To the Point: The Flexible User

(This page revised August 23, 2012)

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Stylus MagazineThis article is a slightly revised version of one that first appeared in the February/March 2008 issue of Stylus magazine.

It’s February. You’re sitting at your study desk, getting ready to sign a Valentine card for your sweetie. Or maybe it’s June, and it’s time for an anniversary card. You choose the time, I’ll set the scene.

You open the drawer, and your eye falls on that box. You know the one, it’s the rich-looking presentation box for the pen you got for Christmas. The pen that’s still resting, dipped but never inked, inside that very box. The pen you want to love but can’t, because it doesn’t write the way you wish it did.

You realize … it might just be that you’re not as flexible as your pen’s nib.

The problem may not be the pen. But if it’s not the pen, what is it? The ink? No, you tried the pen with your favorite ink. The paper? No, same story there. What’s left? Your brow creases as you realize that the culprit might be you. It might just be that you’re not as flexible as your pen’s nib.

Not every pen, not every nib, will write precisely as you expect it to, even when you’ve had it tuned by your favorite nibmeister. There is inevitably some variation in the sizes of tips; even the best nib technicians can’t create precisely the same thing twice. There’s also likely to be variation in tine springiness due to imprecision in the rolling, stamping, forming, and polishing operations at the nib factory.

How do you deal with the disappointment of a pen that’s not quite smooth enough, not quite wet enough, or not quite broad enough? Obviously, the “how” will depend on the “what,” but let’s look at a couple of common scenarios:

You have a couple of choices. You can sell the pen you don’t love, or you can put it back in the box, close it in the drawer, and hope your sweetie never notices that you aren’t going to use it until about a week after Old Nick puts in his order for whole-house oil heat. Or you can do something to make the pen into one you’ll use with relish:

Fountain penIn love

The last thing you want to do is, or should be, to get rid of the pen. Not every pen is perfect, and you will eventually run into a pen that’s fated to be a loser or, at least with many fountain pens, not quite as perfect as your favorite. But living with pens is like living with people, and Stephen Stills put it best back in 1970 (was it really that long ago?): If you can’t be with the one you like, you can usually learn to like the one you’re with.


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