Writing Fetishes

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?


32 thoughts on “Writing Fetishes

  1. While my inner hoarder says “ME! Pick ME1” I have to say I have enough of my own stuff. I collect pens, coffee cups and keyrings. I don’t drink coffee, I don’t write much, and I don’t drive.

    The coffee cups are going to be donated to church (well, some of them) and I’ve stopped buying keychains. But the pens will remain mine. Because I do use them for work. But I don’t have that many — maybe two dozen or so.

    I have recently started reusing an older camera of mine that went by the wayside in 2003. (Right about the time I came back from visiting you.) I’ve taken about 600 pictures with it in the last month.

    I also resolve to actually *use* my assorted notebooks. You will notice I didn’t mention those in my list of obesssions. 🙂

  2. too late! I’ve already selected a really fine German pencil sharpener just for you and it will arrive in your house before you can take evasive action. Use it to sharpen those colored pencils the girls use for drawing. And don’t forget, you must submit a report, complete with photos taken on that reused camera (yay sue!) for all to see. Love, L

  3. Haha. Good post. My only folders are filled with writings. The entire one hundred year history of the planet Havare. 😉 I could use some of those folders.

  4. She bangs gavel. SOLD to the man with his head in the clouds, Dr. Gonzo, the esteemed astronomist.  Whispering rustles through the crowd and necks crane as people try to see the man who scored this fabulous find.

    Dr. Gonzo stands and bows, looking sharp in the tuxedo he always wears to auctions of fine art and file folders with neat maps of the ancient world on them.

    Email me your address, and they’re on their way. (my email is lilyhamrick@earthlink.net)

    PS:  And don’t forget, we want to know what you put in the folders.  A link would be fine.  A picture would be amazing.

  5. Darn, I knew I shouldn’t have mailed you that card. 🙂

    They’ll love a pencil sharpener. We did the drawing thing for a winter craft a few years ago along with rubber stamping.

    Each year I try and find a project to do that doesn’t involve the computer. I wonder what it will be this year. This last winter it was digital scrapbooking. Yeah, a computer craft.. I was regressing.

  6. Haha – this is so recognizable!
    When I moved to London 4 months ago I had to empty my appartment in Denmark and all those empty notebooks, and a number of pens you could supply a whole city with for 10 years, (and loads of other stuff) went to a charity shop. It felt like a relief to get rid of it all.
    The problem is that I already have bought several new and empty ones, because London is notebook heaven and I am an incurable notebook addict (they need to have rings though).

    We do have in common that writing in a/The Cafe is inspiring and good, but I always write on paper (only a pencil will do – so why do I buy all those pens??) when I am out (and not on my computer), so some of them actually do get used, but not in the tempo I am buying them in.

    To make a long story short, thanks for the kind offer, but my shrink says I have to say no. 🙂

  7. Ingrid, I suddenly see what we all have in common (perhaps not the incomparable Dr. Gonzo) — we have too much stuff! Now, are you absolutely sure a nice German pencil sharpener…. No, I won’t do that. It’s not right to push stationery objects in the direction of someone who’s been cured, someone who is not in need.

    By the way, I remember from something you wrote that your Cafe is in danger of closing. Any news about that?

  8. About the pencilsharpener – I asked, but Davy says no, and you know what that means .

    The Cafe, yes closure is threathening according to one of the waiters, but he didn’t really know all the ins and outs. So some time soon (this weekend maybe) I will go for a cup of tea (with milk) and ask the owner, he probably knows more. I really really hope that they survive and stay open. It is the place for writing, and it is a very important place for me personally.

  9. Wah! I love stationery! I tend to “save” mine which of course is not the same as not using it, ahem. Japan was the worst place for me to live because it is Stationery Capital of the Universe, I spent a fortune. Australia is safer, so long as I don’t go into Borders. I had a big clear out before the baby arrived and was shocked at how much stationery I had accumulated. I have a terrible habit of writing one sentence in a notebook then discarding it. So I vowed not to buy stationery again, which I have sort of stuck to. My first instinct is to say: “Yes, please! Send me some of your stationery!” but this is a habit I too have to kick…

  10. BL you are a pip.

    I would love one of those German pencil sharpeners and any old notebooks. I love to write in pencil. DIXON Ticonderoga number two, to be exact. Foe me it makes writing more visceral and immediate. (this being my rationalization in absence of a laptop).

    As far as your theory about your cache of writing implements, I wonder. When I was a child I loved to accumulate stuff like that and I would bet your inner child enjoyed it also. Perhaps the negative aspects come in to play when you parental self shames the child who was having fun (and subconsciously preparing for something greater) because there were no outward signs of productivity you naughty girl and never write a sentence this long again you naughty boy.

  11. So, so tempted to raise my hand and say please. However, I too have too much stationery for one person to use, so I’ll have to decline the invitation. My weakness – notebooks, usually hardcovered and spiral bound. I usually buy them with a purpose in mind (recipes, journal, travel), start using them religiously until, one day, I put the notebook down and it’s forever forgotten, consigned to the bottom drawer of shame.

    @Helen – there’s a new chain of stores operating in Melbourne called smiggle. If they ever open anywhere near you, run away, fast. I have to get my husband to drag me away from their doors… folders, notebooks, pens, pencil cases, storage boxes… all in funky, fresh colours. Unluckily for me the closest store is opposite Borders, so while I’m being dragged away from one temptation, I’m heading for another.

    Oh, and BL, Mick posted the Halloween story over in my comments.

  12. Let’s see: Helen and Kerryn: Trying hard to be cured. Do not send anything paper their way or it might knock them off the wagon. Kerryn tempts Helen, though, with store called (I can’t believe this) Smiggle. Possibly Kerryn does not really want to be cured. Possibly she is really running along next to the wagon,having fallen off it, and wants Helen to be there with her.

    Qazse: Revel in collecting self. Don’t be so hard on self. It is okay to love stationery items. Send pencils and pencil sharpeners. Note to Qazse: Send me your address! I’m going to the post office Monday.

    Maybe we just need to embrace our love of this stuff and make sure we use it as much as we can. No shame.

    Cheers! BL

  13. Hmmm, reading the start of this story, I thought I might send you some nice Dutch pencils or some HEMA folders. But I understand your lust for stationary. Maybe it all start with stationary shops smelling so nice? The only thing I always need is organizing materials, especially folders (although I would love one of those stationary cabinets with lots of shallow drawers.) Now before you start packing folders for me, we do have such a thing as A4 paper down here, which (I think) doesnt fit into letter-sized folders…

  14. Oh no….. not … nice ….Dutch …..pencils! It’s like you’ve just waved around a dry martini in front of F. Scott Fitzgerald [insert name of some other weak person who’s trying to dry out here if F. Scott doesn’t do it for you.] Gulp, gulp, gulp.

    What’s size is A4 paper? American letter sized paper is 8 and 1/2 inches by 11 inches. My memory is that A4 paper is more elegant — slimmer, taller. The way we all are after a dry martini.

  15. Hi Lily,
    I like your confessions about having too many unused things for writing. It will surely inspire (as it already has, judging by all of the wonderful comments) sharing, charity, and landfill by the rest of us. Here is an account of my own recent crisis with folders–when I didn’t have enough of my own, I used my mother’s after she died, only having to change some of her labels to suit my own fleeting encounters with life. Folders can be Hermit Crabs, too. Smokey


    I finally had to throw away my mother’s papers,
    but kept the folders for reuse—
    holders of a hundred-year life-struggle of a teacher, sports fan, mother
    replaced by the mid-life striving of a scientist, sports fan, son.

    Covered her labels with my own:
    Archeology with Astronomy,
    Bridge with Poker,
    Baseball with Baseball,
    Education with Earthquake,
    Ethics with Euphemisms,
    Friends with Fractals,
    Grammar with Goat Cheese,
    Guaranties with Guaranties,
    Health with Humor,
    Morals with Politics,
    Operations with Old Bills,
    Politics with Puns,
    Savings Account with Stock Tips,
    Sentence Fragments with String Theory,
    Social Security with Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

    In one afternoon I had stickered over
    the index of her attempts to make the world a better place—
    the roads of a century-long civilization
    renamed by the presumptions of another ephemeral culture.

    My labels will be covered someday by my daughter,
    perhaps with a peek at the underlying belief system
    of her grandmother.
    How will a social worker, artist, daughter
    be affected by the uncovering,
    by the discovering, by the recovering?

    And given the previous layers of unsuccess
    at spreading sufficient truth to right the earth,
    how will she cover for us all?

  16. And thank you. Perhaps you could occasionally put a paragraph or two of your novel in here. Maybe that’s not a good idea for a variety of reasons (it’s not finished, it’s proprietary, etc.) but maybe there is something that could occasionally be leaked. If not, the descriptions of some of the things going on and your thoughts about some characters are wonderful to hear about. Do you know if writers once shared parts of their works in progress with special friends through letters (as opposed to the current method of workshopping)? Sharing on the web would be a mega-leap in that process and maybe too scary.
    In any case, onward to 100,000 words by September. You may not have any letters left on your keypad at that rate. Smokey

  17. asd and e are gone. so is n. l is looking like a punctuation mark. I understand there is an entire group of people in Denmark (could be Holland…) upset about this problem with the ibook G4. They’ve got a site on wordpress called something like Cupertino tales — apple sucks, that kind of thing. I sort of like the way the letters are fading. I know where they are by the way they feel, and it keeps people (aka small children) off my computer because they can’t figure out how to use it.

  18. Oh! I saw Smiggle in Myer the other day! As I was being drawn towards the display, eyes wide and glazed over, a noisy hungry baby brought me back to my senses. He is a good cure for a stationery addiction.

    I wore the letters out on my old keyboard too. The new one is holding up better… but it doesn’t feel quite so familiar.

  19. I wasn’t trying to tempt anyone off the wagon; I was just trying to share my pain. Honest.

    I’m partial to the leather notebooks, the lime and the orange.

  20. Ok, even though I’m a photographer, I admit to indulging in the occasional well-built notebook and really fine-tipped pen. Especially the Staedtler pens that are so fine they could be used for drafting. There is also a fountain pen in my life I pull out for special occasions… and a box of Sharpies I use when I need to mark something other than paper…..

    But my Moleskins are my special vice. Those little leather covered notebooks that have the wrap-around elastic and you can stuff in your pocket, or the outside pocket of the camera bag…. mmmm mm.

    No thanks Bloglily, I’ve got my own addiction to get under control! This thread is starting to sound like “Stationery Anonymous”.

    “Hi, my name is Doug and it’s been 2 month, 3 days since I bought my last notebook”….


  21. I like my laptop, but its battery only just lasts the duration of my bi-weekly return trip. Every time the train is delayed or cancelled, I have to turn to old-fashioned analog pen-and-paper technology. I’ve been looking for plain recycled paper notebooks with simple lines (or no lines at all) for ages. They do not sell them in France – at all – it’s the high of stationery at the moment with the school starting again in September, and all I can find is these ‘SEYES’ gridded-to-death fancy schoolkid notebooks. Nothing plain.
    If you have some, I’d be a serious candidate (if you can mail them over to Europe for less than I could buy them from the web). Or alternatively, if you know the address of a good online stationery store where I could find those, I’d be very grateful.

  22. i was searching ‘smiggle like stationery’ and this came up…

    and oh what on omen. it’s incredibly, i think that ic oudl seriously contest as the biggest stationary obsessive in australia. no joke. I have enrite drawers piled with smiggle stationery , un opened. I just like the feel of new, empty stationery, so untainted in all its prettyness. it is incredible… and oh so expensive, because i have so much of it, and, i must confess, i am a huge stationary addict…

    some one help me =S!


    PS. theres this awesome shop in bondi called ‘Kikki.K’… look it up, its http://www.kikki-k.com.au… but its very veyr very expensive, so it stops me from buying it. woot exp prices, haha…

  23. i understand what you are talking about, bloglily. i have an obsession with fountain pens and journals with paper that doesn’t bleed. five years of calligraphy classes at college and i turned my back on regular pens. part of it is the actual act of writing and doing it well takes time and thought. i still hand write letters to friends and family. it forces me to slow my brain down. my favorite pens are shaeffer and parker…can’t afford some of the other ones. it’s nice to know i’m not crazy like my kids say i am! ther are kindred spirits “out there”. i refill my cartridges using a hypo. needle and pen ink. really works.

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