Category Archives: 50+

The Moment I Became Picky About Pens

Like most of the people I know, through most of my adult life I bought pens by the dozen and never gave it much thought. I confess that I did develop a short list of favourites and bought some brands over and over, but I never really gave it much thought.

And truly, the only real criteria that ever dropped a certain one from my short list was if the pen repeatedly skipped, leaked, smeared, spit gobs of ink, or scraped the paper. But beyond that, I never really gave it much thought.

When my aspirations as a writer started surfacing, surprisingly, my position on pens never really changed even though I started going through them like tissues. As long as they were well-behaved and got the job done, why should I give it more thought?

True enough, much of my writing is done with a computer these days anyway, but there are times when I still enjoy the tactile experience of feeling like the writing instrument is an extension of the human body. And some of my notes still get entered in journals so writing tools are still an essential.

I forget what I was randomly Googling one day, but one of the suggested links provided was “ballpoint pen reviews.”

“That’s a thing?” I asked myself. So ever curious about tools for my craft I clicked on one of the links and started reading. This let me to another link… and another…

What a revelation! There are some hard core pen users out there with specific evaluation criteria, a comprehensive scoring scheme, laboratory-grade tests and ranked lists for different categories and price points. They even had a full technical vocabulary for each individual part of the pen. Who knew?

Just for fun, I took note of one of the highly recommended, modestly priced pens (3 for the same price as the dozen I was buying previously) and strolled into my nearest office supply store. When I got home, I broke the new pens out of their packaging, grabbed an index card and started scribbling gibberish.

“Oh my God,” I thought to myself, “they ARE on to something!” These hard core pen lovers knew what they were talking about. The ink flowed magically and ever so smoothly, capturing perfectly every dot, every loop, every line and every curl.

When I apply myself and when I take my time, my penmanship is actually pretty clear and understandable. But by the end of just one index card, I impressed myself with the improvement. It was like my writing was in high definition! I will even admit that a few “oohs” and “aahs” were uttered.

I continued the experiment for a few days, using only these new pens, and loved the feeling of such sharp, crisp lettering with ink that flowed flawlessly.

But the game changer came along unexpectedly, when I absent-mindedly picked up one of my former pens to scribble a few things on my grocery list.

I immediately felt the difference. I came to the realization that while the cheaper pens I was using were indeed functional and did a decent job, the feeling while writing was completely different.

Plus it was in that moment (while I was having an arthritic flare up) that I realized I had to put more effort in writing with the old pens than with the new ones. I also recalled times when after a prolonged period of writing, my arm, hand or wrist (or all of the above) did get tired.

I would equate it to the difference between slicing something with a dull knife versus one that has just been sharpened. They still both do the job, but the latter just makes it easier.

I remembered that in my writing desk, I had a brand name boxed pen that someone offered me as a gift many years ago. I ran upstairs to give it a try in the name of literary science. It wrote beautifully and effortlessly as well.

And that was what sold me on the merits of paying a little more for pens, especially ones where refills are available rather than throwing out the whole pen.

A few days later I tried another premium pen gifted to me by a colleague several years ago, that was sitting in my office drawer. While the ink flowed beautifully in that one too, I found that one a little heavy for me, for writing for long periods of time. Just the same, I could appreciate the difference in the quality and could see how people could develop strong preferences.

Let’s face it, there is nothing wrong with pens sold by the dozen and I will continue to use the ones I have for everyday writing until they run out. They have served me well for nearly 50 years and probably could for another 50.

Maybe it took the first signs of arthritis to increase my sensitivity to the difference a pen can make to the complex network of bones, muscles and connective tissue contained in these aging hands and fingers. When the ink flows so smoothly with less manual effort or pressure, it is definitely something to consider for someone who is constantly writing.

We are most fortunate that there are so many great pens out there, it can be fun to switch it up and try different ones, for a different feeling and a different writing experience. If one pen is more comfortable to use than another, why not use it?

I don’t think a change in pen will make me a better writer, but if my energy is completely focused on putting words to paper, the lack of distractions probably lends itself to a more enjoyable writing process.

In retrospect, maybe I should have played with the various options a little more… and maybe I should have given my writing instruments a little more thought.

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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When Screening Calls Became Socially Acceptable

I remember the thrill of buying my first answering machine, for my first phone, in my first apartment, at my very own phone number.

To me, this was a huge step forward in my new found independence, not only in helping me run my household but in remaining connected with family and friends.

Just to help set the stage, this was the late 1980s. The concept of handheld devices bombarded by emails and text messages was still years away.

For those times I needed to be in two or three places at once, an answering machine was the solution to ensure I didn’t miss any important telephone messages.

But when I was home, the reflex that many of us shared was to run to answer the phone when it rang.

I reluctantly admit that for my borderline extrovert personality, there were times that the introvert in me needed some breathing space. After exerting a lot of extrovert energy in a bustling office, I just needed some time to recharge.

When the phone would ring, I might have reluctantly said to myself, “Maybe I’ll let the machine get it”. I didn’t do it all the time. Self-inflicted guilt would not have let that happen. Continue reading

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The Final Cut: From Clippers to Shaver

It was on the eve of my 54th birthday, facing the next instalment in my every-two-weeks haircut when I asked myself, “Why not? If I don’t like it, it will grow back.”

I explored electric razors with the plan to shave my scalp for the first time. But when I say “first time”, the reality is that the transition to this point has been more than a decade in the making.

When I accepted that my hair was slowly slipping away due to male pattern baldness, rather than finding creative ways of covering up my slowly increasing Friar Tuck look, I started the slow transition of shorter haircuts.

My last attempt at long hair that ended up looking like Peppermint Patty was trimmed to a neat professional look. For a while after that, I took a bit of a detour into a faux-hawk look, which I consider my last actual “hair style”.

But when more scalp was peeking through the back of my head, to me, it was time. In every subsequent scissor cut, I went a little shorter every time. After that, it was the clipper cut countdown, starting with a “number four” with much trepidation.

The nervousness quickly disappeared through my immense enjoyment of the freedom from hair products and blow dryers, and in the reclaiming of time in the morning. The fact that a visit to the barber was now an efficient and record-breaking 7 minutes in duration was a pleasure in itself. Continue reading

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Why I Envy Hat People

Do you remember the opening credits for the 1970’s TV show “Charlie’s Angels” where Jaclyn Smith takes off her motorcycle helmet, shakes her head and every strand of hair falls perfectly in place?

I realize that Jaclyn’s impeccable hair in that scene was probably a confection of Hollywood magic, but sadly, hats have been a challenge for me to navigate over the years.

When I was younger, I had fine hair. I had lots of it, but they weren’t the majestic oaks of hair that could bounce back from the slightest bit of wind, humidity, sweat, rain or pressure.

I remember times when I was very young when my mom or my grandmother would say “Come here”, lick their fingers and try to tame one of my many cowlicks. How they could choose just one remains a mystery to me, as I remember my hair was sometimes all cowlicks to the point of looking like a young, male version of Medusa.

But as an adult, the maternal spit was replaced by varying combinations of hair gel, mousse and spray, not to mention engineering skills, to build a hairstyle and to lock it in place. But one minute with a hat on my head was like a pin to a balloon, completely deflating my structure, at a time when flat hair was not en vogue.

Looking back, this most unfortunate genetic deficiency brought out a streak of stubbornness I never knew existed within me. It could have been -40 degrees outside (frankly, a normal winter’s day here in Ottawa), and I refused to wear a tuque of any kind. That was when I started buying ear muffs by the case (for some reason, I kept misplacing them) which kept my ears warm for many blustery winters. Continue reading

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Mother Nature’s Follicle Relocation Project

If there is any doubt about whether Mother Nature has a sense of humour or not, I offer you the following into evidence: hair.

Hair is the epitome of irony, isn’t it? People with curly hair want straight hair. People with straight hair want wavy hair. I’ve known people who have changed hair colours and/or hair styles with every passing season (with great envy).

We try turning our hairstyles into gravity-defying structures, or we flatten it out to look sleek and chic. Sometimes we make it do things it just wasn’t meant to do.

And as we get older, Mother Nature is not through with us yet. Oh no. The fun is just beginning.

In my case, in my 40s, she took it away a few strands at a time. She might have thought she was sneaky, but I fought back by getting a clipper cut. Problem solved, or so I thought.

Who could guess that her punchline would be the random places where she is putting it back in my 50s?

I fully expected that after age 50, trimming nose hairs would become a necessity to avoid looking like a catfish. I also expected that I might need to keep my eyebrows in check so that they didn’t look like wings and suddenly take flight in the middle of a serious boardroom meeting.

I am very lucky that I am fair haired (or at least, I was) so new stray sprouts haven’t been too noticeable. But those new “platinum” ones (btw, I love saying “platinum” as I think it oozes coolness) do catch one’s eye faster. Thankfully, there is no shortage of grooming tools to keep new growth under control. Continue reading

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The Morning Newspaper Hurdles

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I have been enjoying the experience of reading a print version of the newspaper again, as a more relaxing way to enjoy the news.

But each time I start reading one, I cannot help but remember some of the less-than-relaxing mishaps I have encountered over the years while trying to get a copy of the daily paper.

I was a subscriber for many years and home delivery was so punctual you could set your VCR to it. There may have been the rare production issue, vehicle issue or weather issue when the newspaper might not show up exactly on time. Things like that sometimes happened and we understood.

Just the same, I wouldn’t have wanted to be the person at the telephone switchboard. I’m sure some people would get pretty huffy about a postponed periodical or a tardy tabloid especially in the pre-Internet age.

I mean today, we lose our… ahem… we lose our marbles when the news page takes longer than 6 seconds to fully download. I think patience was in greater supply back then.

In my first apartment, there were days when I’d open my front door to find that my newspaper wasn’t there. A gentle call to the newspaper confirmed that it wasn’t due to a production issue, a weather issue nor a delivery issue in my area. It was likely a neighbour, especially when the disappearing newspaper trick would happen in cycles. Continue reading

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What I Missed Most As a Manager

Over the span of my career, I was most fortunate in being asked a few times if I would be interested in a short term assignment as a manager, to fill a vacant position until it could be staffed permanently.

When that happened, I always felt like an award show nominee. The fact that someone thought highly enough of me and my work to extend such an invitation was a huge honour and for that I was most grateful.

I chose carefully and I accepted five times.

But looking back, even though I was told I did fine, I didn’t always think so. I was pretty hard on myself. I always thought I could have done better.

The bigger questions were why was I so exhausted when each assignment was over? Was it me? Would more training have helped? Was it a right fit for me? How did so many of the managers I looked up to make it look so easy?

As I reflected back over my agonizing decisions to accept, and the dissection of events when the assignments were over, I believe I should have paid more attention to my gut and to the struggle I was feeling.

After the last assignment, I realized that even though our society and our culture keeps telling us that climbing the ladder is a good thing, management might not be for everyone. I knew conclusively that it wasn’t for me and I finally knew the reasons why. Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, Misc blogs, Writing