it’s not immoral.
Today’s high-perfomance barn-burner: Parker 75 Insignia
Today’s easily-swapped ink: Herbin’s Vert Empire