The Write Stuff

All around me are simple, yet useful tools: tissues, plates, pillows, shoelaces, paper, scouring pads, etc. Countless items I use daily, yet take for granted.

One of my favorite everyday tools is the pen. A posse of pens follows me wherever I go. I keep them in shades of black, blue, aqua, and green in my desk, on the kitchen counter, in my car, on my bedside table, and in my laptop bag.

There is a pen in my beach bag and two in my purse of the week. That’s not counting at least one in every bag stored on a shelf in my closet.

If you want to torture me, take away my pens.

Last week, a bank teller sent my deposit slip back, along with a flimsy black pen.

“I need for you to re-sign the slip in black ink, please,” she said. “The off colors don’t scan clearly.”

Off colors? I had filled out the slip in vivid aqua-blue ink with a slight hint of green—one of my favorites.  And it wasn’t the first time I had chosen that particular hue for banking, just not at that particular branch.

That particular branch rejects fun, unique colors. Noted.

Writing tools date back to Neolithic times—way before my memory kicked in. Actually, memory was also the problem back then. People were sensory overloaded with information, more than they could bank in their heads.

They figured out how to use metal tools to carve stories, advice, and instruction into wood and stone. Then came styluses, brushes, chalk, and quills followed by pencils and, finally, pens.

The pen is a useful and formidable tool, as is a pencil, but pencils retain less staying power. The name pencil is derived from the French “pincel” which means small paintbrush. “Pen” comes from the Latin “penna” meaning feather or plume.

I have no feather pens in my collection. Maybe I should get one.

Pens are great for recording history, taking notes, and writing letters. But, like the tongue, they also have power—power to create, motivate, empower, manipulate, praise, and destroy.

I guess you could say a pen is an instrument of the tongue which is an instrument of the brain. The tongue says what we’re thinking—sometimes without thinking. The pen writes our thoughts.

And that’s the part I love—the feel of the right pen. By “right” I mean solid in weight, a smooth surface resting in my hand, and ink that flows over a page like a sailboat gliding across a tranquil sea.

When the perfect writing instrument finds me—because that is how it always happens—I’m addicted. To write using anything less makes me, well, crazy.

With a flawless instrument, I’ll write just to write. I was one of those weird students who enjoyed taking notes in class. You may have been the bully who made fun of me, but asked to borrow those notes—often.

With a flawless writing instrument, I am motivated to fill countless pages in my journal. I write letters—lots and lots of them. I do mean write, not type.

Typewriters and computers are efficient mechanisms for writing, but they lack personality. Each pen possesses its own kind of pizzazz.

Manufacturer changes to my perfect pen usually leave me searching. There’s nothing worse than being pen deficient, but that’s what I am until the next impeccable instrument finds me.

Novelist Pat Conroy once told me that, by not allowing him to take typing class, his father cost him a lot of money. He reasoned that he could have written twice as many books had he learned how to type.

But Conroy was an intelligent man. He could have taught himself. I believe Pat Conroy relished the feel of the pen in his hand while watching his words take shape.


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