A technophile lawyer rediscovers the joys of pen and paper

Monday, March 10, 2014

I don't care how long it's been . . . write that letter!

February was International Correspondence Writing Month (incowrimo.org), the idea being to post a letter or postcard every day of the month. Many use the opportunity to write to people they don't know (but have signed up on the website to receive letters) in the hope of gaining a new pen pal.

I didn't make it every day, but I think I sent out about 20 letters. I chose to use some of my letters to contact people I had not seen, or even been in contact with, for a long, long time.These proved especially rewarding.

One of my letters was to a Naval Academy classmate of mine, a fellow electrical engineering major, whom I had not seen since we graduated more than 30 years ago. I wrote him because I discovered (I don't remember how) that he is a physics professor at a very prestigious college, and I knew he always wanted to be a professor. So, I thought I'd send him a note about how pleased I was for him. I also reminisced a little about struggling with engineering at USNA, told him I was a lawyer, where I lived, etc.

Another of my letters was to a friend from my Marine Corps days. He and I were lieutenants in the same company of an infantry battalion for a couple of years in the early 80s at Camp Pendleton, California, and a six-month overseas "pump" to Okinawa (from where we deployed to exercises all over the Pacific).  We were close enough that a few years later, he traveled 500 miles to attend my wedding — which was the last time I had any contact with him, nearly 27 years ago. I could't find any definitive current information for him, so I wrote to the address I had for him in Massachusetts from all those years ago. I wrote about some memorable moments of our service together, my family situation, my career, etc. and gave him and his family my best wishes.

I assured both of them that there was no pressure on them to write back. I really had no idea what either of them would think to hear from me after so long. Would they think I was an oddball for thinking that I could just barge into their lives in a personal way after such a long time?


My friend the professor wrote a very nice letter back quite promptly, thanking me for writing. He told me a little about what it's like to be a physics professor (I can't even imagine — reading a description of his research on his faculty page is almost like reading a foreign language, but then this guy got his Ph.D. at Caltech — sometimes referred to as "the MIT of the West.") He also told me how much he and his family enjoy living where they do, and I learned that each of us has a 12-year old only child daughter. Quite the coincidence! He also had some very nice things to say about our time at Navy. I was grinning all evening after reading the letter. I might even get a chance to meet up with him sometime, as he and his wife sometimes travel to the California coast.

Even more astonishing was the response I got from my Marine buddy. Within about two weeks of my letter, I got an email from him telling me how glad he was to hear from me, telling me that he and his wife were flying out to California that evening for a week (they travel this way regularly), and asking if we could get together while he was out here. I was blown away! We met and talked most of Sunday afternoon. He was able to fill me in on some of our common friends and acquaintances. We talked about old times and times since, good times and hard times, our families and values, and life lessons learned. It was a very meaningful and wonderful afternoon.

Two great experiences. From two simple letters.

Is there someone out there you've been meaning to contact, but just never got around to it? Maybe you're embarrassed about not writing earlier, so you're afraid to write now.

Don't be. Write them. Write them right now.



  1. It seems to me that this article would have been better if it actually attempted to compare the environmental cost of using a fountain pen vs. using the "green" recycled pens, as opposed to just pointing out that fountain pens have costs too.

    I'm not saying that fountain pens are NOT eco-friendly. I have no idea
    whether they are or not. I'm just saying we shouldn't assume they're
    eco-friendly just because they're refillable.

    Re-usability is a very good heuristic for deciding if something is environmentally friendly or not because re-usability implies less resource consumption.

    However, there are points where one must be careful that they are making an accurate comparison. A disposable pen could arguably be more environmentally friendly than a refillable pen if the refillable pen uses more resources (plastic, metal, etc) over it's lifetime. For example, when comparing a refillable pen that requires ink cartridges that need to be replaced on a weekly basis vs a disposable pen that needs to be replaced once a month, the total resources required to make four ink cartridges may be more than the total number of resources to make the disposable pen.

    I think this is the reasoning that was implied in the article. It was pointing out that the "green" pen (made from recycled water bottles) isn't as reusable as a fountain pen for two reasons:

    1. The "green" pen is disposable since the cost of the pen vs the cost of a refill is almost non existent: Heather writes, "Although it is refillable, I suspect that most people who buy
    inexpensive pens like these simply can't be bothered to buy refills, and
    when they are done with this pen, they will simply throw it in the
    garbage, where it will eventually end up as just another piece of
    plastic waste in a landfill somewhere."

    2. The re-usability of the pen pales in comparison to the re-usability of a fountain pen. The refills for the "green" pens are made of metal and plastic, so there is still waste even in the best case scenario. Good fountain pens are simply refilled with ink so there is no plastic or metal waste. Yes, you have to flush the pen out with water once a month or so, but it doesn't hurt to point out that even recycling plastic uses both water and energy (recycling uses less water and energy than raw production). Heather writes, "f you really want an environmentally-friendly pen, get a good fountain
    pen, which can last for decades and can constantly be refilled with
    different inks
    ..." (emphasis mine).

  2. Odd. I have the same pen and never had an issue with tarnish. It looks as good as it did when I bought it 4 years ago. I do live in a desert climate so maybe it is a humidity sea air issue. Also, I haven't experienced the flaw you describe with the cap. Mine seems to stay in place, which make me think the spring loading is yours might be flaky, since that's creates the tension to keep the cap on. It is a spectacular pen to write with. I have about a dozen pens, and for comfort and smoothness this one is the best (and it's not the most expensive one I have either).

  3. There is also a 0.3 refill in blue and black. That might help with the bold lines and bleed through.