5365: My Favorite Kind of Pen

Revisiting yesterday’s post, which was necessarily but perhaps unfortunately messy. Writing from the hip, and all that…

pen in teeth

A couple of notions emerged out of that text, the value judgment ‘naturalness’ being one among them.  Here, I mean both naturalness in communication itself and naturalness in writing technology.  As Rich pointed out, the pencil isn’t natural—it’s just old.  The most natural thing, he reminded me, is speech.  Though even spoken language, as Vygotsky notes, is a sign system and thus “psychological tool” (in Haas 15).  How natural are tools, anyway? And talk about your disciplinary identity crisis!  A question for  another day,  I must confess…

Anyway, back to Thoreau and the pencil.  Baron notes that even for Henry Thoreau, writer and pencil-pusher extraordinaire, the pencil’s not important because it’s an innately more human writing tool, it’s important because it works (and it works to pay his bills, more importantly).

Why is the pencil important as writing technology? What is it beyond cheap ubiquity that makes this seem to so many like an “apex device?” (And to be honest, cost might just be answer enough for the lowly pencil and ballpoint pen.) A possible answer: the pencil’s not important for some transcendent writerly value; instead, the pencil is important because it seems so natural. It has had ascribed to it the quality ‘naturalness’ despite the fact that it is far from being natural. (Baron points out that) Of course, the ascribing here is not just enacted by nostalgists and luddites—it’s all of us. We all have some technology that seems most natural for ourselves and our own purposes, and for a lot of people it’s the pencil.

I have my particulars too: Most of the time, I’m writing from the screen, but when I’m scribbling, notetaking, and fiddling around with ideas on paper, for example, I prefer the heft and smooth glide of a Uniball Gel Grip (0.7 mm). It’s comfy for my fingers (I tend to write hard, physically grinding my paper into submission), smooth (the ink is almost always a nice, thick, even black), and I just plain like the width, depth, and flair of the marks I make with that particular point size.

Naturalness is a value judgment, a descriptor we might just be using to hide the real fact of writing technology: tradition and even more important, preferentiality. Still trying to figure out how this has to do with other things I’m working on right now (especially generative style). Not sure where to take the final paper yet…


7 thoughts on “5365: My Favorite Kind of Pen

  1. You are right. Each pen I buy is the same blue ink retractable ball point pen. When I pick up another pen, it just feels wrong! That said, I’ve been thinking about the difference in style b/t writing on the screen and writing on the page. The screen, to me, makes a document look much closer to published than the page. I find myself editing during invention on the screen. On the other hand, I find myself very rarely editing while I invent on the page. Do you think that is my preference? Or is perhaps something else at play?

  2. Oh, this is certainly an element of modern computer-based word processing! That page with its clean font and straight lines, its neat margins and heading; like the commercial said, “it’s already ready already!” (Was that Bacardi frozen daqs or Prego spaghetti sauce?) We look for red and green (sometimes blue) squiggly lines instead of looking at that nice, clean, pretty, straight text. There’s a perceptual thing going on here that ties in to our expectations for print.

  3. You know, this concept of naturalness has a place in media theory as well as in a lot of educational theory. I’m not sure that I agree that holding a pencil and scribbling little things is all that natural, or if it’s more of a pattern. Seems to me that speaking is far more natural than writing… Looking forward to reading your final paper.

    1. Yes, I’m seeing some connections out to other areas. Not sure how this’ll play out in the paper, but I’m looking forward to fiddling with the idea.

  4. I don’t have a favorite pen and do not gravitate toward one brand over another. In fact,
    I am more comfortable composing on a computer than on paper, perhaps, because my most-writing intensive years were also heavily computer intensive. I like having different colors of pens, but as for a specific type, not so much.

    1. I’m a computer composer as well, Jessica. I usually resort to p&p for fiddling, rather than composing. Here lately, I’ve noticed myself gravitating toward p&p more often, which may be a result of me being in a very active “fiddling” phase right now.

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