Category Archives: writing

Ode to a Pen

By Kimberly Mayer

New Years can be daunting, but this year I was fortunate to have David Whyte’s poem, Start Close In, in my head.

Start close in, 

don’t take

the second step

or the third,

start with the first

thing

close in….

Looking at my hand, I knew, that would have to be my pen. And so in my head I started to compose a homage to pens.

A writer’s needs are really very simple: a pen and paper, chair and table. My loyalty in pens goes back a number of years when in every trip to Costco, I’d pick up a packet of Uni-ball Signo 207 gel ink rollerball pens and toss it in the cart. It’s hard to believe anyone would use so much ink, but I do. Black ink. 

The Uni-ball Signo was bold and smooth, with a textured grip. If I had any complaint, its rolling ball tip had difficulty going from a left- handed person to a right-handed person, and back again, or vice versa. Being a lefty, I had to stash my pens from my right-handed husband.

Then, when asked for my signature on something in California, I fell in love with the pen provided. It looked innocuous, bland, but it felt like second nature—almost like it wasn’t even there. Soft and comfortable all over, if your hand happens to turn and walk up and down the pen, while “thinking,” as mine does. The name on the pen was obscure, TRU RED 0.7, and because I imagined it might be hard to find, I snitched it.

Turned out to be one, two, three, easy on Google. A Staples pen, and the next thing you know, a dozen of them in a box at my door. Amazon. Uni-ball or TRU, I’m fine either way, but all this is to say I am working my way to my father’s Mont Blanc pen, which I left at home. I had convinced him to purchase it on an overseas flight years ago, assuring him it would be worth it.

We both aspired to be writers at the time. Dad wrote a memoir during his retirement on Cape Cod, and inspired me to write mine. With a book he never intended to sell, only gift, dad went the self-publishing route. Numerous boxes of One Man’s Journey slowly dwindled in his garage. Not too many years earlier, the same garage contained stockpiles of children’s books, collected on The Cape. These he shipped in a container to schools in Nepal, following his trek in the Himalayas at age 62 years of age.

Yet another life-changing example of someone climbing the Himalayas. My husband too came down his first mountain in the Himalayas, and has been committed to public service ever since, from meals for children on island at home to computers for schools in Honduras.

Dad is gone now, but I have his pen. Heavier, larger, and more rotund, the last words the pen wrote were his. When I get home I am going to fill his Mont Blanc with black ink and make it my every day pen. Using his pen will be like holding his hand. 

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“How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways…”

Every year at this time when transferring birthdays I want to remember onto the new wall calendar, I include those of the dearly departed. It’s my way of celebrating that person on his or her special day, be it a relative, friend, or dog. For in some families, dogs are people too. In our case: Spooner (5/14), Callie (8/9), Sunny (3/13), and Coco (9/11).

From the very first writer’s conference I attended, I was struck by how extraordinarily well writers age. They just keep doing it. I’m thinking now, there was probably a dog behind each one. Every writer on earth should have a dog, and every dog, a writer; it’s a match made in, let’s say, heaven. To the extent that “writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s trousers to the seat of one’s chair,” as Kingsley Amis suggested, I don’t know how I’d do it without a dog willing to log hours upon hours under the writing table, where I keep the dog bed. Toys are scattered around the room, the house, or out on the terrace in the summertime—but it goes without saying that throughout the day, the dog is usually by my side, or breathing her doggy breath at my feet. And nonjudgemental, did I mention that? That could be what helps drive the critic from the room when I am writing.

Coco is my current companion. We’ve had three Golden Retrievers and this crazy little mix, and one by one they all became writing dogs. With Callie I started a memoir, and with her daughter, Sunny, I completed it. As Sunny began to age we went looking for the next adoption. Coco is half American Eskimo and half poodle. We knew nothing about the American Eskimo breed and only looked like we were looking it up in reference books, for having seen her and held her, we were already sold. With Coco’s help we weathered the death of Sunny, and I went for my MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard and wrote my first novel, Black Angels. Lately we are at work on the sequel. Being a small dog, she may outlive and outperform them all and see this one too through completion.

What makes us so compatible, writers and dogs? High on that list has to be a fondness for walks and naps. Throughout the year writers look for every opportunity to walk the dog. And come spring, could those be human scratches at the door too? As for my napping, like writing, the dog is nonjudgmental. My husband would come home and have a fit, but my dog will unquestionably sleep alongside me on the sofa anytime I want a nap, morning, noon, or night.

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