When I was in high school, I took a trip to San Francisco with my mother to visit a friend of hers, the DJ Lee Baby Simms. We went on a ferry ride. I was very romantic. I stood on the deck and sang Loreena McKennitt songs very loudly to the waves.
Gradually, I became aware of being watched. A young fellow–but older then me. We struck up a conversation. He was German, from Stuttgart. I was from Arizona.
“Which part?” he asked.
“Phoenix,” I said.
“Which part?” he asked.
I paused, thinking, MMMN. HOW COULD THAT POSSIBLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE TO HIM? HE LIVES IN GERMANY! . . . maybe I shouldn’t say anything more.
He explained, “I was an exchange student in Phoenix.”
“Oh, in that case! The Metrocenter area.”
He was a college student, studying law. I was possibly going into my senior year? In any case, we decided to be pen pals. Email pals, really, but such lovely long emails.
Anyway, it was Loffer (his nickname was Loffer) who told me that as a writer, I really ought to have a fountain pen. “All true writers have fountain pens.”
Since he was European, and older, and wrote a damn good email, I decided he was probably right, and I announced my intention to the world that I needed a fountain pen.
The world (my mother) heard. She bought me my first pen–a blue marbled Phileas Waterman. I loved it. (Here is what it looked like. This article makes fun of its looks, but the writer loved it anyway. I rather loved its looks.)
After years of use, I somehow lost it. And then, knowing me, LOST it.
I probably wailed, probably to the internet, and to all my friends. Was I no longer a real writer now that my fountain pen was lost???!!! THE HORROR! THE HORROR!
I was maybe 22, 23 at the time.
Again, the world (my friend Janet) heard. Again, I was given the gift of a Phileas Waterman. And I’ve cuddled it close ever since. (Almost 15 years now.)
Until last week, in Orlando.
ICFA was a beautiful conference, certainly one of the most relaxed. I had a gorgeous time. I had beautiful long conversations with people who are important to me for various reasons; I had writing time with Carlos; we had an amazing reading together with two other very, very fine writers. I got to dress up!
And the day of our reading and signing, I wore my Waterman tucked oh so sweetly into my bosom (NOT for the first time) (not by a LONG shot) for easy access. (See earlier “cuddled close.”) I even had occasion to use it! It always surprises me when people want things SIGNED.
That’s the last memory I have of my Waterman.
Probably while I was undressing for sleep, it slipped away from my multiple layers of sartorial splendor and rolled under the bed. Or I could have left it on the signing table. Or a hundred thousand other iterations of fate. In any case, it was not in any of my backpacks, purses, or pockets when I (finally) unpacked from ICFA two days ago.
O WOE (like WHOA) WAS ME!
It’s not that I need a fountain pen to remind me of my identity. But by this time THAT Waterman was more like a friend. I’d had it even longer than the original. It was my go-to pen, my letter-writing pen, my travel pen.
I do have a second, cheaper travel fountain pen too, that I used more devil-may-carely so as not to risk the Waterman. And I also have The Most Special Fountain Pen Ever, which is hand-carved from wood, decorated in gold, and looks like something one buys from Garrick Ollivander in Diagon Alley. (That never leaves the house except on super SUPREMO occasions wherein we are, for example, signing our wedding certificate in front of the Justice of the Peace).
But it was my . . . dear pen. If that makes any sense. It wrote like a dream. It was full of Yu-Yake, a burnt-orange ink that Amal El-Mohtar gave me as a present.
Anyway. I know it’s just a thing. An object. But. The melancholy.
Yesterday, after recording the latest quarterly issue of Fireside Magazine in Brookly, I went to meet Hernandez after he got out of his classes. We were going to go eat SPICY RAMEN. But on the street, he stopped, and looked at me, twinkling, and said, “You know, if you can wait to eat a while . . . we’re right next to the Fountain Pen Hospital.”
Oh. He loves me.
They told us there, in no uncertain terms, that the Phileas Waterman had been discontinued, oh, 15 or so years ago. The burn! The pain! If I’d bothered to look around at OTHER brands (which I did later), I’d have seen that there were blue-marbled-with-gold-accents fountain pens in various vitrines all over the store. They were also in the $300-$500 range. So I’m glad I didn’t see them. Instead, the first thing we did was go straight to the Waterman case for a sense of continuity–if not of style, then of brand.
And I chose this slender gold and silver thing. It looks light, just right, just the thing for a travel pen. We got a converter cartridge, so I can use my inks. And Carlos bought me a new bottle of turquoise-blue Ama-Iro ink for more quotidian use (burnt-orange is good for poetry, letters, signing books extravagantly).
There will always be a blue marbled Phileas Waterman-sized absence in my memory that my beloved pen-friend (well, pen-friends, if you count the first one) used to inhabit.
But my own even MORE beloved Hernandez, who loves to fix things, gave me a brave new pen to counter that lacuna. Because he is a darling. Because I am very, very lucky. VERY LUCKY. PRIVILEGED in my family and friends.
(Remind me to pass on the gift of a fountain pen to a young writer . . . or, I suppose, I could save up and buy some kid a computer, you know? I know which one SOUNDS more romantic, but also, let’s face it, practical is good too.)
I am so grateful. So happy. I will write many letters. I will write many things. I will probably even still wear it in my bosom, sometimes. But I will say to myself every time:
“Self, there is a pen in your bosom. Remember that and soyez-sage!” Which will, naturally, fix everything.