This essay appeared in our Fall 2006 Print Issue 7. Click here to purchase the entire issue in Kindle format.
Keith must have given the pen to me nine or ten years ago; he took such pleasure in making and giving these things, and I can imagine several variations of the moment he handed this particular pen to me: while I sat at my desk in our house in Seattle, Keith walking by on his way to the bathroom and placing it just on the edge of my desk without a word; or leaning over the kitchen counter with paring knife in hand, grinning as he dropped it in my palm; or in the car on our way to the health club, plucking it from his pocket to hand it to me so I could write down some fleeting thought. That’s the way we worked in those days, a lifetime ago; anticipating each other’s needs a split second before we had to make them known.
I am not the kind of person who keeps track of things, even things I love. I’ve lost nearly every piece of jewelry ever given to me, including a beautiful gold chai necklace my parents gave me on my thirteenth birthday. I lost the watch they engraved for me on my graduation from college. Within a week or so every pen I buy has somehow disappeared. And yet, this truncated instrument, this stump of a pen, has stuck around all these years, rising to the top of the heap, showing up just when I needed it most.
And, even more unlikely, it still writes. The ink reservoir is only two inches long, barely enough ink to sustain a few months worth of checks, and yet here it is, like a testimonial, writing and writing, going and going, the ink still bold, the line still smooth, as if there will always be plenty.
BRENDA MILLER directs the MFA program in Creative Writing and the MA program in English Studies at Western Washington University.
She is the author of Listening Against the Stone: Selected Essays (Skinner House Books 2011),Blessing of the Animals (Eastern Washington University Press 2009), and Season of the Body(Sarabande Books 2002). She co-authored, with poet Holly J. Hughes, The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World (Skinner House Books, 2012). She is also the co-author of Tell it Slant: Creating, Refining, and Publishing Creative Nonfiction, 2nd Edition (McGraw-Hill, 2012).
Her work has received six Pushcart Prizes, and all six prize-winning essays are included inListening Against the Stone. Her essays have been published in many journals, including Fourth Genre, Creative Nonfiction, The Sun, Utne Reader, The Georgia Review, and The Missouri Review.
She serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Bellingham Review.
Brenda lives in Bellingham, WA, with her dog Abbe and many foster dogs who find temporary shelter with her through Happy Tails Happy Homes.
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