Monday, May 31, 2010

Requiem for an ink-stick

I am down to my last pen.

This is really quite traumatic for me. When I say my last pen, I don’t mean just any pen—I mean my pen. I may use dozens of pens in a given day, but my pens are different. I am very choosy about my pens, and I have found God’s own pen. And now I am running out of them.

My drug—er, pen of choice is the Sanford Liquid Expresso, Extra Fine Point. Perfect for writing and my feeble attempts to draw, its archive-quality ink never fades and makes even my handwriting look good, and its porous tip mimics the action of a fountain pen without forcing me to buy, and learn to use, a fountain pen. That means it writes so smoothly that it takes me an hour of scribbling to get writer’s cramp, even if I’m writing a fight scene. (Fight scenes mean I can’t sit still. If I’m hand-writing one, my pen carves deep grooves in the paper and my fingers go white at the knuckles and lock in place. If I’m typing one, I twitch in my seat. I once sprained my ankle while writing a particularly dramatic confrontation. I kid you not.)

I am not alone in my love of my pens. The reason I’m down to my last pen, less than a year after buying a fistful and guarding them like nuclear launch codes, is that nobody can leave my pens alone. I cannot, in good conscience, refuse to lend one to a friend—and they’re so perfect that I cannot, in good conscience, refuse to give one to someone who for one reason or another needs a truly perfect pen. I bought my father a box of them for Christmas just so he’d stop stealing mine. (I think arthritis is setting in.) Now the local art-supply store that has been selling me my beloved pens has closed, and no one’s answering e-mails through their website. Sanford is shutting down the Liquid Expresso line. I am bereft. And my very last pen—the medium-point felt-tip Expresso that I bought by mistake but that still writes more smoothly than any ballpoint, gel pen, or what have you—is sputtering as its ink runs out. I watch it miserably, mourning its passing. Don’t leave me!

It seems silly to get this worked up about a mere ink-stick. But I’m hardly alone in the obsession. Anybody who writes a lot—I mean really writes a lot--knows how important the right utensil can be. Nicole is fussy about her pencils and art pens; musicians are fussy about their instruments; I am fussy about that perfect line on a page, so smooth and easy that I no longer have to think about the process of writing (turn the tip this way to make sure it crosses the T) and can just let the words flow out.

I used to hand-write all my stories. The first 90 or so of the 100 stories that make up the foundation of Masks were composed longhand in a spiral notebook with a ballpoint pen. I couldn’t concentrate when I was sitting at a keyboard, possibly because I had failed three successive typing classes and would have failed the fourth one if I hadn’t thrown the assigned typing exercises out the window and spent 45 minutes a day typing my own handwritten stories into a computer file. Now, however, I literally can’t write fast enough to keep up with the words flowing out of my brain--unless I am using one of my pens, my perfect, nearly frictionless pens.

So now I must trust Amazon to distinguish between mere Fine Point and the sublime Extra Fine Point, and try to figure out whether something called a Liquid Flair is some kind of replacement for a Liquid Expresso. I have sent pleading emails to suppliers in the U.S. and Canada, researched variations on the trade name, and generally spent more skullsweat on these pens than I have on my taxes. Because taxes are once a year, and writing is every day! I’m willing to buy a box or two—heck, if I had the money, I’d buy a case. It seems excessive, but people have been asking me for weeks to sign zines for them. I firmly believe that if someone is going to go to such trouble for an autographed publication, or meet all kinds of crazy contest requirements to win one, the ink on that signature should not fade before the year is out. I have notebooks more than ten years old. I know what lasts and what doesn’t.

Hmm, maybe I can steal one of Dad’s to tide me over …


  1. I consider it a credit to the readers of this blog that shortly after I posted it, a Facebook fan sent me a link to a website where I could apparently order these pens. I have ordered a box, as a test. If the box arrives and the right pens are in it, I will order two more. Must ... have ... pens ...