I’ve been struggling with something about fountain pens lately, which I will call the “mehs.”
Time really flies in the summer, but on top of all the usual fun, I’ve had a succession of things that have combined to bring me up short. On the pen front, my Monviso arrived, which was very nice. On the ink front, I realized I was sick of blue inks, which for me is beyond strange. Then, on the life front, we had some hard things. The hardest was when our beloved 12-year-old Labrador Retriever suddenly became seriously ill with pancreatitis, which meant round the clock nursing by us and a lot of veterinary intervention, since she could not eat and drink, or even stand up, on her own.
I saw a thread on a forum where some people were expressing the thought that “you are what you own.” So sad. Meanwhile I kept seeing nice pens, new and used, popping up for around $400 to $500. Oh and the Montblanc Shakespeare pen came out. I love Shakespeare. That pen is more than $900. It doesn’t actually have anything to do with Shakespeare, of course. It has to do with parting people from more than $900.
Speaking of Shakespeare, he’s always there with an apt phrase. Hamlet opens with a scene where a watchman at the end of his shift says, “For this relief much thanks: ’tis bitter cold / And I am sick at heart.” Here, the weather is hot, and I’m only nonplussed. But as always, Shakespeare’s words resound more convincingly.
I do enjoy pens and inks, and I have since I was a kid. When I like the pens I use, my job is a little more fun and my day a little brighter. But, as a hobby, there are negatives. The fountain pen hobby does revolve around the acquisition, ownership (and sometimes selling) of, stuff. And that can be warping, and that can be hollow.
Not that I think that stuff is bad or buying stuff is bad. Actually, I think that life is short and we should delight in every part of it that we can. I don’t feel bad about getting to own some nice pens — I feel lucky.
It’s just that there should be a balance in everything. I’m also the person who reads Thoreau’s Walden every year. My mantra (not from Thoreau) is: “Life is not a having and a getting, but a being and a becoming.”
And yet I devote free time, and some discretionary income, to fountain pens and ink, which is essentially about having and getting. So, sometimes when I’m reminded of that, it brings me up short.
Right now, I’m a little sick of it. I have never thought “you are what you own,” and never will. But does it matter if I spend time in environments that foster that? Do I contribute to that? Seeing pens on the internet every few weeks that cost $400, or $500 or $900, is that a positive? Or is it out of whack? When none of this is important. Do I remember that often enough? What do I do about it?
So I’m wrestling a little. On the bright side, at least our dog is doing well. Her life has actually been saved, which is a staggering thing to contemplate, and a good way to spend your time. Important things, like that, make me think, “just forget pens.” It was nice to watch Serena Williams win Wimbledon this weekend. The BBC made a great video of Serena reciting (part of) a Maya Angelou poem. I would rather listen to that.
Because it doesn’t matter who comes to mind: Maya Angelou, the Ramones, Stephen Sondheim, Henry David Thoreau, Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot. They all say the same thing. Be and become.