TPII Editor Extraordinaire Dr. Verena Hutter shares her wonderful experience recovering a part of herself she thought was lost, through our Unstuck Productivity Program. In honor of Verena and her pens, we are extending the sign up for the new Unstuck by two days! Find the info here on the Unstuck page. Remember – registration extended for two days only, until midnight July 22.
I received my first fountain pen at the tender age of seven, in second grade. It was a Lamy ABC, red cap, wooden grip, and a sticker with my name on it. In German schools, kids are taught early on to write with a fountain pen, and German fountain pen companies like Pelikan and Lamy cater to the crowd. The reasoning behind making little kids write with a fountain pen, filled with ink? Some say it makes for a better handwriting, some say it teaches kids to be careful with their belongings (to avoid ink explosions), and some say it is tradition. It may be all of it. To seven year old me, it said “What you’re doing here is important!” Throughout my entire time in school and undergraduate, I wrote with a fountain pen. I experimented with different color inks, different nib sizes, different brands, and found a way to write with my left hand that wouldn’t smudge everything.
In 2006, I moved to California for graduate school. In my carry-on was a Parker Frontier, which I thought was very symbolic at the time. I learned the hard way that pens leak on planes (unless the converter/cartridge is completely full). So I entered the United States with black ink all over my hands, sweater and parts of my face. A bad omen?
In graduate school, I realized what I needed more than nice penmanship, was being able to write down my notes quickly, so cheap Bic cap pens became my writing utensil of choice. Or rather, I took what was there, they were free and I was not in a position to ask for anything. I ended up giving my Parker Frontier away, and didn’t use a fountain pen in many years. My handwriting? Let’s just say, my students complained…
Fast forward to Unstuck in 2017. In between my graduation in 2012, and 2017, many life events had happened, and I desperately wanted to finish my manuscript. The task Kellee gave us was to buy a notebook and write something called “Morning Pages”, based on Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way”. Every morning, before you do anything else, you write down three pages, as a way to tap into your creative side. The online discussion that ensued in our group was reminiscent of an SNL skit. “Can I have a coffee first?”- “What if my kids wake up?”- “Can I write it in the evening?”- “wouldn’t it be easier to type it?”- “Which language should I write it in?”- “How long should this take me?”- “the topic is really open?” As academics, we’re trained to excel, we’re trained to do something in the best way possible, and we’re eager to do it “the right way” because, let’s face it, the re-percussions for doing something “wrong” (such as a mean review of an article, an adviser telling you how disappointed he/she is in you, a rejected manuscript) can be painful and devastating. So Kellee’s instruction, clear and simple seemed like a trick to us- what do you mean, this is just for me?
I was actually looking forward to the exercise- I had always kept a journal, with the exception of graduate school and the years after (you see a theme emerging here). I will be honest with you, so far none of my daily writings so far have given me a sort of eureka moment, or deep insight. I rather see it as a way to clear my head. I enjoy the time that it takes to write the pages, the cup of coffee on one side, my sleeping dog on the other, and that there is time in my day that I am not looking at some sort of screen or being overloaded with information. But my musings are fairly trivial- have I paid that electricity bill? Do I need to do laundry? Should I call my grandma today? Buy that cute, but overpriced shirt? Will I survive the Trumpocalyspe?
Still, I write.
Then two things happened.
One, I started developing wrist pain as a side effect from my medication for Crohn’s Disease, and two, I realized I could barely decipher my own handwriting. I mentioned this to my mother, who suggested that I get a lightweight fountain pen or a gel-ink roller. I used the gel-ink roller for a while (Pilot Precise VR 5 for the win, baby!), but I wanted to give fountain pens another shot. I have the luxury to live in a place that has a paper store (I love you Oblation Paper Press!), and so I went. Inside, I immediately was reminded of my childhood, that feeling that what I did, my learning, was important. I walked out with a Waterman Hemisphere, a favorite of my teenager years and bought a cool color ink.
And as I started using the fountain pen, something began to change. A feeling that had vanished during grad school and my years in academia. The feeling that my morning pages are part of something important: my writing. I then started writing my reading notes with my fountain pen too- yes, it slows me down, but my notes make sense, I remember them easier and better and they are material proof of the thoughts and the work I do. I actually enjoy writing down my notes, and don’t see it as an annoying, unimportant task (the important one being writing the manuscript) but rather as part of the whole process. My handwriting is more precise, readable and not the crammed scribbling of a maniac anymore. It takes up space and reflects my re-gained confidence about my project, and the fun I have with it. (Ok, I totally queereyed this sentence, my handwriting is a minor point of what I want to say).
So all in all, the first step of Unstuck re-connected me to a part of me that I had neglected for a long time, a knowledge that my seven year old me had but one that I needed to be reminded of 30 years later. I, my thoughts and feelings, and my creative side matter just as much as my scholarly side, if not more. I am part of something important, and I am important.