Earlier this week, Lily Brett wrote about why she didn’t become a lawyer. Her newest book, Lola Bensky: A Novel (Counterpoint), is now available. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.
I love pens and pencils. I have loved them all my life. Whenever and wherever I travel, I buy pens and pencils. I am not a pen or a pencil snob. I buy them in supermarkets and street stalls as well as every sort of stationery store. I don’t need to go to a Mont Blanc store or own a limited edition Tiffany’s pen.
To tell you the truth, I don’t need to own any more pens. I have a drawer full of pens. Ballpoint pens, roller ball pens, fountain pens. I also have a drawer full or pencils. All sorts of pencils. Short pencils, long pencils, carpenter’s pencils, charcoal pencils. I even have pencils inscribed as Dixon Beginner’s. They are black and thicker than regular pencils.
Having all these pens and pencils doesn’t prevent me from wanting more pencils and pens. I covet other people’s pencils in the same way that others might covet a friend or neighbor’s house or car or husband.
My lust for pens and pencils started when I was a child. My parents and I were refugees to Australia. My parents were a rare statistic. Two Jews who were married to each other before the war and who each survived Nazi death camps.
In Australia, we lived in one room before moving to a very small cottage. I looked at the fountain pens in a news agency, a block and a half away from our small cottage, for over two years before, one day, in a moment of great need and possible recklessness, I stole one. I wasn’t caught. I guarded that fountain pen as though it was Elizabeth Taylor’s Krupp diamond.
I have written all of my books by hand. I know exactly which pens and pencils I used for each of my books. I do the actual writing with pens. For the last few years I have used a Pilot G‑2 07 retractable gel ink roller ball pen. Always with black ink. I never write in any other color. In pencil, I circle and draw arrows around whatever parts of my text I want to move or change. For my latest novel, Lola Bensky, I used emerald green Criterium pencils, made in France. I bought them in a tiny, almost hole-in-the-wall, stationery store in a small, mountain town 170 miles north of Mexico City. They were so enticing and so cheap. I bought twenty-five of them.
As soon as I pick up a pencil or a pen, a sense of calm comes over me. I feel that that pen or pencil is directly connected to my core, to my heart, my lungs, my arteries. Nothing separates us. Of course I type on a computer and an iPad and a smartphone. And I take great care with my sentences on each of those devices. Too much care — who needs to search for commas or apostrophes when you’re typing with one or two fingers. And I do love keyboards. And the sounds they make. But they are not connected to me in the same way as a pen or pencil.
I was recently in Seattle. I went into a huge Rite Aid store. We don’t have supersized Rite Aid stores in my part of Manhattan. I always think I love big stores. That is until I am actually inside one. After five minutes of feeling lost and disoriented in a seemingly endless aisle, I left. I did leave with a bag of ten dark yellow, eraser-topped pencils. Paid for, of course.
Lily Brett has written six novels, three collections of essays, and seven volumes of poetry. Her work frequently explores the lives of Holocaust survivors and their children, the experiences of modern women, women’s relationship with food, and life in New York City. Her most recent book, Lola Bensky: A Novel (Counterpoint), is now available.
Lily Brett has written six novels, three collections of essays, and seven volumes of poetry. Her work frequently explores the lives of Holocaust survivors and their children, the experiences of modern women, women’s relationship with food, and life in New York City. Her most recent book, Lola Bensky (Counterpoint), is now available.