Throwing Away My Shot

I’ve known for a few months now that I was going to have a chance to shoot a free throw on the court at Madison Square Garden. Part of the reason I bought my tickets was that free throw. The idea of standing on that court where I’d watched so many games, where I’d seen so many great players, was too good to resist.

So I knew … but I didn’t do anything to get ready for that moment. Instead, I spent most of my time thinking of ways to get out of having to take the shot. I had no illusions, was entirely certain that I would miss the basket by a fairly large margin. I was mostly concerned about embarrassing myself in front of the dozens of people who’d be on the court with me.

Last night was the game, Knicks v. Pistons. I haven’t been to a professional basketball game in a long time, and it was fun to be there, fun to remember my long-ago history of being an avid fan, of traveling to games as a teenager, of shouting myself hoarse, of my favorite cheers from high school, of following NCAA games with my sister … of having the Knicks break my heart every year, and Patrick never getting his championship ring.

The Knicks came through last night, however, winning 96 to 84. That was satisfying.

It was also clouded by my growing nerves about the foul shot moment that was fast approaching. It came, it went. And no one’s blowing up my phone trying to sign me for a WNBA contract. (heh)

I worried that I wouldn’t get the ball anywhere near the net, pretty sure that I don’t have the upper body strength or the awareness of what to do with my body to propel the ball correctly. Yeah, right on all counts. Mine was one of the more glorious whiffs of the night, at least in my eyes. Alas.

There was this shining moment, however, when I looked like I might actually know what I’m doing:

Foul Shot_3-8-20

The ball felt good in my hands — light, manageable, small and tossable. I had a brief flicker of, “Maybe … ”

And three seconds later it was the walk of shame off the court to get my coat and get out. Sigh.

I have other talents. And it’s good to remind myself of them in moments like this.


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

Sing a song of … safety?

I am managing not to freak out about COVID 19 … yet. Today, my governor declared a state of emergency, but I haven’t done any stockpiling, and I won’t. Mostly this is true because I am supremely bad at disaster prep. When I was in Jamaica ahead of a Category 4 hurricane aimed right at the part of the island where I was staying, I didn’t even think about doing any shopping until someone on the street asked me if I had what I needed. I went to the store then … and purchased not much of anything: a candle, a bottle of water, a few snacks, some rice and saltfish, a bottle of wine. That was it.

But I’m also not stockpiling because I don’t think it’s necessary — maybe not at all, but certainly not just yet. (Fingers crossed that the cosmos doesn’t decide to show me just how wrong I am to believe that.) I have a regular grocery delivery coming on Monday, and that should be fine.

I have, however, begun paying more attention to handwashing, to the time I spend scrubbing my hands. I couldn’t bear to sing “happy birthday” every time I washed my hands, though. Fortunately, the internet provides. There are several lists circulating that offer up other things you can sing that will carry you through 20 seconds of washing. That won me over. While there were plenty of songs on the lists that I don’t know or know well enough to sing all the way through the designated section, the moment I saw the refrain to Prince’s “Raspberry Beret,” I knew I’d found my timer.

You could, of course, sing anything. And tonight I started thinking of other bits of songs to use for when I want I sing about something other than “the kind you find in a secondhand store.” A few options:

  • “Amie,” Pure Prairie League — final refrain or just the “falling in and out of love” part
  • “Sweet Baby James,” James Taylor — refrain
  • “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” Rodgers and Hart — the opening verse that most people don’t sing, or the “he’s a fool and don’t I know it,” part
  • “Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” Jim Croce — the verse, my particular choice would be the one when Slim comes on the scene
  • “Desafinado” or “Off-Key,” Antonio Carlos Jobim — any of the verses, in Portuguese or English
  • “Águas de Março,” Antonio Carlos Jobim — first verse

Okay, I’ll stop. My point is that it’s easy to sing for 20 seconds. It’s easy to sing a whole lot longer, and if washing our hands while we do it will help keep us and our loved ones and people around us safe, it’s time to queue up the tunes and get to singing!

Let us all sing,
it’s good for almost anything.
It’s good for musty, dusty throats
to let out gusty, lusty notes.
It’s good for people, frogs, and goats
to open up and sing!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5I3pN_9XAY

 


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

Into the Woods

Earlier tonight I read a post by another Slice of Life Story Challenge writer. It was about getting lost in the woods. And it reminded me of a moment during my writing retreat last fall when I, too, got lost in the woods.

I will say up front that, in the moment, it felt less like I got lost and more like the woods tried to absorb me. It wasn’t a good feeling.

In September, I went upstate for two gorgeous and glorious weeks at an artists residency. I had a beautiful studio, a lovely view, gourmet meals, four amazing artists and writers to share my dinners and down time with. It was heaven.

There is a small wooded area behind the house where I stayed. “Small,” in that it doesn’t stretch on for hundreds of miles or something dramatic like that, but large in comparison to my day-to-day encounter with woods. As a child, I spent my summers in the Adirondack mountains. I was in the woods every day and felt entirely happy and comfortable there. I have spent the last 30-plus years in this huge, clattering city, and my time spent in the woods would be … nil.

Add to that what I’ve realized is a creeping dread I’ve developed when it comes to the woods, a dread that has formed slowly enough for me not to notice it until it was suddenly in my chest, fully formed.

But I was determined to go for a walk in the woods. We’d been told there were two trails, a red trail and a blue trail. We’d been told that the blue trail was the better maintained, easier trail (this turned out to be 100 percent not true). We’d been told that there were blazes painted on the trees and we just had to keep an eye out. Yep.

20190919_090409

That picture is the trailhead. See the nice arrows pointing toward the blue trail and the red trail? See how easy this walk in the woods was going to be?

The moment I entered the woods, I questioned the wisdom of my decision to head out, alone, without telling anyone I was going into the woods. I didn’t turn back. I set out on the blue trail because I am not brave in the woods. The blue trail immediately disappeared: path completely overgrown, not a single visible blaze after the first one. So I turned back and stopped at the trailhead and decided to take a chance on the red trail, the steeper trail that would be harder to follow.

I follow the blazes — so much easier to find than on the blue trail — and walked along trying hard to convince myself that I had no reason to be getting a stomach ache over being alone in the woods. I followed the blazes and started up a small hill. I saw a blaze ahead of me, and another a ways ahead of that tree in front of me, but I stopped walking. I stopped because I wanted to listen to a bird song I’d never heard before. It was a strange, almost hollow sound, and I looked up to see if I might spot the singer. I stopped in my tracks. I didn’t turn around. I just stopped walking. I looked up into the trees, but didn’t see what bird might be sending out that strange hollow call. So I stopped looking up at the trees. I brought my gaze down …

And there were no blazes on any of the trees in front of me. Not one.

I pretended to be calm about it. I took a few steps forward, telling myself that the blaze I’d seen would, of course, magically appear once I was closer to the tree. Of course that didn’t happen. There was nothing on that tree or any of the others.

I turned around to walk back … but I couldn’t find any blazes on any of the trees behind me, either. I walked back to where I’d looked up for the bird then tried to walk back out on a different route. No blazes, and the path I was walking was totally unfamiliar. I went back up to the spot where I’d stopped for the bird then tried again to get back out of the woods. No blazes and the path I was walking was not the path I’d walked in either of the other attempts at escape, nor was it the path I’d walked to get up to that point on the hill.

The thing was, I knew I wasn’t even ten minutes from my door, knew that the woods would clear somewhere very near where I was standing. But I was pretty certain I wasn’t getting out of those woods.

Okay, so here I am writing about my experience, so you know I got out. I stood on the trail for a while, refusing to go back up the hill only to find myself on another wrong path. Finally, I saw a tree whose half-fallen branches I had fought my way past on the way up the hill. And I could see the path running in front of that tree. I pushed and shoved my way through an overgrown area to get to the tree, refusing to walk back up the path and think I could find the way to walk down to that tree.

When I reached the tree … I no longer saw the path. I’m not kidding. But I did see another tree I remembered and cut across some more overgrown business to get to that tree. And then I found the path and found my way back to the trailhead and got my citified self out of those woods.

20190919_093144

This is the entrance to the woods. Doesn’t it look like the entrance to a magical kingdom? Yeah. Magical. Kind of like the Hotel California.

__________

You can read the not-at-all-creepy post that inspired this memory here.

And you can read my retelling of other times I’ve been lost in the woods:
Into the Woods, Part 2
Into the Woods, Part 3
Into the Woods, Part 4
Into the Woods, Part 5 (the final part)


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.

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.