I prefer to write with my fingers, but you may do better with your toes. Seriously, as I noted in my recent post, My Write Hand, for years I was convinced that my “write brain” lives in my fingers and was activated by the pressure of finger-tips against keyboard. However, as I’ve continued my Morning Pages adventure, I’ve become hooked on writing by hand, the old-fashioned way. I still think my write brain lives in my fingers, but it has more than one trigger, and it easily becomes distracted by things like a skipping pen, a pen that quits, drags across the surface, or feels awkward in my fingers. I believe it does matter what I write with, and I have begun a search for the perfect writing implement.
Yesterday I discovered that I’m not the only one on this quest. In a February column on Religion and Spirituality.com, Jane Conner writes about the pen she fell in love with. Her account is worth reading as an example of how to pack plenty of humor and suspense into the short space of 869 words. It also got me to thinking about fountain pens and my writing instruments of old.
In third grade we were required to use fountain pens to master cursive script. Mine was black, probably a Parker. In addition to writing, I used it to make ink blots between the pages of my workbooks. One summer I won a pen at a carnival. It was tortoise shell plastic, and you squeezed the bladder between two metal strips to fill it rather than pulling down a lever like the more expensive pens used. Unfortunately it was terribly scratchy and prone to dripping. Somewhere along the line I switched to an Esterbrook with a gray mother-of-pearl finish. I changed tips many times before I found one that flowed across the paper with no drag at all.
I can’t imagine any school today permitting students to keep glass bottles of ink in their desks, but I don’t recall anyone ever spilling or breaking a bottle of the Schaeffer ink we all used. Those bottles had a small basin at the top that held just enough to fill your pen without immersing the whole tip and getting smudgy stuff on the finger grip. I started out with the regulation blue, but also acquired brown, emerald green, and my favorite: peacock blue. I didn’t change often, because it took ten minutes or so to flush out the old color before switching.
In an ideal world I’d use a fountain pen, for the feel of the point sliding across the paper and the elegance of the sharp, clear ink. I still have the Esterbrook, but can’t find ink. I also have a Parker fountain pen that uses cartridges, but they are also in short supply.
Today ball points rule, and what a mixed bag that is. So many skip, and act finicky about paper. They clog, dry up, and many make smeary blobs. Gel pens are more promising, but they drain with amazing speed. I found a Pilot that seems to work well.
For now my very favorite writing instrument is a Z-grip mechanical pencil filled with 7mm HB lead. The cushiony grip is easier on my fingers than the red Scripto I loved as a kid, and the lead slides across the paper as smoothly as a perfect pen nib. Plus, I can correct misspelled words and those little jiggles my spastic fingers occasionally make. I know — no erasing or editing freewriting ... but my Morning Pages are a resource I’ll refer back to, and I want to be able to read my own writing! Rules are made to be broken.
Write now: about pens and pencils you have loved. Do you write anything but checks by hand anymore? Do you have a favorite pen or pencil? What about typewriters and keyboards?