I saw the end of a tv show yesterday that ended with someone writing a letter with a fountain pen. When I was in grade school, or maybe it was junior high, we had to use a fountain pen. They say it makes it easier to learn cursive writing, which wasn't even taught in school when my girls were in grade school. What they didn't say is that using a fountain pen isn't as easy as using a ballpoint pen.
I remember a girl named Susan who used to doodle on her book covers with her fountain pen. It was graffiti before graffiti had a name. Usually her name was in big puffy letters with zentangle-like designs spiraling around it. I thought that was pretty cool, so tried it on my book cover. Here's where the part about knowing how to use a fountain pen comes into play. If you turn the nib at a slight angle, and hold the pen lightly, ink glides across the page as you write. But if you hold the nib parallel to the direction you are writing, the nib separates and a big blog of ink covers your page. Same thing if you press too hard. And that's what happened to my book cover when I crossed my t. That didn't look cool at all. So I tried to disguise the blob by making it look like a sun on the end of my t. I drew a circle around the blob and made little rays all around the circle. Then it liked more like an eye than the sun, and not a pretty eye either. It was kind of creepy looking. I tried making it more eyelike by making it bigger and bigger, and finally I had a giant creappy eye covering my book cover.
Since book covers weren't sold in stores then, and we were only issued one book cover per book by our teachers, I had to carry that book around with me for months. It became known as the cyclops book and my friends would turn it over, eye down, whenever I forgot to hide it against another book. One day when I had the book open, reading along while the teacher talked, she stopped mid-sentence and asked what that was on my book cover. Everyone turned to look at me, which was embarrassing, but later one of the boys asked if he could trade covers with me. I did. I'd rather have a book cover that said John Phillips than have a big eye on it. I didn't try to embellish my book covers after that.
Getting back to fountain pens though. The kind we used had ink cartridges. The cartridges were clear plastic cylinders about two inches long, filled with ink. To put in a new cartridge, the pen was unscrewed in the center, and then the old cartridge was pulled out. There was sharp point inside the pen that pierced the end of the cartridge and let ink flow down the nib. If the cartridge wasn't put in with a quick, hard push, ink would spill out of the cartridge inside the pen and then leak out around the nib. We always knew when someone tried to ease the cartridge in because the hand that was holding the nib end of the pen was covered with ink.
Most of us carried the pens (we had a blue one and a red one) in a zipper bag in our notebook. Sometimes the pens leaked, but the zipper bag contained it. But sometimes, a boy (I say boys because girls had to wear dresses then) would put one in his pocket, and the pen would leak, especially if they put it in a back pocket of their pants and sat on it. Then, they had an ink spot on their pocket, and it it was a full cartridge, the leak would go halfway down their leg. Ink did not wash out either. Once on a dress or pair of pants, it was there forever.
On this tv show I watched yesterday, the woman writing the letter had beautiful penmenship. Her pen floated across the page. It almost made me want to write with a fountain pen again. Until I remembered the cyclops.