Monday, 28 November 2011

Moleskinoisseurs, markerholics and penophiles

First written Tuesday 29 December 2009
Tweaked and added to Tuesday  29 November 2011

When I go to Miranda Fair on my own, I go into survival mode. My stride lengthens and my pace quickens. If I get in on the quarter-to train, then by god I'm getting out on the quarter-past. But go with a girl, and I can bet at some point I'm going to get forced, by whatever means she finds necessary, into a stationery store. The thing with stationery though, as opposed to clothes or jewellery, is that I might just enjoy myself.

The near-universal appeal of stationery is a curious phenomenon. It's something to which, I suspect, we can all relate in some way an infatuation that transcends age, race and gender. But why? Why is it that a virgin notepad, or an electric pencil sharpener, or an eraser in the shape of a bunny rabbit that smells like chocolate (I daresay the office-supply addicted amongst you are exhaling lustily just reading that list) is so appealing?

Well, I've taken it upon myself to find the answer. How, you ask? Through rigorous sociological research and countless surveys? Um, no. That would be a lot of work. I thought, instead, I'd harness the extraordinary power of the internet to solve this great mystery and from the comfort of my own spinny chair, no less.

I wanted to start at the beginning, and it's a well-known fact that the internet begins with Google.* Once I got past the disturbing fact that 'stationary obsession' returns about thirty thousand more results than 'stationery obsession' (I chose not to waste time on the results of the former search how obsessed with anything can someone really be if they can't even spell it correctly?), I began my descent into the odd and strangely alluring world of the writing-implement enthusiast. 

*As opposed to the way it ends, according to Irish musical comedian David O'Doherty, the only person I know of who alleges to have 'finished' the internet. Apparently, a smiling Bill Gates appears and you get to enter your initials, although this claim is unsubstantiated.

What I discovered was, I have to say, not actually that surprising, considering the types of people that froth over letterheads and liquid paper a veritable buttload of blogs and websites that act as 'support groups' for the stationerily addicted. I trawled through what must have been a good ... three or four of them looking for answers. 

My first port-of-call, Stationery Fetish, was decidedly unhelpful, if amusing. 'My love of office supplies', writes blogger Cinderberry in her 'Stationery Fetishist's Manifesto', 'is irrational, but it is pure. Don't ask me to explain it, just hand over the multi-coloured index cards.'

The writers of Heymiki's blog and ich Kalliope, however, do suggest causes as the roots of stationery obsession. '[I]sn't this compulsion just another guise of my incessant procrastination?' asks Miki in 'My Stationery Obsession':

     Can there be any justification for this oft[-]repeated ritual: 
     deciding what colour Uniball Signo DX 0.38 would be 
     most fitting to capture the thought currently scuttling 
     through my head?' 

Kalliope seems to prefer stationery for its distraction value, saying in 'I heart New Notebooks' that it takes her 'mind off the actual thought of going "back to school".'

In her post 'Stationery Heaven' on Style Treaty, blogger Marion proposes nostalgia as the force behind statio-mania, writing longingly of the days of 'smelly paper' and 'fancy pens', adding that she 

     used to love those pencils where there were all different
     colours within the same pencil and you would remove
     the colour from the bottom and stick it into the top, 
     and if you wanted one of the colours that was at the
     top you'd have to keep pulling them out from the 
     bottom and stuffing them into the top

Okay, Marion, calm down ...

I wasn't too far into my stationery wanderings (Geddit? Hardee har har) when I came across an interview with Kristina Karlsson, wanky stationery name: Kikki K. I was beginning to think all statio-maniacs had to come up with funky alternative names for themselves. I mean really, if Kikki K translates to Kristina Karlsson, then what the hell are Marion, Miki, Kalliope and Cinderberry? But surely the Kikki K would have some answers! Well, yes. Yes she did. 'There is something about a freshly sharpened pencil or a new clean pencil case and notebook that signals a fresh start to the year', she says. And this was a recurring theme in the blogs of my specimens. Cinderberry, if that is her real name, says 

     spiral notebooks whisper to me about the promise of a
     new term at school, new things to learn, new things to 
     write. With a spiral pad, with a pen clipped inside the 
     coil, I'm ready to take on the world

which, correct me if I'm wrong, is just a little creepy. But so-called Kalliope says she loves 'the promise of staying organised' that comes with new stationery, which I have to say, I totally get.

At this point, I was starting to feel a bit weird stalking all these chicks' blogs, so I decided to turn to my own friends in the real world (through the medium of Facebook), ahem. I like the way my friend Sonja put it: 'new stationery makes me feel like things will be different that year. Productivity will increase, and I'll be so epic at everything I do. Just 'cause of all my flash new stationery ... It's all lies, though.'

The only other response I got (out of 391 Facebook friends; is that sad?) was actually from a friend, Melanie, who works at kikki.K and, unsurprisingly, hates it. I say unsurprisingly because any reasonable person opposed to conspicuous consumerism of an insane level would hate it I once got dragged in there by a friend and the only way I could get her to leave was by exclaiming, loudly enough that the cashier could hear, that no A6 notepad was worth $49.95, no matter how Swedish. I shit you not. A6 notepad. $49.95. Anyway, I thought Mel's insights were poignant: 'lots of people now use stationery as a fashion accessory', she said, 'and they like to spend their money on something with the excuse that it is functional.' Agreed.

As for myself, I think I come into contact with more statio-mania than the average person, being an aspiring writer. We are more prone to that sort of thing, and it has been noted by myself and others that an excessive concern with the trappings of being a writer is often the sign of a poor one. It was while I was interning for Hachette Children's Books, I think, that an industry insider told me about a writer whose manuscript wasn't even considered because of the ridiculous letterhead he'd fashioned for his cover letter. 'Anyone who spends that much time on their letterhead isn't spending enough time writing,' they told me. 

So you can imagine my panic in my first Creative Writing class during my exchange semester at the University of East Anglia, eager to meet people and make a good first impression, when I unpacked my bag and realised that sitting in front of me was a Moleskine and a Parker pen. I'd bought the Moleskine ten minutes earlier from the bookshop on campus when I realised on my way to class that I didn't have anything to write in, and the pen, engraved with my writing pseudonym, had been given to me as a twenty-first birthday present by my friends back in Australia just before I left. Luckily I was able to pre-empt any judgement I might've garnered (I think) by declaring when we did the obligatory first-class-of-semester 'go around the room and say one thing about yourself' thing that I was not, despite my try-hard accoutrements, a wanker.

But maybe after that slightly cynical rant, I should end on a nicer, more philosophical note. I do like stationery, after all. I mean, it's not like I'm going to change my name to Lukokobelle and start a new blog about binders whispering to me, but I do like it. I don't think writers, or anyone else for that matter, should be ashamed of their love of leather-bound books and quills and papyrus, they just should be careful not to turn up to their writing classes and announce that they only write using typewriters on brown paper bags (something one of our lecturers told us actually happened once).

A writer's paradise: best friend Gilly and girlfriend Tilly in an Oxford stationery shop.

And don't fool yourself, you like it too. What's not to like? The distraction, the potential for procrastination, the fresh feeling of a new start, the comfort of knowing you're writing on a pad that cost half your week's pay ... In the words of our old friend Miki (Michaela? Maxine? ... Jane?), 

     It has been said that "language is a tool of thought".
     Thus stationery, in enabling us to record and 
     communicate our words, is a conduit of thought! 
     The journey of ideas from the brain to the page is
     no easy task. Thoughts flit and fly. They are 
     ephemeral. Only the best conduit will do. My 
     obsession is not mere indulgence. It is a necessity!

 This article as it originally appeared in Canvas, the 'zine Matilda Grogan, Kaitlyn Carlia (who now has a business crafting greeting cards with Dani Yannoulis) and I put together as an assessment for WRIT216: Introduction to Editing for Practising Writers.

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