I’m going to admit right now that I’m unable to resist organizing tools, paper products, and writing utensils. I particularly like notebooks, and binders, especially ones from other countries. And in the last ten years I’ve become quite involved with colorful plastic sleeves, file folders with nice graphics and sheet protectors. I own more cartridges for my fountain pen than one woman can use in a lifetime, especially a woman who writes mostly with a computer. I should mention that these items are completely unused, stored up for a day when I might need a file folder with a really nice graphic of an antique map on it. So far, that day has not come.
Today, rooting around in my office for an envelope, one of the few paper products I’m not obsessive about, I came across a stash of plastic sleeves. Near it were six German pencil sharpeners. Behind them on a shelf were several more boxes of staples than you’d find in my office in the City, where I actually staple things with some regularity.
I felt uneasy. I wanted to hide this stuff, disavow the woman who’d piled up these things. I’ve felt this before. In fact, I feel it almost every time I go into my office which might be why I write either downstairs at our dining room table, or in a cafe. Beyond thinking I just need more time to tackle cleaning this stuff up and putting it to use, I’ve never really tried to understand why it all makes me feel sort of bad.
What I do know, though, is that I’m not the only person who does this. And so, on the chance that others have this issue, I’ve formed a theory about why those writing objects make me unhappy and an Action Plan.
First, the Theory. You will have guessed it already. Unlike me, you have not been avoiding thinking about this. Here it is: Those objects make me uneasy because every one of them represents a failure to write. Empty folders, unused binders, pencils that have never been sharpened: they’re about silence. I’ve replaced words I might have written with their receptacles, with something that cannot ever speak. I suspect I’ve fetishized the tools of writing, particularly the containers for it, because I find the act of writing itself something that can’t be contained, and something I’m a little afraid of. There might be more here, having to do with consumerism and materialism. More can certainly be said. This is a theory, in its beginning stages, after all.
But the way I know I’m on to something is that I didn’t buy a single one of these things to actually put a finished piece of writing in. Or even to begin a new project with. That’s why they’re unused. They’re not for writing. They’re for not writing. They’re un-writing tools. They are not tools I need right now, or ever. Not if I’m going to finish a novel this summer, which is my hope.
My Action Plan? First, rather than organizing my many notebooks, pens and folders (and, possibly, acquiring some system to keep them organized, a system I do not need), I went for a hike this morning up the beautiful Claremont Canyon behind my house. Next, I went to a café without internet access and wrote (well, I made myself available to write) for several hours. I brought the one tool I don’t fetishize, possibly because I can’t afford to. That’s my laptop. The one I have and love (an ibook G4) is going to last me a really long time. In the last year, I’ve used it so much I’ve worn the letters off the keyboard. I pound on it, produce things with it, gossip with my friends over it, look up recipes with it.
My head cleared by steps one and two, I saw that my laptop and a printer are all I need to function as a writer, beyond a community of like-minded people. (I’m talking to all of you, by the way.) Okay, maybe also one three ring binder to put my chapters in. A few pencils and a notebook. But that’s it. Really. The rest can just…. go.
To show you how serious I am about this last part of my action plan, I have an offer for you. Perhaps you, Dear Reader, are in actual need of a snazzy file folder, a notebook, a nice pencil, pencil sharpeners and/or colorful plastic sleeves. If so, email me your address. Any and all of it is yours. When my digital camera comes home tonight (my husband took it today), I’ll even post some pictures. (Note added later: Husband says taking pictures of stationery items I want to give people steps over some line. Encourages me to enter ten step program around that.) I’ll mail the stationery item(s) to you straight away. In return, you simply have to promise to USE these things and report back here that you’ve done that. Pictures would be nice. Deal?