You can’t tell, but I first wrote these words with a fountain pen, a Lamy Safari with a black 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 knives 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, rarely blobbing up.
I would have continued to write 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 the whole pen away. 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 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 straw.
I didn’t want to add to the trash heap. I looked into replacing the G-2’s ink chamber, but the chambers were hard to locate, 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, Volker visited from Germany and presented me with a Kaweco Sport fountain pen. The compact pen came with a couple of ink cartridges. I had no wish for a fountain pen, which always seemed pretentious to me, but 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 had character.
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. It was hard to reread what I’d written.
The nib couldn’t be changed. I ran through the plastic ink cartridges in a couple of weeks and forsook the Sport when the ink ran dry. Back to my G-2s.
Rather than write one morning, I spent hours looking for the perfect fountain pen: one that was affordable, refillable, and allowed writing to be the sensuous act it should be. I was willing to pay for a good pen, but not so much that if I lost it, as I’m lilely to do, I couldn’t easily replace it. Before lunch, I ordered a Lamy Safari, some refillable cartridges, and a bottle of blue ink. The pen cost about $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.
The more I used the Safari, the more I liked it. Its nib gave me the line I was looking for. When I bought it, I thought maybe I’d use 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.
On days when work feels difficult, I sit down with a cup of coffee and uncap the waiting pen. Its soft scratching provides a certain pleasure as the blue begins to flow.