The power of the pen

When I finished my MFA program in January, I ordered the gifts our class chose to give the faculty: pens imprinted with our class slogan and graduation date. They had built-in reading lights, and we strung them on matching silk cords with handwritten thank-you notes. What perfect gifts for writers, from writers! But they were far from perfect. As it turns out, 250 metal-barrel pens look suspiciously like artillery when packed in a suitcase, and that suspicion only heightens when the cargo in question randomly lights up as it bumps along an airport corridor. And at the end of the graduation ceremony, when it was time to bestow our gifts, they became one giant, knotted mess… rather symbolic of our early writing efforts.

But seriously, the untangling provided some much-needed levity at an otherwise teary moment, and the faculty accepted the pens with gratitude. And best of all, the pen company never wants me to forget it exists. Every month or so, I get a pen in the mail (and sometimes a ruler or calculator) imprinted with my name and address, in all caps. Sometimes the barrel just reads, “JENN HOLLMEYER: A NAME YOU CAN TRUST.” (If they only knew I write fiction…) I’ve grown quite a collection by now — all of them born out of the company’s overstocked or discontinued inventory, I’d guess, based on their strange patterns, uncomfortable grips and non-intuitive retracting devices. I keep some by the phone, some at my writing desk, and some at work. I like that whenever I reach for a pen, it’s fifty-fifty whether I get a generic Vision Elite (my favorites) or one of MY pens with the wobbly ballpoints, globby ink, and blinding laser beams.

My mother gave me a set of personalized pens for Christmas one year when I was a kid. She also ordered personalized storybooks that featured me as a character, which I thought was the coolest thing in the world. Even then she must have known how much I loved writing and reading stories, and her gifts helped me see myself as an active participant in those processes. My new personalized pens do the same — reminding me, simply, that I am writing. I’m WRITING! I’m actually DOING this! Even if what shows up on the page is garbage, it’s MY garbage. And it’s as real as the ink stains on my desk.
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