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Pens

How can one find the strength to write on in this kind of adversity?

Staples no longer sells my favourite pen, the Bic Pro+. And I am struggling, I admit, to find the strength to go on. Perhaps writing this article will be valuable therapy for me.

I had such a wonderful relationship with the Bic Pro+ retractable ballpoint. Oh, the words we produced together! With the Bic Pro+, there was poetry and lyricism in everything I wrote, even my shopping lists and the angry notes I shoved under the windshield wipers of cars parked in my spot.

Now it is gone, no longer stocked at my writing-supply store, and only the memories remain.

The Bic Pro+ came in sets of four: black, blue, green, and red, wrapped in cardboard and clear, hard-to-rip plastic. When I close my eyes, I see them so clearly. They had 1.0 mm tips: wide enough for a generous ink-flow, but narrow enough to avoid those globs that can smear on the paper. A simple, functional design, with a rubberized grip at one end and a shiny, metallic click-button at the other. A pocket-clip, for those of us bold enough to wear our pens over our hearts. And on the inside, my beloved Bic Pro+ boasted a full-length plastic ink-tube, the same colour as the ink, intimately joined with a cute metal spring.

The first time I ever put a Bic Pro+ in my hand, it just felt so right. And when I tested it, the ink flowed onto the page like wine …

We were together for eight wonderful years. When I ran out of these pens, I would always go back to Staples for more. I was not perfect, I’ll admit — occasionally, I would pick up another brand of ballpoint for a casual scribble, or indulge myself with a Sharpie or HB pencil. But no matter where my hand strayed, it always came back to the Bic Pro+. We would have been together until the end, I believe, if the cruel, heartless executives at Staples had not taken the Bic Pro+ off the shelves.

Why did Staples do it? Did they think that nobody would care? In distress, I contacted the manager of my local Staples store, who passed me on to a public rela- tions woman in Toronto, who would not give me a straight answer. So I gave up my protests and tried looking at other stores for the Bic Pro+, like Grand & Toy and the Fennell Avenue Love Shop, but with no luck. I wish someone had told me in advance that my pens were being discontinued continent-wide, so I could have hoarded a few cases in the basement like a survivalist. But no one was that kind, so now I have begun the quest for a new favourite pen.

To choose, I’m using a new app called Pendr. I signed up, giving Pendr information about myself and what I like to scribble about on the page. Then I swiped through hundreds of profiles of available pens, looking for my Ms. Write. The Pentel R.S.V.P. Medium Point is attractive, as is the Papermate InkJoy Gel, but the sparks are not flying. I’m just not ready, it seems, to go steady with a new pen. I’d rather sit at home, empty-handed in front of a blank sheet of paper. All my friends are urging me to forget about Pro+, saying that I deserve so much better, but the hand wants what the hand wants.

Am I the only one who feels such a passion for pens?

I worry that some under-30 urbanicity readers, used to communicating with fingertips on screens, will not be able to relate to this article. It would be like me 20 years ago, watching an Andy Rooney piece on 60 Minutes about how typewriters are great, unlike those crazy newfangled “word-processors.” Or suggesting that it’s best to write with a chisel and a block of marble. Will teen-aged urbanicity readers have to Google the word “pen”?

If future generations grow up without the pen, it will be their loss. You can’t chew on a smartphone when you’re bored, but you can with a pen. You can’t remove the insides of a smartphone and use it as a blow-gun, but you can with a pen. And it may be technically possible to scratch your back with a smartphone, but it’s not nearly as effective as a pen (with the ball-point retracted, of course, so your back does not look like you got a tattoo in prison).

Pens have a long, inspiring history. Shakespeare’s sonnets were composed with a primitive, 16th-century pen — the quill of a baby swan, dipped into a flask of squid ink and used on a sheet of dried lamb-skin, on a table of polished ivory. (Shakespeare was not very popular among Elizabethan animal-rights activists.)

The first mass-produced writing instrument, the fountain pen, helped Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, and Virginia Woolf to produce literary masterpieces, as well as serving as a comic prop in many films of the Golden Era, like the Three Stooges episode where Shemp squirts ink over Moe’s new shirt, then Moe jabs the pen into Shemp’s eye — hilarious!

However, pens have also stirred up controversy. Some radical feminists point out the linguistic link between the words “pen” and “penis,” denouncing both as relics of patriarchal oppression. A group of McMaster activists has recently been promoting a progressive writing tool called the “wem” — which is just like a pen, except oval-shaped and with a rainbow of ink colours.

Even though I’m a man, those wems sound great. Maybe, just maybe, I’ve found a replacement for the Bic Pro+.

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