Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Invitations and Some Very Nice Pens (Oh Yes, and a Book or Two)

Having been someone who’s loved to write since she first started tracing letters onto paper at age five, I’ve always had somewhat of a pen fetish. Deliver any bad news you have to deliver (“your house is being repossessed,” “I’m leaving you for a nineteen-year-old exotic dancer,” “the company is reorganizing your job out of existence…”) accompanied by a fine new pen just dying to be rolled across blank pages, and I’ll probably smile, give you a hug, and go in search of said pages.

When I write stories (and sometimes even blog entries), I almost always write the first draft in pen (or pencil). I’m not exactly sure why: I can just as easily compose with a keyboard. I suppose, though, I find composing without one more soothing. And I do love the convenience of it. I can write anywhere without having to worry about plugs, power cords, batteries, sun glare, etc. It stands to reason, then, that if this is my preferred method of creative writing, I need nice pens, right?

I married a man whose pen fetish is as bad as mine. Worse, really. I worry if I spend too much money on a pen, always aware of my absent-mindedness and the fact that I could very easily lose it. Bob, on the other hand, has no such worries, and he collects fine pens the way some people collect fine jewelry (or rather, I give them to him on present-giving occasions, which makes such occasions nice and easy for me). I’m often sent into a state of panic when I see him casually slip one of these into a shirt pocket and walk out into the big, wide world where I am sure it wants to leap, never to return (mine aren’t allowed to leave the house, except on very special occasions, and then only in boxes in tightly secured bags).

A week ago Saturday, we had a real dilemma. I got an invitation to go to a tea in Manhattan hosted by Persephone Books. Bob got an invitation for a special pen expo at The Fountain Pen Hospital, also in Manhattan on the same day. We hemmed and hawed, considered going to both, but since there were other things we also wanted to do while in the city, finally decided being tempted to buy more books was a bad idea, since we're going to be moving soon (at least we hope. A post on that is waiting to be written, and it's bigger than the telecommuting ones that are still lined up, so it will probably beat its way to the front of the line soon). Pens are much easier to transport than books. Besides, the Persephone Tea cost money, and the pen expo was free.

Big mistake to think we’d be saving money. You can’t take two pen fanatics, put them in a store full of mouth-wateringly beautiful and heart-attack-worthy expensive pens and expect to get off cheap. I’m proud to say I did not succumb to the $3000 glass and sterling silver pen that made me understand why some people feel the need to push others to their deaths on their way to the top of the corporate ladder where they can rake in my yearly salary in a mere month.

I did, however, decide I needed to complement the Faber-Castell pencil my former boss gave me as a Christmas gift a few years back with a similar roller ball and ball point. I mean, doesn’t everyone need a complete set? And then there was the Mark Twain signature fountain pen. Everything was 25% off. When else would I ever find these pens at these prices? We got Bob a beautiful Caran d'ache pencil (this purchase was not the least bit influenced by the delicious Swiss chocolates the Caran d'ache woman was giving away). I love Caran d'ache. I used to get those metal boxes of colored pencils (the ones with the Swiss Alps painted on the top) when I was a child, and I wouldn’t have any other. So, we bought four writing instruments and didn’t even come anywhere close to spending even a quarter of the cost of that silver and glass pen. What a bargain!

We left Fountain Pen Hospital, and I decided we needed some nice, new, blank books on which to test our new purchases. I wracked my brains (I mean, we were in the middle of Manhattan, where it’s just so difficult to find anything you want) and couldn’t think of any place better to buy these than the Strand Bookstore. After all, it was so conveniently located a mere forty blocks up on Broadway. While there, I decided I might as well check to see if a few books on my TBR list were available. The Strand, although a fabulous place to browse, with its “18 miles of new and used books” is typically disappointing if you arrive with specific titles in mind. Wouldn’t you know it? This was the day, of all days, I hit pay dirt when I checked the shelves for Rose Macaulay (some of you may have figured out that I’ve become quite obsessed with her lately). Last time I was there, they had nothing of hers. This time, they had five books, The Towers of Trebizond being the only one I’d read. I chose two. I toyed with T. of T., because I love it so (it was lent to me, and I don't own it), but then I decided against it. You know, that would have been conspicuous consumption. Bob, not to be outdone by me, found two books of his own: a short story collection by Wallace Stegner and another by Raymond Carver. And, then of course, there were the blank books.

All right, so we decided to save money by going to the free pen event. We decided we shouldn’t add to our book collection when we expect to be moving sometime in the next half year or so. We spent a fortune on pens, and we came home with four books. There’s something wrong with this picture.


Anne Camille said...

I love the sound of a place called The Fountain Pen Hospital. Where else but in Manhattan? I'll have to look this up & find out where it is for one of my next trips to NY. And I keep saying that I'm going to go to The Strand, but have yet to get there. Didn't happen last trip but I did spend some time at Labryinth Books (112 & Broadway) which I wandered into for a few minutes and spent so much time I was nearly late for dinner with friends.

I received a Waterman pen for Christmas that I love. I accidentally broke the clip off of it; but, I so like the way it writes that I have learned to love it in its altered state. And, I suppose, nobody is likely to take my damaged pen and stick it in a shirt pocket.

mandarine said...

I love pens too, but now that I have a laptop, they all dry up inside. My best discovery of late was a roller pen with the same ink cartridges and writing smoothness as waterman fountain pens. Even this one dried up. Last week I searched our secretary's cupboard for new cartridges, I found all cartridges dried up in their box: I had had the box ordered four years ago, I being the only one using a fountain pen, and now not using it anymore. It makes me feel sad.
Maybe I will post scanned manuscript articles (halfway between blogging and podcasting, let's call it pencasting) to use ink again.

Ian said...

Okay, now I'm totally intimidated. Not only do you find time to write three posts to my one, you actually write them out in long hand first! Someone hide this woman's pens. Also, I'm doing well if I can find a pen that writes in our house. I've found that I like mechanical pencils, but the pack of ten I got at Big Lots for three bucks has woefully thin lead which breaks right when I want to take that important note or underline that life-changing passage. An upgrade may be in order. Loved this post Emily!

Froshty said...

I love pens, too. However, the so-called expensive pens I've been given (including a fabulous Faber-Castell roller pen with "IBM Editor's Conference" engraved on it), all dry up and it's not because I leave the caps off, either. So, I've settled on the happy compromise of buying numerous boxes of Uni-ball Micro point roller point pens at Staples and writing them off as a business expense. These fit nicely in my hands, only occasionally dry up, and make my handwriting look like calligraphy. Unfortunately, several years ago I abandoned writing anything more than a thank you note with a pen because the lure of being able to delete offending thoughts without ugly crossed-out marks was too great for me to resist. Still, the thrill of opening a new pen for the first time and using it, even to sign a check, continues to be surpassed only by opening a new book or CD for me. I also continue to wonder why I either have 50 pens in pocketbook or 0.

Anonymous said...

Ah, but lovely days together like this come along so rarely - I say spend the money and relish the pens, the books, the love!

Anonymous said...

My love of pens has been somewhat crippled by marrying a pen kleptomaniac. Any nice pen I have is instantly swallowed up into a black hole and I never see it again. I'm just investing the money in books. Fantastic post, by the way, Emily. You really can make me laugh on any topic.

Emily Barton said...

Cam, oh Labyrinth Books is fabulous. Bob and I had our apartment right up the street from there while he was at seminary. And do check out Fountain Pen Hospital next time you're in town. I forgot to mention, though, that I think the "hospital" refers to where humans end up when they see the total on their bills after they purchase their fountain pens.

Mandarine, scanning hand-written posts. Now that's an idea! Might try it at some point.

Ian, my blog posts aren't all written in long-hand prior to being posted (but if it impresses you, you can believe they are. Sometimes they are if I happen to think of something I want to say, and I'm nowhere near a computer but have a notebook with me). All my stories and novel chapters are (but they don't get written nearly as frequently as blog posts do).

Froshty, I'm sure expensive pen cartridges dry up much more quickly than cheap pen cartridges do, so customers have to go out and buy expensive cartridge replacements. I mean, when companies design pens with life time guarantees, they have to make their money somehow. And, yes, what is that pens either becoming extinct or multiplying like bunnies the minute they hit a pocket book phenomenon?

Anonymous said...

Oh, Emily, I am so with you on this one, my pen fetish nearly cost me the roof over my head back in the day. I remember once being out of work and spending 2/3 of all the money I had in the world (about $250) on a gorgeous Montblanc pen. Hey, I didn't starve.

I currently have several fab Montblancs, a fantastic Sterling Silver Schaeffer, and an amazing Waterman among others. I haven't purchased a pen in years, though, and I'm ashamed to say I hardly ever use any of my fountain pens these days. I rarely write in longhand anymore although I held out for a long time. When I get home tonight I'm going to get out my pens and make sure they're in good working order! I prefer the kind that you stick right in the ink bottle to suck up the ink although I also use cartridges. But I can't even touch a ball-point pen, they are the devil's tool.

Emily Barton said...

Court, you're so right. Such wonderful days are few and far between.

Litlove, I once read or heard someone that a good comic writer can make people laugh about any topic. Maybe I'm approaching "good?"

Danny, so glad I inspired you to take out your long-neglected pens. Mont Blanc's are fabulous, aren't they? A good ball point works for me, but I can't stand cheap ones.

Anonymous said...

Books and pens, my two favorite things! And then I have to collect different brands and colors of ink to go in my pens. Hard choice to make between the tea and the Pen Hospital. Sounds like you had a grand time. I've seen the Mark Twain pen, it is definitely drool worthy. My passion is for fountain pens and I would love to have a Mont Blanc Mozart one day.

Anonymous said...

What a fabulous day this sounds! Like you, I have a pen.. issue. I've been meaning to post about the nice morning I spent in the workshop of a guy in nearby Castro Valley -- Penopoly, his business is called, and I can't stop thinking about the sixty gazillion pens in beautiful display cases, not to mention the ink bar, and the many lovely pencils scattered around.

I've never been to the Strand, but it too sounds like a wonderful place.

Rebecca H. said...

What a great day that was! It sounds to me like you made all the right choices :)

Emily Barton said...

Stef, oh yes, ink choices are so tough, aren't they?

Bloglily, quite obviously, pen dealers are very creative when it comes to naming their shops. I just love "Penopoly." Next time you find yourself in NYC, alot an entire day to The Strand. You won't be disappointed (but you might have to buy a new suitcase to get back home).

Anonymous said...

I have a very nice sterling silver Shaeffer pen with beautiful ornate engraving- would you be interested in seeling a picture of it? I am in New Zealand. If so, what is your email address I can send you a picture.
Regards, Shirley.