The Last Quill August 18, 2015 10:32

Stationery can evoke such strong memories.  On Sunday afternoon I found myself sorting through a large box of miscellaneous items left over from recently closing down our bookshop which ran for 27 years. All of those accumulated bits and bobs that filled the drawers and our lives for so many years. Apart from the hard decision that a single woman, without children, fast approaching the age of 60, already in possession of her own stationery, could not possibly be in want of any additional pairs of scissors, staplers, sticky tape dispensers, glue sticks and jumbo boxes of envelopes, it was the considered sorting of all the pens that took me the longest.

I like pens, when I was a child I loved to practice my cursive script with a cartridge ink pen and even now the opportunity to write a letter, a card (or even a shopping list) is a seductive pleasure with a good ink pen by your side.  I always enjoyed my shopkeeping days before “tap and go” credit card technology because it was necessary to have a good range of pens always to hand. Setting out some decent pens at the counter was part of the daily ritual but in these digital (and indeed shop-less) days there are fewer occasions where a good pen is called for – so they tend to last a long time. Hence my box of miscellaneous stationery items was full of half used pens.

When my father died more than twenty years ago I kept many of his pens – he was a stationery hoarder.  Thus I already have a desk drawer crammed full, so in order to assess the potential of all these new writing friends it was necessary to delve through the past.

There in the drawer, resting inside its silk lined box, was a sleek silver Sheaffer pen someone had given to my father many years ago with his initials engraved on its side.  Such a special item appeared to have never been used, merely treasured as I have gone on treasuring it for him - the act of a dutiful daughter perhaps - but more likely the act of another covetous hoarder. Still it certainly could not be discarded and so went back into the drawer.  Then came out another fountain pen, but this one was so old that it was from before the development of plastic ink cartridges. This pen requires the pneumatic action of a small lever to draw up the ink into its barrel and had been my father’s school pen when sent off to St Joseph’s as a boarder in 1938 and though not used for more than 75 years could not be sent away now. That pen was clearly as historically significant as the keeping of Great Aunt Molly’s little writing case, although now crumbling apart, it bears the mysterious date of 1/9/08 engraved upon it and as 1/9 is my birthday (not hers) it must be very important. So back in the drawer with that one too!

Not getting very far with the idea of purging my excess, I tried working in the other direction by assessing the merits of the pens in the box now jostling for inclusion in the desk drawer.  Always conscious of the story about a family hoarder who had gone so far as to keep a parcel labelled “bits of string too short to be useful” I thought I could work upon the “pleasure principal” – and just assess how they write. So I found some sheets of scrap paper for a testing pad.  But then how to make a fair assessment – a short sentence, a signature, just a scribble?  OK some headway was made this way as a small number were quickly discarded as either very unpleasant to write with (the ink blobbers, the ink scratchers, or the no ink even left insiders) or they were a bit chewed and broken (who had chewed them and how did they even get in this box I thought – but no, don’t go there).

Then there were also all those mysterious pens that were clearly not and never had been ours, specialty drawing items (like black Rotring and expensive gel pens that we had not purchased) or the ones advertising other businesses on their barrels – where had they all come from? Was this just part of the mysterious way that all office pens disappear and reappear, that silent migration of quills unnoticed until they’ve reached their new destinations to be puzzled over by their new hosts (perhaps we could try looking them up on @ PenBnB  or @PenPalimpsest?)

So I am hesitant to accommodate all of these writing strangers for an extended stay (because what gets in the drawer, stays in the drawer), they have no history that I can recognise as mine, so I will break the hoarder’s mould and I will seek to set them free. There must still be lots of places nearby where a pen is not out of place, where they can be dispersed discreetly, in the bank, at the post office, or in the booths at the next federal election, perhaps to make a mark worth remembering….