The Power of the Pen

In Corgi Capers, Mrs. Hollinger (the protagonists’ mother) is a freelance copy-editor. Bad grammar is more than her pet peeve. She allows typos and misused punctuation to distract her from the time, from her appointments, from the road–in short, from her life. Luckily for the family, her distractions lead her to fun, serendipitous things like finding two corgi puppies at a tucked-away farm.

Mrs. Hollinger, protector of the English language

A sketch of Mrs. Hollinger, protector of the English language

Like Mrs. Hollinger, and like my own mother, I love grammar. Maybe I don’t love it, but I feel the need to protect it. Just the other day, I had to stop myself from replying to an email in order to thank the sender for correctly using the correct punctuation (a semicolon) when using “however” as a conjunctive adverb. It was only when I started typing the thank-you email that I realized how crazy I sounded.

Don’t worry: I deleted it.

During a writing class, I asked students to think about an object that had power to them—and then write about the object from the object’s point of view. When I assign writing, I try to model it by writing on the topic, too, volunteering to share if no one else is willing. Through brainstorming and drafting that day, it occurred to me that I find much power in a pen. I always have; in fact, Courtney wrote about this on my blog, too, as part of an assignment she had to write.

I ended up writing from the point of view of a red pen—but not just any red pen. A pen with thick, wet ink that glistens as it dries on the paper. This is a pen wielded by a pompous professor, a Mrs. Grundy. It is a pen feared by many. Here is what my pen had to say:

My ink smells like fear. Thick and red, it bleeds onto the paper as I slash students’ work with painful lesions. I’m a high-class pen, more expensive than most—and rightly so. A benefit of being so expensive is that my ink was designed not to run after it dries. This is important because I’d hate for students’ tears to wash away the genius of my markings.

Sometimes I press so hard against the paper that I bleed onto the pages below. My favorite letter to draw is an “F,” but I am content drawing C’s and D’s as well. I’m also especially fond of a minus sign. I am good at writing check-marks, but I’m even better at writing X’s. I’m so powerful that I leave marks even on teacher’s hands when they wield me because they are not perfect, either, and I love to show them their flaws. No, even teachers are not strong enough to escape my judgment.

I stopped writing because it occurred to me that perhaps that is how some people see pens: they see writing as scary, grammar as a mystery. And that made me sad.

In grad school, my education professors warned us not to use red pen to grade students’ work. The red, they claimed, looked too much like blood, and it would seem that the comments were actually wounds on the students’ work—like the paper was bleeding.

I didn’t buy that, and I have since asked students their opinion on the matter. They chuckle whenever I ask, telling me that one color marking is just as intimidating—or not—as the next. But the professors’ comments got me thinking about pens and their effect on people—the connotation of their stroke, thick, thin, watery, or dry.

I do not like to write with pens that use thick, flowing ink that comes out wet. I do not like to use pens to intimidate. The pen truly is mightier than the sword, and it should be wielded responsibly.

I prefer smooth pens—of medium or fine tips—with ink thick enough to run evenly but thin enough to dry on impact. The pens I like would not sound as spooky or arrogant as the one above. The pens I like are full of potential, each one housing an untold story within its ink. For me, a pen is full of a liquid dreams—an elixir that allows the mind to transcend its metaphysical boundaries and share itself with others. For me, there are few objects that hold more wonder, or potential, than the pen.

What story might be inspired by this little corgi butt and its obsession with whatever lives under the daisies?

What story might be inspired by this little corgi butt and its obsession with whatever lives under the daisies?

That magic came out in full force for me this past winter when, during a terrible snowstorm, I penned the majority of Corgi Capers 3 while waiting for the schools to reopen. It amazed me that the story cooking in my head could enter reality via that magic ink.

I’m excited to be finishing the final edits on Corgi Capers Book 3: Curtain Calls and Fire Halls, in which I pay tribute to the bravery of fire fighters and the spirit of everyday heroes like a very special dog named Denby. My goal in writing the book is to inspire people to see heroes in everyday people and magic in everyday occurrences. The book should be released soon, and I hope you enjoy it!

Posted on October 9, 2014, in character, corgi capers, writing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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