(Work-in-Progress) The Comfort of Pen and Paper, Or: Remembrances of Schoolyard Beatings Past

Sometimes it helps to go retro. You know, be a throwback of sorts. Kind of like when baseball or football teams thrown on jerseys from years’ past, to honor the players and teams that formed the legends from which current players walk these very same paths. Hang on…that past sentence really doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? Anyway…

I was driving home from a meeting with a freelancing agency – I freelance as an IT project manager, and I’m actively looking for a new gig right now, but one preferably that will remove my “freelance” status permanent – when I stopped at a Starbucks for an afternoon jolt of coffee. On the drive, I passed a kindergarten school bus, which reminded me of when I went to kindergarten, which then reminded me of my first day of kindergarten, which is a really funny story, and let me share it with you.

I met this kid named Damon. Squatty, fat Korean kid. Think Eric Cartman, but without the racist bent. We were at recess, in the playground, and he asked me if I wanted to play superheroes with him.

“Sure. Can I be Superman?”

“No,’ he replied. “I’m Superman!”

“Okay, I’ll be Batman.”

“Noooooo! I wanna be Batman! And Superman!”

“Can I be Spider-Man?”

“NO! I WANNA BE SPIDER-MAN!”

I was about to give up and walk away, when Damon pretty much begged me to come back. I agreed, as long as he let me be a villain instead. He agreed, and I was to hide on the playhouse. He counted to ten, and then came running up the slide. When he reached the top of the slide, I greeted him there.

I greeted him with a jab right in his fat gut. I hit him so hard he couldn’t even cry; my punch had sucked the air out of him.

Yeah, I felt bad. Oddly enough, Damon followed me around every day after that, like a prison bitch. Maybe I must have thought kindergarten was like prison; establish yourself as a bad-ass motherfucker no one wants to mess with by beating the shit out of a random inmate. At any rate, I made Damon my bitch.

So what’s the point to this story of schoolyard bullying? One, it was the only time I ever engaged in this kind of behavior – I never bullied another kid again, although I had been bullied for a short time in the 3rd grade by a much bigger kid named Freddie, whose shit I grew tired of, and eventually I beat the ever-living fuck out of him, and we later became good friends – and, two, the incident suddenly triggered a writing frenzy at the Starbucks. I had with me a portfolio with my CV and a notepad, and remembering this entire incident suddenly allowed me to unlock something in my novel that was both getting me stuck and threatening me with boredom. I reframed the protagonist and antagonist’s relationship (a neurotic, depressed superhero versus his ne’er do-well, equally neurotic arch-nemesis) from the perspective of a schoolyard fight. Suddenly, the root of their antagonistic relationship came to light. It wasn’t just that the hero and villain opposed each other simply because that’s what heroes and villains do; they’re opposed to each other because their antagonism began during kindergarten.

In other words, it’s personal. And now, there’s a personal narrative that’s revealed itself to me that’s gotten me all giddy.

All because I went back to writing with pen and paper.

I’d gotten into the habit, ever since NaNoWriMo, of writing strictly on my laptop. However, the bulk of the first draft of my novel was written by hand. Two composition-style notebooks made up the chapters and notes and scribble, all in some of the most criminally illegible handwriting humanly possible. But since the first draft had been completed, and I’d read and edited it, I’d been sitting in front of my laptop, watching the cursor blink, and waiting for the Muse to bless me with words. And yet…nothing. No magic. Just a blinking cursor. Of course, I’d been blogging like mad, so it wasn’t like me sitting in front of the laptop was all for naught.

But there’s something liberating about pen and paper. I love the click-clack of the keyboard, but I love even more the sound of pen meeting paper, especially when I’m writing furiously, ignoring the hand-cramping and the ink staining the side of my hand; I write left-handed, so anyone who writes left-handed knows getting their writing hand stained with ink is inevitable, and it sucks. You press on, though. I’m pressing on with pen and paper because it’s working again for me, so there’s no sense in slowing momentum down for me. I really don’t know where I’m going with this new-found subplot, but I’m excited about it, so I need to follow it down this handwritten rabbit hole.

PS – if Damon is reading this – and I doubt he is – I’d like to still apologize for punching you in the stomach, although you did act like a little bitch. As such, I’ve written you into my novel. When the novel gets published, please contact my publisher regarding any grievances we can possibly settle out of court.

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42 thoughts on “(Work-in-Progress) The Comfort of Pen and Paper, Or: Remembrances of Schoolyard Beatings Past

  1. I should have known you were another lefty! Bet I can match you scrawl for scrawl. But you need better pens. I seldom get smears anymore, presumably because the ink dries faster?

    So, in the true spirit of writers everywhere, I write not only (as Anne Lamott recommends) crappy first drafts, but illegible crappy first drafts.

    But I love the way your subconscious led you to the answer you needed!

  2. My favorite thing about writing with ink rather than keystroke, is the smell. Surely we have all bent over too close to the paper, or been at it so long the entire fills with that sharp, oddly metallic smell that only cheap pens and operatory rooms can produce.

    That is a joyous smell; one that signifies the depth of my stories, and thoughts. Any time I notice it, I know I’ve bee working hard at something good.

      • Yeah, my hand cramps at about ten words in and won’t quit so that’s not much of a gauge for me. The ink smell, if you ever get the chance to notice it, is a great companion to the horse glue bindings of older books. They just go hand in hand like two lovers enjoying the bright monochrome of a moonlit night.

  3. I love this post! And I completely agree with you! I love the (sadly) nostalgic feeling of pen and paper, amongst everything else that is enjoyable about writing by hand. It’s like eReaders, they’re convenient and take up less space than having thousands of books but no one ever said “I’m going to head to bed and curl up with a good eReader”. There’s a sense of warmth and personal touch you just can’t find in a lap top, as time saving as typing may be.
    Thanks for posting, I can identify and you’ve inspired me a little to start putting pen to paper again!

          • I read about half a book on my kobo and ended up getting it from the library to finish it. And agreed about needing to feel the paper, also the freedom to flip back to the first chapter if I feel like I missed something. It’s decided, books and paper are infinite

            • I like reading on my Nook just fine. The exception is what you mention–books where I want to flip around in them. Fiction is usually fine–I start at the beginning and go on to the end. But non-fiction can be tough (even though it’s also great to have a giant tome on a 10-oz eReader), and anything with a map in the front that needs consulting (like lots of fantasy novels).

  4. I couldn’t agree more. Writing with pen and paper has helped cure my writer’s block more than once. I actually prefer writing that way because there is a rhythm to it and it gives my brain a chance to process while I’m writing so it’s kind of a first draft with revision. Then I transfer what I’ve hand-written onto the computer, which takes me through another process of revision. Thanks for sharing and good luck with the job!

  5. Oddly enough I write with sharp pencils – they have to be JUST so … although admittedly when I’m in production mode I use my laptop … liked this post – mostly because at first I thought it was going to be how you were bullied … it’s nice to read something from the bully’s POV 🙂

  6. Pingback: hear me | mdh

  7. Pingback: Some Short Work-in-Progress Updates, and Some Author News That is Making Me Geek Out | Out Where the Buses Don't Run

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