Pen Snobbery

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

Becoming a pen snob isn’t something that happens consciously. You don’t wake up one morning and decide, “Today, I shall look down my nose at those around me who use inferior writing instruments” while wearing a monocle and an ascot.

I have always been vaguely aware that some pens were better and some pens were not as good. I knew where the Uni-ball Onyx rollerballs were stashed away in the supply cabinets at work, and I knew I liked a Bic Stic better than a PaperMate WriteBros. But as the fella says, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

As I got into pens in early 2014 and the wide world of writing instruments began to reveal itself to me, I quickly and without thinking began to sort the world into good and evil. Allowing reviews and comments to influence me unduly, I decided there were good pens (gels, rollerballs, and these fountain pen thingies) and bad pens (ballpoints, boo!) There were good tip sizes (superduperfine) and bad ones (bold, yuck!) And there were good pen brands (Pilot, Uni, Lamy) and evil pen corporations that were probably fronts for genocide and stuff (Bic, Cross, and don’t-make-‘em-like-they-used-to Parker).

With all the zealotry of the recently-converted, I was quite certain of my opinions, juvenile as they were. And I was really kind of an ass about it. Luckily, I kept most of my snarky comments (“Ugh, you’re using that? Why not just pound a rock on a cave wall to see if makes a mark?”) to myself. I was a pen jerk (mostly) within the confines of my own head.

During this time of completely unjustified certainty, I thought to myself, “Self, there is no one in this world you love more than your best friend, the mother of your children, your amazing wife. But you don’t even know what’s she’s writing with. How can you truly know her if you don’t know her pens? And what if she is having a less-than-optimal writing experience? What if she’s writing with (gasp) a BAD PEN?”

So I set out to fix what I was certain was broken. I just KNEW that Dana’s pen situation was an epic and unmitigated disaster and only I could fix it. (Seriously, I can be kind of clueless.)

Dana is also the kind of person who has always been aware of the writing implements she uses. She’s a lefty, of the dreaded “hook-hand” variety, which means that for her entire literate life, she’s dragged her hand through her freshly-written words. Also, as with many lefties, she PUSHES her pen across the paper instead of PULLS. She has always needed a pen that was both super-smooth and quick-drying, a difficult combination. Had I thought for thirty seconds about these needs, I might not have stuck my foot in my mouth quite as badly as I did, as you are about to witness.

Her pen of choice when I turned the searchlight of superciliousness on her was a PaperMate Profile 1.4B. This, of course, set off all my warning flags. A PAPERMATE? With that, ugh, ENORMOUS 1.4 tip? If she’s going to use something that crappy, why doesn’t she just write with the crayons they give away with the kids’ menu at Applebee’s?

I pulled one of these awful, smelly things (note: not actually smelly) out of the pen cup in our kitchen and tried it out for myself. It certainly wasn’t the writing experience I personally was seeking. Between the (admittedly nice) rubbery grip and large tip, writing with the Profile reminded me of driving my first car, a 1987 Buick Park Avenue that was a hand-me-down from my dad. The way Detroit built suspensions in those days, you as a driver had to take it on faith that there was, in fact, a road underneath you; because you could barely see it and you sure as heck couldn’t feel it. The PaperMate Profile was like that – it was like writing on a cloud.

So I set about trying to help my poor, lost wife out of the wilderness of terrible pens. I brought home (from my stash at work), some 0.5 Zebra Sarasas, a 0.7 Uni-ball Jetstream, and a 0.5 Pilot Acroball. I also had her try a Retro 51. Wonderful pens, all. Fine representations of the best of gel, hybrid ink and liquid rollerball pens. I was sure she would love these pens as much as I did – love them so much, in fact, that she would throw her arms around me, her eyes glistening with tears of joy, overcome with gratitude for the new world of transcendent writing I had opened up to her.

She hated them all.

“Ugh, I just feel like I’m digging into the page with these,” she said as she tried first the Jetstream, and then the Acroball. “And this one smears,” she complained, inspecting the side of her left hand after trying the Retro 51.

She didn’t COMPLETELY hate the Sarasa. “This one is a little smoother than the others, but I’m still digging in,” she said. “I really don’t like any of them better than these,” holding up her PaperMate Profile. “Sorry, honey.”

So, I don’t want to overdramatize my reaction at this point. I wasn’t “devastated” or “crushed.” I wasn’t “hurt.” It’s pens, not life or death. But I was a little bummed out, and a lot thoughtful. Why didn’t she like the pens? These were the best! I loved these pens! They were MY favorites! Shouldn’t she…


Suddenly I had a Grinch moment; my pen heart grew three sizes that day. I had been trying to foist my preferences on her, but her writing needs were different than mine, and her “best” pen was almost certainly going to be different than mine.

I was humbled, but not daunted. I was going to share the pen love with my true love, but I was going to meet her where she was, not where I thought she needed to be. So I searched for pen reviews written by and for lefties, browsed retailers big and small, and ordered a new handful of pens for Dana.

Trying to meet the conflicting needs of smooth and dry, I ordered a broad-tipped Sakura Pigma, a Zebra Tapli 1.6, a Pilot G-2 1.0, and a Dong-A (snicker) Anyball 1.2. Also, given that the only mildly positive feedback from the first test session was for the Sarasa, I picked up the broad, 1.0 version.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t get a raised eyebrow when I came home one night with another fistful of pens. I could feel the skepticism emanating from Dana, but she is nothing if not a loving and tolerant friend. She tried them. God bless her, she tried every one.

And there was one she liked!

The Sarasa 1.0 got a second and then a third test sentence, and a pleased expression. “I like this. I’d use this,” she said.

I was, to be honest, giddy. I was so pleased that I had sought, and found, something she liked. I was also pleased that we had connected over this pen obsession that had, up until now, been very strange to her.


She never gave up the PaperMate Profiles, but she did add a rainbow of Sarasa 1.0’s to her collection. With the ice broken, I found more things she liked, including Clairefontaine bound journals, Quo Vadis planners for keeping track of the kids’ homeschooling, and Neo-Critz Transformer pen cases. In fact, she liked the Transformer so much she asked for a second one. One is filled with eyebrow tweezers and emery boards (I had NOT thought of that), and the other is home to her favorite colors of both Sarasas and Profiles.

And I, having become just a little wiser and much less opinionated, am totally okay with that.

Posted on April 14, 2015 and filed under Guest Post.