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Romancing the pen (and pencil)

As soon as the “Back to School” signs go up in store windows in late summer, I get that special feeling. Even though I haven’t started a full slate of classes since I finished university, lo those many years ago, my heart still flutters at the thought of all the new school supplies—pens, pencils, notebooks, textbooks! For a time, I was able to experience the rush again through my kids, although the fun was always tarnished by the sorting through what was left from the previous year, and the required labelling (oh, yes, the labelling—every pen, pencil, marker, binder, and on and on).

As a writer and editor, I managed to choose a career that ensured my continued obsession with writing implements. Even though I spend most of my working time in front of a screen, I still love my fountain pens, pencils, and notebooks. My WCEA partners might have seen me slip away after a meeting or workshop to visit the Vancouver Pen Shop. In Toronto there is Wonder Pens, which I visit at every opportunity. And if I ever get to New York again, my first stop will be CW Pencil Enterprise. (If you have followed the New Yorker’s Comma Queen, Mary Norris, on YouTube, you too might have paid a virtual visit to CW Pencils and fallen in love. Or you might be one of CW’s 113K Instagram followers.)

Fortunately, I tend to get overwhelmed in these shops, and that keeps me from getting into too much trouble. Still, my office drawers and cupboards contain rather more of everything than I need. And the real problem is putting it all to use, given the amount of digital work I’m required to do. I always look forward to the opportunity to edit or proofread on hard copy so I can use my trusty mechanical pencils (Faber-Castell TK-Fine Vario I, with 0.5 lead); all those lovely Blackwing pencils are still waiting patiently for their turn.

Recently, in an effort to better manage my workload, I’ve started keeping a bullet journal in addition to my digital to-do list. While it might seem counterintuitive to keep two to-do lists going, both serve specific purposes, and—here’s the rub—the analog journal lets me use all my fabulous pens and inks, markers, and colouring pencils and justify trying out new notebooks. (Shockingly, I’ve just purchased a Leuchtturm 1917 notebook, after years of using Moleskin notebooks for everything.)

Of course, I’m not alone in my obsession. A recent CBC Toronto video series entitled Return to Analog included a video called “Why pen and paper still matter for some Torontonians.” Earlier this year, the New York Times Magazine ran a beautiful photo essay on one of America’s last pencil factories, which I’m sure had every pencil-lover’s social media feeds throbbing.

What about you? Does the back-to-school season still get you yearning for new office supplies? If you love pencils, do you prefer mechanical or traditional? And how do you put your analog tools to use in a digital age?

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I love using pencils and before my retirement I used to proofread on paper using a mechanical 0.7 pencil (I apparently had a heavy hand as an editor). More than 20 years ago, I visited the Derwent Pencil Museum in the Lake District. My son and nephew were fascinated by it too. I recently recommended it to another editor who was in the Lake District, and she too enjoyed visiting it. There is something about pencils. Getting decent erasers is another topic.

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