When Laban Pen announced their Writing to Heal Fountain Pen Grab Bag Project, Joaquin Toledo of Panulat PH, had to get one.

“The excitement of getting a random pen in a bag was priceless,” he said.  Then he got a Platinum #3776 Century Shugyo “which was a steal for it” price, followed by three more pens since March.

It sounds like a pretty normal thing to do. There’s nothing unusual with buying pens, anyway, including those coming from outside the Philippines.

But the country is entering its fourth month under various quarantine measures due to COVID-19. Globally, the Coronavirus disease has infected more than 100 million and killed more than 500,000 people as of writing. Priorities have changed in this pandemic, and hobbies like pen collecting have taken the back seat for most.

Hobby under lockdown?

Restricting human movement was the primary measure of most governments worldwide. This meant that people can only go out of their homes to buy essential goods. Everything else has to be delivered. Companies with no work-from-home policies were forced to come up with measures while others smoothly shifted to virtual offices.

Basically, everyone stayed at home. But that didn’t necessarily stop the collecting.

“Access to fountain pens have not really stopped during the pandemic, even during the lockdown,” shared Jun Castro,  who has been collecting pens since the late 70s. During the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), Fountain Pen Network Philippines (FPN-P) auctioned 54 pens for the benefit of the Philippine General Hospital. Jun donated three pens and successfully bid for four.

The usual delivery of goods was affected, however.

“But that’s completely understandable because of the reduced transnational transportation,” said Joaquin. “And I wouldn’t mind waiting for the packages as long as I’m assured that these are gonna end up in my hands

For Jun, pen deliveries and pick-ups didn’t pose much challenge. “It was actually more challenging to deliver beer and have a haircut during the lockdown.”

Virtual pen meets

Pen-buying may have continued, another favorite activity among collectors had to stop: pen meets. While smaller groups of collectors have done virtual sessions, for Agnes Manalo, it is just isn’t the same.

“Nandun partially yung kwentuhan element and (for me lang na dati regularly may pen meets) naka set aside talaga yung time na yun for catchup journaling. Madami din show and tell ng ECQ purchases,” said Agnes. “But it’s not the same talaga kasi hindi makapag side conversations and tangents, which i really enjoyed about pen meets.”

She also misses those moments when people would pass around pen, ink, and paper to try and appreciate. The usual hugs whenever a pen friend arrives at and leaves the meet also can’t be done.  RIght now, these tactile experiences usually enjoyed in pen meets are gone.

“Parang hindi siya natatranslate to virtual pen meets.”

A sense of normalcy

“I’m aware that I’m speaking from a standpoint of privilege,” said Joaquin, who has been collecting since 2018. “But getting fountain pens despite being in a crisis gives me a sense of normalcy which I sorely need at this time, when most of us are being hit with a certain anxiousness and uncertainty.”

Meanwhile for Jun, his purchases may have been controlled under lockdown, but life goes on for him in the stockmarket industry, which is one of the essential industries under GCQ.

“Using these pens, both the old ones and newly bought, brings me joy and helps put my mental health in check,” he added.

And they are not alone. Many people under lockdown have turned to hobbies to “stay positive.” In the Philippines, aside from COVID-19 concerns, users searched for recipes on Google, including instructions on how to make the lockdown drink trend Dalgona coffee.

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Pen meets, however, might be more challenging to bring back. Current general community quarantine measures, a relaxed version of ECQ, still limits activities outside homes. Also, the usual 10 to 30-people-big meets may have to wait. Sanitizing during pen meets is also tricky, since different trims and finishes may not react well to the usual hand sanitizers.

“Parang mas likely for me na journaling/art-ing together/separately, like the art meets I used to go to,” said Agnes. “Less stuff changing hands/getting passed around.”

The sense of having company around may be enough. “May kasama ka lang while you journal/make art.”

What matters after all, is knowing how your pen friend is doing, and hoping they are keeping themselves sane with their pens in this pandemic.

All pen photos courtesy of Joaquin Toledo.