Be it ever so humble …

I enjoy being with other people … some of the time. I like groups, I like gatherings, I even occasionally like a crowd (it’s rare, but it happens).

All that is true. But what’s even more true is that I might actually have been born for social distancing, born to self-isolate. I responded to my job’s work-from-home email the way extroverts might respond to a party invitation.

I keep reading posts from people who are freaking out at all their alone time, tearing their hair at the prospect of having to stay in their homes. I feel for them. Their distress is real, is palpable. I feel for them, but I don’t feel them.

I have always loved being home alone. My cozy nest of an apartment — even though no apartment of mine has ever been super cozy or nest-like — is where I always want to be. I am incredibly good at staying home for days at a time and never feeling the need to be out and about, never wishing I had a houseful of folks to keep me busy, give me company. So this enforced home time is feeling a little like heavenly.

Yes, I have to work while I’m home. This is telecommuting, not a staycation. Still, it’s a complete pleasure to do what I need to do from the comfort of my bed or the seat of my exercise bike.

I was productive today. At times, I felt a little crazed trying to keep up with the flood of emails and the volume of calls — our move-everything-online plan launches on Thursday — but mostly it was a productive day. I missed my plants, wondered how they’re doing with their self-watering bulbs. I learned some annoying things about remote access to my work computer and realized how spoiled I am by the internet speed I enjoy in my office. Still, it was a productive day. And it was nice, when I was feeling annoyed or overwhelmed, to be able to lean back and see the adorable calendar Fox gave me for Christmas or to reach over and pet one of my cats.

One thing I didn’t do today was stick to the little sketch of a schedule I’d made. And maybe that sounds like I did a little work and then watched hair videos, but no. I had the opposite problem: I didn’t take any of the breaks I’d written into my schedule. Not one. That’s not a good way to work, and I’ll be looking to change that tomorrow. All work and no play … sucks.

 

So self-isolation is feeling okay. You know, today. We’ll gauge how I feel being closed up indoors when this lockdown has been going on a while, right? Let’s see how happy a hermit I am in a couple of weeks!

Wishing us all well, friends. Wishing us all well.


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Fleshing Out the Five: Baby, You Can Drive My Car

Some more oversharing! I’m still working my way through the five random facts about me that I shared in my Counting to Five post. The second item on the list was the fact that I don’t have a driver’s license.

I am most assuredly not the only adult in the America without a license, and yet people are always shocked when they discover that I don’t drive.

I learned to drive in high school, the way most people do. My parents taught me, and I took driver’s ed. My parents were both good drivers — unflappable, good parallel parkers, at home with speed — and learning from them meant I took on some of those qualities, too. I was pretty comfortable driving … too comfortable, as it turned out. When I took my road test, I was a little too casual about a stop sign. As soon as I slid past it with the barest of pauses, the examiner told me I’d failed. “You’re a good driver,” she said, but you need to follow the rules.”

Not getting my license didn’t mean I didn’t drive, however. I knew how, and I knew I was good at it, so I drove when I had to. I took a friend’s keys and drove us home when he got ridiculously drunk at a party he’d invited me to. Drove a carload of us home in the wee small hours of a foggy spring night from somewhere in southern New Jersey after we’d played groupies and driven down to DC to follow a band we were all crushing on. I drove when I needed to. And certainly that wasn’t smart, but it also turned out okay. I’m not such a risk taker today, however. For all kinds of reasons.

I was annoyed to have failed my road test, but it didn’t make much of a difference in my high school life. There wasn’t any chance I was going to get a car. My parents couldn’t have afforded to give me one, and my babysitter pay wasn’t enough to get that job done, either. I could have retested, and I probably planned to do just that. Somehow that never, happened, however. There have been times I’ve regretted not being a legal driver — when my desire to have a motorcycle or learn to drive an 18-wheeler rears its head — but mostly I’m okay, and I’ve been fine relying on mass transit and the kindness of friends with cars and strangers willing to stop for a hitch hiker.¹

I’ve had a permit two times in my adult life, but I’ve never gotten serious about working up to take the test. I got the first permit in my late 20s so I could share the driving the summer some friends and I rented a house in the Hamptons. That was fun, as the car I got to drive was a Chevy Malibu convertible from the 70s! I got the second permit in my late 30s to have as an ID so I could stop carrying my passport around. I’m in my late 50s now (whoa! … that’s the first time I’ve said that!), and I haven’t had a permit in 20 years!

I’ve started thinking about getting a license. There are places I’d like to go (and places I’d like to live after I retire) where having/driving a car would be not only helpful but necessary. Some of the writing residencies I fantasize about applying to are pretty remote, and I’d have to get myself to and from.

So maybe, 40 years after driver’s ed, it’s time to take this driving thing a little more seriously!

__________
¹ Stay calm, my hitching days are long behind me, and I’m right here telling you this story, so you know I survived. It’s all good!


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Redux — Balm for Sadness Edition

I struggle through election cycles. So much rabid ugliness on casual display, so many times I am reminded how much I don’t matter to people to whom my life and well-being should matter. Sigh.

I didn’t want to post about all of that, however. At least not tonight. I wanted a distraction and the cosmos offered up a sweet one.

*

I used to think I didn’t like classical music. I didn’t understand anything about it and was made to feel ignorant, as if that was a door I wasn’t allowed to pass through.

I stayed away for a long time. But I secreted bits and pieces into my life – through choral music, through listing to WQXR on the DL. I started to be able to recognize certain composers … well, mostly just one composer, Dvořak. I started buying his music, perked up whenever Gregg Whiteside mentioned his name during my morning QXR fix. 

Listening to Whiteside helped me give myself permission to like classical music, to allow myself to be entirely ignorant and still like things I listened to. He was always so into it, so engaged, clearly enjoying his job, even the Alliance Française and Parliamo Italiano ads he read every morning. He made my secret explorations feel safe.

I have friends who are professional classical musicians. One, a violinist, was surprised by the classical pieces I listened to or was familiar with. She was particularly surprised by Dvořak, said his weren’t pieces she would expect a casual listener to like or be drawn to.

I’ve never been sure what to make of that. Aren’t we just drawn to whatever we’re drawn to? We hear something we like, we are moved by some combination of melody and instrumentation. We don’t make a choice, the sound and feeling choose us. 

 

I still don’t know anything. I mean, that’s not entirely true. I’ve played instruments, I sing. I know little bits of things about music in general and even smaller bits of things about classical music. But really I know nothing (me and Jon Snow). But I know when something strikes me, when something settles into my chest and thrums. That’s really all I need.

Thinking about this threshold I felt I couldn’t cross made me realize that I’d also closed the doors between myself and other kinds of music. There were the doors to jazz, to rap, to reggae. What the hell?

But was it really true? I listen to all of those “forbidden” things. Listen a LOT. So are the doors really closed? And, even though I listened to the music that was off limits, why was I hectoring myself about it, giving myself a hard time for having the audacity to take pleasure in something? How crazy is that?

 

Over time, I’ve allowed myself to be more comfortable with classical music, allowed myself to listen and enjoy and not have to “know” things, not have to do anything more complex than be moved by what I hear. A few years ago, I went to an Orpheus Chamber Orchestra concert at Carnegie Hall with my friend, Red Emma. The following year, I bought an Orpheus subscription, and two more subscriptions. Yes, me: totally embracing my love for classical music. In public.

I’ve since calmed down a bit and now have only two subscriptions — Orpheus and the Philadelphia Orchestra. 

I’ve written about my subscriptions before, hence the reason this post title is a repeat. An excellent thing happened today, though. I was thinking about all of this, my allowing myself to be comfortable with liking this music. And I thought about listening to Gregg Whiteside every morning before work. And it occurred to me to look him up, see what he was doing since he left QXR.

And what perfect thing should I find but that he’s in Philadelphia being the producer and anchor of the Philadelphia Orchestra shows on WRTI?! 

I’m sad today about some big, messy things in the world, but this bit of serendipitous joy helps, lets me believe the universe hasn’t turned her face from me after all.


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to.
Or … it’s not too late to join in!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

One Sappy Sucker … Get Over It

I posted on FB after watching Netflix’s new rom-com, Always Be My Maybe. I said I’d watched it, loved it, and was setting up to watch it again. This tiny bit of completely unimportant and fairly uninteresting information so concerned a friend of mine that she emailed me about it:

“Were you serious with that rom-com bullshit? I mean, you? Since when do you get into stupid shit like that? If you were making a joke, I think I get it, but maybe we can talk and clear this up.”

(She and I talked the following day and I let her know I was totally going to mock her in a blog post … and she isn’t exactly “cool” with that, but she knows, and I’m not using her name, and Anne Lamott said I own everything that’s happened to me, so …)

But, before I get to the mocking, however, I want to talk about the movie.

SPOILERS AHEAD!! DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!

Seriously, I am going to say stuff about this movie and other movies and if you don’t like spoilers, you should just stop reading now. Thanks for coming.

No, listen. I’m being for real. Spoilers.

You can scroll down to the next bit of big red text if you want to skip the spoilers and get right to my righteous anger, but you might see something as you scroll and then you’ll be pissed. Because … spoilers. This is your last warning.

So.

I knew I had a bias in favor of this movie from the moment I saw the teaser trailer. I like both lead actors (Ali Wong and Randall Park), and I loved that the movie was centered on POC. Even if it hadn’t turned out to be totally excellent, I was predisposed to be happy with it. So, total bonus that it’s super funny and clever and sweet and goofy and all that good rom-com stuff.

But let’s come back to the “centered on POC” part. To what I’m sure would be my friend’s horror, I love another Netflix romance offering: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (TATBILB). It’s entirely adorable and charming and the leads (Lana Condor and Noah Centineo) are winning and there’s the major perk of getting a little dose of John Corbett (Chris in the Morning!) for your money.

The book the movie is based on is by Jenny Han, and Lara Jean, the character Condor plays, is Asian American. I wouldn’t describe this movie as “centered on POC,” however, as Lara Jean and her sisters, along with one Black secondary character and one Black tertiary character are the only folk of color we see more than in passing. TATBILB is adorable, and I’m glad Han fought to keep Lara Jean Asian (studio execs wanted a whitewash).

Having Lara Jean fall in love with Peter Kavinsky — the cute, white dude-bro — isn’t exactly ground breaking. But having her Asianness be entirely a thing and yet not be a thing kind of is groundbreaking. White folks walk in the house and take off their shoes and there are no foolish comments or sight gags. When Peter tastes Kitty’s yogurt smoothie (from the Korean grocery), there’s no drama about its “foreignness.” It’s not “weird” food, it’s just something he’s trying for the first time. There’s no exoticizing of Lara Jean or her sisters.

Always Be My Maybe has some of these little touches. And then it has some excellent, more in-your-face bits, such as the fact of Marcus’s (Park’s character) band being called “Hello Peril.” The movie centers Asianness in ways that TATBILB doesn’t attempt. There are no white primary characters in Always. There’s a bit character who’s white, and there is, of course, Keanu Reeves (playing a ridiculously bizarre version of himself that is beyond fabulous), but that’s it. The absence of whiteness is a complete pleasure. When Daniel Dae Kim’s character starts dating someone else … she. isn’t. white!! He hooks up with Padma Lakshmi (because, hey, who wouldn’t?). When Marcus’ dad (played to beautiful, sweet-and-warm-hearted perfection by James Saito) starts dating someone, she’s not white!

This movie is steeped in non-whiteness, it is deeply, super-unapologetically-specifically Asian, and I am here for every second of it. There have already been plenty of wonderful reviews and think pieces from people who speak to this both better than I can and from lived experience. I definitely recommend reading those for a deeper dive. I will just say how much this movie pleased me.

Okay. That’s it for the spoilers.

Yes, spoilers are done … but my friend’s email and our conversation about it are still stuck in my teeth.

Her email is nuts. Let’s just be clear about that right up front. Nothing about the fact of my having watched Always Be My Maybe should inspire such a response. From anyone. Who the hell cares that I watch rom-coms? Seriously. Why should anyone care? And if you, for some unfathomable reason, do care … you shouldn’t care so much that you resort to colorful language … you shouldn’t care so much that you need the fact of my watching a Netflix movie “cleared up.” Maybe you thought I was made of stone, thought I’d rather claw out my own eyes then watch a romantic comedy. Okay, but would you ever need to react this strongly? If my ridiculous status makes you type the words, “maybe we can talk and clear this up,” the person needing to do some soul searching here is you. Also? It seems you’ve forgotten that I am in no way required to live my life based on any wacky notion about me that you hold.

More importantly, how has this woman been my friend for a significant amount of time and not figured out one of the most foundational truths about me: I am pathetically sappy and a total sucker for love stories. I love romantic comedies. Love them. Love them. LOVE. THEM. Are they all I watch? No, of course not. Do I spend all my time talking about them? Again, of course not. Have I watched every rom-com ever made? Hell no. But do I watch a fair number of them and enjoy them, including some of the ones that are contrived and trope-y and aggravatingly dated? Yeah, pretty much.

I am a big sappy sap. I own this. I wear it proudly. Okay, maybe not always “proudly.” I didn’t, for example, run around telling anyone that I was binge-rewatching TATBILB. I mean, it’s a teen rom-com, for heaven’s sake! But binge-rewatch I did. That movie is too adorable to leave alone.

When we spoke, I let my friend know that I found her email both ridiculous and annoying as fuck. Unsurprisingly, she was defensive in the face of my annoyance. She was so shocked by my displeasure that she felt compelled to explain herself.

The reason she couldn’t accept my rom-com love? She thought my time wasted on Always would have been better spent raging about racism and other injustices. It’s what I do, you see, what she expects from me, and how could I look away from the horrors of our world to lose unrecoverable moments on frivolous crap?

Yeah.

So here’s the thing. I do spend quite a bit of time raging about injustice. That really is something I do. Sure. But does that mean I can never experience joy or love or the appreciation of a cute baby dancing or a puppy falling into his food bowl? I mean, what the hell? Also, I don’t actually exist to perform my pain for other people’s edification or enjoyment. At least not all the time. And more also? What the fuck?

I talk a lot about my anger and often reference that moment in the first Avengers movie when Bruce Banner says he’s always angry. That remains true. I really am always angry. Even when I’m not actively or visibly raging, there is an ever-molten core of rage roiling in and through me. All. The. Time. Even when I cry over sappy commercials or laugh out loud at funny stories or enjoy the mess out of a clever and charming rom-com.

My friend, I almost don’t want to say, is a white woman. She is a white woman full of righteous, indignant anger and outrage at the state of the world. She also regularly posts pictures and stories about her beautiful child, pictures and stories of her enjoying vacations in sunny climes, pictures and stories of delicious meals she is about to consume. While she does click “like” on many of my rage-y posts, I have never actually seen her post anything rage-y, have never seen her post about the things she feels righteous indignation about … not even in the simplest form of sharing my or other folks’ righteously indignant posts.

All of this says to me that, in this woman’s worldview, she has the right to be casual in her activism but I don’t. She has the right to have pleasures in her life but I don’t. She can move through her world smiling but I can’t. I exist to keep my oppression and rage on display for her because her reading my words and clicking “like” is the farthest she is willing to go in acknowledging ugliness in the world. And if I step back from the precipice even for one evening, she somehow loses something … possibly her ability to think of herself as a good white lady.

I have no time for this and said as much when we talked. It was a prickly conversation, as you might imagine. She insisted she wasn’t saying I didn’t have the right to enjoy myself, she just worried because it seemed to her I was losing sight of “the goal.” I asked her what she thought the goal was, and she said, “your liberation.”

For real. My liberation. Which will obviously never be realized if I manage to experience any pleasure in my life. Of course. Ugh.

I asked her why it was okay for her to never post about the same things I post about, and she had no ready answer, seemed surprised by my question. I hope that the response in her head didn’t begin with, “But I’m not Black…” but I will admit that I have some strong suspicions about this.

I am not her only friend of color. I met her through a friend of color, and she seems pretty solid and comfortable in that woman’s close circle, which is almost all WOC. I wonder if she behaves this way with those women. I have to imagine she doesn’t. A few of those women would surely have come for her long before now. So why do it with me? Or maybe one of them has given her a sound reading, and her takeaway from that was to not say these things to them but to me? Well, I am definitely not the one … and, if she didn’t know, now she knows.

Sigh. I hope our friendship survives this, but I really don’t know. I hope our friendship survives, but I need her to acknowledge that she understands what was wrong with her perception of me and the way she’s been comfortable using me. And I need her to at least be on the up-slope of figuring that out before we talk again. Maybe that sounds harsh, but I can’t have that kind of toxicity so close to me.

I enthusiastically recommend watching Always Be My Maybe, even if you’re not a diehard romance lover. There’s just so much to appreciate there. It might just win you over. ❤


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

My phone knows.

I think my phone knows that I’ve pre-ordered the new model. This is the only way I can explain its sudden decision to stop sending texts when I ask it to, to stop charging when I plug it in, to stop letting me download pictures and documents.

I’ve had this phone a long time. The phone that will be arriving at my door in a few days is three generations newer. I was determined not to let a pesky thing like built-in obsolescence force me to buy a new phone every 12-18 months. Besides, my phone was working just fine. Or, mostly fine. Until it caught wind of my betrayal. Now it seems bound and determined to make me sorry in these last few days. Sigh.

And I am duly sorry. My old phone has served me well. So sure, I’m sorry … and really looking forward to unboxing the new model and setting it up. More storage and a better camera just in time for this year’s 24 Hour Project!

Is this new phone season for you, too? I’ll admit, I’d be more excited if the cost of a new phone wasn’t practically the same as my rent!


It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

original-slicer-girlgriot

I like lists.

In the long saga of my attempts to better organize my day-to-day and get stuff done, I have fallen into the well of the Bullet Journal.  I first learned about this organizational tool at the start of 2017 when I participated in the 52essays2017 nonfiction writing challenge. One of the participants posted a photo of the spread she’d made in her bullet journal to track her week to week progress in the challenge. I didn’t try it right away, but then gave it a shot a few months later. It worked and didn’t work, and I let it got for a while, tried again, let it go again. I read blogs, spent much too much time on Google images looking at other people’s journal pages, priced all manner of colorful pens and washi tape on Amazon … even though I wasn’t a very good bullet journaler, I was ready to fully dive into having all the pretty tools. Thank goodness I managed to control my stationery store shopping urges. My budget couldn’t have handled all of that!

Last fall, after many months of not trying to be a bullet journaler, I decided to try it again. I was a lot kinder to myself this time around — not shaming myself for not creating spectacularly creative decorations and fancy layouts for my pages, just making my lists and trying to get stuff done.

It’s definitely working better this time. I have always been a list-maker, and that’s really the heart of this method for me. And having all my lists in one place is wonderful. I’ve nixed all of the kinds of trackers I tried out in the past and have settled on a very simple list of goals for the month, and quick look ahead to the next three months in case there are things I’m supposed to be planning for, and a tracker for which days I’ve done some writing and what I worked on.

I did give in last month and buy a set of disposable fountain pens (12 colors!), and my seriousness about keeping the journal has, of course, meant that I’ve purchased many new notebooks, but there are worse things I could have too many of. Aren’t there?

I don’t know how long this go-round as a bullet journaler will last, but five months (and counting) is already more than twice as long as I was able to sustain the effort any of the other times I tried it. And I can see that I am doing a better job of getting stuff done, now that I have it all written down. It’s not magic or anything — there are plenty of list items that go undone, that stare out of the page mockingly as I copy them from one day’s tasks to the next — but it kind of is, too. It’s why I’ve always loved making lists. The concreteness of having things on paper, the satisfaction of checking off the done items.

It’s working, and that’s really all that matters. I will leave the gorgeous, artistic pages to people who have those skills, and I’ll just keep making my list and checking them … as many times as it takes to get the job done.

Have any of you tried bullet journaling? What’s your success been like? Any tips to share? If you’re not a bullet journal fan, what’s your task organization tool?


It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

original-slicer-girlgriot

A Writerly Obsession

At my first for-real job, I was a bookkeeper. “For-real job” means the first job I took with the intention of doing the job for more than a minute, the first job that wasn’t simply a way to finance my next vacation – though I didn’t stay there over-long, and it did finance some vacations.

I kept the financial records of a small professional organization. Real work, not the paper pushing I’d done in my previous job. I can’t imagine anything I could have said in my interview that would have inspired anyone to offer me that position. I didn’t know the first thing about being a bookkeeper … and I wouldn’t have tried to gloss over that fact, as it never occurred to me that possessing the necessary job skills was … you know … necessary.

I was trained by the woman who’d been the works-when-she-feels-like-coming-in part time bookkeeper. Let’s call her Edith. She was a bored lady of leisure, childhood girlfriends with the director of the organization. She had stepped in to help out a couple of days a week. Then the organization had grown, and part time was no longer enough time, but she had no interest in working every day. She was in her mid-forties, and casually glamorous. I remember loving her wedding ring — it was a broad gold band, a crowd of people standing hand-in-hand and arm-in-arm.

The organization’s records were kept in the kind of old-fashioned ledgers I’d only seen in movies. They were awkwardly big. I remember them as enormous, but they were most likely legal size. Thick, hard, cloth covers with leather-wrapped corners, bound on the short end with metal peg-and-clamp fasteners. Edith handled them carefully, as if the slightest jostling might shake the ink loose.

The desk was like any desk, but instead of a chair, there was a tall stool, a backless barstool. And when it was time to teach me how to keep the records, Edith opened the top desk drawer and pulled out a fountain pen.

The pen was an old one, a Parker. The pen may still exist, but I couldn’t find it when I searched. The Parker Vector is similar in cost, so it may be the modern version of my ledger pen. My pen had a silver cap and a dark-but-transparent blue barrel, and it took cartridges.

I’d never used a fountain pen, so Edith gave me a crash course in pen use and maintenance. She gave me the location of the one store she knew of that sold the ink cartridges, showed me what I now know to describe as the nib’s flexibility. And she showed me how to “erase” any errors: lick the corner of your Pink Pearl eraser and rub gently until you’ve worn away enough of the paper that you can write over your mistake. Natch!

And then we got into the books. Edith was patient, never once her losing her mind with anger at my inability to learn even one thing about keeping those books. Because really, I didn’t learn a damn thing. My training ended, and Edith was gone, and I was on my own. I sat on my high stool and leaned way down over my ledger and played at bookkeeping.

And I followed Edith’s rule and used the Parker only for the ledger. And, when that pen died, I didn’t do the perfectly reasonable thing and pick up a ballpoint and get back to work. No. I went out and bought a new Parker. It never occurred to me to use any other pen.

At the turn of the quarter, the accountant came. I handed over my ledgers with pride. I was a little cocky, thought I was doing the job. The accountant took my books into the conference room and sat behind closed doors for a couple of hours. Then he called me in to review.

The accountant, David, was a lovely man – older, stocky, Jewish, with a gentle voice, kind eyes and beautiful wavy silver hair. We chatted for a while. It was our first time meeting, and he wanted us to get to know each other. As our chat wound down, he asked what I’d studied in college. I gave what had already become my standard airy, dismissive wave and smile and said, “French and photography. I know! It’s the perfect training for my job!”

We laughed, and he repeated my answer. “French and photography. I knew it couldn’t have been accounting.”

I won’t lie: I was more than a little surprised. Something was wrong with my books? My precious ledgers weren’t perfect?

David, because he actually was a lovely, kind man, spent the better part of the afternoon giving me a crash course in accounting. Most important and most mind-blowing takeaway? The grand totals of my rows and columns had to match! No, seriously, that was the whole concept of balancing the books.

French and photography. Right.

With David’s patient help, I got to be as good at my job as cocky-first-quarter-me had imagined she was. I stayed in touch with David. We exchanged Hannukah and Christmas cards for several years after I left that organization. Whenever I got a new job, he was sure to ask how my French and photography were helping me out.

Most of that is not my point. I just couldn’t resist telling that story.

The first of my two actual points was about Edith’s set-up for this job: the old-school ledgers, the high stool, the fountain pen. It was as if she thought her job was an audition to play Bob Cratchett.

I liked it, that’s true enough, but it was hardly normal, and it certainly wasn’t necessary. Ledgers had moved into the modern era years before. Everyone in the organization had a desk chair. She could have kept the books with a regular pen. Her insistence on using the fountain pen for the ledger when she used a workaday Bic for everything else was just odd – except in the context of her playing the part of bookkeeper in a period play.

Edith’s random oddities are responsible for my second and more important point: my introduction to fountain pens! She planted the seed. My bookkeeping job made me familiar and comfortable with fountain pens. And today, I own many too many, so many that I probably need an intervention.

After my stint with the books, I didn’t find my way back to fountain pens for three or four years. I was in Kate’s Paperie and found myself at the pen counter, practically drooling over the loveliness under the glass. I went back to the same pen again and again. The saleswoman, clearly sensing that I needed only the gentlest of nudges to turn me from a looker to a buyer, inked the display pen and let me write a few lines to see how it felt. Well, of course, it felt wonderful. Smooth across the notepad she’d placed in front of me. Clean, thick line – not bold but assertive. I walked out with that pen, a black-with-gold-trim Pelikan M250 – piston-filled, thick but lightweight, logo at the end of the cap.

Pelikan M250

I was reading Natalie Goldberg then, my first go-round with Writing Down the Bones. So I was doing a lot of writing, filling pages, filling notebooks. And the Pelikan was an excellent companion on that journey, so fluid my words spilled out effortlessly across all those pages.

A year later, I was back in Kate’s buying a ridiculously over-priced birthday gift for my new love (the start of my saga with The Morphine Man) — a gorgeous hand-bound notebook with a birch bark cover and thick, ultra-smooth, creamy paper. A notebook like that deserved a fine writing implement, so I moved slowly down the gleaming pen case until I found a deep green Waterman – slender but heavy, it’s green a dark, marbled resin. I bought it for The Morphine Man … but I knew before I got home that it was really for me. And so it was. (He loved the notebook. Was none the wiser about the pen.)

I used to think pens were necessary, disposable, interchangeable tools. If you lost one, you picked up a new one and moved on. I had favorites – the Pilot Precise rollerball was a particular love – but I wasn’t attached to any pen. The Pelikan changed that. I have only lost one pen in the 30 years since I bought that Pelikan. One. And I agonized over that loss, still occasionally kick myself over my carelessness and hope the person who found my gorgeous Levenger True Writer Kyoto took good care of it and wrote well with it.

And my handwriting has changed. It was never truly terrible — despite the bad penmanship marks I got in grade school — but it is definitely nicer now. This seemed a strange fact at first, but then, the last year that I was teaching, my students helped me solve the mystery. One of the goals that bubbled up at the start of the year was that a lot of the younger students wanted to improve their handwriting. No one had ever asked about good handwriting before. I started researching … and writing with a fountain pen was one of the top recommendations. It was all about ease of ink flow eliminating the need to exert force with the pen, allowing the writer to loosen their grip and write more comfortably.

I bought a set of student pens and gave a little tutorial on how to hold it, how to write with it. No one had every used a fountain pen, and most hadn’t noticed that I always wrote with one. We had a lot of discussion about that. Sadly, I’d been writing with a fountain pen for so long at that point, I had no “before” examples, no pre-fountain writing to show the difference.

My students thought the pens were funny, and the novelty made encouraged practice. Not everyone stuck with it, but the ones who did saw that their writing changed. And they noticed, as I had after switching to fountain pens, that they could write for longer periods of time without their hands hurting. I wonder if they stuck with fountains long enough to see their hands change, too. The tip of the middle finger on my right hand used to have an ugly, rough, half-callused indentation. It doesn’t anymore.

That year of Bob Cratchett playacting had quite the long-term effect. I don’t actually know how many fountain pens I own – I’ll make a conservative guess and say four dozen. Sailors, Esterbrooks, Pilots, Platinums, Pelikans, and any number of other brands, big names and unknowns, fancy and expensive, and three-dollar beauties. It’s fair to say I have a pen problem, but there are far worse vices, so I give myself a pass.

I wonder what made Edith choose that Parker, why she didn’t keep the ledgers with whatever pen was on hand. Was it really about the choice to turn her work into a game – setting herself up like a Dickensian clerk on her high stool with her tiny numbers noted down on those wide green “eye-ease” sheets? Whatever her game, I’m grateful to her. I’d surely have been introduced to fountain pens eventually, but maybe by that future time, I’d have been so entrenched in my writing habits, complete with a favorite pen, that fountains would have been just an interesting curiosity. Edith and her Parker came along at the exact right moment!


(The pen in my GriotGrind image is my perfect little Sailor pocket pen. I have a crazy number of pocket pens, mostly Platinums and Pilot Elites, but my Sailor with it’s excellent blue-black ink is a go-to fave!)

In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.