Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

A county fair blue ribbon validates a newly-acquired hobby and makes me happier than I have any right to be.

John I. Carney
6 min readJul 20, 2021

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It started with vanity, and it has circled back around to vanity.

Last summer, I self-published a little booklet, a faith-based look, suitable for group discussion, about the ways in which we abuse social media. In the middle of the pandemic, holding a book-signing — at my church, the local library, or the local Christian bookstore — was impossible, but I did sign one or two individual copies, and my pastor suggested that maybe we could have a book signing at the church once conditions improved.

For some reason, I decided it would be fun to have a fountain pen to sign books with. I don’t know what made me think of this. I went onto Amazon and ordered a very inexpensive, Amazon-branded fountain pen. While waiting for it to arrive, I started looking up information about fountain pens online.

I was amazed. I had no idea fountain pens were such a thing. There are pens ranging in price from $3 to $1,500. I knew about little plastic ink cartridges, but it turns out the real fountain pen afficionados use bottled ink, which comes in every shade of the rainbow. There are inks that shimmer; there are inks where the main stroke is one color but a different color bleeds out from it like an outline.

I discovered a 2018 New York Times article about the fountain pen renaissance. That introduced me to Goulet Pen Company, a great family-owned retailer as well as a source of numerous “Fountain Pen 101” instructional videos, hosted by the owner, Brian Goulet.

I now own almost 20 inexpensive fountain pens, and some time soon I’m going to take the plunge and buy one costing more than $100.

In the early days, though, I wasn’t sure if fountain pen collecting was going to be a thing or not, and I started looking at what I might do with fountain pens.

I have never been a serious artist. I’ve always been in awe of painters and other visual artists. But I’ve always been a doodler. In my 34 1/2 years as a journalist, I often doodled while taking notes during some sort of county meeting. I’d have been embarrassed if someone had ever…

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John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at http://www.lakeneuron.com/dislike