Monday, August 18, 2008

Day two hundred and twenty eight ... If you don't use it ...

There must be a thousand pens here.

There are so many that are alike; the red, teacher's correction pen; the classic Papermate in blue and in black; the bank-style pens that are tapered at the bottom, a uniform tube for the middle to top, and end with a silver flick-top or whatever you call it.

And there's a reason to be for every pen that is here, for this is a teacher's house, yes indeed. These surroundings are now, and have always been, a zone where pens, pencils, rulers, tape, notebooks, hole-punches, compasses, folders, and pencil sharpeners have created something of a community.

The pencils are an interesting lot. They have to be encouraged by a blade to prove their usefulness. Until then they are simply dowels with one rubber end. But one end makes the other effective. Erasers are like the doting wife quietly keeping order among the thousands of potential mistakes her better half makes either by accident or by intent. They will always be at odds on either end of the same purposeful instrument regardless (or in spite) of whichever appears to have the greater attributes. The eraser keeps a keen watch on the volatile and haphazard leaded end, waiting patiently to clean up the inevitable mess. In doing its job, the eraser loses effectiveness with each swipe until all that is left is a ring of thin metal. This unfortunate development, if not handled with some care during use, may rip into the page by accident, rendering it useless. Sometimes it is the overly sharpened writing end which creates a catastrophe when, for all intents and purposes, it is merely trying to do what it was made to do. Many times, the eraser outlives the pencil-lead. This last fact is quite ironic as in spite of its predictable longevity, our eraser, by default, often suffers a premature end in the waste-bin. Life is so unfair sometimes.

But it's the pens that hold my attention.

Some of them are bunched in groups held close with an elastic band.

Some lay in packs still unopened and ready to be hung back up on display.

Some are in coffee cups, vases, rolls of duct tape, or empty plant pots.

Some are at the table at my elbow.

Some of them are in my attache.

Some of them are on the floor.

Some of them are in the crevices of the couch.

One of them is in my pocket.

And one of rests between my ear and my head.

And that one is the most often used. It has the mojo and the momentum that a good pen should. It is an old pro: calm, cool, collected, and free from glitches or air pockets. It has bite marks on it from times when I was stumped, or bored, or excited, or nervous. It has oil from my hands, and prints from my fingers.

It is an extension of me.

And it is so far removed from so many of the other thousand pens in the house, because it is the one that I am using now.

All the other ones merely have potential.

They have the potential to become an instrument for my whimsy. Any of those pens could be put to so many uses. I could use one to mark the contents of a box for later use. I could use one to write a list of necessities for a shopping expedition. I could use one to sign a check or a credit card transaction. I could use one to date a photo or to note who is in a picture I found at the bottom of an old desk. I could use one to mark a spot on the wall where a painting should hang, or where a sledgehammer should make two rooms one. I could use one to make a note of a task which needs to be accomplished; I could use one to check off that task upon completion. I could use one to leave a suicide note; I could use one to leave a note that says "I love you." 

I could use any one of them to become an extension of me.

The thing I notice which makes me relate to the average ball point pen is that if you don't use it for a while--if you leave it on the table and forget about it--it takes a while to become useful again. 

We all know the drill.

You pick it up. You take the cap off or push the top down. You start to write, assuming that it will do your bidding.

You realize it will not.

You make a small back-and-forth motion.

And then you tap it on the table.

Then you start making the back and forth motion in small travels, then larger concentric circles, then long oblong orbits which defy all logic and practicality because if your pen does start working you then have a mess on your hands.

And more often than not it does, and you do.

Sometimes you tap it to your tongue. Why do we do that?

And then we try to write again with a spit-covered, hot, metal implement.

And the pencils with their erasers in the coffee mug smirk and say "I may have my drawbacks, but at least I'm consistent."

But some pens will never work no matter how hard you try to coax them; no matter how many times you make a circle on the paper; no matter how many times you shake them in your hand, take them out of their shells, put them back again, lick their bottoms, tap their tips, and circle with their points in frustratingly manic circles.

They are simply gone.

But do we throw them away in the waste-bin like we should?

No, we put them right back where we got them from and we pick up another pen.


Because the pen that didn't work still has ink in it; it still has potential; it still has purpose.

I was like one of these pens.

I had ink in me that I could not disperse. I had words that I could not write. I had scribbles which I could only think in my head. I had lists I could not make, and therefore I had tasks which I would never accomplish. I had marks I could not make on my walls to either hang a new painting, or indicate where two rooms should become one.

I had potential stuck between purpose and escape, because that is what lies at the opposite end of the column of ink: escape.

And a messy one at that.

This is why I cannot slow down. This is why I cannot let myself become distracted. This is why I must keep twisting and turning like so many cursive words in a sentence, and only come up for air when I have to dot my I's and cross my T's. 

Because this pen will someday run out of ink, and I want to be able to say that I wrote as much as I could and never once settled for the pencil and eraser with all its semi-permanency and ironic obsolescence.

No, when I end up in the waste-bin I don't want it to be because one half of me gave out before the other.

And I don't want it to be because I exploded and made a mess.

I want it to be because I did as much as I could.

I want to leave my mark.

I want to run out of ink.

And then I will be happy.

Thanks for reading.