Gwyneth Kerr Erwin, Ph.D., Psy.D
Pens and Paper.
“Mom, how many pens do you have? Thousands?” my daughter asked, poking around in my supply closet looking for one.
Not thousands, but hundreds, certainly. Pilot P-500s, hard to find, my favorite. Fine, almost sketchy. Red, blue (not my favorite), green, purple (great for editing, doesn’t offend, just guides). Micron archivals, 005, 002, even finer. Brown, burgundy. The Precise V5, which makes me feel guilty because I seldom use them now, replaced (how awful!) by the Pilot P-500. Flairs for marking, a veritable rainbow of possibilities. Le Pen, slender, colors upon colors. Micro Ceramics, hard to find anymore, each case a different pattern of swirls or burst of flowers. The Quad .5 pencil, red, blue (don’t use!), and black ink, all in one. A new pen from Japan, the Yoropen, that looks like a silver and burgundy stealth jet landing. One Montblanc, one True Writer from Levenger, and one Pelikan.. Finally, a grey enamel pen, dotted with tiny roses, a gift from my analyst, given early as I cried I was quitting graduate school in my final semester. I didn’t, because of all that gift meant, but continued to earn my Master’s in writing, and ultimately become an analyst myself, earning two doctorates, as I wrote a certification paper, a clinical doctoral paper, and a Ph.D. dissertation.
Then, there are the highlighters: Accent, Foray, Hype, highlighters that bled through the pages, highlighters with flags. My husband has wryly suggested, why don’t I just brush the page with yellow (or pink or blue or green) paint? But it’s how I learn, I protested, along with margin notes, hand drawn stars, exclamation points, checkmarks. And the journals. Now, there’s a sad story! Starlight flickering on the covers, philosophical messages sprawled across the front, leatherbound with gilt-edged pages, thick ones, thin ones, journals from France, Oregon, Papyrus, Levenger (isn’t that every reader’s favorite, but wish they had real tools for writers other than pens!). All blank. Written pages torn out, burned, shredded. Unbearable.
I love, truly love, and am utterly happy with a pen in my hand. I love the feel of my fingers curled around it, love the feel of my fingers tapping the keys of this keyboard. Love, and am thrilled by, placing a mark, inked or electronic, on a page, a letter, then a word, a phrase, a sentence—it was not there a moment ago, and now, creation! My young hands trembled the first time I made such a mark, before learning to write an a, b, c. Not knowing yet how to spell a word. Just a mark. Then another, and another. Creation!
I was struggling with my dissertation. Never had writer’s block, just writer’s prohibition. Not allowed. Here I was, walking in the theoretical garden of the gods, with Freud, Winnicott, Bowlby, Ferenczi, Schore, and Siegel. How dare I! Seventy, maybe eighty pages of literature review writing to go. Two-hundred-fifty references to cover. Stopped. For six months. One night I had a dream. I was standing in an old library two, three stories high, green shaded library lamps hanging down from the lofty ceiling above. Books, papers scattered across long library tables. Late afternoon, nearly twilight. No one there, but me. An insight strikes me; I need to write it down! The reason I cannot write. The prohibition. I look for a pen, I who carries them in tote bags, briefcases, have them in pencil boxes, see-through plastic stacked boxes, my purse, always the person with a dozen choices to offer a penless friend. No pens. None, anywhere. I am frantic now, for losing this idea will lose my solution. I glance at the table, pick up a sheet of paper, it’s one of my youngest daughter’s, for one of her college classes. I think, I’ll write in the air, over the paper, then maybe I’ll remember. I turn over her paper. With my middle right finger I write in the air above the paper, and the word that flows out is “unconscious.” But there it is, in perfect handwritten script, in ink on the landscape style page. I blink, again and again. What? I look at my finger, clean, dry. I write another word. Inked, perfect script, on the page. I study my finger, then try my index, another word, my fourth, another word. I ripple several fingers across the page, a ribbon of inked words following. I take a furtive look around the room. What is happening? Still, no one else is there. I place the paper with care onto the table, lift my two hands, and as though I were striking a double chord, splay my fingers onto the page in a ta-dah! Inked words gush out running after each other onto the page, no end in sight.
I wake up, Saturday, to face another stuck, prohibited writing day. I turn on the computer, get out the next professional journal article, underlined, highlighted, starred, and flagged and begin to write. My fingers can barely keep up – the words gush onto the page as my fingers fly from key to key, marks, marks, marks. One month later, eighty pages later, that chapter of the literature review is complete. Six months later, my 500-page dissertation submitted.
“You know what those pens mean, honey?” I ask my daughter.
“What,” she asks, and time holds still for a conversation that is seldom available, due to the natural, even joyful uproar of my being a working mom, with an adult daughter, a gifted writer herself, writing on hold or snuck into a five am schedule of getting two young children ready for school, making breakfast for her three-year-old, and nursing a new baby. I can even hear the baby just beginning to fuss, but time is holding still.
“All the words I haven’t written.”
My mother had ten books published in her lifetime, and was working on number eleven when she made a passing comment to me one day, “You know, I’ve never written what I wanted to write.” That wasn’t the first time she had said that. It was the last. She died just months later. That was twenty-six years ago this very month. In those years, writing my educational papers, editing or book doctoring over a dozen books into print, more articles and others’ dissertations than I can count, teaching writing, birthing projects, my six books in stalled progress, as well as numbers of professional papers, continue to whisper or shout at me, trying to grab my attention to steal an hour here or three there, to propel me to the computer, or pick up a pen, and make — a — mark, then another, and another, and ….