I Let My Wife Pick My Grail Pen

(This is a guest post by Jon Bemis. You can find Jon on Twitter @jtower42.)

I haven’t been a fountain pen user for very long, but the good fortune of having a little bit of disposable income to put towards my pen addiction has allowed me to explore a broad range of pens at a number of price points. When I first decided I wanted a fountain pen, I had the same reaction most people do; “I can’t believe I’m seriously thinking about dropping nearly thirty dollars on a Lamy Safari!” But I fairly quickly passed through several price barriers – fifty dollars (Monteverde Intima), a hundred dollars (Pelikan M205), one hundred and fifty dollars (Pilot Custom 74). My sensitivity to price was decreasing at a rate proportional to the enjoyment I was getting out of my new hobby.

Somewhere around two hundred dollars, however, I got twitchy. It happened with my first two hundred dollar pen (Edison Pearlette) and remains a sticky price point for me. There is an arbitrary line in my brain, a little voice that says, “Two hundred dollars is A LOT of money.”

Then I heard about Nakaya.

The priciest pens I had seen up to that point – the Montblancs, Viscontis, Auroras – they held little appeal. At least not at their (in my opinion) inflated price points. But when I saw a Nakaya for the first time on The Pen Addict, that voice in my head, my two-hundred dollar conscience? He didn’t have a chance. They were SO BEAUTIFUL. And everyone in the pen community who owned one RAVED about their Nakaya.

So in early fall, when my wife Dana started asking me what I wanted for Christmas, I blurted out “A Nakaya.” She looked at me with a raised eyebrow and asked, “Is that a pen?”

I tried to explain how it wasn’t just a pen, it was a capital-P PEN. Number one on a short list of grail pens. I could tell I wasn’t getting through. I talked about the art of urushi lacquer and its roots in ancient Japan. I tried to explain how a perfectly balanced pen becomes an extension of one’s hand. I attempted to describe what it was to write with a perfect nib, strong but soft, smooth but responsive.

Her expression was a mixture of bemusement and befuddlement. She clearly thought I was in the grip of some terrible fever, and I knew most of my homily was lost on her. She also saw my eyes were shining and my excitement was real. One of Dana’s many qualities is her willingness to indulge some of my obsessions.

Then she asked how much a Nakaya would cost. I told her.

After a double-take and a longish pause, she asked where she could even find such a thing. I directed her to John Mottishaw and nibs.com. She pulled up the website on her tablet and browsed for a few minutes. Then she said the words I had been dreading second-most of all. (Obviously, the words I had been dreading first-most of all were, “That’s ridiculous. I’m not getting you that.”)

What she said instead was, “There are way too many choices here. Just tell me which one you want.” Some of you, at this point, will be wondering what the problem is. I’d been given carte blanche to select my grail pen. I had full freedom to choose exactly what I wanted! The proverbial green light! Why was this a problem?

The problem was I didn’t know exactly what I wanted. And what was more, I didn’t WANT to choose. While I was researching Nakayas, I tortured myself trying to decide which one would be “perfect.” I read reviews, asked Nakaya owners for opinions, and lamented the fact that I couldn’t get to Los Angeles to the pen show to take a test drive. I stayed in this analysis paralysis for months. So the idea of picking one, just one, to the exclusion of all others, was daunting.

So I took the middle road and gave her some parameters. I showed her the models I was interested in; the Portable Writer, the Dorsal Fin, and the Piccolo. I told her my favorite colors; brown-green, blue-green, red over black, and black over red. I did specify that I wanted a medium nib. So I had given her a dozen options. Three models, four colors, zero idea of which one she would choose.

I was never nervous. I never imagined, even for a moment, that I wouldn’t be happy with the pen she picked. Despite not knowing, I knew.

First, I knew that one of the best things about fountain pens and fine writing as a hobby is the infinite number of new experiences available to the open-minded. There are innumerable combinations of pen, ink, paper and nib, and no one can predict which will delight a given individual. So I allowed myself to be open to the idea that no matter which Nakaya I got, it would be a great experience.

Second, and more importantly, by putting the final decision about my grail pen in the hands of my wife, I would be getting a gift given with thought and given in love. I was trusting her with a (relatively speaking) important decision about a thing that was squarely in my world, not hers. I believed and trusted that she knew me, and by accepting the responsibility of choosing, she conveyed to me that she cherished that trust.

At that moment, sitting together in our living room in our favorite chairs, comfortable and happy together, I became certain that there could be no wrong choice. She couldn’t possibly choose the wrong pen, because any pen she chose would always be the pen she chose for me. I knew I would love the pen because I love her, and because she loves me. And when I unwrapped my new Dorsal Fin in Aka-Tamenuri on Christmas morning, I loved it.

We pen people are a little weird, a little off center. We can get a little crazy about pursuing THAT PEN. Letting someone else choose that precious possession may not be something everyone can do. It requires a willingness to let go that certainly didn’t come easy for me. For some, it may be impossible. For me, giving up that little bit of control made the Nakaya immediately and forever my favorite pen. Not just because it’s awesome (it is) but because it was always remind me of that Christmas, and of my wife and best friend who got it for me.

Posted on March 24, 2015 and filed under Nakaya.