Tools Of The Trade: Why A Bic Cristal Pen Just Won’t Turn Me On
“I believe, as the Chinese and Japanese calligraphers believe,
that there is a mystique between the brain,
the hand and the tool, pen, brush or scalpel;
sometimes a flow is established between them,
bringing a strange power.”
– Rumer Godden
My obsession started at an early age. If you were a child in the 1970s, then you probably had a set of Mr. Sketch scented markers. Black was licorice, which was by far my favorite. Green was mint. Were the markers first being manufactured today, green would probably be some horrible fake apple scent instead. But, green was mint, and red was cherry. It was as much fun to smell them as it was to color with them.
I also loved crayons, which are probably not fashionable among today’s technological youth. I loved crayons because I loved coloring books. We had dozens of coloring books at my grandmother’s house, and the goal was to color your page as perfectly as my older aunts and uncle did. You could shade your coloring book pictures with crayons in a way that you never could with markers, so coloring with crayons was a special skill. The desire to fill the pages of every coloring book was later stamped out by my indoctrination in the field of early childhood education. I was told that coloring books and ditto sheets destroyed creativity, so I was supposed to plan open-ended art activities and incorporate project-based learning instead. The worst teachers were certainly the soul-destroyers who told children not to color outside the lines – literally or figuratively – and I am certain that I spent hours listening to “Flowers Are Red” by Harry Chapin to ensure that I was never THAT teacher.
So, crayons lost their mystique. However, when I became a teacher, I found a new passion in writing implements: Sharpie markers. Oh, who doesn’t love a Sharpie marker? They are so useful with their variety of points – ultra fine, fine, chisel, and even twin – and their alluring but dangerous scent. Plus, they are permanent. There is something about writing with a permanent marker that gives meaning to your strokes like no other writing tool can.
I’ve always had a preference for particular pens. I hate the classic stick pens and favor a black Pilot G-2 gel pen over most others. I am always tempted by fanciful pens – like that glittery one with a giant poof ball on top that seems to wave at you while you’re in the checkout line at the bookstore – but they never seem to work out. As a child, I was repeatedly sucked into buying the four-color retractable pens only to have the springs break and the point get stuck again and again. I have hope that new discoveries in science will eventually lead to the development of an indestructible four-color gel pen. Maybe it will have a poof ball on top.
When I left teaching and finished graduate school, I stopped writing by hand as much. There were no bulletin boards to be created, no notes to be taken. Any writing I did was on the computer. I replaced most of my hand written to-do lists or grocery lists with the notes function on my iPhone. My Mr. Sketch markers were long gone. I still hoarded Sharpie markers, but their use was limited to labeling my children’s lunch boxes. And, when my G-2s headed to the gel pen graveyard, I often accepted whatever cheap substitute happened to be lying around.
But, then, I met a mathematician. I mean, who needs writing implements nowadays more than a mathematician? Isn’t that why pocket protectors exist? MATH. Nick filled up page after page after page of paper with notes and figures and mind maps. He took up two or three or four whiteboards with multi-colored dry erase manifestos. And, he loved Sharpies!
I found myself standing with Nick in the aisle of Staples gazing longingly at the assortment of writing utensils: thin markers, thick markers, colored pens, gel pens, mechanical pencils, fat pencils, and the completely nonsensical erasable pens (I mean, what moron invented the erasable pen and why?). We sorted through the stacks of notebooks and journals at Michaels to find paper that was perfectly porous.
And, I found the Holy Grail of Pens. I mean, this was THE pen.
The Staedtler triplus fineliner .3mm porous point pen.
It came in a ten color set with a glorious hard case that could be propped up to clearly display the superiority of this pen over all other implements.
We went home and read and wrote. We sketched ideas and circled and underlined and starred things for emphasis. The pen glided across the paper like magic. The curves and points it created were without measure.
One pen to rule them all.
And, I am the pen-bearer.