Friday, February 17, 2012


Digging about in your desk for some forgotten “something or other,” you came upon the bottom half of an old Parker fountain pen of uncertain vintage.  The encounter was like sudden, unplanned meetings with someone you’ve known for a long time.  There is no doubt in your mind that subjecting the nib to a stream of warm water for a time would make it every bit as useful as it once was when it was likely your only fountain pen, one you used every day.  Nor do you doubt the outcome were you able to find the upper portion, the cap, or a reasonable surrogate.  Any color would do.

You cannot estimate the number of early drafts of short stories, essays, chapters of novels, you wrote with that pen.  It made the shift with you from blue ink to your preferred brown.  You were doubtless thinking of it when you came into possession of any number of the fountain pens scattered about 409 E. Sola Street in various stages of use or disrepair.  Thinking to give the Parker a more dignified place of repose, you extracted from under a pile of books a cedar cigar box given you by your sister, which, when opened, revealed another bottom half of a fountain pen, a glorious Shaeffer given you by Steve Cook and Brian Fagan for some real or imagined event.  This pen is also in working condition and for some considerable time provided the same service as the Parker until, as with the Parker, you became separated from the cap.  Instead of wondering what it is with you to cause you to misplace caps of fountain pens, a plan forms in your mind.  You will send the bottoms of each to Sam of Pendemonium, in Ft. Dodge, Iowa, describe your plight and your willingness to accept any color top for either pen.  If this plan is successful, you will not only have two old friends back in service, you will be motivated as well to send your two Conklin pens, one with a replica of Mark Twain’s autograph, to the Conklin service department for repair, at which point you can begin to rid yourself of an entire Birnham Wood of ballpoints clogging your desk.

Which brings you around to the purpose here.  Early drafts written in ink, and then transcribed to a series of typewriters is the purpose.  You’d begun thinking along those lines Wednesday morning in what you still think of as Anne’s memoir class.  Anne last taught that class in 2010, the year of her death.  One of her requests to you was your continuing it, and so you have, not at all sure whether it is the individuals in it, the subject matter, the continuing bond of carrying out one of Anne’s wishes, or a combination of the three that make it so enjoyable for you.

Whatever the calculus, you appear on Wednesday mornings and opening lectures seem to present themselves to you, this past Wednesday being one in which you warned that you were about to reveal a former reliance on a technology that would betray your age.  You spoke of carbon paper, of hands smudged with the carbon substance, which led you in your mind to recall what a painful process that was because you were—and are—such a dreadful typist.  Your ability at the computer keyboard is not that much improved, but repairing errors of spelling, of typographical sorts, or of sudden changes of editorial mind has become incremental, even exponential in their ease of application.  You can see all the advantages to computers and have indeed edited entire books without handling a single sheet of paper, but your heart is back there with the Ancora fountain pen Lizzie gave you or some of the others you bought on whim from The Fountain Pen Hospital in New York, or those splendid Sailors from Fahrney’s in Washington D.C.

After an ensemble of Royal and Underwood uprights, you came into possession of a red Olivetti portable; a gift from an individual you’d thought might become your mother-in-law (but that is not merely another story, it is a trilogy).  You wrote a great many novels and stories on that typewriter until you were made the gift of an electric, which slowly began to impact your working habits and your patience.

Much of the time, fountain pens are in on the getting down of notes, of pages of commentary, actual pages of text in fact.  In many ways, you’ve had to learn to compose on the computer, which still seems more inevitable than comfortable, but you have no issues with inevitability.  You do have a sense of sentimentality toward fountain pens, to inky brown smudges on your fingers, to the near mystical feel of a flexible nib, bending under the thrust of your enthusiasm, splaying out the ink like snail tracks or the inner rumble of satisfaction you experience when, as you walk along the beach, you see appearing in the sand the paw prints of dogs.

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