Love Letter to a Lamy Safari

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.

Kaweco Sport fountain pen
Kaweco Sport

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.

Lamy Safari fountain pen
Lamy Safari

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.

Alda’s Mirror

“Is there anything else you want?” my father asked?

There wasn’t, but I knew no was not an acceptable answer.

“Take anything,” he insisted.

This was 1999. We were in the garage attic of my parent’s house, looking at the trunk that held my grandmother’s belongings—my father’s mother, Alda. I never knew her. She’d had rheumatic fever as a child, which left her with a weak heart. Alda died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1936 when my father was 10. He couldn’t remember a time when she wasn’t sick.

I’d already taken the pink Depression glasses: a few small juice glasses and several larger water glasses. They were wrapped in newspaper in a pile next to the trunk.

I picked up the girl doll with the porcelain head and cloth body. She was big, about two feet long, with dark hair that felt human and eye lids that opened and closed. She wore a green velvet hat. If the hat were life-sized, I would have worn it myself. Continue reading Alda’s Mirror

You Just Saved $16

The library reopened gradually. First, the lime green tape that blocked the mouth of the book drop was removed. A few weeks later, an email announced that library books requested online would be available for pickup. Patrons were required to make a reservation, then show up, masked, at a table outside the library, where a masked librarian would hand over the goods in a brown paper bag. Getting a book had never felt so dangerous. Continue reading You Just Saved $16

Approaching William James

I may have been procrastinating when I biked to William James’s grave.

I’ve been a fan ever since I read Varieties of Religious Experiences as an undergraduate. Recently, I’d checked out James’ psychology textbook. Not the monumental, two-volume, 1200-page Principles of Psychology published in 1890 that established James as the Father of American Psychology, but the lesser, 400-page Psychology: The Briefer Course, an 1892 abridgement of Principles. James’s students referred to the big volumes as James and the shorter book as Jimmy.

I’d read the long introduction to Briefer Course and was about to start the main text when the idea to visit William James’s grave popped into my head. The weekend before I’d meant to bike but had read instead. Why is it always easier to do something other than what you’re supposed to be doing? Continue reading Approaching William James

My Relationship with My Meditation App: It’s Complicated

Sitting isn’t easy, so setting a specific amount of time to meditate helps me maintain a consistent practice. I started off using a kitchen timer, but it ticked, so an audio-engineer friend created “songs” for my iPod with a gong at the beginning, silence for 10, 20, 30 or 45 minutes, and then a gong at the end. This was in 2006, a year before the first iPhone was released.

When I bought an iPhone in 2011, one of the first apps I downloaded was Insight Timer Light. I upgraded to the paid version later, for the advanced options. I can’t remember what it cost, maybe $9.99, but it seemed like a reasonable price to pay for an app I used almost every day.

Continue reading My Relationship with My Meditation App: It’s Complicated

My Migraine Guru

I’ve worked with some excellent teachers over the years, but migraine headaches have taught me more about meditation than any of them.

I was 13 when I had my first migraine. The pain and nausea were unbearable. My worried mother took me to a pediatrician, who referred me to an optometrist, who referred me to a neurologist, who prescribed medicine that didn’t work. Fast forward a few decades, several doctors, and many drugs later—I still get migraines.

Continue reading My Migraine Guru