On a Tuesday morning with a good cup of coffee in a quiet room with the door closed, a woman has her fingers tapping away on the keyboard.
There has always been something to me about the feel of the pen gliding on the paper. Not just any pen, the right pen. It has a certain feel.
Same with pencils.
I one time heard a person say she had never met a pencil she didn’t like. But I have met many a pencil I didn’t like. If you try to sharpen it and it crumbles in the sharpener, it is not a good pencil. If the pencil has one of those decorative plastic sheaths that jam in the sharpener, that is not a good pencil. If you have an eraser that smears and stops and you have to push hard to try to get it to move, and it doesn’t do a smooth job of erasing or cooperate as you rub off the mistakes, that is also not a good pencil. Once a pencil has lost its eraser, the pencil is no longer good as a pencil in its most practical form. Personally, I have opted for Ticonderoga pencils and no others because I can always trust them to be the pencils that I need them to be.
Also essential to pencils is a good pencil sharpener. “One that really cuts.” One King John would ask for instead of a pocket knife—if Father Christmas had ever loved him at all! I have purchased various pencil sharpeners for $5 or $6 and felt so disappointed with its performance, only to be surprised that the generic 20 pack for $1 at a random five and dime store just over the Iowa border cuts it, literally, and keeps me coming back each time I need a pencil with a sharp point!
Colored pencils, well, that’s another topic for another day, but suffice to say Prismacolor is the best I’ve tried, and it’s what I see myself sticking with for the foreseeable future. Lyra pencils have also made an impression through our exposure to Waldorfian education.
Pens are a little trickier. Paper Mate pens you can’t go wrong with for an everyday writing pen. RSVP gel pens are usually pretty good. Atlantis pens are okay, and for a while I really liked them. Zebra pens were my favorites for a while, years before that. Then I met and fell in love with TUL pens. I really like TUL pens. Sometimes they run out, and you have to replace the gel cartridge. That’s the only downside. A close second in my mind are Foray pens. They dance across the page when I use them. They also come in multiple colors. I love color! Sometimes I will pick up a pen randomly and the way it feels on the paper says Yes! to me so loudly that I have to use it. It feels good. It feels right. It’s like a symphony playing in my head, the way it feels in my hand.
Sometimes I have wondered about those super expensive pens that are kept in the locking case at the office supply store. How do those pens feel? Do they look nice and feel heavy in the hand and seem impressive to the other person across the desk, but when you pick it up to write does it feel like it should be thrown in the trash? Does it scratch instead of glide breathlessly, flowingly, like a dance? Does a $100 pen feel like a $100 pen? What then? What if the pen you paid so much for to look impressive writes like trash? I would certainly hope not.
Such pens we generally see as being in some place such as a high-end lawyer’s office, perhaps, or some other high-level executive, where impressing is part of the package. Yes, they do spend money where they don’t need to. Luxury is the point. This wouldn’t be in a non-profit organization. A pen like this might be a gift. Certainly, the President of the United States has good, maybe expensive pens. (I think I thought of this when I watched West Wing, and then noticed it when the next inauguration event was followed up by the new President signing all the multitudinous papers that kicks off his career in the White House.)
I read a book or an article about someone who was transforming into a minimalist and who was noticing how many pens she had. Why did she have so many? Certainly, she didn’t need that many. You can only write with one pen at a time, after all. And once she had cleaned out the myriads of things that she didn’t really love, want or need, she realized she didn’t have to search for a pen any longer. She knew where it was. So, she opted for a total of two pens. She could, after all, always buy another when the pen actually ran out. I like the minimalist idea of having fewer things of better quality.
So it follows that if you are actually trying to accumulate only what is of really good quality and only have as few things as you can actually keep track of and love, maybe you might spend a frivolous amount of money on a good pen, just for the sheer enjoyment of the pen. You might actually care about getting your pen back, or your expensive, engraved pen might track you down for a crime you’ve committed if not returned. (What movie was that???)
It’s not just pens. It’s also the keyboard. An old typewriter takes lots of muscle for every keystroke. This is a fun and nostalgic experience, and by today’s standards, you’re lucky if you get to try it—these dinosaurs are hard to find. But this is not ideal for every writing event. An electric typewriter is an improvement on the experience, and can be a very helpful tool. For five months of my working life as I set out in the work-world, I had the fun experience of having a working electric typewriter that I used for typing up proposals. Couldn’t we just use a computer? I wondered. Then I realized that it was because there was a form letter the company always used and you could physically adjust the paper to get the script in exactly the right place on the page.
You use a computer and you have a shabby keyboard, and it ruins the whole experience of using it, and even interrupts your train of thought. A smooth keyboard in good working order will feel smooth to use. Each keystroke will feel good, and then you’ll forget about the feel of the keystroke and think instead of the words you are forming and stringing across the page to express your thoughts and ideas.
A screen that has an image that wiggles is distracting indeed, and hard on the eyes. One computer I used once actually made me feel nauseated, it was so bad. I finally understood that the settings could be changed and it was a little better after that.
Lest I forget to mention, paper is another thing. Shabby paper is also hard to use. Once I purchased a pile of spiral notebooks for the upcoming college semester. I was dismayed–and at moments slightly enraged—to find that the paper tore with just trying to erase it. It was poor quality paper, almost like thin newsprint despite having lines. I found out then, too, that there is wide ruled paper and college ruled lined paper. I can see the use for wide ruled paper, but I find I prefer college ruled. Opting for a slightly nicer notebook over the cheapest one, maybe the one brought out of stock from last year that has deteriorated in inventory from one back to school sale to the next, makes for a better experience in note taking. A good notebook, think Moleskine brand, over the knock-off look-alike feels like a good notebook. Certainly, you can be selective. A Five Star brand spiral notebook for simple notetaking in a required prerequisite class will be a better option than a Moleskine for such a class. Likely, you will pass the test and decide eventually, or if you’re organized, immediately, to toss the spiral notebook. You thank it for getting you through the class, getting the credits, carrying you through the semester, and happily recycle it.
The Moleskine is a good commonplace book: the one where you write down in an orderly way the ideas you encounter as you read through worthwhile and enjoyable books in your back yard by a campfire, in your living room in the warmth that guards you from the winter outside, in a coffee shop on a rare or intentionally-scheduled-in Saturday afternoon, on a park bench on a sunny day while the children are occupied by the swings, until they interrupt you. You can come back to this book to remember the nuggets that fed your soul. You want to keep your commonplace book because you treasure it. The Moleskine notebook is a good choice for this selection.
A good stationery feels like good stationery, and you feel good sending a note on the luxurious paper. But if you can’t afford good stationery, there is still variety to choose from. You can select stamps with different designs instead of the one standard issue (think 1950’s), adding still further to the enjoyment of the ritual. All these little things can make letter writing a luxurious event, and even one you look forward to. Who can I write nice words to just so I can experience nice paper and pens?
One thing I’m very afraid of when allowing my kids use my laptop is that they will press too hard on the keys and the keys will lose their smoothness and become hard to push due to misuse. Like a car door that has to be slammed precisely because it has been slammed so many times that now that is the only way it is accustomed to closing, when, had it been treated nicely and gently, it could still have been able to close with little more than a tap of the hand, lovingly, gently, appreciatively.
So apparently, there are many things I feel viscerally about when it’s simply how a functional thing feels as I operate it.
And when all of these things are smooth and working in good order, the writing process can open up easier and allow for train of thought to follow train of thought because I’m not distractedly thinking of frustrating and irritating things keeping my mind away from thought flow. The writing instruments should never be a distraction to one’s craft.
Writing can be a ethereal experience not only for the ideas you form and the words you create, but also for the medium through which you choose to experience it.