If I was dying in an alley, and all I had was a piece of paper and a ballpoint pen to record my last thoughts, I would leave them unwritten, because I loathe ballpoint pens.
If I was locked in a cell, with one hour to go before I had to face down a firing squad, and the guard outside the room slid a piece of paper under the door, and pulled a ballpoint pen out of his fatigues and passed it to me, saying “give your last words, and I’ll get them out to your loved ones,” I would request that he give me a different pen.
It’s just the wrong tool. It’s like trying to take out a screw with the wrong kind of screwdriver. There’s no writing to it. There’s no grace in the movement of the pen. It is a device that should only be used to put a note on the back of a business card to remind you to buy more eggs. It shouldn’t come anywhere near anything to do with thought, or anything to do with emotion. The ballpoint pen has no place in these arenas. It belongs with multiples of its brethren, a harem of useless writing utensils, in a coffee cup on your desk.
That coffee cup should be labeled, “Use only in case of supreme dire emergency, and even then, probably don’t use these pens. Why did you buy so many of these fucking things?”
Hopefully you can fit that all on a piece of duct tape.
I know this is an extreme view. This is not something to get worked up about. This is not something to really spend any time thinking about. However, when it comes to stepping into the literary gladiator pits, it helps to be well-equipped. Having a typewriter is being well-equipped, because it’s an object you can hit and punch and use to get the stress out at the same time as all the words. Also, you could drop it off an overpass and literally stop a truck. Pencils have the feeling of the rough thought, of a still beating idea, of a dream not yet fully remembered, and that cast off idea still breathes under each scratch, before you drag its corpse out for display in a concrete final version. A decent pen makes every word you write into a small work of art, there’s a swoop and a movement to each stroke, like steps in a dance, the ink on the page as the twirl of a dress and a quick step to the left or the right.
And computers? Well, it helps to be modern sometimes.
The ballpoint pen is none of these things. It sucks. I loathe to even write my name with one. It turns every sentence into something off of a government survey, a card for a liquor store contest draw, or a job application form for work you don’t want.
Yet, I still have 22 of them on my desk.