Pen, ink, and the dilettante

Dilettante: 1: a person having a superficial interest in an art or a branch of knowledge : DABBLER (Merriam-Webster)

John I. Carney
5 min readAug 31, 2020


My new AmazonBasics fountain pen.

I admit it — I own it, in fact. I am, in some ways, a dilettante, someone who gets obsessed with a hobby, or kitchen gadget, or activity, and then sometimes loses interest in it eventually. I think all of us have a little bit of that, but I will admit that I’ve done it on multiple occasions.

Every year or two, I will tell myself that this time, I’m really, truly, going to get serious about learning the harmonica. I will give myself some sort of goal, as motivation — get comfortable enough to play a song at church, for example — but then, after the goal has passed, the harmonica will fall by the wayside for a while.

I am more than comfortable composing things at the keyboard. I wrote at the keyboard for 34 1/2 years at the newspaper; my sermons as a lay speaker are written at the keyboard; and my new book(let) was written at the keyboard. But I also doodle, especially during meetings. I take notes. I do other things for which a pen is appropriate.

During my time as a journalist, I came to love Pokka Pens, a very handy device; an inexpensive ball-point pen that is an easily-pocketable size when closed but becomes a more comfortable and conventional size when the cap is removed and “posted” on the back end of the pen. Randy Saddler, the local sound system expert whom I’ve seen regularly over the past few months as both my church and my employer began livestreaming, now uses Pokka pens after reading my Facebook posts about them.

I still like Pokka Pens, as a practical matter, but now I have an interest that’s almost the exact opposite. Yesterday, my first real fountain pen arrived in the mail.

Here’s how it happened. I happened to see a Facebook ad for a calligraphy-friendly fountain pen which featured gorgeous footage of the pen in use. I have no skills in calligraphy, but I love watching those who do.

As a result of me looking at that one Facebook ad, I began seeing other Facebook ads for fountain pens. You know how that works — you click on something, and they assume you’re in the market. I clicked on some of those ads, too, just out…



John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at