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.

A Transitional Point

Tonight’s poem isn’t a poem at all. Between my heightened level of exhaustion, some really unpleasant drama that’s kicking off in my life, and my inability to find a suitable news story, I have taken a foolish turn.

Yes, that’s right, I decided to work with an article from The Onion.

No. Really. And the results are … well … ridiculous.

A Transitional Point
(An erasure of some silliness from The Onion.)

Acknowledging
that uncomfortable stage
where no one cares
stuck in a transitional point —
no longer cute
physically and mentally
useless —
this rough patch
is way too long
and adds no value whatsoever.

That is, truly, the best I can do tonight. I guess I am the one who’s at an “uncomfortable stage.” Alas.


It’s National Poetry Month! Every year, I choose a specific form and try to write a poem a day in that form. This year, I am trying erasure poems and I want to use news articles as my source texts. I’ve practiced a few times, and it’s already feeling difficult! We’ll see how it goes.

Here’s an edited version of the Wiki definition of this form:
Erasure Poetry: a form of found poetry created by erasing words from an existing text in prose or verse and framing the result on the page as a poem. Erasure is a way to give an existing piece of writing a new set of meanings, questions, or suggestions. It lessens the trace of authorship but requires purposeful decision making. What does one want done to the original text? Does a gesture celebrate, denigrate, subvert, or efface the source completely? One can erase intuitively by focusing on musical and thematic elements or systematically by following a specific process regardless of the outcome.
Also, Robert Lee Brewer at Writer’s Digest has some good points to add about ethics and plagiarism:
Quick note on ethics: There is a line to be drawn between erasure poems and plagiarism. If you’re not erasing more than 50% of the text, then I’d argue you’re not making enough critical decisions to create a new piece of art. Further, it’s always good form to credit the original source for your erasures.

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Washington International School

Yes, we have no ageism today.

I stopped at a bodega on my way home tonight. The man behind the counter asked me some silly question, and my answer let him know that women my age don’t get up to such nonsense. He looked stricken.

“Dear lady,” he said, “don’t say that. You are beautiful. Believe me.”*

???

Because you know, in my book, my being middle-aged does not in any way impact the fact of my beauty. I told him as much, said I was well aware that I’m beautiful, that I had simply been pointing out that I am also old.

Again, he had the stricken face, told me not to speak so harshly about myself.

“No,” I said. “This isn’t harsh. I embrace every minute of my age. I am totally fine with being exactly the age I am.”

He just stared at me. He couldn’t process my comfort with myself, so he gave me three bananas for free. Seriously. He insisted I take them.

This is all ridiculous, of course. Both his part in this conversation and mine. I’m sad for him that he equates age with loss of beauty. But it’s also true that a large part of my comfort with my age is the fact that I know I don’t actually look my age. If I were truly comfortable, I’d say goodbye to my henna and let my silver tresses glisten in the sun. I don’t. (I thought I’d do it when I turned 50. Now I’m telling myself I should wait until I’m 60. Yeah, we’ll see what happens.)

___
* Also, no one can really use that “Believe me” anymore, can they? Now that Trump says it to punctuate every bit of bullshit he spews, it no longer has any meaning. I hear that and the first thing that comes to mind is: “Believe you? Are you kidding?”

(And also, I hope you see what I did there with my title and the free fruit …)


original-slicer-girlgriot

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3½ hours …

That’s how long until I’ll be hitting the street — off to midtown Manhattan to meet my friend and compatriot crazy person, Raivenne, and get started on the 2018 edition of the 24 Hour Project! I’ve got a cold and should be staying home, but I am incapable of resisting this challenge. I put myself to bed at 1:30 this afternoon so I could sleep a nice eight hours and be bright eyed and bushy-tailed for the midnight-to-six run. As if.

What I discovered is that sleeping the afternoon away in this apartment is a challenge of another kind. Just the way the moon woke me up with it’s bright-bright-brightness through my bedroom window the first night I slept in this place, the 4:30 sun was having none of my sleep-the-day-away foolishness. It made me laugh, but it also means I’m going into this night with only 3 hours of sleep. Not ideal.

But … going in I am. Me and a legion of other folks. There are nearly 4,000 people across  more than 1,200 cities and almost 160 countries signed up to participate this year! I’ll be doing my usual thing of writing tiny stories to go with each of my photos. You can follow my progress from midnight to midnight by checking me out on instagram (or in the sidebar of this page), or on FB if we’re friends there.

I’m off!

When all else fails … blue-footed boobies.

Again with the too-tired-to-think. In lieu of thinking, I will string together random, unrelated things, call it a pot pourri post and be done. Given how tired I’ve been this month, it’s a wonder there haven’t been more of these! Here goes:

Today, someone tried to goad me into an argument, and I was a) able to see that fairly quickly, and b) frustrate them by refusing to rise to the bait. I need to remember this — and remember how to do it — in the future.

Because of some silliness a friend posted on FB, I realized that my name — when the letters are alphabetized — is Aceist. For some reason, this pleased me. I like the idea of it, like I’m really into aces. This nonsense is less clever-feeling with my middle name, which turns into AAIICPRT and sounds not at all like a name, or a title, or something with actual meaning.

I am in my mom’s house (because tomorrow is Fox’s birthday, so I’ve come down to celebrate!), and the World Wildlife Fund calendar in front of me has for this month a picture of a Blue-Footed Booby in the midst of the bow-curtsy move they make when trying to attract mates.

And seeing that picture of the Booby inspired me to go look up Blue-Footed Boobies, which meant I went down the rabbit hole of watching video after video of this cuties, which is why I know that the photo is of the mating ritual. I watched a silly video about Boobies and now I’m a bona fide expert.

Tonight, instead of Boobies, I have my mother’s dog and my brother’s dog to keep me company. I miss my cats, but it’s always nice to have some dog time.

I think that’s all I can manage. Enjoy the Boobies. They’ve got a lot more to offer tonight than I do!

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aboutgalapagos.nathab.com

It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

Pour me a cold one?

Maybe I’ve been indulging in Thirst Aid Kit more than I should? I don’t know, but …

For weeks now, my PT routine has been Tuesdays with Jared and Fridays with Jeremy. Occasionally Yu-Lan has been slotted in on Fridays if Jeremy wasn’t able to see me, but mostly I’ve been Jared and Jeremy, Jared and Jeremy. (It’s been interesting working with different therapists. They have different styles, different things they do with my arm, different ways of talking about what’s going on with my arm. I feel as if I’m getting more from my sessions by having more than one therapist.)

On Tuesdays when I get to the PT gym, Jeremy is there, getting in a workout before his shift starts. He smiles and waves, sometimes salutes, as I head for the changing room, then gets back to work.

When I first wrote about Jeremy, I mentioned that, while I can see that people would find him attractive, he’s not the kind of attractive that does it for me. My favorite of the PT boys — because they are all ridiculously young — was Daniel, who turned my head by looking like Takeshi Kaneshiro. Jeremy is a little too BMOC jock dude-bro. Not a type I go for. He has a big, overtly-muscular body, also not a type I go for.

In these last weeks I’ve discovered that I am, in fact, a liar. That it’s my burning pants setting off the smoke detectors in here.

Seeing Jeremy working out has been a revelation. Seeing sweaty Jeremy post-workout on his way to shower … well … yes.

(Yes, I do feel 100 percent inappropriate!)

This morning, I discovered that I am not alone. I was sitting under a giant ice pack as one does after a session. Jeremy came down for his shower, and the woman beside me expressed disappointment that she’d have to wait for her own shower. Yu-Lan told her not to worry, that Jeremy would be quick. She looked at Jeremy for confirmation, and he nodded.

“I just need a few minutes,” he said. “I have no hair.”

And the woman — surely involuntarily, surely without thinking about how it would look to the rest of us — ran her eyes down his body. Slowly. Yu-Lan, Jeremy, and I burst out laughing.

“On my head!” Jeremy said, still laughing. “On my head! Everyone: get your minds out of the gutter!”

Yeah.

The woman was younger than I am, maybe in her mid-forties? After Jeremy ducked into the shower room, she shrugged. “What’s the point of filtering?” she asked. “I’ve lived long enough to see that censoring myself hasn’t gotten me  anywhere. Men  certainly don’t worry about filters!”

I nodded. Yu-Lan laughed and gave a thumbs up.

This doesn’t mean I’ll be showing up at Friday PT sessions with my nose wide open. As if. It did make for an an amusing start to my Tuesday, however. And it’s interesting to see that — given the proper circumstances — a type of guy I didn’t find attractive can suddenly look like a tasty treat!


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

The Cure for Cranky

I was a bit off this morning. Wrong side of the bed and all that. Listening to music wasn’t working to snap me out of it, so I scrolled through my podcast subscriptions … and found the answer: Buzzfeed’s Thirst Aid Kit! Bim and Nichole make me laugh, make me blush, make me shake my head in wonder. I don’t always agree with their thirst object choices, but I love everything they have to say about those choices. If you want a good laugh, a quality pick-me-up on a cold, cranky morning, these ladies might have just what you need. They certainly did the trick for me today, sent me out of the house with a smile on my face and some residual giggles in the back of my throat.

(Fair warning: this podcast isn’t for the excessively prim, the overly faint of heart, the easily scandalized … and it’s definitely NSFW and not to be played when young children are in the room!)


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!