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At the beginning of my recent launch party, while people were still milling and drinking wine, a friend asked me to sign a book right then in case he had to leave before my talk was done. He was prepared, with an open book and a pen. I put down my glass, signed, and marvelled. That was the best signing pen I had ever handled. This is it:

Zebra Marathon Gel Ink Pen Black 47910

I asked if I could “borrow” it for the evening. I want to give it back to him, but I think he knew even as he surrendered it that that may never happen (our paths don’t cross as much as we would both like). It was rude of me, I know, but I had to have it for the rest of the books. I’ve just ordered 12 more from the link above.

Thanks, Alan!


Well, so far I do love it. Standing for too long, however, ends up hurting my feet (we’re in bare feet around the house, so it’s not a shoe thing).

Attempted solution: I keep a butt-height piece of furniture behind me, to alternate leaning and true standing. This gives just enough periodic relief to my feet to keep me going. The key is that I don’t properly sit with my legs bent or dangling; I just lean, with legs still straight, still holding me up, just with some of the pressure off. This makes it easy, and natural, to return to true standing after a bit of relief. This back-and-forth is just part of the natural fidgeting and weight-shifting that makes standing to work more active.

What do I recommend as a butt-height piece of furniture, you may ask? Well, if I were buying, I’d look for a bar stool type thing. What I actually used, however, is a piece of exercise equipment I don’t know the name of. I got it after giving birth, to help my abs and back get back into shape. It was right there, so I grabbed it. It’s great. I think the edge of a desk or table could work, too. Whatever you use, it has to have a really steady base.

True confession: I’m writing this from my old glider-and-footstool combination, because I’ve just taken a migraine pill and feel AWFUL. Still recovering from jet lag? Still recovering from being sick on the plane and for a week after? Whatever it is, I hope to be back on my feet soon.

I’ve been sitting far, far too much. Recent studies show that sitting for long periods (LIKE WHEN WRITING) is unhealthy. Sure has been for me.

I’ve chickened out of getting a hardcore “treadmill desk.” I think the walking would be too distracting.

But here I am, with this lovely version of a standing desk. It’s more of a laptop stand than a proper desk, but that’s really all I need.

The theory is that I’ll now work standing up. In fact, I’m standing up right now 😉

Already I’m doing that rocking, weight-shifting thing that is supposed to be so much healthier than being still.

I chose this over a properly desk-like standing desk for a few reasons. Number one is that I have a laptop so that I’m not tied down to any one room. I can easily move a stand with me in a way that I wouldn’t be able to move a piece of furniture. Number two, most of those desks don’t have a tilt option. With this, I can angle the laptop towards me, which is more comfortable for typing. Third, it has a wide range of adjustable heights. Because I was ordering this online and wouldn’t have a chance to try it out, I wanted to have options. If I find I need papers beside me, I can just grab a music stand (we have a couple in use around the house).

As far as other laptop stands go, many of the others I found were on wheels. Yes, those wheels are lockable, but it still made me nervous. Also, many of them are primarily for projectors, as opposed to this one, purpose-built for laptops. Lastly, it had great reviews, was only £100, arrived two days after I ordered it, and was assembled in less than fifteen minutes.

I’ve only just unpacked it, but so far I’m very pleased.

I’ll report back in a few weeks if I’m able to do all my work this way, or only part, or if it drives me crazy.

Chair will still be there for me when I need him.

I loved school supplies when I was a kid. Still love them, only now I get to call them ‘work supplies.’ Trouble is, I can’t find what I’m looking for.

At first I assumed it was a US/UK terminology problem. I must just have been asking for the wrong things. But, even wandering the aisles of Ryman’s and WH Smith, I could not find them. Where were they? How were people managing without them? I have tried asking for them by description, but no one at those stores knows what I’m talking about. I’ve tried keywords on, and none of the results are right.

We called them “portfolios” when I was in school in the seventies and eighties in New Jersey. Also, “folders.” But the former conjures in the British mind presentation binders with clear sleeves inside, and the latter brings up literal folders: folded card stock in which one can shove papers, but no pockets to keep them in. I’m after “folders with pockets,” but the word “pocket” here brings up a full sized pocket. Imagine a card-stock folder with the two short sides sealed. Sure, you can hold things in them, but you can’t look at the things without taking all of them out.

This is what I’m after: a card-stock folder that when closed is a little larger than a piece of paper, and when open is double that. It opens such that each side is oriented portrait, not landscape. Each of the two insides has a pocket that goes halfway (or maybe a third of the way) up. They come in many colors, so you can sort papers into easily recognized and portable subjects. Once inside, the papers don’t fall out, and you can look at them or rifle through them without taking them out.

Which is a lot of words, clinical, unvivid ones at that, to describe what is, to me, a common object that I never considered important until I couldn’t find one.

Point one: Sometimes writing stalls on something that isn’t interesting but which needs to be clear: the layout of the scene of a crime, or the working of an appliance that later becomes a weapon. These things are obvious upon sight but difficult to put into words. In The Start of Everything, I struggled with a door that was “catercorner” to another, a word none of my early readers knew but which was the literal and sole accurate word to describe the door’s position.

Point two: I really, really want a bunch of these pocket folder thingies. How British people sort their papers without them I do not know. They are now up there with large bottles of Advil and People magazine on my “bring back from America” shopping list.

I got a free pen at a hotel last year. I don’t mean to be a jerk about this; it was free, after all. But, dude, the design of this thing is inexplicable.

To make the nib come out, you *twist* the top half of the pen. Why? WHY? I clicked on the top of that thing ten times before stumbling on this twisty business. There’s no reason to innovate unless you’re actually improving.

And it is NOT an improvement. Because of the repeated twisting, the clip has finally been shoved clear off. Without a clip, instead of clinging to my notebook, the pen falls into the depths of my bag.

Note to hotels and other conference-hosting places: OF COURSE the pens will be cheap. But they shouldn’t be *weird*.

PS These are the first worst.

I despise these pens:

Papermate KV2

Instead of clicking the top to both extend and retract the writing nib, you have to click the top to extend, and click the clip to retract. Why? Why why why? There’s no advantage; it’s just confusing.

Worse, though, is that the retraction mechanism in the clip makes it impossible to slip the clip over a piece of paper, which is the clip’s entire point. Any attempt the slide the pen into place over a piece of paper, notebook cover or magazine page will tear the page.

In sum: they tear my papers, swim around unfindably in the bottom of my bag because I can’t clip them to anything, and took me literally weeks to figure out how to operate (at first we thought they were broken and just had to stay open: so add to my grievances that they wrote all over the inside of my bag).

Boo, hiss! Papermate, what were you thinking??

I’ve found them! My favorite pens!

If you ever want to bribe me, this is what you use:

Paper Mate Flair Felt Tips–Red

I love these things for marking up a printed manuscript. In drug stores, you usually only see them in packs with 2 black and 1 red. I don’t want the 2 black pens! I just want the red one! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought that pack anyway, just for that one red pen.

In the link above, they are available as an all-red twelve pack.

I may swoon.

From “Envoy” by Billy Collins, a message to his just-published book:

"stay out as late as you like,
don't bother to call or write,
and talk to as many strangers as you can."