Sunday, November 3, 2013


I’ve opened my Nepali journal, and retrieved my fountain pen from its cubicle on my desk hutch.  I uncover the nib, snap the cap on the top to maintain the weight, and I begin to write.   One word after another, the pen translates the day’s highs and lows, its details and insights, onto the thick, handmade paper.  It becomes an extension of my hand and a conduit for my thoughts.  I sit a little straighter.  I take the time to form the letters.  I write a long time, basking in the luxury of this simple, elegant poster tool for authorship and professionalism.    

It occurs to me that I’ve been writing in one form or another, for various purposes, all my life, and that the writing tools, the styluses, I have used since I was a child represent the chapters in the volume of my life.   Lost in reverie, I notice that, in the few seconds I have paused at the end of my sentence to ponder this thought,  the period has become a Rorschach ink blot.  A subliminal slip,  the ink stain on the pristine page authenticates the story.  My Life in Pens reads like a list.

1.              Wax crayons, a small box of Crayola basic colors to carry me through my childhood etchings and the drawings of primary school.  I remember feeling so grown up when my parents let me buy a bigger box of crayons with a dizzying array of shades.

2.              Thick red pencil, with a fat lead, appropriate for printing in Grade 1. A cousin of the flat, rectangular carpenter’s pencil my father always tucked behind his ear between measurements as he ran boards through the table saw, or nailed them in place, it connected me to him somehow.

3.              Sleek gold HB pencil, just like the ones my parents sharpened to do crossword puzzles.  I could write in cursive hand, and I felt so grown up. 

4.              Papermate ballpoint pen, my mother’s, a sleek design, with a brown bottom and a pearl top, which Maman let me use to write thank-you notes to my grandmothers and my godmother for Chrismas and birthday gifts.

5.              Fountain pen with a cartridge—the latest technology.  After all, finally, I had moved up in the school world to the wooden desks I had longed for, those with heavy lids that covered a cavernous hold for books, scribblers, and my all-important cartridge refills, with a hole in the top right hand corner to accommodate an ink well.   Out of deference to potential mess, we had to substitute a glue bottle for the ink well,  but even that  concession to practicality could not dispell the feeling that I was moving up in the world.

6.              Generic Bic blue pens in the cellophane packages, lots of them, for the serious work of notetaking, and homework, and compositions, and projects.  They accompanied me through Grade 6 and all of the studies beyond.

7.              Typewriter.  My father received one as a premium with a World Book encyclopedia he purchased when I was twelve.  My school library didn't have an encyclopedia, but I had one at home.  My father was a visionary, and a purist.  If I wanted to use the new machine, I had to learn to type properly using QWERTY fingering.  I taught myself to type when I was twelve, closeted in the den at my father’s desk,  working through the instruction and exercise manual that came with the typewriter like following a new and delicate recipe.  In my enthusiasm, I even began applying my new typing skills to some of my school assignments.

8.              Promotional ballpoint pens, in assorted fluorescent colours, inscribed with the business name and motto, retrieved from conference bags or the recesses of my purses.  Crammed into the pen jar on the kitchen counter or the storage bin of the car, these reminders of our travels and our service providers still corner the market on telephone messages, grocery lists, notes to family members and student fund-raising forms, even in the era of cellphones..

9.              Pilot V5 Hi-Tecpoint pen, Fine point.  Its smooth glide on paper made it my favorite pen for years to journal and generate ideas.  A pseudo-fountain pen, it preserved the feel and look of the real deal without the threat of mess.  Total convenience.  It had a professional look, and I could get ideas down quickly. 

10.          Colored pens, a few red, mostly green or purple, and mostly Pilot V5 Tecpoints too, as well as mechanical pencils, that I used for thirty years to provide feedback on student writing, and note potential corrections.

11.          Word processors, the first an Apple 2e, with which I have a love-hate relationship in the early years.  I treat it like a fancy typewriter that doesn’t need carbon paper or a correcting feature.  Not having shifted paradigms yet, I write my drafts in pen, revise, and only then transfer my work to the computer.  Now,  I can’t imagine my life without my MacBook, and I compose at the computer.  The keys have become my pens, and they can capture my thoughts as faithfully as their predecessors.  I’ve written eulogies, reference letters, bins of binders of lesson plans, a few articles,  workshop materials, many speeches, a thesis, a dozen or so special projects, some poems and stories, scores of emails, and, now, these blogs.

Today, I have come back to my fountain pen, a gift from the children for my sixtieth birthday, inscribed with Each decade better than the last.  This stylus is a public acknowledgment of the role writing has played in my life.  A bridge between the quill and the computer, it is a catalyst for writing.  I wonder if its aura comes from a connection I feel to those through the generations who have paused to record their impressions of life and the evolution of thought.  Its very presence and feel in my hand are an incentive to slip it from its special case and add my own thoughts to those of humanity. 

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