My view from the desert: thoughts on my exile from pen buying

I’m told the American writer Henry Miller once wrote, “Ones destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things…” That may or may not be the case, but I thought it was quite profound. Anyway I thought that I would write something from my new place as it were, that is, the position of being in pen exile. Yes, you heard me right, pen exile…

To my horror a few months ago it dawned on me that, as I was having to fund two of my children through University, my pen budget this year would be practically zero. That would mean almost no pen buying, very little spent on paper and ink, a definite period of prolonged financial drought, or better still  a necessary period of self-imposed pen exile.

This experience for someone who likes to blog about pens but doesn’t get that many pens sent from manufacturers to try may be fatal. At least fatal for the blog concerned as nothing new to review usually means precious little to blog about. But I have found it an illuminating time, a time to think and learn to see things differently. Here’s some of what I’ve found.

  1. I still like writing with fountain pens. That may sound obvious but actually if you take away the habit of buying and then blogging about the stuff you buy the buzz can be easily lost. Thankfully I’ve found that I still just like writing with my favourite fountain pens just for my own pleasure and relaxation.
  2. Contentment is not always having what you want. There is a lot to be said for saying ‘no’ to yourself once in a while. There can be an education in stopping and intentionally learning to want what you already have, which, incidentally, is a much better definition of true contentment.
  3. Sometimes pen-buying is something that’s bad for you. I know we don’t like admitting this, but some of us spend too much on pens. I know someone once stated “there are worse habits, right?” but really folks, sometimes we need to back off and just think. How many of us have bought in haste and regretted at leisure? How many of us have sold on pens we thought we would love and cherish for ever? Only to pass them on to others , usually at something of a financial loss, because the pens in question weren’t the answer to all our problems after all.
  4. Some of us are way too obsessed with pens. I’ve been watching, listening, and quietly surveying the pen subculture over the past months. I’ve seen its darker side. Unbelievably I’ve seen people fall out over pens! I’ve seen bloggers abused and trolled for no other reason than a difference of opinion. I know too that much of our subculture is industry driven, after all pen manufacturers and retailers want us to buy and to keep buying. What’s one more pen?
  5. They’re pens not magic wands. I’ve written this before I know but it’s still true. That one pen you really, really want isn’t going to change your life. It’s just a tool, it may be beautiful to look at; and well-engineered it may be, but after all is said and done it’s just a pen.
  6. I’ve already got more bottled ink than I’m ever going to be able to use. It is my stated ambition to live until I’m ninety or die trying. That said it has dawned on me that after I’m gone one of the things my kids will either learn to treasure or have fun throwing away is all the ink I’ve thus far accumulated. Enough with the ink already.
  7. Pen geeks are great! Despite the existence of the odd lunatic there is still a lovely community of pen addicts out there; they are usually really nice people who are keen to share their love, knowledge and expertise regarding fountain pens with anyone who’ll listen (or read).

So there it is my pen exile continues for a while at least. But as a certain Terminator once said, “I’ll be back!”


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18 thoughts on “My view from the desert: thoughts on my exile from pen buying

  1. Well, that’s very good advice. Always the next pen that will slake the thirst. The trouble is its the Sheffield pen show on Sunday….. Regards Steve

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Great to hear you are still doing well on your pen exile! 🙂 I love this post! It’s always good to take a break sometimes, don’t worry, we’ll be here when you blog again! 🙂 In the meantime, if you need me to send you an ink fix… er…I mean sample 😉 let me know! 😀

  3. Hi, I agree with you. Buying new pens and inks can become something you do for the sake of it. I recently bought a fountain pen I wanted for a few months and decided it was going to be my last one: I’ve got plenty of good pens already and I can only use one at a time anyway. As for inks, well, no more buying until the last drop in the last bottle I own is gone!

    Good luck!

  4. I am in agreement as I just ended a mad rush of pen buying that I realised was not necessary. I love writing and use fountain pens everyday and that joy is what I want. So now I intend to save and buy the few that are important for me but not the community… keep writing!

  5. I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts here. Thanks for your dedicated work!
    Perhaps you can squeeze in a “value pen” now and then. I’ve been surprised at what I could get delivered to my door for under $5 US from the online world.

    1. Hi there
      Thanks for taking the trouble to comment. Always happy to review value pens. What have been your favourites?

  6. Hello, I’ve only just found your blog today while looking up Iroshizuku inks – as if 11 bottles of them aren’t enough. (Six are the 15mL ones.) I was happy though to read this post. I am a creature of obsessive hobbies, which is slightly different from having hoarding tendencies, but the objective end result is much the same when one thinks about it. Pens are a bit of a dangerous one.

    One of those superficial similarities that brought together my university boyfriend and I was…fountain pens. While I read obsessively about pens, I had a collection of entirely common ones mostly still in production; he on the other hand had all manner of rare and wonderful vintage and limited-edition pens, plus hand-tuned nibs. Instead of ‘come up for a cup of tea’, the line that worked on me was ‘come up and look at my pens’…you can imagine the subsequent proliferation of jargon-innuendo.

    But while I got to enjoy the externalities of his hobby, I knew it was a rabbit-hole that I needed to resist. Forgive me if this sounds immodest but I have very good calligraphy skills that his rare celluloid Omas and Waterman Pink and pre-war Maki-e Sailor pens, though glorious, do not do much to enhance. I love the feedback of nib on paper and I still write postcards and letters. He on the other hand spent hours and hours and thousands of pounds on this hobby, and his handwriting was frankly rubbish. Far be it for me to pass moral judgment on materialism: Due to aforementioned hobbies I’m in a bit of a rabbit warren myself. But his expenditure carried on without much actual use of his breathtakingly beautiful pens – in fact he tended to lose them (!).

    His example has served as an important reminder for me, to be mindful of how much the excitement over a potential acquisition is really just abstract and probably unhealthy consumerist craving. I’m by no means a paragon of simplicity (just look at my writing – I apologise for how long and convoluted this comment has become) in any way, but well…I try to be aware, and it always helps to read posts like this too. So thank you. And as I’m sure you realise, you mustn’t think your exile from buying necessarily entails an exile from posting interesting things.

    I’ll still be going through your old posts and drooling over the pens, though.

  7. It’s a rabbit hole alright. I, too, have been on a long-term exile on pens and ink, but still use them daily. What’s surprising to me is that my favorite pens tend to be dirt cheap, they write the best, take the least amount of care and the most abuse.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I find much the same. I have had some expensive pens but my go to pens tend to be pens like TWSBI 580, Fabre Castellated Basic, Pilot Knight, Kaweco Sport Al etc

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