You can’t tell, but I first wrote these words with a fountain pen, a Lamy Safari with a charcoal-colored plastic body and a fine steel nib.
I bought the pen online in late April, during COVID lockdown, when friends were sewing masks and baking sourdough bread. Writing with a fountain pen seemed like an equally old-school endeavor, something that required supplies and a bit of know-how.
As a writer, the right pen is important to me, like shoes to a runner or a knife to a chef. I’d already found the perfect disposable ballpoint pen: a Pilot G-2 with an 07 point. The G-2 has a rubber grip, a retractable point, and gel ink that flows smoothly and rarely blobs up.
I probably would have continued writing with the G-2 for years, if several things hadn’t happened.
I grew disenchanted with how quickly I used up the ink in a G-2 and had to throw it out. When I worked in an office, I didn’t notice how often I tossed one. I had a drawer full of G-2s, and when my supply ran low, I emailed Lars in accounting to order a new box. A few days later, a fresh supply arrived. I had only a vague sense of how much they cost.
In my first months as freelancer, I used up all the G-2s that had made their way home from the office. At the same time, I became increasingly aware of the environmental impact of plastic: the statistics of how much we produce and how little we recycle. I’d seen photos of the floating islands of plastic in the ocean, of dead birds with tangles of plastics in their stomachs, of sea turtles choking on plastic bags.
I wanted to reduce my contribution to the trash heap. Rather than throwing out each G-2, I looked into replacing the ink chamber, but the chambers were hard to find, and when available, each chamber alone cost more than a whole new pen. Lunacy.
I bought a 20-pack of G-2s and swore it would be my last.
In December, my friend Volker visited from Germany and presented me with a fountain pen. It was a compact Kaweco Sport that came with a couple of ink cartridges. I’d never wanted a fountain pen. They always seemed a bit pretentious or Ye Olde. Yet Volker always brought good house-guest gifts, so I gave it a try.
The Sport was less fussy and fragile than I’d expected. The ink cartridge was easy to pop in. I didn’t get stains all over my fingers, and the pen didn’t leak—both things I’d assumed would happen.
The blue ink on a blank page looked beautiful. Seeing the ink made me realize my father had written with a fountain pen his whole life. The watery blue reminded me of the letters he wrote on his yellow legal pads.
He always used the same pen: shiny metal at the top, dark green at the bottom, with a certain heft. He kept his pen on top of his desk or in the inside pocket of his suit jacket. He must have kept a bottle of ink in his desk drawer, though I don’t remember ever seeing him unscrew the top to fill his pen. I never asked to write with it.
I texted my brothers to see if either of them has it—if they picked it up off his desk when we cleaned out his apartment two years ago. “I don’t think so,” they both texted back.
“Could you please look?” I asked.
Several weeks later, neither of them has found it. No one knows what happened to the pen. It saddens me to think that such an intimate object, one my father used daily for decades, is lost.
I used the Sport for first drafts and journal entries. It moved smoothly across the page, but the medium nib made a thick line, with letters too close together for my liking. It was hard to reread what I’d written.
The nib couldn’t be changed and I went through the plastic ink cartridges in a couple of weeks, so I forsook the Sport when the ink ran dry and went back to my G-2s.
Rather than write one morning, I opened my laptop and spent hours looking for the perfect fountain pen: one that was affordable, refillable, and allowed writing to be the sensuous act that it should be. I was willing to pay for a good pen, but not so much that if I lost it, as I’m prone to do, I couldn’t easily replace it. Just before lunch, I ordered a Lamy Safari, some refillable cartridges, and a bottle of blue ink. The pen cost just under $30.
When the Safari arrived, I liked its clean design and light weight, but the grooved grip took some getting used to. As did filling the ink cartridges. I wasn’t sure how to go about it. I looked on YouTube and found how-to videos from The Goulet Pen Company, dozens of videos about all things fountain pen. I watched most of them.
The Safari grew on me the more I used it. Its nib gave me the line I was looking for. When I bought it, I thought maybe I’d write with it for a while, then move on to a more expensive pen, but its simplicity was exactly what I wanted.
I do get ink on my fingers when I refill the cartridge, but a little less each week. There’s a little less plastic in my trash, though I use the remainings G-2s for the grocery list in the kitchen or doing crosswords at the beach.
On days when work feels difficult, I sit down with a fresh cup of coffee and uncap the waiting pen. Its soft scratching sound provides a certain pleasure as the blue begins to flow.