A few conversations on permies lately touched on pens and our expectations for them.
I was really surprised to learn that people don't expect their pens to last. The expectation is that they are easy to come by and quick to loose or wear out. So a new pen every month or week isn't such a big deal.
Actually, I was shocked to learn this. If my pen lasts less than 20 years, I'm upset. I expect 50 to 100 years life expectancy for pens.
Is this a leftover idea from quills? One expects a quill to wear down after so many hours use, but every writer knew how to make a new one, and birds loose their feathers every year. It's a free and renewable resource that comes from birds and composts into soil.
Possibly it's because of the material culture we live in, we don't think twice about the energy and resources it takes to make a pen. We don't think about the permanent harm that that pen can cause to the environment once it is 'disposed of'.
Sure, many people don't use pens anymore. The ecological considerations of that are a topic for another (cider press) thread.
Actually, the other day I was mulling this over and I realized it's not about pens. Pens are a tiny symptom of our societies world view. On this site we talk about growing permanent food systems, building houses to last generations, cutting down on energy needs with rocket mass heaters and stoves, financial frugality, and a whole range of ideas for making the world a better place. I am hugely inspired by that. I often feel I have a long way to go before my life can be called sustainable, and I think the pen makes a great starting point for me and maybe for others too.
So here is my challenge; actually three challenges, for you:
1. Observe pens. You don't need to change your behaviour, just observe. Observation is the first step in permaculture, it's how we learn to see naturally occurring patterns. Observe the ecology of pens. If you go to the bank teller, notice the pen on a chain. How about a pen teetering on the edge of a storm drain as you cross a busy street? Do you use a pen for a shopping list? Are there pens in your workspace? How about a pen for circling all the wonderful things in the seed catalogue you hope to buy once the next pay check comes in - this always reminds me of my childhood when we had the great big Sears catalogue and I would spend hours choosing which items I wanted to circle for my Christmas wish list - that too involved using a pen. Where did you used to use pens but don't anymore? Is there a quality that makes one pen easier to use than another? Just observe pens, think about pens, notice patterns in pen behaviour. This is your challenge: Observe.
2. For the more stout-hearted of you, here's your second challenge. Hold on to your pen. Decide on one pen and see how long you can hold on to it. This doesn't mean locking it up in a safe spot, make this the pen you use daily. You are probably not going to get 50 years use out of an ordinary disposable pen, but maybe your usual pen-life is 3 days, maybe you can extend that to a week, or a month? Or longer?
3. If you are still with me at this stage, then your next challenge is to apply the first two challenges to some other object in your life that untill now, you give little thought to. Rubber bands, the power cord for your phone, magazines, a hair elastic... something physical in the world, but small and insignificant.