Epidemic dead pens: Sign of the times

refills simmeringThis morning my tea is ready before my Parker refills are done. They’ve been simmering in a pot on the stove for five minutes already, but they still won’t write.

I’ve used indelible black Parker medium ballpoints for years. Some of my associates describe my Parker pens as mere affectation. “I do fine with these twenty-baht stick pens,” says one friend. Of course he’s only a photographer and hardly knows what to do with a pen anyway. The point is, using Parker pens, I can for instance fall off sailing yachts together with my notebooks with impunity, drying them out and finding them still legible afterward. I can conduct endless interviews wherein I write like the wind, my pen never skipping a bot mot.

I’ve always liked Parker pens. But no longer. I’m lucky if a refill lasts long enough to compose a reminder to buy more refills. The prices of which, in Bangkok, have inflated to something way more than 100 baht each. Which is expensive even if they worked, which they generally don’t.

I’m not falling off so many yachts these days, but habit, brand loyalty and the fact I own a dozen rather nice Parket pens have kept me buying refills. I’ve tried stationery departments in flash department stores all over the city, waving my arms around and complaining mightily in all of them. Clerks read reassuringly recent dates off the packaging and smile sweetly and keep suckering me into buying still more of these useless little metal cylinders.

“Switch to Schaeffer,” Sara advises me, always the pragmatist.

notebook waterproofSure. But I fear that, having invested in the new hardware, I’ll discover that all the Schaeffer refills in the world are also drying up. Why? Probably because no one is writing by hand any more. Everybody goes around poking at gadgets, thumbing emails and SMSs like bats out of hell, careless of the fact they’re contributing to the extinction of fine writing instruments and the art of cursive script. Which, I’m told, is something that’s no longer taught in schools. Handwriting skills will soon go the way of remembering phone numbers, performing feats of multiplication from memorized tables, and shoeing horses. (What do you do when your horse throws a shoe? Admit it. You have no idea.)cursive script

“So what?” say the champions of technological progress.

For one thing, I believe, writing with a pen can be more effective than using a keyboard — writing may establish a more immediate connection between mind and page. Of course it’s possible that this is only because my generation for the most part grew up using pens. Nevertheless, although I also touch-type fluently, and prefer it for many kinds of writing activities, I believe some of the most creative things I’ve done, both in fiction and non-fiction, began life as hand-written drafts.

Kids these days prefer keyboards and touchscreens, and this isn’t likely to change. So how long before so few people can write that pen companies won’t find it economical to manufacture refills that work?

fountain penThree of my Parkers are fountain pens, two of them fashioned from solid silver. I could switch to these, at the perennial risk of blotched shirtfronts, not to mention the inconvenience of refilling a pen from an ink bottle in mid-gallop to record a brainstorm while thundering across the Mongolian steppes aboard a shaggy wee horse.

mongol horsemen 2

Whatever. How long can it be before Parker stops producing ink, and I’ll have to make my own from candle soot and inferior brandy?

This is progress?



 I’m the one with the ink bottle and no sword.

Note. I drafted this post on my computer. It might well have been a better piece if I’d used a pen, but all my pens had run dry.

Another note. Voilà, eh? The above note lends this post a certain postmodern cachet.

One more. Did you notice the bilingual Canadianism in the previous note?

Okay, just one more. In case your horse throws a shoe.


See BoatU.S.  for waterproof notebooks, which may make my indelible refills redundant. 


3 thoughts on “Epidemic dead pens: Sign of the times”

  1. Two of my Peace Corps Thailand Group XI colleagues were graduates of Fort Madison High School in what’s called Iowa’s “Pen City” because it’s home to Shaefer Pens and the state Penitentiary. I hear if you want really indelible ink you need to go to the state pen, eh?

    • Aha. I see I’ve spelled ‘Shaefer’ wrongly in this post, and, pretending to excellence as an editor as I do, should throw myself on one of these otherwise useless pens.

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