Tuesday, January 8, 2013
The Pleasures of Paper and Ink
In connection with volunteer work I do for a nonprofit group, I recently found myself having to order a thousand envelopes. I was told they’d always bought the envelopes at a place called Darco Paper and Printing on the east side of Santa Cruz, and that’s where I went.
Darco has clearly been around for a long time, but it’s out of the way, on a side street off one of the main drags, so this was my first visit. When I walked through the door I felt as if I’d been transported back in time to a stationery store from the 1950s and 60s.
Along all the walls were shelves stacked high with paper by the ream, paper of all kinds, as well as large boxes of envelopes. In the middle aisles were all sorts of pads, cards and envelopes, along with an array of pens and pencils. They also carried, at a reasonable price, “Things to do” pads, which have long since disappeared from the shelves at Staples and Office Max. I bought two of those pads for $2.07.
A Love of the Tangible
As a writer, reader, and former newspaperman, I have an abiding love for ink and paper. I’ll probably take the print version of the local paper until they stop offering it, and I much prefer writing out notes in longhand to using a computer. As Faulkner used to say, when you write it longhand, you can actually feel the words.
Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time looking for the perfect pen and paper. It’s a quest without end. Given how frequently pens vanish without a trace, my definition of the perfect pen is one I can readily buy at the drugstore or office supply store for under $5.
At the moment I go back and forth among four in that category. On my desk at the moment are a Pentel 24/7, a UniBall Vision Elite, a Tul and a Stabilo. Two of those are roller balls, two are gel pens, and what they all have in common is a smooth, almost creamy glide over paper, without skipping. Recently, I added to that mix several Pilot Varsity fountain pens, which retail for $3.25 at Palace Office and Art Supply.
The Right Paper Is Important
There are a number of good cheap pens around, but good paper is harder to find. There are so many cheap notepads available now that they have crowded out anything of quality at the large office-supply emporiums. But at smaller specialty shops, I’ve been able to find some good heavier-weight papers with surfaces as smooth as butter.
My two favorites are both imported. From Japan I get Okina’s Seminar pads, available in sizes approximately 6x8 inches and 7x10 inches, with rules of 7 or 9 mm. The paper is a shade of ivory and just looks right. A specialty store in San Jose used to carry it, but stopped. I liked it so much I ordered several pads on the internet from a retailer in Japan, which was almost worth the headache.
I also use a lot of pads manufactured by Rhodia, a French company, and those are still available locally. That paper is bright white, and the pads come in a variety of sizes and rules. For business notes, I use a Levenger notebook with their brand of annotation-ruled paper.
Right now I’m making plot and character notes for the next Quill Gordon Mystery in a bound Rhodia notebook. When I write in it with a Varsity fountain pen, I can almost feel the words. I hope they’re good.