I may have had a few moments while trying to figure out parking in Dadeland where I’d wished A) I’d taken the train, B) I’d driven my Jeep instead of the husband’s truck, and C) that I’d stayed home. I have a love-hate relationship with Miami and its fun lack of parking and terrible drivers. That said, let’s head in the Marriott. (I also can’t recall a good experience with a Marriott, but then, I like boutique hotels, clown motels, and camping.)
Here’s the thing, I’ve been obsessed with pens and paper and stationery and art and office supplies since I was small. Like, as a kid I went to the office supply aisle in department stores the way other kids ran for the toys. I got a desk-style tape dispenser when I turned 16. This is back before you could get one anywhere and we lived in a fairly small town, so the options were pretty much order it through work or go to the specialty shop one town over.
I also have preferences that make my non-pen-obsessed friends and family think I’m mental. I like certain points and shapes and most of my pens end up coming from Japan by way of a few retailers because I like my needle points and little more needle-y than you can find at Publix.
That said, I am not into super-expensive pens. I don’t have any interest in collecting $300 fountain pens. I don’t covet $2000 limited edition pens. Not even a little. Oh, I like a pretty pen, but more than that, I like a functional pen. The Lamys aren’t “pretty” but they come in pretty colors. They are pricier than a pack of Pilot G2s, but they aren’t that much more than a 12-pack of Pilot G2s. And most people don’t refill those. (Although you can, and with smaller tip refills, too.) I’m pretty much the only person I know who raves about the Platinum Preppy and Platinum Plasir pens. Why? Most people who buy cheap go with the Pilot Varsity (too disposable and too broad nibbed for me) even though for about the same price you can write with the Preppy much longer. And for people who like using the bright Lamy inks for highlighting, Preppy makes highlighters that use the same refill cartridges, which means, you could technically create an underliner by putting a highlighter cartridge in a fountain pen. (Another good thing about spending $3 on a pen is that trying something like that doesn’t feel like a gamble.)
The Plasir pens are actually what got me back to using fountain pens regularly. Years ago, I had a Levenger True Writer that, while unbelievably pretty, was a pain in the ass to use. The thing was just fussy. You couldn’t leave it uncapped for longer than forty seconds without everything drying up. You couldn’t let it stay in a purse or pen case for a day or two without writing with it unless you wanted to wash it out and start over. It was heavy, much too heavy for everyday scribbling. And it was the kind of pen that’s weighted to be used uncapped — which meant I was forever losing the cap for a pen that hated being uncapped. I had a Waterman that wasn’t much better and had such a wide, wet nib it altered my handwriting to nearly unrecognizable. It was like writing with a river. Or a fire hose.
The Preppy pens and their slightly fancier cousins, the Plasirs don’t mind if you leave them uncapped on your desk to run to the restroom, get water, forget what you were doing and come back two hours later. They don’t mind hanging out in my pen cup or pen roll for two weeks between uses. Nice fine line. Easy to clean. Converter or cartridge. And because the line is nice and fine, I don’t have to get all twee about papers. Some people are into that. I’m not. I love Paperblanks journals. I have a couple of Moleskines. But I also like taking notes on cheap task pads from Staples. I don’t mind a bit of feathering; I just don’t want there to be so much ink it soaks through three sheets of paper.
Besides, even if I had hundreds of dollars to spend on pens, it wouldn’t make sense. I’m a klutz. I managed to break a Zebra Sarasa Clip pen the second time I used it. I told one vendor and his wife I couldn’t touch their pens no matter how much they encouraged it because a freak earthquake would happen or a meteor would hit or something that would cause me to drop it and break it. They didn’t seem to take me seriously. I told my husband the story when I got home and he just nodded, “Yeah, I can see that happening.” (He’s known me twenty years.)
All that said, the pen show was interesting. Just because I’m not into high-end collectible pens doesn’t mean it wasn’t cool to see all the pretties. Some were gorgeous. Somewhere just too weird. Some I’m sure looked like the Holy Grail to other buyers but to me just looked like an old dinged up pen and not worth $180. There were a lot that were awesome to behold, but seemed way too impractical to a user like me. (I don’t want pens to sit in a vault. I want pens I can write with.) I don’t want the “twee” aspect of pens or to get overly fetishy about papers. It’s cool if people do – as long as they aren’t obnoxious about it (see below) – but that’s not my deal. I’m ask likely to pick a notebook by smell as anything else. (And I am just as in love with the texture of cheap college ruled paper after I’ve covered both sides with needle point gel scribble as I am the creaminess of a brand new Moleskine or the light tooth of Paperblanks.)
And then there were the people. Shawn Newton of Newton Pens was delightful. He also makes some really cool-looking pens that are nowhere near my price range but also aren’t overly…pretentious like some of the multi-hundred dollar pens. Lisa Vanness of Vanness was also super helpful and charming. I ended up buying a small bottle of Iroshizuku from her (along with three small bottles of J Herbin). I hadn’t invested in any Iroshizuku before, despite all the people raving about it because $30 seemed like way too much of a commitment to a color I might not like (despite all the swatches) or might get bored with before it’s done. Lisa Vanness showed me her smaller bottles, which were perfect.
The guy I ended up buying a Monteverde from (who didn’t give me a card that I can find at the moment) was informative and friendly. Let me look, but answered my questions and was generally affable without being pushy. There were a few vendors who were friendly, warm, and nice even though they didn’t have anything I wanted or could afford. And then there were vendors who seemed to size up my lack (of money, expertise, use) in an instant and behave standoffish, snobby, or constantly asked if I needed help as though if not watched, I might walk off with something.
Which brings me to this point: look, there are thousands of kinds of fandom and geekery. Just this weekend, there’s San Diego Comic Con, ThrillerFest, and countless other, smaller events like the Miami Pen Show. There’s gatherings for all sorts of things and people who obsess over things as varied as succulents, vinyl punk albums, and bowling shoes. If you are an established member of any fandom, if you’re a treasured icon of your brand of nerdery, don’t be a dick to people. If you’re not a pedestal standing member of your tribe but you’re still deeply entrenched in the culture, don’t be a dick. I know you’ve invested all this time and money and you think you’re awesome and you’re worried about people stealing your thunder or taking away what makes you special, but people can’t do that. You give away your power when you act like a tween in a Batman tee shirt is ruining something because she hasn’t read every comic twice and created an alternate timeline map on the wall of her bedroom. You give away your power when you act like someone who likes plastic gel pens isn’t worthy of knowing how to write words on paper. You give away your power when you act like a casual show goer has no right to hear your favorite band because they haven’t trekked across an ocean to see them play in an obscure German club.
And, a lot of high-end buyers are Baby Boomers. They’re aging. Be nice to the people who don’t know what they do, who don’t have the money they have. They might be buying Target Dollar Spot pens now or have a purse full of Pilot Frixons, but they could be your future buyers all the same.
I mean, I know Miami can make a person surly and there’s a lot of shoving and space-invading and parking-nightmare having and sweating (it’s why I regrouped at Publix), but try not to be a dick anyway.
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My pretties from the #miamipenshow. I'm not a big baller, but I like what I like. I got some Lamy cartridges in colors I've been eyeing but not willing to commit to a bottle of. Found some small bottles of colors I've wanted to try. And the pen I hadn't planned to get. Frankly, I thought that Monteverde pen was one of the prettiest. Bonus that it was in my price bracket and writes well.