Pen People and Office Cities


Last spring, I received a package from the landlord at an apartment I’d rented in Tucson, Arizona, during a three-month travel nursing gig. “Found in the bottom dresser drawer,” read the note inside a flat rate USPS box, in which she had expertly rolled six pair of scrub pants and matching tops, packed in like sardines. I had agonized over leaving the place spotless when I’d vacated the previous week, but despite my fastidious efforts, had overlooked the scrubs. “I also found this beautiful Pigma Micron pen under the couch. I’ve never seen the sepia one—beautiful!” said a piece of paper rubber banded to the pen. Only a pen person would do that.

And only another pen person would send an eight-pack of Pigma Microns, including sepia, as a thank-you.

I love pens so much that the word has taken on a second meaning in my house. Pens, the noun, are what clutter my desk and roll around in the bottom of every bag I own, but “pens” is also what I’ve come to call the activity of sitting down at the table with an assortment of pens, my calendar, journal, monthly planner, and lots of unlined paper. Pens is all about doodling, journaling, letter writing, drawing intricate spirals, rows of interlocking geometric shapes, and concentric circles. If I’ve had a particularly bad day, Chris will say to me, “Why don’t you just sit down for a while and do pens?” 

“Pens Plus” is next level; more business like. In Pens Plus sessions, I devise intricate color-coding systems for my calendar, create to-do lists, five-year plans, and budgets. Just going through the motions of Pens Plus helps me feel more organized and empowered, regardless of the fact that the systems rarely stick. 

Perhaps my collecting, even hoarding, of pens comes from a childhood marshaled by pragmatic parents whose distaste for frivolity extended to our school supplies. If I remember correctly, there was a family crayon protocol, a gradual progression from the eight-color box to the 12, finally hitting the plateau with the 24 color box of Crayola Crayons in about third grade. My sister Michelle and I theorize that the root of the pen obsession lies in the fact that we never got the 64 color box with bronze, sea green, orchid, and the built-in sharpener. Michelle is a pens person, too. 

It’s hard to believe there was a time without pens. Back in second grade, relegated to those chubby, dull pencils that squeaked on the paper as you wrote, pens were the dangling carrot. I remember when Mrs. Koeppel told me, “In middle school, you can use pens.” It was enough incentive to soldier on.

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