‘I never, in my life, picked up a pen, when I needed it, that wrote,” said a man from Cape Cod who I never met.

I use pens and pencils all day long. Not that I don’t spend a fair amount of my time sitting in front of a computer, but my job requires that I do a lot of running here and there and checking things off and circling things and making sure things are counted – real things, not virtual things on a screen.

All this counting of things requires a basic tool: the pen, or a pencil if I’m feeling uncertain, or a red pencil if I haven’t had lunch.

On any given day, I might use a couple dozen pens (or pencils, but I’m done talking about pencils). If I need a pen, I simply take the pen closest to me. I have good intentions of returning it to its original place when I’m finished, but this never happens.

This is what happens: I use it for the time that I need it – that is, if I don’t get a phone call in the middle of my pen-task, and therefore abandon my existing pen to answer the phone, which is now on the other side of the room because the last time I answered the phone, I didn’t put it back in its cradle.

The truth is that I don’t remember where I leave pens (or phones, for that matter), because when I’m finished with the one I am using, I don’t need it anymore. Therefore, I don’t need to know where I left it. But, as you have probably guessed, someone is now wondering what happened to his or her damn pen.

I feel no sentimentality toward pens. Yes, it bothers me when I can’t find one and it’s annoying when they don’t work, but one is just as good as another if it’s in my reach and it works. If I can’t find a pen, I use a pencil. If I can’t find a pencil, I use a marker. If I can’t find a marker, I do something else.

Our home is filled with hundreds of random pens carried home by the husband, the daughter and me. They hide in couch covers, under the bed, in the bathroom, in makeup bags and inside pockets. The dog loves blue pens. In an attempt to create order out of chaos, pens are crammed into jars with unused paint brushes, dried-up markers and 10-year-old crayons.

If our home pens could talk, they would say: “This extra-fat brown Crayola crayon hasn’t been used for 12 years and it’s taking up too much room. Please take 10 minutes to dump us out of this stupid jar and ditch the interloper crayon so we can breathe.”

One time at a bank drive-through, the teller asked me if I was a doctor. “Huh?” I said, and then I realized he was looking at the drug company logo on the pen that I had fished from under the seat to write my deposit ticket. Advertising works.

There’s a lot to be said for order over chaos. The things in our world and how we care for and organize them can have a larger meaning about how we care for and organize ourselves.

Running around looking for a pen in the middle of a busy workday is a waste of time. Keeping hundreds of random pens in a jar that you never use is a waste of resources. If only I could change this one behavior in my life, it might lead to a calmer, more sane existence.

I know this, because when I walk into TD Bank on Forest Avenue and reach for one of the 100 green pens stacked neatly in an appropriate vessel, I feel just a little bit calmer.

Is there a Montessori school for adults?

Jolene McGowan lives and works in Portland with her husband, daughter and dog and has no plans to leave, ever. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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