Oh paper, I just can’t quit ya.

When I was a little girl and wandered away from my mother in the supermarket, she usually didn’t panic about it. After the first few times, she knew where to find me, so she often let me go my own way for at least a few minutes before she came to collect me.

I was always in the stationery aisle.

I wasn’t there because I needed anything specific for school. Most of the time, I didn’t even ask to buy anything. I just liked looking at the notebooks, picking them up to run my hand over the blank pages, turning to the middle and taking a nice deep whiff of the paper right near the binding. I sifted through the folders and checked for any loose pens that I could possibly test. I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I loved about the stationery aisle was all of the potential in that blank paper and unopened glue bottles and unsharpened pencils.

Oh, the clean lines of the block paper, the precision of those felt-tipped stick pens…(Image courtesy of Ben Jeffrey via flickr)

When I was 9 years old, I visited Portugal for the first time and discovered that the Europeans have entire stores devoted to stationery. Oh the joy! There was – and still is – something magical about A4 sized paper when one grows up with 8 ½ x 11. The feel and smell of the notebooks were so delicate and exotic, and I was fascinated by the  inexplicable (at the time) preponderance of graph paper (it’s used in handwriting lessons in Europe). And they had different, beautiful colors of ink for their pens.

To this day, I never return from Europe without a stash of stationery supplies.

Despite my deep, abiding love for a good college-ruled, black and white marbled composition notebook, it’s been a long time since I wrote essays or stories by hand. I remember when I did. I’d fill pages of loose leaf paper with false starts, cross-outs, arrows and carets, and the occasional stretches of unbroken text. When I was satisfied, I’d put the pages in the closest thing resembling a logical order, lay them next to a typewriter, and put them into a nice, clean typed essay.

These days, like most people, I write on my laptop. It’s easier to get some words out of my brain to make them visible, pliable, and dynamic. I can move my sentences around more easily to see how best to make my thoughts understandable and relatable. I can play with my words without making my hand hurt or creating a tiny mountain of eraser shavings. It’s a cleaner, more efficient way to write, which means I can spend more time focused on my ideas and their expression. Because it’s easier, using my computer means I write more as well, which makes my writing better.

I love the scratch of a good fountain pen. (Image courtesy of Christine and David Schmitt via flickr)

The two exceptions are when I’m recording my thoughts or writing a letter to a friend (yes, I still write letters. ) I like to see my handwriting filling up the pages of a paper journal or a note card. I choose my pens carefully for these tasks, since handwriting can vary greatly and look messy if the point is too smooth or too rough, or if the stem is too thick or two thin. I tend to favor fountain pens.

I recognize that not everyone feels the same way about stationery supplies as I do, and I know that some might consider me a bit geeky and obsessed. Some may even accuse me of being a Neo-Luddite.

Enter  MSN Living. That was where, a few days ago, I came across an article that explains how five of our most common bad habits could actually be beneficial. The first four were predictable: drinking too much coffee,  multitasking too much, eating frozen food, procrastinating.

Then comes Number 5: “Clinging to low-tech habits: You still scribble on Post-its and hang a Hallmark calendar? S’ok! The tactile act of writing is better than keyboarding at activating the learning and recall parts of the brain. So noting the baseball-awards dinner in a datebook will make it less likely you’ll forget.”

What? Really?

I stared in shock for a minute or two before my objections and questions evolved further and became a bit more directed.

Human beings have been writing for 9,000 years, and suddenly in the past decade, the emergence of smart phones has made writing…a bad habit. A bad habit is a behavior that proves harmful or detrimental in some ways. The first four habits could conceivably be considered detrimental: too much caffeine can affect our health, as can the chemical preservatives and added sugar or fat in frozen meals. Dividing our attention in too many directions or procrastinating means we are less productive, which can affect our stress levels or job performance.

But writing something by hand? How is this harmful? If a paper calendar or note paper helps us remember, what’s the problem? How is using a Post-it instead is on par with filling my body with chemical preservatives and empty calories? Was the writer of this article grasping at straws to pad out the word count, or does she really believe that writing with a pencil is a bad habit and we should all instead be spraining our thumbs trying to type out notes on our slide-out qwerty keyboard? I refuse to believe I’m doing something bad and wrong because I’m still using a pen and paper to the same end as someone who prefers to use Outlook Calendar.

Have a spine! Declare your love of low-tech stationery! (Image courtesy of Barbara Krawcowicz via flickr)

Let me make something clear. I don’t think it’s a bad habit to use a phone, iPad, or email calendar to remind us of tasks. I do use this function on my not-so-smart phone for certain things. If typing out a new idea or shopping list on an iPhone suits you and helps you be more productive, then knock yourselves out. But we seem to be far too quick to assume that newer is automatically better, and that anyone who “clings to low-tech habits” is somehow doing something wrong and harmful. We should not dismiss 9,000 years of writing knowledge and skill development just because we have a shiny new toy.

It’s a bad idea to dismiss low-tech behaviors or solutions en masse. Sure, sometimes technology really gives us better ways – not just newer ways – of doing something. But sometimes it just gives us different but equal options and we should choose the ones that suit ourselves the best. If we insist on unthinkingly replacing old ways with new, then we limit ourselves to just the new. Isn’t the point of progress to open horizons?

And besides, according to the article, writing something by hand is more beneficial to the learning process and development of memory.

Go ahead, learn new tricks, but don’t forget the value in the old ones.

Do you still like to write things by hand or have you gone high-tech?

Edited to add: I’ve corrected my spelling mistake, and ‘stationery’ is now spelled correctly! I hang my head in shame…but at least I feel better now that it’s corrected.


52 comments on “Oh paper, I just can’t quit ya.

  1. There’s just something about the texture and feel of writing without keyboard

  2. hannahkarena says:

    I still write most of my first drafts by hand because I’ve noticed that stories I write directly on the computer are usually lower-quality–less vivid descriptions, less believable dialogue, etc. For really extensive editing–usually the first round–where I’m reorganizing entire pages and inserting entirely new paragraphs, I still do it by hand, creating a maze of small print in the margins with arrows pointing in every direction. I’ve finally taught myself to do all other rounds of editing and rewriting on the screen, which saves me a lot of time and paper. I know most people would probably think my process is a huge waste of time and I’m a less productive writer because of it, but I think that it makes me dwell on my writing longer, and the period where I transcribe the written story into a typed story is a great review stage for me, and usually inspires plot-twists and much-needed improvements. Computers might make writing faster but, for me at least, it doesn’t compress the time it takes to get a quality story done.

    • limr says:

      I think it’s not a waste of time at all if the result is better writing. Slower isn’t always inefficent and faster isn’t always better! I’d rather be slower at doing quality work than work faster but produce something superficial.

      I love the image of all the arrows and writing in the margin 🙂

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. […] morning, I posted the first real entry for my new blog, A Modern Day Dinosaur. Go check it out and tell me what you […]

  4. louise says:

    Leonore you make me laugh so much! I only became a teacher for the free stationary. I have been guilty of matching my nail varnish and hand-outs. It was such a lovely lilac – sigh!

    As a child I loved going back to school after the summer holidays so that I could sharpen my pencils and work out what I needed to replace! My sister actually got a blister from sharpening hers!

    Keep it up dino:)

    • limr says:

      Hey Louise, canim! I remember you always had great nail polish, though I didn’t notice that they matched your handouts 🙂

      The stationery was totally a major part of the decision to teach for me too. And I love chalk, which of course did me no good when whiteboards came along…

      Thanks for checking out the new site! Say hi to Michael for me.

  5. Annie says:

    I love stationary. A trip to the office supply store is SO much fun for me. (nerdy, I know)

    I do wonder if the art of writing with pen(cil) and paper will vanish one day.

    • limr says:

      If it does, I hope it waits until I’m gone, because that would just depress me so much!

      I get just as excited about a trip to Staples as I do a trip to a shoe store 🙂

  6. Hello, o kindred dinosaur! I also love stationary, and fountain pens, and writing letters to friends! And though I write up my blog posts on my computer, when it comes to my novel, it’s good old paper. I have a thing for notebooks and the bottom drawer of my desk back at my parents’house is entirely filled with different notebooks I’ve collected over the years. Sometimes (when there’s no-one about) I open that drawer and just gloat… There’s something so exciting and full of promise about a blank notebook!

    • limr says:

      I know! I have a stack of notebooks and I love thinking about what I’m going to do with them. I keep telling myself I’m not allowed to buy any more until I start using what I have, but I never quite stick to that. You should have seen me trying to decide what to use for my Paralegal course 😉

      Thanks so much for following me over here!

  7. I love, love, LOVE this post for so many reasons. I am also obsessed with stationary, and have been since I was a very young girl. I collected pens and notebooks and journals. Back to school shopping was my favorite kind. Not the clothes, the writing utensils! I’d fill carts with it when my parents would indulge me.

    I would practice my handwriting too (talk about geeky!) after school, writing words over and over. I even took a calligraphy class as a kid, and loved every minute of it. Alright, I was always a nerd.

    I still write letters and cards and notes on books I carry with me. I prefer the feel of a pen on the page to the typing of a keyboard. I think I always will.

    That anyone could think of this as a “bad habit” is so confusing to me. If anything, I’ve always sort of considered it a superior skill. I think others see it that way, too. My friends are always amazed and touched by the pages I write to them. It’s personal and loving in a way that email will never be for me.

    Anyway, your post here spoke to me in so many ways. Thank you so much for your wonderful words!!

    • limr says:

      Thank you so much, Francesca! We geeks who practice our handwriting need to stick together! I took a calligraphy class, too, and I was even eyeing a calligraphy kit in Barnes and Nobles the other day, thinking I’d like to relearn what I’d done in that class when I was a kid.

      I don’t think there’s anything that beats a handwritten letter. There’s just so much more that is conveyed in a letter than in an email. I’m so glad to learn that there are still more of us holdouts.

      Thanks again for your wonderful comment!

  8. margaret21 says:

    Yes, me too. I agree with all the positive things that have been said about stationery (I’m English, not American, so spell it with an ‘e’). And handwriting. So it was a bit of a shock to discover recently that the pleasure I always got from writing, with real pens and pencils on real paper has almost evaporated. I got stuck….and scuttled back to the laptop. I’m very upset about it.

    • limr says:

      I think the fear of losing that pleasure is what makes me insist on writing my journal in a real book. For a while in college, I typed my journals, but it just wasn’t the same. I like watching how my handwriting changed when I was really angry or in a good mood, or sometimes a little, you know, um…drunk 😉

      I think you can get it back.

      And you’ve got the correct spelling of ‘stationery’. I’d been spelling it wrong and didn’t even realize it!

  9. I love post-it notes.
    I love stationery aisles.
    I love pens.
    I love notebooks.
    I love my old-fashioned day-planner.
    I love knowing I am not alone in this.
    I have toyed with the idea of a Kindle, but I will never give up my books.

    I love your new “dinosaur” blog idea.

  10. Sycamore says:

    If you’re talking about paper, the word is “stationery.”

  11. Part of the work that I do is designing greeting cards that go beyond communication, and, I have written quite a bit about the importance of snail-mail-correspondence on my blog, The Last Leaf Gardener, which I am not sure if you have had a chance to visit.

    However, as I read your first posting on Dinosaur, two of my older blog entries came to mind ss they seem to be in sync with what you have written here. The links to those entries are as follows:




    I hope you realize that I have posted my links in an effort to tell you that you are not alone, and instead of just saying so in a comment, the “proof” that I feel a kinship with your entry is in what I have stated myself.

    Meanwhile, have you ever read Joan Didion’s essay.”On Keeping a Notebook” ? It is contained in a collection of Didion’s essays in “Slouching to Bethlehem,” and what Didion says about “Big Five Tablets,” is something I think you would appreciate.

    • limr says:

      Thanks for those links! Your cards are so beautiful, and now I’m also a bit obsessed about displaying cards from the past that are my favorites. I have kept so many of the cards that have been sent to be over the years, and I never even thought of displaying them for the holidays. I’m terrible at sending holiday cards on time, but I’m starting a tradition of sending “Winter Doldrums” cards (which should go out this week). I even broke out my sealing wax for the cards.

      I’ve just recently discovered how much I like Didion, so I haven’t read that essay yet, but now it’s on the list. I think I have “The White Album” but “Slouching to Bethlehem is now on my Amazon wishlist.

      I enjoyed reading your posts. I almost wrote “we’re really on the same page” but then I realized what a bad pun it would be, so I’ll change it to “we’re totally simpatico” 🙂

      • I can’t resist poking my nose into this conversation 🙂 Sealing wax, Leonore? Are you sure we weren’t separated at birth??

      • limr says:

        Entirely possible! 🙂

      • I am glad you think we are “simpatico” as I truly appreciate reading good writing such as yours. As for Didion, I preferred “Slouching to Bethlehem” to “The white Album,” and I am eager to hear what you think about Didion’s work.

        Also, her essay, “After Henry, ” is something many writers appreciate. I
        t is in a collection of essays contained in the book, “After Henry,” and you might want to put that on your Amazon wish list too.

        On my blog I have many posts about Didion’s work but I’d like to hear your thoughts on it as well.

      • limr says:

        I’m part of a book club and my turn to host is coming up this week. The host picks the books for that month and we vote. I was seriously considering putting out a few choices of essay collections, Didion included, so she’s definitely been on my mind lately. I ended up offering different choices, so I’m in the middle of reading The Shipping News (finally!) but as soon as I’m done, I’ll pick up The White Album and we’ll talk! 🙂 I’m coming to realize that I really gravitate towards good essayists, so I’m excited about exploring her work.

  12. Bartleby Scrivener says:

    OK. It’s stationERY, not stationARY.

    Stationary is: “fixed in a station, course, or mode : immobile; unchanging in condition.”

    Stationery is: “materials (as paper, pens, and ink) for writing or typing; letter paper usually accompanied with matching envelopes.”

    It is disconcerting that every single comment on this post — especially the ones from the writers and the teachers — used “stationary” incorrectly.

    • “. . .[E]very single comment. . . “? I think not.

      As a teacher and one of the commenters who spelled it correctly, I accept your apology, “Bartleby.”

      In addition I will avoid pointing out your abusive colon usage. Maybe.

      From the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University. . .

      Use a colon to join 2 independent clauses when you wish to emphasize the second clause.
      Use a colon after an independent clause when it is followed by a list, a quotation, appositive, or other idea directly related to the independent clause.

      Use a colon at the end of a business letter greeting.

      Use a colon to separate the hour and minute(s) in a time notation.

      Use a colon to separate the chapter and verse in a Biblical reference.

      • limr says:

        You were indeed one of the few who got it right!

        Oh how I adore that you quoted OWL in comments. I love the folks who read my blogs 🙂

    • limr says:

      Well, you can trust that I’ll never make this mistake again!

  13. limr says:

    Hi folks!

    Some of you who have commented already know that I answer comments individually, which I will continue to do here. I’ll do that when I get home a little later. For now, I just wanted to weigh in quickly about the staionary/stationery issue. Otherwise I’ll be obsessing over it for the entire ride home!

    I admit, with a very red face, that I spelled it incorrectly all through my post, and I appreciate the corrections. I do have a defense, though. It’s a very common mistake these days, which is not an excuse, I know, but it’s a reason why it sometimes gets muddled in my head. It’s common enough that a Google search for ‘stationary’ gives results for stationery stores as well as results for the real meaning of ‘stationary’. Here are some examples of ‘stationary’ used both incorrectly and correctly: http://grammarist.com/usage/stationary-stationery/

    Additionally, there is a common linguistic ancestor: the Latin ‘stationarius’. You can read a really interesting history of how our two modern words branched off from the Latin here: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-sta3.htm

    Again, though the spelling mistake is common and has a reasonable linguistic explanation, it’s still an error and I should have double checked. Believe me, an error in my own writing bothers none of you more than it bothers me!

    That’s what I get for proofreading before I finished my coffee this morning.

    • You say, “Believe me, an error in my own writing bothers none of you more than it bothers me!” That’s how I felt when I hit the “Submit” (OR “Post”) button both here, and on your other blog, only to realize I had made some punctuation errors! I don’t even have the “excuse” of not having had enough coffee. In my case, it is too much time in front of the computer screen in low light — not a great practice if you are legally blind such as I am — but
      I don’t like the screen reader’s automated voices, even though they could help me correct my errors! SO, I hope you’ll forgive punctuation errors in my comments.

      • limr says:

        No errors in comments are ever held against anybody (and often not even noticed in my excitement to get comments!)

    • I’m one of those who got rapped over the knuckles along with you – a little embarrassing, if truth be told! But I wouldn’t worry about it, Leonore: the general excellence of your writing allows you a couple of Get out of Jail Free cards a year 🙂 Besides, I think the snooty tone of those who comment only to bash is a little de trop…

      • Hi, Miss Darcy’s Library,

        This time I am the head poker (-;

        I agree with you about the “snooty tone,” and moreover, I think it is hard enough to put yourself out there, spilling your guts in cyberspace, without being worried about the “red ink” from others.

        The whole “ery” versus “ary” “conversation” reminds me of a scene from movie “Goodfellas.”

        In the scene I am thinking of, the protagonist, an immigrant is dying in the hospital, and as he recounts a childhood memory, he says, “I SEEMS to remember a difference between ‘can’ and ‘may’ . . “

      • limr says:

        I might have to watch the movie just for that scene now.

      • limr says:

        Thank you dearie! I’d be less bothered if the misspelled word weren’t the focus of the post, but I’m also not losing any sleep over it. It is possible to be too pedantic, after all 😉

  14. Jessica says:

    This brought me back to a childhood memory long forgotten. I spent four years in Germany so I know what you mean by stationery stores in Europe. I used to go there once a week with my parents and pick out some notebook or colored pens or sticker book or troll doll. It was the best place. And I can ALMOST remember the smell of that store.

    So thank you for bringing that one back out into the open.

    • limr says:

      You are more than welcome, Jessica, and thanks for coming to check out the new blog! I didn’t know you spent four years in Germany. You absolutely know that smell then – the one you can’t quite remember but the second you smell it again, you’re transported. I loved watching my students display all their pencils and sharpeners and little white Staedtler erasers that I became totally obsessed with because they are SO much better than our pink erasers we had here when I was a kid.

  15. Lenore Diane says:

    I love colored pens, stationery, cards, notebooks, etc. Now that my kids are in school, we have a frequently used pencil sharper in the house, with many pencils in a cup. I love using pencils again. I love the feel and I love the smell of the eraser. Childhood memories, perhaps. In any case, if writing on paper is a bad habit … color me bad. I have no intentions of going to rehab for it.

    • limr says:

      Heh, rehab…we say no, no, no! We’ll be bad together! I love pencils, too. The good old-fashioned wooden ones. With really sharp points. Gotta be sharp.

      Thanks for checking out the new site! 🙂

  16. […] case you didn’t catch it, my first content post at the new site (Oh paper, I just can’t quit ya) described my love for stationery supplies and my annoyance at a recent MSN Living’s article […]

  17. You’re speaking my language here. I have always been a paper person. I had several journals to write in when I was young. I still do. Every single post you read on my blog was written in a notebook. I just prefer to sit down with a pen and paper than type. Plus to me it’s easier to cross stuff out, highlight phrases, draw lines from one paragraph to another if I want to switch things around. I guess I prefer the visual of seeing it on paper. Then I type it out and I dread doing that, but it would be a bit hard to get others to read my stuff without a computer.

    • limr says:

      I still do that on occasion. There’s something I love about the texture of paper that has pen impressions carved into it. And it’s fun to see an actual picture of the thought process. I would love to see a post that includes a picture of one of the pages of your notebook (wink wink nudge nudge 😉

  18. My goodness, but there are a few that jumped on the “stationery” correction bandwagon! (I always, always have to look that up.)

    Anyway, it’s great to see you back. I’m impressed that, since I’ve been having trouble tending even one blog, that you’ve gone and opened up another… and it’s a cracker. I look forward to reading more.

    I too love my fountain pen – D introduced me to the pleasure and gave me one for my 30th b-day. So, one more similarity to add to the list of oddities that you and I share. 🙂

    • limr says:

      It seems like it should be pronounced differently, which I know is silly given the tenuous-at-best connection between spelling and pronunciation in English.

      Thanks so much for following me to my new space. As much as I love my language stuff, I’m looking forward to getting to write about other topics.

      Your husband has fine, fine taste! I’ll go through periods of not using my fountain pens, and then one day catch sight of one and think, “Duh, I like to use those!” and then use them all the time. I even like having ink-stained hands 🙂

      • I usually put mine down for a while if I need to refill it and don’t get around to it quickly enough. Then because I need to clean and tune it properly to avoid too much of the ink-stained hands condition, I delay doing so. Which reminds me… I’ve got to clean it up now since the ink bottle is arriving on Friday (along the rest of the container load – yay!) – so it’s time to resurrect it once more.

  19. I still handwrite all my blog posts by hand. It is slow-going, but I, too, am a dinosaur. And that pen in hand scribble is part of my process.

    • limr says:

      I’m impressed!
      I don’t write many posts by hand, but occasionally I will if I suddenly feel like I need to write but don’t feel like typing. And if I’m not at home and I think of a good line or idea, I have to write it by hand, which is why I still always carry a little notebook around with me. Yes, I have a function on my phone to take notes, but it’s not the same. I’d rather search around for a pen and paper than deal with that stupid little keyboard.

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