The Fountain Pen

Stuart Vail

A fountain pen can make the act of writing an experience to look forward to. The feeling of a smooth nib flowing across a white writing surface far surpasses the cold, disconnected force of pressing a ballpoint into paper. There once was a time when a good pen was a prized possession. Handwriting was an art, as we can see by the documents of America’s founding fathers. Back then, people had more time. Good penmanship (penpersonship?) needs a more leisurely pace than what our world today seems to offer. The executive scrawl speaks haste. There’s barely time to sign one’s name. Zip, zap, next?

I found myself losing the ability to write legibly after years of printing with a BIC. I could no longer sign my name. My signature was an embarrassing mess. Since I couldn’t even read my own name, I felt I was losing my identity. Who was I? Psychoanalysis didn’t help. Neither did self-help books. And forget running in the woods beating a drum with Robert Bly.

All I had to do was throw away every ballpoint in the house and invest in a quality fountain pen. I bought a bottle of India ink, practiced signing my long-lost signature, and felt ready to take on the world. But I found that there are built-in obstacles everywhere. The need to “press firmly, you are making three copies” completely precludes the use of a fountain pen. I can no longer sign for packages delivered by the Postal Service. My credit cards are now useless without my John Hancock in triplicate. I can’t even write a check unless I repeat the information on the carbonless duplicate underneath. I give up!

Will the fountain pen become the “dodo bird” of the twenty-first century, going the way of the book, the handwritten Christmas card, doing math problems in your head, and the walk to Grandma’s house? Will it one day be found only in museums as an artifact from our backward civilization of yore?

I firmly believe that in this age of the television in front of the computerized exercycle, microwaved instant meals, and children raised in daycare, we would do well to keep alive the ability to communicate in legible handwriting by the continued use of the fountain pen, its indigo life-blood spilling our emotions and creative thoughts onto paper so that others may learn of what we oftentimes cannot say, and thus reciprocate. Then, and perhaps only then, we will have a chance to breathe life back into our dying humanity, and postpone our ultimate suffocation from a deluge of unfeeling, carbonless (“press firmly, you are making three copies”) communications.

© 2002 Stuart Vail


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