Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Fountain Pens and the Lure of Blank Books

I love blank books. But I hardly ever use them.

I would love to have been the sort of person who has a row of hand-written diaries on her bookshelf.

Actually, I do have a shelf-full of diaries, but hardly anything is written in them. It seems that I only resort to a diary when depressed. When life is blithe, when life is gay, I feel no need to write. When it's busy and interesting, I don't have time. And when life is boring -- well, what then is there to write about?

Besides, it's hard to write with a pen. The keyboard has become such a natural extension of my brain that I'm hardly aware of it. The words flow effortlessly through my fingers. The pen lies inert, grasped tensely between fingers that have already to ache with the unaccustomed effort. I awkwardly squeeze out the words. Good heavens! I seem to be writing these words one letter at a time. And such awkward words!

I need to delete! I need to cut and paste!

Yet the romance of pen and ink (a fountain pen, mind you!) and the blank white page continues to haunt me. Perhaps some day I will express myself with these elegant implements of a more genteel age. Nourishing that hope I do own a couple of fountain pens, some chaste white note paper, and even some blotting paper.

Last night, I decided to rehabilitate my husband's old fountain pen. He bought it during our visit to England almost 30 years ago at a shop which offered to customize pen nib to the customer's taste. It's been languishing in a drawer for years. Since the ink in it had been allowed to dry out, it took a good deal of soaking, flushing, and rinsing to bring it once more to a functional condition. Then I had to let it dry overnight. While it rested on its couch of paper towels, I read a little book titled,

The pocket
GUIDE BOOK
for the
PROPER
USE AND CARE
of the
FOUNTAIN PEN

written by Mr. Pier Gustafson.

It is a very little book: 2 x 4.75 inches. Though only 15 pages long, it contains everything the new pen owner will need to know in order to enjoy "the reliable and pleasurable use of the fountain pen." Among the topics covered are the anatomy of the pen (with its charming cross section illustration of a pen being sawn in half), how pens work and how they are filled, proper fountain pen ink, and the necessity of a light touch when writing. The author also discusses the touchy subject of lending your pen, particularly when one suspects that the person requesting it is a barbarian. (Suggested gracious denials range from "I'm so sorry. It is out of ink," to "If you break it I will kill you.") There is advice about the best way to travel with your fountain pen, and the dangers of allowing it to rattle about in your handbag in company with "emery boards, baubles bristling with diamonds in the worst possible taste, keys, melted candy bars, and other such items foreign to the author."

The book's charming tone can best be conveyed by quoting from its introduction:
Psychologists tell us that we, as a species, use only a small portion of the brain's full potential. That is fortunate as there is room for improvement. We have ample cells available for new ideas, comprehending new inventions, and remembering the newly-expanded zip-code. Some of the unused sections of the brain are due to the fact the we have forgotten much. Along with hunting and gathering skills, tree climbing, and the rules of etiquette we have a neglected area of the brain that had once concerned itself with appreciation of the pen.

Since the development of the noisome ball-point pen only a few of that lobe's cells are being used. What had long lain dormant are the myriad of issues dealing with the pen in terms of quality, art, invention and pleasure. Now that you have a fine fountain pen in your hand you'll find the appreciation of that and the world around you will grow as those sleepy neurons and synapses awake and fire.

The aim of this book is to assist you in this noble endeavor.

And so it has.

4 comments:

Esther said...

What a lovely blog you have! This particular post was interesting to me. I too love blank books and love keeping a journal but only write when I am feeling blue. My sister gave me a beautiful fountain pen and inkstand and I somehow broke the top of the pen (it was made of glass) into the inkstand. It hurts me to look at it.
Anyway, I will be back.
God bless,

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Thank you for commenting! It's always nice to know that I'm not just talking to myself.

(I'm sorry to hear about your pen.)

mrsdarwin said...

I love blank books too, but I found that the one time in my life I reliably kept a journal (my mid-teens) I wrote the most pathetically insipid entries. I had to get rid of the journal rather than risk it ever being found by future generations. But perhaps my problem should be attributed to being a teenager, not to keeping a journal.

Entropy said...

Same here. If I manage to write something I can't stand to read it a few months later. Probably why my blog doesn't have a decent archive of what I've written because I delete so much!