Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Long Live the Pen

I was a child of the 80’s, and my career aspirations amounted to having my own desk in an office somewhere. What I was to be doing at that desk, I didn’t know (and I didn’t care). As long as I had shoulder-pads, a can of Aqua Net® hairspray in my drawer, and an artistically arranged cup of pens at my desk, I would be complete.

The threatened existence of pens was far from my mind.

Grade 8 typing class had me gnawing on my Jelly bracelets in agitation. The nerve-grating repetition drove me crazy. By grade 9, we put our record-breaking typing speed to the test on computers with 5” floppy disks, and for a moment, WANG enriched our lives. With all the high-tech, futuristic promises flooding the airwaves, would pens become extinct?

During all this, the 80’s boasted to be the era of all eras, and pens fought for power. Erasable ink landed in our hands, its fame riding on the coattails of pencil erasers. The pen had won the battle…for the time being. Liquid Paper® further enhanced their mortality.

In the early 90’s, I entered the office workforce – I was 19. I was THRILLED that little ole’ up-and-coming-office-worker-me had my OWN typewriter at my desk – an IBM Selectric. And beside it, of course, was my cup of pens.

I thought I was somethin’ else.

I also had – oooh, get ready – a (massive) computer, or terminal, as it was called. As a data-entry-friendly glorified typewriter, the concept of talking to each other via these boxes was still in its infancy, and you were ultra-cool if you had access to such a commodity.

And to think I took shorthand in high-school only a few years before.

19 years later, I have two kids who use pens to kill ants, and, with failed attempts, each other (pens make great darts).

I’m still an office-worker and proud of it - and my pens.

My kids are rolling their way through school, and I wonder if handwriting is becoming a lost art. By grade 4, various homework and projects must be typed and printed from computers. This leaves me typing my kid’s homework, simultaneously stirring the Mac ‘n Cheese. Watching the poor kid struggle for half an hour, only to type three short sentences, is beyond torturous. Computer classes start in kindergarten, but no typing classes. A tear plops on my keyboard as I realize they won’t inherit my shorthand textbooks.

When I find an exploded pen at the bottom of a back-pack, I cherish the moment. They’re still around, and they’re not going anywhere – the pens, I mean.

In this paperless world where we print everything for fear of losing something in a ‘crash,’ as long as there is paper, there are pens.

Pens keep upping the ante in their campaign with stealth marketing, ergonomic attributes, and earth-friendly plastics and inks. Even though they are readily tossed in the trash when they ‘die,’ they continue to persevere through generations of mouths, fostering deep thoughts. They substitute as a screwdriver, or a hair-do holder; they morph themselves to indispensability.

In same amount of time it takes to open a laptop, Blackberry or i-phone (or any other gizmo-trend of the day), fire it up, find the right document or ‘app’ to thumb-type a note, a pen could have already scribbled thoughts on a receipt. But I worry the pens are quivering in fear as more and more thumb-friendly, note-taking gadgets are created. Have no fear, my trusty little Bic® - the banks love you, and I love you.

Yes, you laugh at me as you read this on a computer, laptop or Blackberry. You think that I, too, have succumbed to a pen-resistant world – but not completely. As a writer, I always have a pen around. Much of what you are reading was scribbled on bits of paper, the ideas littering my desk as I try to piece them together into something sensible. Beside my keyboard is an ever-present pen and paper to catch miscellaneous ideas.

My desk at work has changed, but not much. Pictures of Rick Springfield have been replaced by pictures of my kids – mostly. Aqua Net has been replaced by TRESemmé® hairspray. Shoulder-pads decompose in land-fills, and I search eBay for an ‘old’ typewriter to add to my collectibles. My flat screen monitor is thin enough to fit in my backpack. But my cup of pens stands strong.

In this questionable, ever-changing world, this I know for sure: pens are here to stay. As I jaunt down the street humming Rick Springfield songs, I want to kiss the (hunky) businessman who, as he fumbles with his Blackberry, stops to ask me for a pen. I tell him to keep it, bat an eyelash or two, and silently thank him for saving another pen’s life.

Another one lives on.


  1. Here's to the mighty pen! I took my first typing class in grade 7 and followed through all the way to grade 12, for which I'm eternally grateful. Not only were we taught to type (all those repetitive aaa, lll, www--without the letters on the keyboard--certainly paid off), but how to type as well. As in, how to hold your hands on the keyboard, what angle, how to sit in the chair etc. All this long before carpal tunnel syndrome become a common phrase. How sad it is to hear that although kids become proficient at computers at an early age, no one is teaching them how to type. Or perhaps, even, how to write.

  2. it is a sad sad world......I am sure at some point they learn handwriting, but it's not used, I don't think from what I can see, very much. Gotta love those typing classes. I am so thankful for them, now, as well. Glad you stuck with it like I did!

  3. I have a couple of favourite pens – gifts with nice heft and easy-to-find refills – but mostly I have to keep a collection because my niece and nephew made me pen cups when they were small. Coloured tissue paper glued to clean jam jars and all tied up with purple ribbon. They sit right beside my keyboard and give me a lot more pleasure.

  4. This is awesome, loved reading it. Hey.. guess what they call bics in Australia? Biros. That's right, manda was told to bring a binder (which only have two holes here -INSANE) and biros to school and we had to figure out what they were talking about. Hey... got a biro mate?
    P.s. on a side note - shoulder pads are coming back in!!

  5. After high school in Montreal, I went to business school and learned typing. Arggh! It was painful. And repetitive and boring. And the best skill ever. Who knew?
    I've always had some bizarre space for writing, sometimes called an office. The smallest was in an old house in Victoria, (in the basement). Regular height folks would get a concussion if they entered. But it was perfect for me! Your reflections made me smile.

  6. I remember vividly a styro-foam cup covered in macaroni designs and spray-painted gold - art from the heart of our kids – and yes, I kept my pens in that cup for awhile, in my kitchen, of course, in keeping with the theme.

    Thanks for refreshing that memory!