Pens and Me

My life-long love affair with office supplies began the day I sat next to the stage manager at the first read-through of Merry Wives of Windsor and she pulled out a massive script binder and a bin with a formidable array of highlighters, pens, and sticky notes. As we read, she highlighted and noted and scribbled in the margins and I became entranced, nay, possessed, not by her neat handwriting, but by the complicated colour coding unfolding on the page, a private language she spoke to herself.

Not that many years later, I was sitting down with my own script binder and freshly purchased highlighters still gleaming from the package, working out my own colour code and carrying a little zip bag of assorted supplies around me, from hole reinforcement stickers to gum erasers, and I was the one people turned to when they said ‘do you have a pen’ or ‘can I borrow a ruler’ or ‘you wouldn’t happen to have an eraser, would you?’ I was the one people asked when they wanted advice on how to organise their script notes in a way that would make sense later, I was the one warning people away from the perils of cheap highlighters that would, inevitably, fade halfway through the run and leave you squinting for meaning.

It was Sara who cemented my love of office supplies and guided me along the nascent journey of office supply adolescence, teaching me which brands to avoid and which to buy in bulk when they went on sale, imparting the secrets of responsible pen maintenance and giving me a formal pencil case when my zippy bag finally broke, exploding pens across the seats in the middle of the house during tech at three in the morning. It was Aaron who imprinted me on Rhodia notepads so thoroughly that I won’t be caught with anything else, that notes from me are instantly recognisable with that distinctive purple grid and slightly slick paper.

I’m not working in the theatre anymore, but I haven’t lost the office supply bug. If you open the drawers of the desk, you will find that I hoard office supplies just like a seasoned veteran, with a supply of crappy pens near the front to hand out when people ask for a loan so I won’t be sad when I never get them back, the really good stuff buried under what looks like a full ream of shockingly pink paper, because no one wants to handle such a thing, let alone delve underneath it to see what delicious secrets might lie just out of reach. Every bag I own has a layer of pens in the bottom and every couple of loads of laundry something bursts open and splatters blue or black ink, despite my best efforts to check for pens first.

And I still colour code, oh, how I love colour coding, in all its neatness and righteous order. There’s something very squared away and satisfying about a fully colour-coded whatever it is, from my accounting ledger to my personal calendar. Some people might say I go overboard when they see the rainbow splayed out across the page, but that’s because they don’t know the language, the hidden notes I am leaving for myself in varicoloured ink and the secret messages I am embedding in what are seemingly simple notes. I can say mean things about people right in front of them and they don’t even know it because they don’t know the colour code.

I always say, never trust a person who carries a crappy pen. There’s something deeply suspect about a person who can pick up any old pen and use it at will even if it makes that unpleasant little squeaking sound or dribbles out ink like an incontinent schnauzer, smearing ugliness across the written page and rendering perfectly clear notes impossible to discern through the inky haze. Never trust a person who writes with a pencil, I always say, because pencils are suspect and impermanent and, besides, I have yet to find a pencil that doesn’t make that irritating scratchy scrapy noise that feels like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. Just thinking about it to express it in text makes me feel a little woozy, you know?

I’m not a serious office supply aficionado. I’m a pretty small player, well out of the big time, but I do appreciate a pen with a nice heft to it, a smooth, flowing ink actuation action, a pen that makes me feel like I’m writing something serious even if I’m just jotting down notes for the grocery store, a pen that I can have a relationship with. I like a pen that feels right in the hand, doesn’t leave me all cramped up and stained, a pen that sits right and means business, that always works on the first time and doesn’t dry out if I get distracted and sit for a moment with the thing uncapped, waving in the breeze. I like a nice fine line and a crisp, clear colour so I can write in my cramped handwriting in the margins of an article and still be able to read what I wrote a few years in the future; colourfastness is not underrated, people.

And I love that feeling you get in an office supply store, spinning around in that centre aisle and looking around at all the possibilities. So many options for filing and tagging and organising and taping and writing and noting, so many choices it’s almost overwhelming, a myriad of binder clips in a Pantone span of colours and it could be all mine.