When I was young, I was fascinated with office supplies. I loved them all, which took an various auras: the authority of legal pads, executive tenor of the pen set, the sturdy single-hole punch, the package of reassuring hole reinforcements. I liked school, and I liked school supplies even more. Glue sticks, rubber erasers, and pencil sharpeners all made back-to-school season something to look forward to. (I certainly didn’t look forward to getting new clothes for the new school year, as my—or better said, my mother’s—choices inevitably made me a target for mean-spirited taunting.)
Of course, the onset of the digital age has fundamentally changed my relationship to older methods of note-taking, filing, organizing, and crafting. It’s no longer necessary to write things down on paper with a pen or pencil, and the benefits of unlimited cloud storage and searchable documents are undeniable. I need to be able to search meeting notes for keywords to learn whether a policy was changed or a task was assigned. I appreciate the computer window clearly displaying an alphabetical list of file folders whose tabs aren’t obscured by their paper contents. My online storage options hold much more information than the filing cabinets in my home and work offices do.
Still, I appreciate writing on paper—even if doing so is largely less about function than fun these days. When I was growing up, my mother taught me two things before I entered school: how to read and how to write. The latter subject was something whose style she had mastered. My mother has excellent penmanship, and she loves to write in longhand. She perfected her signature (a beautifully scribed Linda M. Beynon, later transformed to Linda M. Henderson), and I remember watching her cover our telephone book covers with words and letters as she chatted with her friends by phone. I watched her beautiful script adorn the otherwise homely checks that she produced whenever she went shopping or paid a bill, and I aspired to write the way she did. She encouraged this habit in me, and I never had trouble in school creating my letters—either in cursive or in block letters. I’d already perfected these by the time I found myself at a classroom desk with a pencil and a pulpy sheet of handwriting paper, a guide to forming cursive letters lining the walls above my head.
Recently, I’ve decided to rediscover the pleasures of using pens, pencils, and paper, and while this may prove to be a passing fancy, I feel as though I’m tapping back into some formative joys that sustained me as a bookish, nerdy kid. A couple of months ago, I found myself unhappy with the make-shift zippered bag of pens that I keep in my backpack. It’s really just a zippered computer accessory holder that had been abandoned in one of my classrooms, and I repurposed it as a pen and pencil case capable of holding a huge and random assortment of mechanical and wooden pencils, ballpoint and gel pens, and dry erase markers. It wasn’t easy to locate any particular writing instrument in this overly large sack, but it kept them from getting lost in the various sections and pockets of my backpack. I decided I wanted a smaller pencil case—one that would organize these items more efficiently. A trusted online review site recommended this little guy, so, even though it is only available through an online store called JetPens, I ordered it, along with a Kuru Toga mechanical pencil and an eraser, just to bring my order to the $25.oo needed to qualify for free shipping.
I’m kind of embarrassed to admit how hard I fell for that little pencil case. filling it with pens and pencils and other little office supplies tapped into a profound sense of satisfaction. It holds just enough pens and pencils to give me some options, but it won’t be overstuffed. It also features just the right number of little compartments and pockets to keep these organized without being overelaborate. It’s like a little well-behaved companion that doesn’t get in your way, but gives you what you want, when you want it.
And it turns out the JetPens is a great source for pens, pencils, paper, and other supplies. What I’ve discovered and loved exploring is their extensive blog, which features announcements about new products and comprehensive guides to various product types, like Gel Pens, Color Pencils, and Memo Pads. So, I’ve thrown spending inhibition to the wind, and started collecting notebooks, pencils, pens, and cases that are filling me to the brim with little thrills. Some of my favorite things that I’ve picked up lately include a Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen, a Kaweco CLASSIC Sport fountain pen, a set of Field Notes notebooks, and Kum Automatic Long Point pencil sharpener.
Shopping for writing instruments and stationery is rewarding in and of itself, but I’m also really enjoying getting back to old school note-taking and writing. This past month, I’ve keeping a journal on a much more regular basis than I do with the online, DayOne journaling app, which, although it sports a very attractive interface and some useful features, simply hasn’t compelled me to contribute to it on a regular basis. Perhaps it’s because so much of my workday is spent at a computer typing away at a keyboard. Putting a pen in my hand and writing things out longhand gives me a much-needed break from my laptop. I’ve also found myself writing cards and even letters to friends, which feels much more intimate and caring than dashing off a text message or an email.
I don’t want to get overly nostalgic about old school technologies of writing, however. I understand that there are things a computer will do that I am not willing to give up for the romance of scribing notes in cursive with a fountain pen. And I do want to give more thought to how I will blend analog and digital technologies when I record various aspects of my life. Is the contemplative and distraction-free process of writing out a summary of my day more important than having an online, searchable diary entry replete with digital photographs, tags, and locations? I’m not yet certain, and I expect I’ll be exploring hybrid approaches to note-taking, journaling, and communicating as I get back into writing on paper.
For now, I’m rediscovering some quaint pleasures associated with using pens, pencils, and paper that I’m happy to continue seeking out.