Like this morning. A lady walks into the store, appearing a bit distracted, in a mood or state we're used to seeing here with some folks who deal with issues that should make most of us feel very lucky with what few problems we really have. I ask if she needs help and she asks if I've got anything for fifty cents (probably not, I think). I wonder hard about it and muse that I could look around. But then she asks, as she pulls out a dollar and hangs it out in front of me, if I have a pen/pin.
I'm not sure what she's asking. The sort you wear? I ask first, referring to the glass counter cabinet which is full of pretty little things. Yes. Or to write with? Yes. (So it's yes to both?) Oh, I can just give you a pen to write with, I told her, handing her one of a thousand we have around. She seemed thrilled and grateful over something so simple, so mundane as an ink pen. I told her as she turned and immediately walked out: Everyone needs something to write with out in the world. And we do.
This something isn’t always a handy pen, which alludes us in times of need (and where do all those lot writing utensils go?). That something to write with may be the permission we need to express what we’ve got loaded up inside. That something may be a key to understanding, some epiphany. The pen – not a pen – might be some cathartic episode creeping up on us we’re not ready for, but isn’t waiting on our being ready. It comes anyway.
When they claimed, way back when (and at the moment I don’t know who “they” were, nor when “when” was), that the pen is mightier than the sword, they weren’t including only quill pens and steel swords, of course. This was a reminder of how free expression can negate oppression. Sometimes.
I believe the very act of holding a pen in the hand is symbolic. Try it. Hold the nearest pen or pencil in a hand. What does it conjure. It calls up what might be said, but is only thought about in the safety of the mind. It calls upon an entire history of the written word and all its delights (and horrors). Having a pen close at hand makes us feel better, knowing we’re capable of tossing down important moments without the anxiety of forgetfulness. A pencil, with an eraser, is a little forgiving. The writing tool and the blankness of the paper meet on the level field, fight it out for expressive space. The pen is an extension of your power, however you define it.
We should all have something to write with out in the world, indeed.