The pen matters

The pen that I write with matters. This morning, resuming work on my second novel, I went rooting around in my handbags until I found the best free ballpoint pen I've ever had, a somewhat stubby specimen from the University of Iowa Libraries that writes in black ink oh-so-smoothly, oh-so-silkily – so unlikely for an institutional freebie. It's the pen with which I started making notes on this novel, and so I want to continue with it, even though I have only one such pen and soon enough the ink will run out long before the novel is anywhere near completed, and then I'm not sure what I'll do. Ask friends who are still at the university to get me more, perhaps.

It's not superstition, it's tactile satisfaction. The ease of hand-writing with the "right" pen is too readily overlooked in an age when the computer or smartphone keyboard is ubiquitous. Since I started doing morning pages last month, I've found the process just that bit smoother now that I've found a pen that lets me scribble freely while still producing (reasonably) legible words – a Pilot Acroball with blue ink. In school I was always a fan of the Pilot V5 Hi-Tecpoint rollerball pen and I'm glad it's finally available in a retractable version, making it that much handier. My go-to ballpoint pen these days is the Pilot Better Retractable Ballpoint Pen – it's cheap enough that I'm not too put out if I lose one, yet it writes well despite being cheap.

The funny thing about coming to rely on the University of Iowa Libraries pen is that I've never liked American ballpoint pens. The Bic is so stiff and uncomfortable, and also expensive (at least in the US) for what it is. When I was an undergraduate there, I used to bring my own pens from Singapore to last me through the school year, and during my recent Iowa sojourn, I made sure to bring a good selection of ballpoint and rollerball pens with me. (I still don't understand why stationery choices in the US are so poor, for a culture that's so obsessed with individualism and personalisation.)

Don't get me wrong, I can hand-write with any old pen or pencil (or those old keyboards that are so noisy, heavy and clunky by today's standards). But having the "right" pen in hand just makes the entire experience of writing or note-taking feel that much more natural, an effortless extension of the mind onto the page, from amorphous idea to word-specific form. So many things impede our thoughts and prevent them from materialising "accurately" or truthfully; the bodily, tactile experience of hand-writing certainly doesn't have to.



At 5/24/2016 4:13 am , Blogger Chuang Shyue Chou said...

BIC is French incidentally, but the ones you were using were probably made by the American subsidiary. Yes, you are right, the stationery choices there is poor.

The older BIC pens that I see here are sturdier. The new ones, which are incidentally made in Vietnam if I recall, are flimsy. It seems to be made of a different kind of plastic.


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