If the pen is mightier than the sword, then maybe I’m justified in agonizing over my choice of writing implement.
This is a blue medium-size Bic pen. It is about six inches long with a plastic cap; and is available in twelve-packs at any supermarket, pharmacy, or big-box office supply store in America. I always assumed that moy was short for “medium” in another language, though I was never curious enough to find out which one. I have no idea what size tip it has, because for me it doesn’t matter.
I have carried this same model pen in my right front pocket for the last ten years for the reason that if I can have consistency in my writing’s appearance then I can concentrate more on expressing the ideas themselves. Its shape feels reassuringly familiar, and I can instantly recognize any notes, comments, reminders, journal entries, flash cards, To-Do lists, or hasty sketches I’ve made with its never-changing dark-hued blue: daily reassurances in a world where so much is constantly dying; breaking apart; growing old; moving away; or getting lost, stolen, molested, and smashed.
My problem is that no one sells plain Bics in Japan, and now I’m down to my last one. The Japanese take great pride in presentation—including their writing—and the stationary stores stock endless shelves of writing utensils in varying brands, colors and sizes; complete with long paper strips where giggling schoolgirls scribble notes to each other in kana and an occasional gaijin leaves cryptic English messages. These pens cost about 100 yen apiece (roughly four times the cost of an American Bic), with even more expensive models regularly sold in glass cases outside specialty shops. I find their rubber grips strangely soft, their shape distractingly contoured to my hand, and fear I’ll mark up my pockets if I jostle them the wrong way. Pens toting three or more colors are a huge fad, though I find their tiny triggers inconvenient and their variety unnecessary. Pencil cases—carried in the West only by sketch artists and elementary school children—are a daily appearance; and in class I constantly wait while students fumble in multicolored pencil cases for mechanical pencils and lead-smudged erasers.
I wonder how I must look twirling my old Bic between my fingers, popping off its cheap cap one-handed, and scribbling blue ink-smudged comments on their papers? (The Japanese, almost without exception, write in black.) Do people think me sloppy or lower-class because of the pen I carry? Or is it a sign of disrespect that I don’t wield a black 1.2 mm press-on Zebra Jimniestick with a rubber grip, brand name stenciled on the shaft, and auto-lock springclip? Add in the cost of shipping Bics from the States and the choice becomes fierce. Should I sacrifice the comforting familiarity of the pen that has become my trademark, or betray it in favor of a cool new Japanese model that will help me fit in?
I deliberate about these changes as if they threatened my very identity—because as far as I’m concerned, they do. Physical characteristics like the pens we use, the glasses we wear, our choice of jacket, or (in a perfect world) our jobs should be a manifestation of our personal values. If I start making small changes to suit other people (or my perception of their ideals), someday I might be organizing my whole life around what the majority thinks. This isn’t to say that all change is bad, but we have to change for the right reasons. Were I to buy new pens; it wouldn’t be because I wanted to; it would be to please the society in which I live. In that case, international shipping is a small price to pay for my own values.