Minor neurosis emerging

Today has been pen quest day. Pen quest is one of those slight but aggravating signs of obsessive/compulsive behaviour that I try to hide from people, especially other writers. My neuroses are—as you know—rare. You might think I’m protesting a bit too much. You’d be right. I am a touch neurotic about pens.

The problem with pen quest is that it comes around with monotonous regularity. Some writers know how many words they write in a week or month or year, I don’t, mainly because I’m innumerate. What I do know is that I am a fifteen pen per annum woman, and as my pen of choice comes in a five pack, I make three trips a year to find them.

Yes actually, before you email me to tell me I’m witless, I have thought of buying them in one annual jamboree of penitude. There is a problem with that approach, which is that by the end of the year, only two of the five pens in the ultimate pack work. Or so it was for me. And there are few things as frustrating as picking up a new pen and finding it doesn’t function, not to mention the frantic scribbling, the rolling of the pen between the palms of the hands, the running it under a hot tap to soften its ink and all the other completely ineffective ways of resuscitating a defunct pen that you can find out by googling the subject. Actually there is one thing more frustrating – it’s the moment after you throw the uncooperative new pen in the bin and pick up the last new pen, only to find it is as non-functioning as its immediate predecessor.

My chosen implement is the Papermate flexgrip ultra in medium, with blue ink. As pens go, it’s not quite as ubiquitous as a Bic, but certainly more so than many another. And yet whenever I go hunting for it, the Papermate flexgrip ultra in medium, with blue ink is hard to find. I can locate individual blue pens, at exhorbitant prices, (by the way, Collins online says exhorbitant is archaic, which suddenly makes me feel ancient, but that’s how I was taught to spell it and leaving the h out looks wrong to me) or black pens in fives. Neither will serve. A gum-chewing shop assistant offers me a gel pen. I scowl and travel to another shop. In another shop, the sales assistant has a pierced eyebrow which looks septic, or he has green brows, which is not as elven and fey as it sounds. I watch him scratch said brow with the pen he is about to try and sell me and leave another shop for yet a third shop.

Third shop has my pens. I calculate the working hours lost to this exercise with one of my new pens, on the back of my (exhorbitant) parking receipt and decide I have to work unceasingly until midnight to make up for lost time.

And that explains why I’m sitting here blogging … or perhaps it doesn’t.

Pens courtesy of Jose C Silva at Flickr under a creative commons licence


  1. James Burt
    13th May 2009

    I currently live by Muji’s 0.38mm black pens. I thought buying a dozen of them was a stroke of genius only to read here that pens sometimes have a best-before date…

    If they don’t work out I guess I’ll have to resurrect the fountain pen. But I’ve not yet forgiven it for the Incident.

    It’s good to hear other people are as obsessive as me about stationary. It’s a good thing there is no Muji in Brighton or I’d be buying new notebooks every time I felt mardy.

  2. pierre l
    13th May 2009

    Hello Kay. You are allowed to be as choosy as you like when it comes to pens. You remind me of an ex-colleague who was very knowledgeable about pencils and staplers because his parents ran a stationary shop. My favourite pencil was a 0.3mm mechanical item with 2B lead. Does Carmel use the same type of pen when she is writing?

  3. Mark Hubbard
    19th May 2009

    Bet my neurosis beats your’s Kay 🙂

    It is my fountain pen’s 25th anniversary this year (my sister bought it for me in 1984). All the black bits have worn down to the brass when it fits into my fingers and palm and the nib is a bit softer than it used to be, through wear, but still goes good. It’s seen me through three tertiary degrees and a nineteen year career.


  4. jem
    23rd May 2009

    You are not alone. I have a cheap ballpoint from WHSmiths, it’s black and yellow striped and looks like a wasp. I dread the day they stop making them. I also favour a black fine-liner, and was very excited to get a box of perfect specimens on ebay. I’ve only used 3 of the 10 but I’m already worried about when they have gone.

  5. Kay Sexton
    24th May 2009

    James, I do like a Muji myself! Nice pens for doing book-signings.

    pierre, Carmel (oddly enough) almost never hand-writes, and Ren uses a laptop. I now realise that I am stranger even than I thought.

    Mark, I am too messy to use a fountain pen, so I applaud you – how lovely to have such a history in a single item.

  6. Kay Sexton
    24th May 2009

    Jem, pen miserliness is the true mark of a writer …

  7. pierre l
    24th May 2009

    That’s fascinating info about Carmel (I have several anthologies which I bought for Carmel’s writing, and Kristina Lloyd’s). I also have a copy of Sex and Music, but that’s still in my to be read stack. I can’t remember what Ren writes at the moment (I must read the blog more carefully).

  8. pierre l
    25th May 2009

    I did some more research and I have re-discovered who Ren is. So I shall see if I can find some of her work (I have identified a candidate in Australia).


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