Packing to move earlier this year gave me an insightful trip down memory lane. Digging through belongings, deciding what to keep- it makes you think a lot about your past and your priorities. I loved seeing old photos, souvenirs, and the like. But even the smallest, most ordinary-seeming things can inspire reflection. This time, it was a bag of pens.
As I cleaned out the drawers of a dresser I wasn’t keeping, I found myself overwhelmed by stacks of paper and bags of pens. When I say “bag of pens,” I mean a giant Ziploc bag stuffed with them. Probably 50 pens of the ordinary sort, plus a selection of Sharpies and some pencils in there for good measure. Some of the pens brought back specific memories, like the ones from hotels, or the one shaped like a baton, or the one I remember buying as a Disneyland souvenir back in the day.Most the pens were rather generic, though: significant for what they represented, but not that significant in themselves.
I’ve always been a writer- ever since I could write, I was scribbling short stories and poems on every piece of paper I could find. My childhood desk is still filled with the remnants of this hobby- little bits and pieces of poems, song lyrics, and reflections on life at a tender age. My current room has some of these scraps, too, but it’s a mix of travel journals and college publications rather than the fiction and poems of my youth. Over time, I’ve shifted more toward non-fiction writing in general. And I’ve also shifted toward more writing on my computer. Though I still use a pen to write the first draft of many blog posts and work presentations, ultimately everything ends up captured on this little machine, in a digital font, preserved for what we believe to be eternity- or at least until the next technology breaks through.
The bag of pens made me smile, though, for a number of reasons. I vividly remember how proud I felt when my elementary school teachers let us use pens instead of pencils. Pencils felt so juvenile: a pen felt more confident, wiser, more mature. Pencils, with their built-in erasers, suggested that you didn’t fully know what you were doing. I loved the way it felt to write with a pen, gliding over the surface of a piece of paper. It felt more real to me, more hearty, if that makes sense.
But, without its built-in eraser, it sure was messy. A pen means messy paper, ideas crossed out with lines rather than cleanly erased. It means starting over on a new sheet of paper if your pen-scribed thoughts need to be shared with anyone else. It means trying to write as neatly as possible, so the ink doesn’t run and blur out what you’re trying to say. My personal writings from childhood are a mess of lines and crossed out words, especially the poems. I might have whipped out the White-Out or used a new sheet of paper for schoolwork, but personal writings gave me freedom to be messy.
A shift to computers meant even more editing and even more drafts. It just isn’t the same feeling, though. I switch between handwritten drafts and computer drafts these days, depending on my mood. I’m still that person who whips out a notebook and a pen on the bus, scribbling down whatever came over my mind. And I’m that person who carries a notebook in her bag when she travels to capture in-the-moment insights and ideas. But did I really need that entire bag of ~50 pens?
I ditched most of the pens when I moved. The baton pen made it, as did the Disneyland Minnie ears. A few of the “boring” pens made it, too, but only a few. The bulk of those pens never saw the light of my new apartment.
Let’s not pretend, though- in a few years’ time, I’ll likely have a whole new bag of pens, “meaningful” and “boring” alike. I think it’s just part of being a writer, and the feeling of inspiration I grab a pen in my hand, ready to tackle another blank page.