In Search of the Fountain Pen

Those who saw my previous post will have read of my lament about the disappearance of hand-written letters and my intention to resurrect a fountain pen with which to better write such epistles.

I found my beautiful gold pen, which was a prize for Letter of the Month in a magazine ( a lovely surprise at the time).  I bought a bottle of ink, no longer having one in the house or if I do, not being sure where to find it.  There was much deliberation over the colour – black, royal blue or blue-black being the only choices.  In the past I used a brown; pages in my journal from a couple of decades ago are written in this colour.  The black was too sombre and somehow the royal blue not serious enough and so I settled on the blue-black.

It was with anticipation that I unscrewed the cap and carefully rinsed the nib, drawing up some water into the reservoir and squirting through again to clean the works and clear out any dried ink that might impede the flow.  Happy with this process, and having carefully dried the nib, I inserted the pen into the ink this time and squeezed the springy metal surrounding the rubber reservoir in order to draw up a supply of ink.  Of course I got ink all over my fingers – I don’t think that I ever used a fountain pen without doing this.  I screwed the barrel back into place and was ready to go – or at least to write.

It was then I remembered one of the reasons why I had not previously persisted in using this pen.  The nib design does not allow for any variation in your stroke – no fine upward sweep followed by the downward pressure forming the stronger part of the letter.  It is writing with character.  This pen however delivered a uniform flow of ink, whether on the upward or downward stroke.

That’s OK – I can live with that.  My memory might be playing tricks on my anyway as perhaps it was only with the pen that we dipped in the inkwell when learning to write  at school that such graduations were possible.  (Although ballpoint pens became available while I was in Primary School, we were not allowed to use them and they encouraged poor handwriting.)  What I also discovered though is that the ink does not flow consistently to the nib and I remember this happening before.  It soon dries up – mid-sentence and then you have to unscrew the barrel and give the reservoir a gentle squeeze to force ink through again.  Inevitably, this results in ink blots and as yet I have not invested in a blotter. (Note to self.)

I persisted for a little while and gave up in frustration.  Today, I went to one of those stationery super stores, looking for another fountain pen but they only had a small very slim disposable specimen.  It comes pre-loaded with ink and as soon as the ink runs out, you throw the pen away.  That won’t do.  I don’t want a disposable pen that ends up in landfill.

I rummaged around in an old drawer after that and found a calligraphy pen, but unfortunately without any ink so I can’t even use that.  I just went on line and Googled Fountain Pens in my city (Adelaide) and turned up the only specialist pen shop in town.  Reviewing their website, I could see that they stocked fountain pens up to $5000 in value.  Holey Moley!  I don’t think that I will write enough for that.

There were others at the other end of the scale though and I think that one of those will be for me.  It will have to wait until I can get into the shop though as I don’t think that ordering on-line is the way to go.  You need to hold your pen and test the weight and the grip before deciding to buy.  I saw a similar pen to mine, also a Parker Pen so perhaps I might take mine into the shop as well to see if they have any suggestions for making it work satisfactorily.

With my on-line search, I also found a Fountain Pen Network, for people who sell or use fountain pens, with on-line classifieds as well – just for pens.  Fascinating.  The search continues.

Slow Writing

Most people have by now heard about the slow food movement, which seeks to counteract the fast food evolution, and to maintain traditional and regional cooking and food consumption.  I’m all for it.

What has been running through my mind lately though is a slow writing movement, if such a thing exists.  Actually, I have just done a quick Google search and see that there are a range of articles and sites on the topic, not all with the same interpretation.   I wanted to write a brief note yesterday to slip in with a payment that I was about to post and contemplated on which paper I should do this.  I have heaps of scrap paper (thanks to my endless printer output), various notepads and then some ancient quality paper notelets with matching envelopes, meant for a day when one sent hand-written letters.  Preferably with a fountain pen, but of course others writing implements are equally acceptable.

My first reaction was that I should save the notelets for ‘best’ whatever that might be.  Then I changed my mind and decided that best was now and I would combine this paper with my best handwriting and use that for my communication.

Remember handwriting classes?  If you are of my vintage, you will.  We had special books with the lines drawn in, resembling the staves on a musical score except that there were only four of them.  The top and bottom lines measured the upper and lower extremities of letters such as h or y and the two middle lines were guides for lower case letters without a riser, etc.  Each week, we practised our loops and swirls, developing our best copperplate script.  Yes, we even used pen and ink, with each desk equipped with an ink well though intially it was pencil only.

How often do you receive a letter?  I mean a proper letter – not just the mass mailout that accompanies the Christmas Card but a letter that is hand written and tells you about the life and news of the sender.  I love the feeling of opening the letterbox and finding a hand addressed envelope that indicates that perhaps there is a personal missive inside.  It is fantastic knowing that someone has actually taken the time to write in what now seems such a personal way.

I have kept many of the letters that have been sent to me over the years (proper letters I mean) and also have the letters that I wrote home to my mother during my travels and time away from home in my twenties and some other times as well.  I am so glad that she kept those.  They are a wonderful record of what I was doing, who I met, the adventures that I had and even where I was.  I can also see the evolution of my handwriting and can equate it with the person that I was at that time.

I use email all the time of course and I love the convenience and the immediacy of it.  The cheapness also.  I send many of my emails late at night when I happen to have a spare moment and when I feel that it is too late to call someone.  I am time poor and look for shortcuts and solutions that impose minimal disruption on my life.  Emails are great.  Texts not so much as I don’t have a smart phone.  Typing texts is tedious and also each small text costs me. 😦

My teenage son can hardly write, which is very sad.  Partly this is because he has dysgraphia and the physical act of converting words into written form is akin to torture for him.  He hates it and his writing looks like the standard that you might expect of an eight year old, and that is being generous.  He had minimal writing classes at school and certainly none of the lessons in cursive writing that I had.  He got through high school with a form of disjointed printing.

Young Donald sees no reason why he should try to improve his writing, as what use is handwriting anyway, and nothing that I say will convince him otherwise.  He will type or text, though the bare minimum at that.  It is sad that he will rarely know the joy of a written letter and will certainly never send any of his own.  I suspect that he is very typical of his generation.

I know that I will continue to be time-challenged, but I will try to write more letters and I have promised myself to bring the nice writing paper out from the closet and to use it.  I might even look for my fountain pen and get it in good writing condition.  Time to write hand-written letters and notes again.

Words in and out of favour

Do you find that some words resonate with you more than others?  There may be a context in which the word has been used that has an influencing memory for you, or perhaps you just don’t like the way it sounds.  Lugubrious is a word that is as mournful as its meaning and will never provide an emotional uplift.  Perhaps it suits you though when you are feeling blue.

I have been reflecting on words and have realised that for me, not all words are created equal.  Some I quite like and some I definitely do not.  It is by no means comprehensive but I have made a brief list of some that have achieved favoured status and some which have not.  I am sure that there will be words that you could add to the lists, based on your own perceptions.

Favoured words

Bespoke              The term comes from England where it originally referred to custom or tailor-made clothing.  In recent years the term has been applied to information technology and refers to custom services or products.  I would love to be able to afford bespoke clothing from a quality tailor.

Discombobulating           Throwing into a state of confusion.  I never use this word because I probably won’t remember all the syllables but it still fascinates me.  Use it and you will certainly throw your listeners or readers into a state of confusion so its very use would be discombobulating.  Perhaps I should practice it a bit.  Watch out for my next blog.

Pithy     Concise and to the point.  Should be more of it.

Recalcitrant        Marked by stubborn resistance to and defiance of authority or guidance.  As one who has never warmed to the direction of authority, this word describes how I often feel when being told what to do.  My son exhibits a significant level of juvenile recalcitrance.

Segue   seg-wey               The smooth transition from one topic to the next.  If tongue is pronounced tung, why isn’t segue pronounced seg?  Besides being applied to the transition of a discussion, I have heard it being used in relation to dancers, who make the transition from one style of dancing to another.  It has always sounded quite bizarre to me (though a graceful word) and perhaps that is why I like it.

Non-favoured words

Dude                Pretentious and sounds odd on the lips of young people.  Mostly used by kids who are searching for a sense of self and looking to portray a sense of coolness and one of the gang.  I’m not hung up about this but just notice that it does not sit comfortably on the lips of many users.

Frigid               This is a word that has become an instrument of abuse and denigration.  Of course I don’t like it.

Senescent        I am not ageing, I am senescent.  It has a soft sibilant sound but is a little too close to senile so I think that I will relegate this word to the back benches.

Synergistic          I was liaising with an architect once, whose conversation was peppered with this word and I developed an aversion to it.

Wellness             This is a word that surfaced in the last decade or two and is used extensively by the alternative health industry to promote skills and products – wellness as opposed to illness.  To me it smacks of chicanery and I will not patronise any business that promotes itself with this word.

Words themselves contain so much power.  They wound, they delight, they draw us together.  As a celebrant, I love the power of the words that I use in ceremonies, but I will leave that story for another blog.

Death of the Dictionary

Are paper-based dictionaries dead? Do you still have one on your shelf or do you hit the online dictionaries instead, with a plethora of offerings in response to your search?

I may be out of step with emerging trends, but I still like to pick up my dictionary and rifle through it. I should say ‘one of my dictionaries’ as I have a choice of three. I often research a word, making sure not just of the correct spelling but the correct context. I will find myself using a not-so-common word in my writing and suddenly pull myself up short thinking ‘Hold on – where did that word come from? Am I using it correctly or do I just think I am?’ These words obviously spring from a subconscious memory based on past reading and tend to surprise me when they surface again.

I do use the online dictionaries as well, but I like exploring the associations and derivations of the word and possible uses, all the while flipping through the pages. I like the immediacy that the book offers (don’t have to be logged on) and like to feel the weight of it in my hands and the sound of the pages turning.

Probably where I use the online facilities the most is when looking for a synonym. It can be so quick to do a right click on the word and pull up a range of options – click on the best alternative and you are on your way, with only a second or so interruption. OK – so I so use online spell-checkers too (so convenient, except for the American spelling) but I’m not ready to put the dictionaries or the thesaurus’ out to pasture yet.

Final Words

Aside

Working tonight on the text for a funeral ceremony that I will deliver on Friday.  Just a small family group, perhaps about eight people, unless some old army mates manage to come.  It is always a challenge to sum up a life in a few pages and to capture the essence of a person such that the mourners feel that you have done justice to their friend or relative.  Makes you consider also the measure of a life – is it what one has achieved, what one has amassed, or who one leaves behind?

Makes me wonder what I will be remembered for.  Sometimes, putting the wording together is like pulling hens’ teeth although it always works out in the end.  I will probably get up early in the morning to edit what I have written and to put the finishing touches.  I am a morning person and so write with more clarity and purpose at that time.  He was an Elvis fan, so I will finish off with ‘Return to Sender’.