your basic word processor, no batteries required.

Yesterday was a mixed bag.  I took the kids out to do some shopping and mailing of presents, and it was the stress-inducing experience you’d expect it to be, battling the Christmas shopping crowd with two small children in tow.  When I got back to the house, we couldn’t get up the driveway because the water running down ou little hill had frozen the ruts into ice tracks, so I had to hoof it up to the house, get my ice cleats, and carry the kids up the hill.

On the plus side of the ledger, someone must have declared yesterday “Send Marko Free Stuff Day”.  FedUp dropped off a large gift basket sent to us by a friend, and the mail carrier brought a book from another friend.  (Thanks, Chris!)  Finally, the UPS driver dropped off a small package that turned out to be a gift from a reader: a Waterman Phileas fountain pen.

Waterman Phileas 002

I haven’t written anything with a fountain pen since high school, and I forgot what a pleasant experience it is to put ink onto paper with a fountain pen nib.  Like most, I use computer keyboards to write, but once upon a time–back when the girls wore shoulder pads, the boys wore skinny ties, and Simon LeBon was Hungry Like The Wolf–I wrote my first attempt at a novel with a fountain pen and a large stack of spiral-bound notebooks.

When I did some research on this particular pen, I came across a few sites that gave instructions on “How To Write With A Fountain Pen”.  This struck me as odd, because a fountain pen was required school equipment for us when I grew up, and I would think that few people actually need a primer on how to use one.  I asked Robin whether she had learned to use a fountain pen when she was in school, and she said that she hadn’t.  I guess that’s a European thing, or maybe even just a  German one.  Is there anyone out in Intertubes land who a.) grew up in the United States, and b.) was required to use a fountain pen for composition in school?

I’ve been hammering away at keyboards for so long that using a fountain pen again feels a little strange.  Longhand writing is slower work, so you have time to roll that sentence around in your head before committing it to paper, and I find that my writing is a bit more terse and efficient when it’s ink on paper versus pixels on a screen.  Apparently, some rather well-known novelists compose their first drafts with fountain pens.  Neil Gaiman and Neal Stephenson both write in longhand–Stephenson even wrote his 1,000-page magnum opus Anathem in that fashion, drafting longhand and then transcribing on the computer for the second draft.  My right wrist starts to hurt when I think about the amount of spiral-bound notebooks I’d have to fill with ink to end up with a novel that weighs in at 1,000 print pages, but it seems to work for him, and you can’t argue with results.

I won’t chuck the computer out just yet, but I think I’ll sit down this afternoon and do something I haven’t done in years–write a letter in longhand, on good paper, with smooth and lovely deep-black ink.


20 thoughts on “your basic word processor, no batteries required.

  1. scotaku says:

    Oh, the feel of a good nib gliding across good paper; to me it’s the paper that’s crucial. There’s something about good, heavy stock that’s smooth and bare, just waiting for the ink, the ideas to flow. Makes me want to dig out the pen my wife got me lo these many years ago. The paper, of course, has been turned into a thousand kid-projects. Perhaps the love of good paper is genetic?

  2. MarkHB says:

    I concur with scotaku, good paper’s a real treat – one of my rare indulgences. Fountain pens were mandatory at my school, and Proper Keeping and Feeding of the Pen was something pounded into me at an early age. There is something wonderful about real ink, on nice toothy paper.

  3. Jay G. says:

    I think I need to pick up a fountain pen. I used to be the one weirdo to use one, when everyone else had their 10/$1 Bics.

    It was a feature, rather than a bug, that it would spray ink when shaken at non-believers…


  4. Roger Yarn says:

    Although it has been quite some time, yes, they were required by more than one of my teachers. As was the requisite blue pocket stain, I suppose. No pocket protector here, thank you.

  5. keepbreathing says:

    The only courses that required a fountain pen when I was in school were art courses. Other than those courses, we used ballpoint pens.

  6. Jack in TX says:

    Yes, but it could be a German DNA issue.
    We (growing up in predominantly German-settled) Cincinnati were required to use fountain pens in elementary school as a way to learn “proper” penmanship.
    If nothing else, it taught you to glide over the page, not burrow into it.

  7. M. Philbrick says:

    I recall using one in school in Virginia growing up though I can’t recall when. I’m not sure if it was required or if one of my friends got one and thus I had to have one too…

  8. Robert says:

    I keep a fountain pen at my desk with which to write checks (not every company is ready for online payments); Lamy Safaris, which have great nibs, dead reliable, and inexpensive. I have more expensive fountain pens, but the Safaris have won a place on my desk.

  9. Tam says:

    Is there anyone out in Intertubes land who a.) grew up in the United States, and b.) was required to use a fountain pen for composition in school?

    Nope. While I dug on fountain pens and calligraphy in my junior high and high school days, it was strictly an elective and/or extracurricular activity.

    BTW: Bobbi says you should check out FountainPenHospital dot com. She gets their catalog every month.

  10. Tam says:

    Interesting side note:

    My 11th grade English Lit/AP Grammar Comp 111 teacher would not let us use a word processor to write essays or papers, although she would accept typed papers.

    My classmate who had just rec’d a spankin’ newfangled “Macintosh” computer for Christmas was stymied, but never finked on me for using the daisy wheel printer on my Coleco ADAM…

  11. Don’t forget that Shelby Foote wrote his 3 volume Civil War magnum opus with a fountain pen.

    Not fiction, but great reading.

  12. Ritchie says:

    In the beginning, or near to it, there was a wooden pen with a plain steel nib. Later, there was a fountain pen with some sort of side lever involved with sucking up ink. Since I am mostly left handed, these provided some extra challenge.

  13. Stretch says:

    Fairfax Co. Public School (VA) required a fountain pen when learning “cursive” a.k.a. script writing back in the mid-60s. Of course I can’t spell no matter what the method of writing.

  14. Al T. says:

    No fountain pens for me – never used one. Just for data, I’m 49 and grew up in Knoxville. 🙂

  15. I did go to school in Germany and naturally used a fountain pen. We used to bite open the empty ink cartridges to extract the little plastic balls and play “soccer” on our desks (tables, really) with them.
    I didn’t know any schools in the U.S. required/used fountain pens, I thought all the kids started with pencils then progressed straight to ball-points. My kids did, anyway.

  16. Gerry N. says:

    Started school in 1951. By the time I was in 3d grade I’d been taught to write in cursive with a fountain pen, the olde fashyndde kind with a rubber bladder and a side lever for refills. I used one all the way through high school graduation.

    To this day I prefer to do my interpersonal correspondence with a gen-yoo-wine fountain pen, real ink on decent paper. There’s a civilising effect from doing that.

    Gerry N.

  17. david madsen says:

    What a gift! I have a Waterman because I wanted to buy a really good fountain pen, and it was still a chunk-a-change even at discount price. But worth it. Now I have a Pelikan fine point, more money, even better. I still use both, each has its purpose.

    I think people write differently when they use a fountain pen than when using a bic, and even more than when typing on a wordprocessing keyboard. Just like when speaking to someone in one language and then changing to another language, you realize that the two of you are the same, but your thoughts are redirected slightly by the change.

    But keep up the keyboard stuff.

  18. Kevin says:

    I second checking out Fountain pen hospital. Love their ink selection, just can’t yet justify the high end pens. I am a <$200 scribbler.
    That said, I just picked up two Namiki-Pilot Vanishing Point pens from One for black and one for blue ink
    He does nice custom nib work, I am going to be getting some of his italic ground nibs for the Pilot VP and have him tune up a Cross Townsend that I received as a going away present from a previous position.
    I have also fallen in love with Noodler inks, the selection of colors and types of inks are great. I use the color to highlight and illustrate my shop journals.

  19. Mikee says:

    Fountain pens – too high tech for this one. I like the feel of a finely sharpened Ticonderoga #2 gliding over a sheet of lined notebook paper, leaving a fine line of graphite as it passes. Makes me feel young again.

    ps: Og say, “Me like paint cave wall – powdered dirt make animal spirits live.”

  20. The topic is quite hot on the Internet at the moment. What do you pay attention to when choosing what to write ?

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