Yesterday, I faced a crisis. My beloved Waterman fountain pen disappeared. Actually, it happened earlier in the week. Yesterday morning was the first time I went looking for it. This, in itself, is the real problem. I hadn’t used the pen since March 27. I remember holding it in my hand at the pool. My kids swim endless laps while I sit on a hard metal bench. I take my notebook to fill in the gaps. Only, I was distracted by conversation. I capped the pen and put it back in my bag with my notebook.
Fast-forward to April 3. The pen wasn’t where I’d left it. Some place between that hard bleacher and my soft living room sofa, the Waterman now resides. I searched the car, the house, my bag. Panicked. I’ve lost it before. The last time, I blamed every breathing thing in range for thievery. To which Coco, my youngest, responded with “HMMMPH.” She found it by retracing my steps. Yesterday, I wasn’t so lucky.
Why hadn’t I written in those eight days? I could blame my kids’ crazy activity schedule or the new responsibilities I’ve taken on or the endless chores that fill my time, but I’d be lying. This week, my children labeled me “Candor.” Divergent is the book of the moment in our domicile. I tell the truth. Like it or not.
The truth is I’ve been in more than a rut. I’ve lost heart. My irresponsibility with the fountain pen was inevitable. Use it or lose it. I hate that the cliché is so literal. Writing novels is a hard gig. E. L. Doctorow said, “It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” He failed to say, the trip is long and scary and there are no gas stations for hundreds of miles.
The fountain pen, archaic and artistic, is my symbol. It’s not an implement for grocery lists or check writing. It’s for real work. Butt-in-the-chair, miles-to-go-before-I-sleep, deer-in-the-headlights work. Losing the Waterman meant I had to choose. Do I keep writing or dump everything on the dining room table into the recycle bin? Should I fill those white boards with notes or replace them with the Renoir prints that are more House Beautiful appropriate?
At 2:13 in the afternoon, I had to decide. Should I drive to an office supply store for a new instrument or wait out the hour before time to pick up the girls from school? I must want to keep torturing myself because with very little time left, I jumped in the mini-van and drove to two office supply stores, miles apart. I couldn’t find a duplicate, but the Parker Urban with the refillable converter curves comfortably over my fingers. The slender implement has weight. It’s ink glides like a spider between the lines. I was able to exhale.
I discovered this. The real punishment isn’t writing. It’s not writing. Instead of trying to keep my head above water, writing is being able to breathe with my feet firmly planted on the bottom of the ocean.