Pens, Pencils, and Cripplingly Mundane Addictions

When you begin writing something by hand, how much thought goes into your choice of writing utensil? Do you consider the difference between writing your diary entry in ballpoint versus writing it in

…I do. And my behavior has convinced several of my closest friends that I have a boring and financially irresponsible addiction to stationary.

I currently own dozens of refillable, well-crafted luxury pens from companies as diverse as Parker, Pilot, and Cross. I also regularly buy and use high-quality pencils from a variety of brands including Mitsubishi Pencil Co., Eberhard Faber, and, my personal favorite, Faber-Castell. I have hundreds of disposable pens of every style, color, and utility in two different drawers of my dresser and in a plastic bin full to the brim at the edge of my writing table.

Since coming to Japan almost two and a half years ago, there’s no way I’ve spent less than $300 on pens alone. Not to mention the style of paper, the pencil erases, the ink bottles, brushes, highlighters, and the occasional sticker set for my young students. I’ve filled almost nine pocket notebooks with diary entries, and

Friends and visitors to my apartment regularly ask me the same simple question: Why?

Why do I own so many pens? Why do I expend the space and disorganize my storage bins with what must surely total out to at least 500 pens?

I honestly can’t give you a satisfying answer. I like them. I like how they feel dragging across paper. I like how they keep my hands busy when I’m reading over a paper or how I can spin one between my fingers when I need to fidget to stay calm.

But the mechanical uses of a pen isn’t as important as the effect it can have on your mindset while writing.

I like how a Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen with black crocodile-patterned lacquer grips makes me feel like some sort of politician or monarch as I sign my name — but I also enjoy the feeling of function and utilitarianism in grasping a $0.10 Bic Cristal 1.6mm ballpoint pen as I mark up the rough draft of an article.

I’ve seen plenty of other mundane addictions like this. Some are a little more interesting than mine, of course, but many people I’ve met spend more money and waste more time organizing something around their house that nobody else even gives a second thought.

A friend back home is obsessed with his hair gels. It’s not that he stockpiles his favorite, which is relatively understandable to anyone who relies on cosmetics or hair products for their appearance. Instead, he keeps a veritable armory of different gels, sprays, and waxes used for different occasions. There are small differences, sure. Some are better in humidity, some have a firmer hold. But there is no way to justify his war room of products as reasonable or sensible from a utility standpoint.

His hair is a part of him, and caring about how it looks is a way that he can express himself to the world visually through his hairstyles, but also a way to express himself inward through the products he selects from the bunch on any given occasion.

Our little purchases and the small tools we use throughout the day are a part of who we are by the simple nature that we choose to use them. A lot like fashion accessories or the cars we drive — which most people can agree are forms of self-expression in our modern, capitalist world — we can augment our personalities with even the tiniest objects in our lives.

We can express ourselves through the pens we use and the style of marking that they leave behind on paper.

The best part is, they usually cost less than a buck and, unlike a Porsche or a Mercedes, you can keep a hundred of them in a bucket by your desk.

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