I’ve never been one for materialism. Car? Been using a decade-old jalopy for the longest time. Home? Don’t own one. Clothes? They’re just 90% black tees. My mobile phones have also been hand-me-downs for as long as I can remember.
I’ve never understood shopaholics either. Just what do people get from buying things for the sake of it? But then I found pens. Then I knew what it meant to want things, even though it didn’t make sense most of the time.
Now I understand what shopping means. Most importantly, I’ve learned the lessons on materialism and how it applies to all of us.
You’ll never know how they get you
I remember going back to college in my late twenties. I was a decade older than most of my classmates, yet I was the only one without proper stationery in class.
I remember standing in Popular Bookstore, a local retail chain, feeling the pain from not being able to just buy some pens and notebooks without first having to calculate the rest of my week’s spendings.
Hey, I was between jobs, and I’d just broken my hand, so things weren’t exactly going too well.
I fancied myself a writer then. I mean, I’d always written just for the sake of it, but this was when I started taking the craft seriously. So when I saw that Jetstream ballpoint pen, I figured it was worth the USD 4, which was a lot for a pen at that time.
But I remember using it for the first time and realising how I’ve been using nothing but peasant pens all my life. As broke as I was, I remember vowing never to use ‘normal’ pens ever again.
There’s always the gateway drug
For the most part, I’d stuck to my promise of always having a decent pen. And I never thought much of it. That was until I’d made one more career change and found myself in the publishing industry.
Now I was truly a writer, so I deserved a fountain pen. The first purchase was rather easy. I just googled ‘fountain pen for beginners’ and bought the one that was mentioned the most, which in this case was the Pilot Metropolitan.
How I wish my subsequent purchases would’ve been as easy.
You see, the more you get into something, the more you develop a taste for it. And when that happens, you start buying things not for their intended use, but to reflect who you are.
Look at me, a certain brand would proclaim, my owner knows his stuff!
I would reach that level sooner than I expected, but right then, I was just a little naive writer, thinking that his abilities lied in the instruments that he used.
You can build a tolerance to price tags as you do heroin
The previous pen cost about USD 25. Not too bad, right? But like any other person mired in the throes of consumerism, I needed new things to cover the features that the Metropolitan lacked.
So I set my sights on the Pilot Custom 74. We’re entering new territory here at USD 100 a pop. Just years ago I would’ve balked at the price tag, but at that moment it seemed pretty reasonable.
This pen had a gold nib. I never had gold anything. This would be the answer to all my problems. It would end my run of unnecessary purchases. I just knew it.
Cue the montage of me pulling up to the shop in my jalopy, the ringing of the cash register, and me unboxing the pen. It was all rather exciting. Up until I had it in my hands.
Sure, it wrote much better than my starter pen, and I could finally say that I owned a gold-nibbed pen, but that was as far as my satisfaction went.
You know how an idea sounds good in your head, then you say it out loud and regret it the moment that idea leaves your lips? That’s how I felt with this purchase. It certainly felt much better when it was just a desire. Luckily, I already knew what the problem was.
I needed another pen that actually sung to me.
Buying shit almost feels like chasing the next high
The next pen in my sights wasn’t really expensive in the grand scale of pen collecting, but my next choice, the LAMY 2000, was double the price I had paid for the Custom 74.
But it had everything I was looking for—an ink window so I could tell when I needed a refill, a hooded nib so that the ink wouldn’t dry up, and a snap cap so I didn’t need to bothering unscrewing every time I wanted to write something down.
To be honest, I wasn’t entirely comfortable spending that much on a pen, really, but this was a classic, one that had been around for over five decades! Surely, this would be my final purchase of all?
It was the same drill: me pulling up to the store, my car’s engine juddering from old age; the beep of the credit card machine; and the glint in the storeowner’s eyes (Mister Lee) as he packaged my pen. I wondered if Lee ever felt like a drug dealer sometimes.
I went home, took the pen out for a twirl, and before I could finish writing ‘the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’, I’d already known that I’d just done it again. I’d bought something that didn’t truly make me happy.
Well, that was as far as I would go. I was going to stop buying pens. I could do that right? It wasn’t hard, right?
Ha. Ha ha ha. Hahahahahahahaha.
Things don’t even make me happy
Remember when I said that people tend to discover what they like in a hobby the more they get into it? In the pen world, some people enjoy ornamental designs. Others prefer a hefty pen. I myself only cared about the nib.
But when I bought the Pilot Customer Heritage 912, it would be a decision totally devoid of logic.
I’ve finally managed to land a managerial position, I told myself. You’d toiled for six years in hairdressing and got nowhere. But look at you now! You deserve this.
Yup, the only reason why I purchased that pen was because it had a flex nib. I found out pretty quick that I didn’t really enjoy using fancy pens for everyday purposes.
It was just a tad more expensive than the LAMY 2000, but what hurt me the most was realising that I’d just spent so much money on a pen that I would never use.
Another thing that I hated to think about was the fact that I could’ve bought a top-of-the-line model had I not purchased all the other standard pens to date (and I’ve omitted a ton of other in-between purchases).
Maybe that was my problem. Maybe I’d stop pining for pens the moment I reached the pinnacle of the hobby.
I was going to go for broke.
Sometimes life gives you what you need, not what you want
Thankfully, I had the common sense not to purchase something simply because I had the money, because COVID season would arrive, and having money in the bank gave me peace of mind.
The pandemic would help me reexamine my priorities, and I would finally come to the conclusion that I would not find my happiness in pens. In fact, I’d probably not find it in anything external.
There I was, browsing Mister Lee’s pen website, in a much better place than when I was in Popular Bookstore, yet I didn’t feel any happier.
It never ends, does it?
That’s what I’d asked my conscience. But the person that replied was my compulsive self: No.
And I’ll never be happy?
And that was the moment when my interest in pens began to fade.
You know how people say that money can’t buy happiness? They don’t mean the relief you get from paying off your debts with a windfall. Oh, you’ll definitely feel great after that.
What they mean is that when all your needs are taken care of, that you’re not going to necessarily feel happier in your Bentley than you did in your Toyota.
And perhaps true happiness doesn’t exist in that shiny new thing that you think you need. Perhaps it’s in learning to find joy in the things you already have.