A few weekends ago, I attended my 40th high school reunion. Forty years?! In one way, that amount of time seems to have zipped by, but in another, high school feels like it happened many lifetimes ago. These are the kind of events that make you pause, take stock, and look at where you’re been versus where you are now.
As I did that kind of thinking—comparing high school Mary to 58-year old Mary—I realized how much my love of pens, and my involvement in the pen community, have formed who I am. How much they’ve been a factor in creating a new and improved Mary.
Pens have given me…
Community: High school wasn’t awful (except for gym class, and my nemesis, the uneven parallel bars), but I spent so much time feeling odd and uncomfortable. I had a few friends—some good friends—but always felt like I was on the fringe of the high school “scene.” Probably because I WAS on the fringe. Except for the brave few, high school didn’t seem like the best place to step out as an individual. I slunk through the halls, hunkered down with books, and kept a low profile. My personality was decidedly beige.
The spark of a love of pens ignited in junior high when I would save up and spend my lunch money on those awful 4-color Bics at the school’s bookstore. But surely this was just MY thing. It was certainly nothing that anyone else cared about, my 7th grade self thought.
Fast forward a handful of decades to the day I found Brad’s “The Pen Addict” blog, and suddenly I felt so much of that lingering weirdness lift off of my shoulders. I loved this thing and other people did, too. Hey, we can all be weird together! (Yeah, I know- I sound like Herbie from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”: “Let’s be independent together!”) I felt like I’d found a home.
Something to write about: When we were assigned “compositions” in school, others groaned, while my heart did a little leap. I’ve always loved to write. I wrote poetry in college as a diversion from all of that science. But post-college, I wrote in fits and starts. Occasionally I’d take a writing class and come away pleased with what I produced for assignments, but once the pressure of a class was lifted, I’d stop.
I kicked around a few blog ideas, scribbled sparse entries into a journal, then tucked everything away. I couldn’t sustain a blog or a journal. I loved pens but wasn’t using them.
Once I found the pen community, all of that changed. I wrote my first “From the Pen Cup” blog post on January 1st, 2012, and have been writing ever since. My output has slowed a bit of late as family (hi, elderly parents!) and work/life obligations ramp up, but I’ll always be here, writing when I can.
Again, I have to credit Brad for leading the way. Who knew that writing about pens was a thing? Well, Brad did. And now there are so many people who inspire and delight me with their posts about pens, ink, art, paper, pencils, and handwriting. The pen world is rich, diverse, and welcoming. There’s room for everyone’s particular passion. We celebrate and lift each other up by reading and commenting and sharing.
At first I aspired to model my reviews on Brad’s example, but then realized that his voice was not my voice. That I had to tell my own stories. And that’s where my passion lies—in finding the story that a pen or stationary product tells, and telling it well. I love writing so I would do so even if I had zero readers, but I’m thrilled that people continue to show up. The fact that I can put my thoughts out there and have others enjoy what I write is a little miracle that I do not take for granted.
As for the sputtering journaling, that’s a thing of the past, too. Since June 2016, I’ve been journaling first thing almost every morning. About nothing and about everything. I fill pages and whole journals with ideas and thoughts and emotions. God, that feels good.
Something to talk about: I’m a card-carrying introvert. Though I’ll talk the ear off of a close friend, I tend to clam up around strangers. Attending pen shows and pen group meet-ups has gone a LONG way in helping me open up around people I’ve never met. Where there are pens, there are friends. We share one common love—the love of stationery—and that’s a force that’s stronger than introversion. In the pen show world, conversation is easy, laughter and genuine love flow. It’s really something to see and experience.
This “talking to strangers” skill has helped me in life outside of pen shows. I’m more likely to strike up a conversation with a total stranger—crack a joke, tell a story, offer some kind words. And you know what? I don’t die.
A network of friends: Online pen friends often turn into real life friends, and those bonds go much deeper than pens. When we’re not together in person (which is most of the time), we write letters full of day-to-day news, send emails back and forth, and interact on social media. The friends I’ve met because of pens are, despite the geographical distance between us, very close and very important. I love and need you guys.
Support during a tough time: Anyone who’s been on the receiving end of a shocking diagnosis knows how disorienting the experience is. It’s easy to spin off into a negative orbit, where your world suddenly seems full of worst case scenarios and dead ends. It’s easy to feel alone, even as life continues to swirl all around you. When I wrote about my MS diagnosis in 2015, I did so to get it out of my system, because, honestly, I didn’t know what else to do. After I wrote that post, I received so many good wishes, letters, cards, and heartfelt gifts—many from complete strangers—that my flagging spirit soared. Then that Nakaya, and Brad’s letter, arrived and I cried. In that moment I realized that I could face whatever I had to face because I was buoyed up by all of you. I’ll never forget your kindnesses, and how comforted they made me feel. Inspired by your generosity, I’ve also vowed to give back when and where I can, even if it’s a simple note to someone going through their own trial. I learned to never underestimate the power of the written word.
As for the MS, I’m doing well—exercising regularly with weights and even running a little—thanks to a friend/gym partner who pushes me in the best way possible. My latest MRI showed that my lesions are stable (and maybe even improving), and I feel good most of the time. I’m no longer plagued by the fear of what lies down the road, and in many ways, I’m stronger than I was before the diagnosis. Maybe this thing is it’s own gift.
Pens have been a constant throughout my 58 years, from those crappy 4-color Bics in junior high to the super-smooth Sailor 1911 Fresca I bought a few weeks ago. I love how they feel in my hand, how wet ink looks and sheens, how the jumble of thoughts in my head find order on the pages of my journal. I love pens for so many reasons, but mostly because they’ve brought me to you—the pen community.
At that high school reunion, one of my classmates noted that I seemed happier and more confident, and she’s right. I’m new, I’m improved, and much of that growth is because of you. You’ve given me friendship and support and a place to tell my stories.
For all of that, I thank you with my whole heart.