The Permanence Of Pen And Paper

I never understood why people wrote in pen before—

I watched Bryson in fourth grade only write in pen. Sometimes it was blue, sometimes it was black. He would always get in trouble with the teacher and then say he didn’t have a pencil. I looked inside his desk one day and there were three half chewed No. 2 pencils hiding in the shadows. What a silly boy. We would be doing math problems or writing an assignment in class and I would hear his pen rush back and forth or looping in all directions. Don’t you have a pencil? I thought. When I made a mistake, I’d carefully and completely erase it with the eraser top on my No. 2 pencil. My papers would have a perfect sequence—word to word, sentence to sentence, numbers to numbers, equation to equation.

—I‘d be too afraid to make a mistake.

I used to wake up and head straight for my daily writing journal. Sure, it was graded, but it was a way for me to start my day proper.

Over the summer, I bought a collection of 12 mini journals from all the stationary stores I’d visited in Atlanta, Charlotte, Madison, Milwaukee, and Memphis. I would couple the journals with different colored pens to indicate my emotions. I’d write how I felt physically, mentally, and emotionally in the morning, mid-day, and night. Writing was a way for me to slow my thoughts and listen to my body.

In college, I wake up and head straight for the coffee. I skip over the journal and grab the laptop from my backpack and start a writing assignment that’s due in two hours.

I left all my journals at home. The ones that documented every pivotal moment in my life since I was eight years old. Going over my oldest journal that was originally bought for my best friend Julia in fourth grade, it was filled with daily documents of my school day, the names of the boys I crushed on, angry letters that I could never verbalize to my mom and dad, signings of different variations of my signature, and dedicated empty pages that I’d pour my tears on. The pages were colorful, filled with writing in highlighters, pencil, pen, and stickers.

I got a Rocketbook journal junior year in college. The writings on the pages vanish when microwaved. It also came with erasable pens. I told myself that I would fill it up with important moments in my life and then refresh it yearly.

I didn’t bring them to college.

The eraser is there because there is an assumption that you are going to make a mistake—

His name is saved as “Chem Buddy” in my Snapchat. We’re sitting in the same quad of desks again. We only have 50 minutes to take the chemistry exam. I look up at him, he’s so focused. His eyebrows furrowed; his pencil pressed hard against the paper. He quickly flips his pencil and erases a sentence, but the dents of the letters are still there. He looks up at the clock behind me and I quickly move my eyes back onto my paper. I’m on the short answer portion of the exam; I write, “the air molecules are increasing with potential energy” no, fuck—I viciously move my pencil back and forth, scratching out the potential energy and replacing it with “kinetic energy.”

I finish the exam with the last question unanswered. He asks me how I did. I gaze into his blue eyes, “I did—” and Grace Peterson calls out his name. His head instantly turns toward Grace Peterson, and he smiles with his teeth. They both have tall, slender figures. He takes his pencil and throws it in his backpack and joins Grace Peterson. They head out the door.

But the pen, you use it to sign official documents—no pencil. There’s a different seriousness to the pen.

Sally is sitting in front of me and Leigh to my right. We’re in the conference room, a long table with 10 seats, and a big flatscreen TV on the wall. Outside the windows are the YMCA building and Redbird’s stadium. Sally tells me how cutthroat the finance industry was and how one little mistake during a presentation could risk a job. Leigh tells me the boredom of working at FedEx and KPMG and how she started an interior design business on the side of her full time. Part of the reason they started the startup was to shift away from corporate America’s standards and satiate their intellectual abilities and gifts. I write down in my bullet journal with the pen I received from my previous big corporate internship the startup position’s salary, opportunities for bonus, benefits, and 401k. I walk out the conference room with an offer letter.

A pencil, commonly or standardly used in an academic setting, holds a seriousness to it—

I laid down on the living room floor with my binder and loose-leaf paper. It was another weekly fifth grade vocabulary homework assignment where we had to either write a sentence or a drawing using the vocab word. “Clogged” was written in the first square of my sheet. I wasn’t sure what to draw and I needed to pee, so I dropped my pencil onto the floor and walked to the bathroom. I opened the door and I saw my mom sitting on the toilet. “Aw man!” I yelled. I waited for five minutes, then heard a flush. I rushed into the bathroom and peed, then flushed the toilet. It made a swirling noise, then stopped. It was clogged. I immediately ran back to my binder with the vocab sheet and drew a stick figurine of my mom on the toilet with a speech bubble that said, “Poop clogged the toilet.”

A week later, I sat inside a parent teacher conference with the same vocab picture I made of my mom on the toilet. Mrs. Brooks was explaining to my dad how inappropriate the image was. I thought it was funny as hell, but then when I got home, my mom paused from signing the permission slips and checks and hit me in the back of the head. What a stupid thing to get in trouble for. Who made the rules?

But there’s a type of confidence that comes with writing with a pen. I’m able to speak my mind.

I read out loud in my college English class: “Her side that narrates mundane moments of her day, such as shitting––” I can barely read the sentence without bellowing out in laughter, “in the toilet and describing the feelings of relief and lightness to herself or Booshoo (her shark stuffed animal).” My professor says she really likes the sentence because it showcases an essential part of everyday life in contrast to the big scenes/moments. On the corner of my notebook page, with my black pen, I write down her comment.

The pencil writes ruggedly and erases abrasively—

It’s the night of the campfire party. Only the most popular 7th graders were invited. I even heard Amanda got rejected when she asked to come. I’ll be going with Lindsay, Gabriela, and Brooke. Lindsay has a boyfriend, Jake, the lacrosse player. But every guy likes her. She always wears layers of foundation that covers all her acne and a signature black eyeliner look that makes her blue eyes pop.

I sit in front of my vanity. I apply my full coverage No. 5 tan foundation. One layer, then two layers, then a heavy coat of foundation powder. I whip out my black pencil eyeliner, drag a thick rugged line above my eyelashes, open my eyes, and the eyeliner is gone. I draw a centimeter thick line, open my eyes, and a faint shadow above my eyes appears. But I look like a panda. I take out my makeup wipe, erase it back and forth, and my eyelid turns pink. There is smudging from the black pencil eyeliner. I line my lower lashes, flip the pencil, use the smudging tool, and my black eyes look darker and smaller. But it’s what Lindsay does, except she has the opposite effect. I grab my sweater and leave for the party.

But the pen glides.

I whip out my new black eyeliner pen. It looks like an actual pen. The tip is made of thin bristles that form into a cone shape. It reminds me of a calligraphy pen.

I layer a neutral tan shade on my eyelids, apply dark brown eyeshadow on the outer third, then draw a thin layer of black pen eyeliner, winging it out until it looks like a samurai’s sword. I throw on a black and white gingham blazer that cinches the waist. I strut out the door in my black boots and my roommate yells, “You look so good.” I smile and head out the door to the first day of my internship.

There is a smoothness, a natural glide.

In elementary school, we’d collect leaves from recess and lay the leaf under a piece of blank white paper, take a colored pencil, and draw over the paper. The paper would come out with the outline, dents, curvatures, lines, and textures of the leaf.

I was walking around the corner of the neighborhood and a spiraling helicopter leaf fell on my head. I shook it off and watched it circle downward. I picked up the leaf and put it in my pocket. When I got home, I ripped off a piece of paper from my notebook, found a pen lying on the floor, placed the leaf under the paper, and drew over the paper. The ink’s density only captured the outline and main components. The helicopter leaf was actually two leaves conjoined in the middle. The leaves looked like the wings of a fairy. The middle had two seed-like bulbs.

I took out the leaf from underneath the paper and bending my knees and arms, I catapulted it into the air. The two bulbs with fairy wings attached, spiraled downwards.

I like it.

Even when erasing mistakes, the pencil, depending on how hard you press onto the paper, will leave dents. Even when there’s a perfectly cylinder pink eraser on top of your pencil, you’ll scratch out your mistakes. Even when removing black pencil eyeliner, smudges remain. Even when there’s an erasable pen and even papers that erase when microwaved, you’ll forget to use it.

Even when you drop your pen or pencil, take a pause from writing, take a long pause from transcribing pivotal moments in your life, those moments, those experiences, still remain, build, circle, loop back around.

Even when you rip out pages, earn important pieces of paper, collect new notebooks, leave old ones behind, the notebook of life is omniscient, capturing it all.

No mistakes so far.