Tale of a Vandal Pen Collector: Wrap It Up

Taking a break from reading poetry, I’ve just finished reading KT Sparks’ Four Dead Horses. However, it turns out there was no poetry break as the novel is filled with cowboy poetry, a uniquely American oral and written western tradition that goes back to the 1800s.

The story’s main character, Martin, finds his calling when he hears cowboy poetry for the first time when his family visits a dude ranch. From Pierre, Michigan, Martin takes on a quest to recite/perform at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. Martin’s goal is usurped first by family obligations and later by an all too human complacency which keeps in Pierre. A dark and funny story. KT’s writing style reminds me of a marriage between John Irving and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Martin had always wanted to speak to his mom about their common exile. Not even speak. A knowing glance. A wry smile. A shared sigh from the front seat of her Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser station wagon as they watched the Fuzzy Balls families spill onto the Stainbrook-Borden Public Beach for another exclusive bonfire sing-along. They both longed for a bigger life, a yearning neither his dad, with his business, nor Frank, with his tennis, could comprehend. Perhaps the problem was that she thought she could find it in Pierre. Martin knew he had to get out.

Excerpt From Four Dead Horses, by KT Sparks, Regal House Publishing, ISBN 9781646030910.

Read an interview with KT in Southern Review of Books here.

☮ →Note: Last year, I took a writing workshop taught by KT. The workshop was fantastic, and so when her first novel was published, I had to read it. So glad I did.

Fountain Pen Storage

Over the years, I’ve tried all kinds of pen storage, from free to repurposed to fancy. Rather than detail each trial, I put together a slide show of the former ways I stored my pens. Many of the fountain pens pictured have come and gone, much like most of these storage options.

For several years, my four most reliable choices have been two pen wraps, a repurposed cigar box, and a former chocolate box. The boxes I found, cleaned them up and made my own pen trays for them.

The first pen wrap was purchased from Pacific Coast Pen from the Fountain Pen Network. The second wrap I made myself from some thick cotton cloth and an old MacBook microfiber sleeve.

Each pen wrap holds six pens. While most pens fit completely and snuggly in the denim Pacific Coast Pen wrap, there are a couple that peaked out from the top of the pen slots. The DIY pen wrap took care of that problem and easily hid my longest pens like the Hakumin Mina, Edison Huron, and Danitrio Cumlaude.

The fabric of some pen wraps very thin, and I never feel my pens are well protected. The thick fabrics of the DIY and Pacific Coast Pen wraps have given me a basic sense of pen-security.

The chocolate box holds thirteen pens—a writer’s dozen, a very serviceable box. It holds everything from acrylic to urushi to celluloid to silver pens. The silver pen, of course, tarnishes because I don’t use it that much, and I worry about the degradation of the vintage celluloid pens. And so, I’ve been rethinking my storage situation.

Currently, I’ve got fifteen pens, two pens over my personal pledge to keep my collection to thirteen pens or under. As I’ve carefully curated my pens over the last several years, it gets harder and harder to decide which pens to let go of. I’ve set four candidates aside for potential rehoming. We’ll see which ones scream the loudest to be re-inked and allowed to stay.

To help solidify my commitment to thirteen pens or less, I’ve revamped my storage with two pen cases from Rickshaw Bags. One case holds three pens, and the other holds ten. They are trusty, cushy pen cases.

The three-pen sleeve is great because the pens don’t fall out. (You’d have to shake the sleeve rather violently. YMMV.) You might say, “duh,” but a trendy pen sleeve I once had never held my pens securely. Also, the Rickshaw sleeve completely encases each individual pen.

The ten-pen wrap rolls up nicely and is quite compact. The Rickshaw wrap is only slightly thicker than my DIY wrap. None of the pens in the wrap ever touch. Same with the three-pen sleeve.  Big bonus: the QUIET opening and closing of either pen case. No loud velcro rip like in my original pen wraps.

I choose Rickshaw because they are made to order in San Francisco. You can mix and match the fabric colors you want. Or, you can choose a premade wrap or sleeve, like I did for the “Inktopus” in grey for the three-pen sleeve.

☮ →Note: Long ago, Rickshaw’s founder ran a messenger bag company that I got my laptop bags from. He left, I followed. I like his stuff.

You don’t have to order directly from RickshawBags. Lots of online pen retailers carry them. But order direct if you want the full set of available color choices.

Some days I miss the simplicity of my nine-pen cigar box. But what additional pens would I give up? Having fifteen pens is not a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation. (Thank you, Merriam-Webster.) It’s simply a number that doesn’t work for me. A writer’s dozen works just fine, thank you.

☮ →Note: Celluloid pens should be allowed to breathe. They shouldn’t be stored in an airtight environment. When I’m not using my vintage celluloid pens, they are stored in an open box by themselves. Read more about how to store your pens here.

Remember, what works for me may not work for you. Our relationship to things is so incredibly personal. Just be honest about what you do. Don’t succumb to “so and so ‘enabled’ me!” or “I’m addicted!” Pens are not heroin or even alcohol. Seriously. They are not. If you can afford your pens, great. If you can’t, then get thee to a twelve-step program or therapist, pronto—admit you can’t stop spending money you don’t have or should be saving for more important things.

I strive to:

  • Keep the pen collection small.
  • Use a refillable pen.
  • Repair things that break whenever possible

—from About

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading, dear friends. Check out KT’s book, Four Dead Horses.

Stay kind and curious about the world. See you anon.
—JD

Please be safe and get vaccinated—we are all in this together!