Saturday, June 13, 2009

The pen is mightier than the sword, but a lot easier to lose

Over on Inside Out there is an interesting post today about pens.

As I said in my comment there, I am rarely without a pen in my pocket. A lifelong habit that is simply too hard to break. If I leave the house without a pen, I can usually find one under the seat of the car, in the trunk or any number of other places that I have dropped or stashed one.

For a reporter the pen is, or at least was, the most important tool of the trade. Next was the notebook. Some folks preferred the little flip Reporter Notebooks you see on television and movies, but I always preferred a large legal pad.

When I'm writing quickly, which as a reporter was always, I needed lots of room to write. The lines on the paper were unimportant, just the large space. Sometimes I wrote at an angle, so for me it would have been better if the pages had been blank. It was just my personal preference.

I didn't save my notes either. Some reporters save everything, I saved nothing. When my story was complete and published, the notes went into the trash. Every time, no exceptions. Even a great lawyer can't subpoena notes that no longer exist.

The one time I was called to testify in a murder trial over the interview I did with one of the killers, the end result was that I testified from a copy of my published story and simply verified what everyone had already read. Piece of cake. No notes, no problem.

But back to pens.

Once when I admired a pen being used by a friend and colleague, he referred me to a Flint lawyer, Sheldon Siegel (not the author), who as a hobby makes beautiful wooden pens. They are round and fat and the ink flows out of them like oil from a can.

Although I was notorious for losing pens, I never lost my Siegel pen and still have it, although it has been retired to my memorabilia drawer.

Many reporters can be particular about their pens, I was. In a pinch a black Bic would do, but when I really wanted to do my best work and be comfortable I wanted one of my "fatties" in my hand.

As a police reporter, much of my reporting was done outdoors. In Michigan that means it can get really, really cold. So cold that ink freezes. Usually when it is 10 degrees or less. That's a problem when you're trying to interview a fire chief in the dead of night and he's only given you a couple minutes to talk.

So my trick was to have two pens, one that I kept warm in my mouth, until the other pen's ink froze. A quick switch and I was back in business. By the time the "outside" pen froze up, the "inside" pen would have thawed. It probably looked silly, but it worked.

It's also tough to write in gloves, so Jane, a FJ photographer, purchased me a pair of woolen gloves that had a detachable set of "fingers" so you could keep the rest of your hand warm while writing. As soon as you were done taking notes, you could flip the "fingers" back over and keep your digits warm as well.

1 comment:

pam said...

Let's bring back the pen and paper! I LOVE to write. Typing is cool too, but not like handwriting.

I think this could link to the death of newspapers! We want the real thing, we humans. We are touchy feely and while all this technology is fine and dandy and satisfies the instant gratification requirement, I think we are all longing for the real things in life.