Sunday, January 16, 2011

Missing the point? (The write stuff; pens and pencils)

Cup made by the author in 1984 for Mother's Day
Consider this scenario. The phone rings impatiently. You run from one end of the house to the other to grab it. Out of breath, you answer, it turns out to be your mechanic, with estimates for the various options for fixing your car so that it will pass inspection. You need to write down some information. You reach for a pen from that mug on the counter, (the one that your kid made in third grade art class, that you will feel obligated to keep for the rest of your life). You start to scrawl, but the ink won't flow. You circle wildly, scratching holes in the one piece of scrap paper you were able to find, while saying, “Hang on a second, my pen is dead...” The next thing you grab is a pencil with bite marks, a broken tip, and a hardened eraser. After several more false starts, you finally find a crayola marker that works, (fortunately, it's washable, since the paper is now shredded and you are writing labor estimates on your arm).

Having successfully written down the cost of the components of a new exhaust system, you are most likely to:

A. Mindlessly shove the dead pen and dull pencil back in the mug, where their uselessness continues to frustrate you intermittently for the next twenty-seven years?

B. Idealistically convince yourself that you are going to sharpen the pencils and get refill ink cartridges for every dead pen “someday”, but never actually do it?

C. Deliberately throw them into the trash can, sending them on their journey to the landfill, where they will inform future civilizations about the advertising strategies of our pharmaceutical, banking, and insurance industries?

I tend toward A and B, but not C, which seems to run in the family. Last spring, during the process of cleaning out the Florida condo, I came across several hundred pens in Opa's desk. Since he was eager to help, and I was eager for him to sit still so that I could keep cleaning out the closets while he wasn't looking, I set up a work station at the kitchen table. He spent an entire afternoon testing pens and sorting them into categories; Dead or Alive, (a concept we could relate to very easily). Since we were moving, we didn't need any of them, so the “alive” pens were donated to a nearby preschool with a low budget for office supplies. The “dead” ones presented the issue of disposal that dead things always do.

How many of the writing implements in your home are missing the point of their existence, and more importantly, what are you willing to do about it? Investing just a few minutes in this week's challenge is certain to increase your efficiency.


First, let's start with pencils. If it's mechanical, and you are out of lead, either get more today or say goodbye. If your collection includes the good old fashioned yellow ones, this is equally straight forward. If it's dull, sharpen it. You'll feel very satisfied and the process is certain to stir up memories of early elementary school. The issue of the eraser requires a value judgment. Will you still use the otherwise perfectly good pencil if the eraser is petrified? If yes, skip to the next paragraph. If no, consider replacement, or reactivation. Pink erasers that fit over the end of your pencil cost about ten cents each. Hardened erasers can often be revived by running them over an emery board or sandpaper.


Things with ink can be misleading. Your pen may not really be dead, just unresponsive at this moment, and you may be able to resuscitate it if you know what to do. We all know the vigorous circle scribbling step. “Pen, Pen, are you okay??!!” I came across one blogger who said that scribbling the tip of a dead pen over a circle previously scribbled by the ink from a live pen can restart the flow. I haven't tried it yet, but hey, if jumper cables work for cars...?

Here are some web tips for reviving other ink based implements:

How to revive dry erase markers

How to revive washable or permanent markers

Reviving will only work if there is still ink in the pen, which seems obvious, but must be mentioned. If your attempts fail, you'll need to accept that the pen is indeed dead. Now what?

A little online research led me to suggested uses for parts of pens, but the idea of sawing pen barrels into beads for kid craft projects appealed to me even less than wearing a necklace made out of macaroni.

So I am delighted to introduce to you, The Pen Guy. His name is Costas Schuler and he is on a mission to collect a million used pens. When he isn't working his day job as a graphic designer, he promotes pen recycling by collecting pens and gluing them onto his 1981 300SD, 'Mercedes Pens'. You can send any kind of used pen to him at The Pen Guy, P.O. Box 994, Forestville, CA 95436. I have a box labeled and ready to ship later this week. As of Monday, he posted that he has collected over twenty-two thousand used pens over the last five years. His website,, describes his visions for creating Pentopia. Check it out to see very cool pictures of his car.


I have been a fountain pen user for decades, and this cuts down considerably on my pen consumption, but nibs aren't very practical for things like Yahtzee score sheets, or grocery lists, so I have accumulated my share of ball points. I am making a concerted effort to remind myself that something free is not necessarily something I need, and this has prevented me from bringing home more pens for the mug.

As a committed downsizer, I am not generally one to promote introducing any new items into the house, except when quality can replace quantity. After reading an advertisement this week for 'The Seven Year Pen', I am intrigued. It's made in Switzerland, contains more than three miles of ink, is guaranteed to write for seven years with daily usage, is available in a multitude of snazzy colors, and costs less than 8 bucks. Has anybody tried one?


If you find that you have accumulated more functional pens than you can possibly use at home, redistribution is always an option. Consider taking them to public places where people are often scrounging for pens, (banks, waiting rooms, etc.) and quietly leave them there. Return them to your workplace, as long as you've got one outside of the house.

Finally, if all else fails, and the people at your next Yankee swap are likely to have a good sense of humor, consider bringing a complete pen and mug gift set. Just make sure the mug doesn't have your name on it.


  1. Hey thanks for the Pen Guy Mention:)

  2. Could you please update the The Pen Guy link to Some one stole my previous url

  3. I like the valuable ideas you shared with us in your well written blog post. I want to thank you for this. Good work.