top 5 pens

My favourite day-to-day writing instrument has got to be the keyboard on my Dell laptop. That statement is misleading, though, as it hides the significant pen fetish I've developed since about the time they let us stop using pencils in elementary school. I've had a lifetime of bad handwriting coupled with a constant desire to be writing, and that has led to some very strong preferences regarding pens. I've certainly tried out enough, hoping to find the magic writing stick that will make my scribble legible to other people (and me!).

#5: V Pen by Pilot

I wrote with a Skrip fountain pen for most of university. For once this wasn't just being pretentious, but because my handwriting improves a tiny little bit when I use a heavier, non-ballpoint pen. I think it's because it forces me to slow down. The V Pen by Pilot is lightweight (bad), but it's also the only disposable fountain-style pen I've ever been able to find. It's also extra-fun to lend to people, because they see and feel the plastic case and then are confronted with the fountain pen nib when they write with it. I really do like the stroke of a nib across the paper as opposed to the run of a ballpoint. It just feels more "right."

#4: found Cross pen

I found this smaller-than-normal Cross pen on a Mississauga Transit bus seat, way back at the turn of the century. For a lightweight, narrow, ballpoint pen (which is three strikes against with me) it writes remarkably well. I alternate between trying to keep it nice and saving it and trying to use up the ink so I can replace the bright blue with my preferred black.

#3: Pierre Belvédère

The ever-thoughtful J-A got me this pen as a birthday present this year. It's a ballpoint, but it's a wide-bodied, heavy ballpoint. So far I've used it to write out a short-short story inside a birthday card (seemed appropriate), and the heft and balance make it very nice to write with. When I finally get around to trying to re-teach myself handwriting, this is definitely the pen I'm going to practise with.

#2: wooden commemorative

It's not unusual for teachers to receive commemorative pens or other academic tools as retirement gifts. This pen, and all the other pens that go with it, are unusual because they were given to teachers when they got their first full-time contract. It was presented at the adult education centre I spent the first four years of my career at. It was, in a lot of ways, a great place to work — except that the Harris government had just made a lot of funding cuts to education, which meant that even basic items like photocopy paper were in short supply (our principal had to beg boxes of paper off other schools the first semester we were open under the new rules), and all the teachers were on short-term, dead-end casual contracts. If we wanted to have a teaching job with a career path (plus things like health benefits and merit increases), we had to get a full-time contract at a school for teenagers. Leaving was always bittersweet — not because any of us particularly hated the idea of teaching teenagers, but because we had to leave a perfectly good job arbitrarily just because some politician wanted to score points.

Each pen has a real wood barrel with the name of the "graduate" on it (that's what we called it when someone went full-time), and has a carved solid-wood case. The cover of the case has the school's logo and motto: an open book next to the words "In pursuit of lifelong learning."

#1: a practical glass pen

I've had this pen for almost twenty years now. It's made completely out of glass, and is based on designs that were popular in the 18th century — sort of after quills but before steel nibs. You dip the nib in the ink, and the spirals of the nib "catch" enough ink to write comfortably for about five lines of text. Then you dip again, and continue. The pen itself only cost about twenty dollars, and the bottles of ink are available at any decent art supply shop.

I've written a lot with this pen, including some lengthy letters. It is light and narrow, but the ink delivery method makes me write like no other pen does. The feel of the inflexible glass sliding along the paper on a thin layer of ink is a sensation like I've got from no other pen, even my fountain pens.

I wish I could cite where I got the glass pen from, but the shop went out of business shortly afterwards. There's no maker's mark on it or the box it came in (long gone anyhow). I've seen other glass pens, but they're almost always just for show, rather than actually writing with, and often have lovely, colourful, fantastically-shaped barrels that would not be comfortable to write with for long.

What are your favourite writing instruments? What makes you want to write with them?