The WHAT mightier than the sword?

Before I was a computer nursemaid, I was a scholar. And for the scholar, the indispensable sidearm is the pen. I think it was around third grade that we were first expected to start writing in pen, maybe a bit later – but significantly, my elementary school years were in the salad days of the “eraseable” pen, which was in every meaningful way not “eraseable” so much as “smearable.” And the ink stank to high heaven…

Anyway, by the time I started in on actual indelible adult pens, it was roughly 1984-85, and I gravitated quickly to the Faber-Castell Uni-Ball Micro, which was a 0.2mm rollerball disposable. The finer the point, the better, as far as I was concerned – any mechanical pencil over 0.5mm lead was hopelessly thick, and when I finally drifted away from the Uni-Ball Micro, it took something special. The problem I had with the Uni-Ball is that it was a bit too fine – and tended to do more scratching than writing on the sorts of paper I was using.

The other significant thing in seventh grade was the problem of carrying the pen. Like most kids my age, I didn’t really have anything I had to have with me, although I did carry a wallet full of a whole bunch of nothing (least of all cash). For some reason, though, the boys at Bragg Jr. High carried pens in the right hip pocket next to the wallet. So I did too…and twenty-five years on, I haven’t stopped. This will be important later on. But it’s from that era that you can date one of my personal quirks: I would sooner go out without pants and drawers than without a pen and a watch.

My first year of high school, an acquaintance who was in college already (and who would eventually become a fraternity brother, but that’s another story) gave me a Pilot Precise V5, which wrote smooth and clean on almost any paper I touched it to. It took careful handling, because of the little straight metal tip (easily bent), but the Precise V5 carried me through the Great Years and all the way into college. At some point, I discovered the Pilot VBall Extra Fine – another 0.5mm rollerball, but with a tip more like the Uni-Ball. And that became THE indispensable pen – shorter than the Precise or the Uni-Ball, the perfect length and balance and ink-flow. It was my go-to pen for over a decade, even when I had to skulk through multiple college bookstores and office supply retailers to find it.

I tried other things, off and on. The Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pen was something I came back to every couple of years, tried, and rejected almost as quickly. I bought a nice refillable Waterman when I got to Vandy, which could take roller or ballpoint refills, but lost it before I left. Around 2000, I found the Cross ION, which was a one-handed retractable pen with fancy gel ink – but it was too short and thick and didn’t carry at all in the hip pocket. Eventually I always fell back on the VBall.

When I got to California, though, I found that the bulk of my writing – especially at work – called for writing on cardboard boxes and FedEx labels and such, in ways that a rollerball pen simply couldn’t handle. The ultimate solution was a Fisher Retractable Space Pen – pressurized thixotropic ink, write on anything at any angle. Sure, the ink was a little goopy and it was nowhere as smooth or fluid as a rollerball, but it could be opened and closed in one hand. This was an advantage over the space pen I bought at NGS – which was laser-engraved and very nice to look at but not that great as a daily sidearm. But the Fisher worked nicely for the first couple of years. It’s not that great if you have to write on a daily basis, though, and when I went to driving a desk full-time in mid-2006, I needed something else. And I cast about for over a year.

I hadn’t gone for gel pens in the past – they were too scratchy and never seemed to deposit ink in anything like an even manner. But after a little poking around and a lot of impressive comments on line, I went for the Pilot G2, the generally-acepted gold standard of retractable gel pens. The catch was that I ordered it online in the “ultra-fine” spec, the 0.38mm, leading to my remark, “We need to get down to HUNDREDTHS of a millimeter? We can get down to hundredths of a millimeter??” But amazingly, in this finest of points, the G2 wrote smoother and cleaner for me than any of the larger point sizes, and it became my go-to, despite being a retractable pen in my hip pocket. So far, however, I haven’t had an issue with sudden splotches of black in the 501s.

And that’s where we have it today. They actually have the 0.5mm in the supply closet at work, and I’ve tried it, but it just doesn’t work as well for me. Fortunately, the 0.38mm now shows up at Walgreens, so when my last one from that first box goes away, I can replenish my supply without the hassle and inconvenience of special orders from Japan or having an account at

There you go – 900+ words on pens. Does that make me some kind of annoying hipster blogger?

4 Replies to “The WHAT mightier than the sword?”

  1. I love it. The Pilot Precise V7 is my personal favorite. I buy them by the box. I have not tried the G2 because I never liked gel pens. I might have to give it a try.

  2. Personally, I go for the Papermate PhD Multi, the older version of which that combines a black ink ballpoint, a mechanical pencil, and a plastic stylus. The newer versions remove the stylus in favor of a red ink pen, but I find that less useful. I also often will swap out the black ink for blue just because I like it better.
    Unfortuntely, Papermate has discontinued the old version of the pen and they’re getting hard to find.

  3. I just now got your subject line. I’m a little slow sometimes. I kept on thinking you left out the “is” in the sentence.
    Ahhhhhhhh, no. No you did not. 😉

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