Many say we are in the full swing of the digital age. Smart phones are in pockets and purses. Tablets are in backpacks, briefcases, and handbags. Social media is a main means of communication. We type more than we use a pens. Pens are mainly used for short quick notes for those over the age of 35. Evernote and other note-taking apps have overcome the post-it note. Why, with all this great and useful technology, would I choose to use a pen and in particular a pen that requires cleaning and maintenance. I can get a free app or use a Bic (the pen that expects no responsibility, like a writing one-night stand).
It all started while I was in my final semester of graduate school, soon before I would be ordained a priest. Each year the seminary would send the first year theologians on a mission trip to Granada, Nicaragua. I was part of the leadership team that assured that everything flowed smoothly for the participants so they could enter into the experience of ministering to the poor in and around Granada. Towards the end of the trip each year, we had a celebratory meal at a local restaurant. The place that year was new to us veterans. It was situated on a bay of Lake Granada with one the mountains overlooking it. It was a perfect spot for a restaurant. All the seating was outside at this long table fitting all 36 of us. Sitting next to me was one of the participants who over the past two years I admired. He had left a successful career to follow God’s call for him to priesthood. During our conversation that night, we somehow got to talking about pens and the fact that he writes almost exclusively with fountain pens, which to me was new and exciting and mysterious and strange and wonderful and romantically out of date. He was gracious enough to let us try the pen he was currently carrying and if my memory serves me write (pun intended) it was a black Pilot Falcon with a soft-fine nib (shown above). He took out a pocket notebook, and I put pen to paper.
I had never seen a fountain pen before, except in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Brody uses the ink as a weapon on an unsuspecting Nazi tank engineer. I certainly had never used one before. It seemed as foreign and exotic as the locale I was currently in, a place that I would visit but never stay. Pen to paper the feel was so smooth compared to the (yes) Bic I had in my pocket. The line was dark and seemed like it would would never fade, and this particular pen had a semi-flex to the nib so the line width changed depending on the amount of pressure I used. I resolved that afternoon in the shadow of a mountain with the breezes of a Central American lake in the middle of January, “I am going to buy a fountain pen.”
It is now two years later. What was one pen in late January in 2012 is now around seventy fountain pens, ballpoints, rollerballs, and brush pens. Over the course of those two years, I fell in love again with writing, the very act of it. There is a certain tactile pleasure of feeling the nib/tip hit the page that a touchscreen mitigates. The pages, for the most part, give resistance, which lets you know you are putting something down. Using a stylus or my fingers on a keyboard keep me at (pun intended again I guess) arms length from whatever I’m producing. With a pen, I feel fully immersed, me, my thoughts, and my thoughts communicated through colorful characters flowing from a pen.
It is isn’t just the feel that keeps me writing. It what’s going one in my brain. Each stroke, each word, each phrase needs to be much more intentional. There is no autocorrect or spell-check with pen and paper. Writing exercises my brain as well. Typing on a laptop for me doesn’t tax my brain (I had a job as a data entry clerk for a while). Typing may be more productive in word count per minute, but in that action of <click> <click> <clap> <click> my heart and my soul is not as lifted or moved.
With pens, and fountain pens in particular, I’m able to inject a bit of color in my normal everyday life. I’m able to take down a phone message in a blue reminiscent of the clear waters of the Florida beach (to the left) or a black that reminds me of looking up from my sleeping bag in a tent while camping, total darkness (below), or an ink with the varying shades of a tree in autumn (above).
Finally, I carry around with me not just something that is functional, but something that is also beautiful. Many of my pens are works of beautiful engineering and design and can be considered works of art. By being in hand, they can lift me up from mere use to the one who is the Most Beautiful, the One from whom all beauty flows. Each pen, then is a reminder, that I am loved. That I was created to admire beauty. That I wasn’t created to be for mere use but to be enjoyed for my own sake. It is a reminder that all around me are revelations of the God I love and serve.