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A Writer’s “Pen Emergency” and Yes, That’s a Thing

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by Arlen Kane

A few weeks ago I had a pen emergency.  Are you laughing?  Well, don’t.  When you’re a writer a pen emergency is a real thing.  Of course I use modern technology, I’m not a complete luddite.  However ideas come at times when getting to a computer or even my smart phone to leave a voice memo just isn’t convenient.  For instance, a large percentage of ideas seem to come when I’m showering.  I’ve heard this from other writers as well.  One even told me that ions or neurons or pylons in the water are responsible for this.  I would think standing under a soft rain of warm water, the fragrance of your favorite soap, and the privacy of the bathroom, might have something to do with your imagination taking hold.  And if you don’t think that’s it, feel free to send me your ideas.  If none come to mind, try taking a shower.

ideas in shower

The Writer’s Addiction

There I was with a fresh and brilliant idea (they all start off that way) and neither my desktop nor my laptop were booted up, and thus began my pen emergency.  Of course I already have a rowdy collection of pens and pencils – an addiction that fells many a writer.

Some in my collection may seem like folly.  For instance, I have a vintage mechanical pencil that has no eraser.  I’ve wondered whether the designer of this stunning writing instrument refused to comprise his design with anything as crass as an eraser, or whether people made fewer mistakes back then.  In order to enjoy this treasure I have paired it with a jaunty eraser from the Gaudi Museum shop in Barcelona.  It does a lovely job of wiping out any error, and at the same time it soothes me with the understanding that we all make mistakes.  Although cumbersome to carry both a pencil and separate eraser, I must admit that they make a beautiful couple.

I have several fountain pens of various vintages.  I fill them with colored inks to match my mood.  Seafaring blue is for carefree notes to people who are happy to hear from me, or so they say.  Black velvet is reserved for sketching, or condolences.  Then there are ballpoint pens for the rare occasion when my writing has to go through to a copy below.  Come to think of it, the last time that happened was more than a decade ago.  Make that two.

Castro Invades My Childhood

I was playing with my father’s fountain pen when the radio blasted the news that Havana was invaded.  The only Castro I knew was a convertible.  This young child was entranced by the swirling colors of the pen’s barrel, and that’s why I remember it at all.  How I might have felt hearing the excitement of a world-changing event will forever be a mystery, but I still thrill to the flow of ink from an elegant nib.

Some wrist watch aficionados collect Rolexes exclusively.  Some people covet early toasters.  The salt-and-pepper crowd is amusing.  They scour the earth for unique salt and pepper shakers like Raggedy Ann and Andy, or a cow and the moon he jumped over.  So my thing for pens is far from outstanding in its curation.  In other words, if it can make a mark, I’ll consider buying it.

I bought a set of three pens that were boxed very nicely.  Each one was cradled in its own form-fitting slot of molded plastic that was encased in a tight fitting box that was slipped into a sleek cardboard sleeve enhanced by a modern graphic, shrink wrapped to protect its aesthetic.  I could have made a down payment on a compact car for what this packaging must have cost.  The box sat on a table awaiting the unsheathing but I was in no rush.

A Fight To The End

And that’s when it happened — my fresh, brilliant idea, and I had to jot it down.  The package of pens was at my fingertips, and calling me to put them to work.  I made a neat respectful slit in the shrink wrap which came away with a bit of static resistance.  Long strips refused to leave their post.  Next the glossy cardboard sleeve — the bloody thing wouldn’t budge.  My brilliant idea was becoming more vague.  I needed those pens – now!  While pulling the sleeve, I pushed the box – hard. I had to separate those two before I was separated from my idea, which was growing dimmer.  Finally I tried the handle of a screwdriver as leverage to power the box out of the sleeve.  No go.  The details of my brilliant idea were leaving me.  I had no choice – I went for the box cutter.  I slashed that thing – it had become a life and death situation for my idea.

The rest of the story of how I rescued my pens from entombment is sad and messy so I’ll spare you.  But suffice it to say, the pens write very smoothly, no drag on the paper, and that’s astonishing considering their ordeal.  As for my idea – eh.

About the Author 

Arlen Hollis Kane

Arlen Hollis Kane is a Manhattan-based award-winning writer.  Memos from Manhattan, her regular column for 50PlusToday, is reflective of her love affair with her hometown.  Her focus is on writing about the ever astonishing people, places and events that inspire the phrase “only in New York.”

After reaching 50, she fulfilled a childhood passion by enrolling in the Fashion Institute of Technology.  She designs and hand makes scarves, handbags and jewelry. Her abstract acrylics and photographs have been featured in a one-woman show in the Gallery of the Borough President of Manhattan, and in juried shows, including at the National Arts Gallery.

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