No. 9 >> The Stationery Issue: The things you can do with pencils.

MAKING THE WORK // A Fresh Pack of Index Cards

For as long as I can remember, stationery has been one of my favourite birthday presents to get. This year was no exception. A. gave me a fresh pack of index cards and a neat-o box that will hold a whole schwack of them, along with some pens and a couple of notepads. I held the new supplies to my chest and squeeed like he’d just given me a guinea pig. Later, when a couple other writers were coming over for dinner, I displayed them so they’d know how lucky I was.

The index cards also have special significance. A friend of ours who has a great, systematic mind, had sent us a video a couple weeks before of a screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black, whose process is heavily-based on index cards. A. and I both watched the video and recognized that Black and I are kindred spirits.

You can watch the video here (and I recommend you do), but this is the gist. Black, who wrote Milk and J. Edgar, says that for him, each index card should have “as pure and singular an idea as possible” written on it because he wants to be able to move them around. He lays them all out on his kitchen island and says, “it’s about then taking each note card, over the course of weeks to months, laying them out and distilling what’s necessary to tell the story.” Once he gets the cards in place, he “watches” his movie and if he gets bored or finds something that isn’t logical or is repetitive, he fixes it. Once he can get through the whole thing he calls it an outline and starts writing. “There’s no reason to write all that stuff and then have to cut it later. I might as well cut it before I have to write it,” he says. 

Now, I feel a bit silly saying this, but it had never occurred to me that I was “allowed” to spend weeks on end creating an outline and treating it like the work, not a precursor to the work. Duh. But then again, in fairness to myself, it’s no wonder that I didn’t because that kind of system is considered contrary to ideas of creative process. Common advice for writers is to sit down at the page and “ just let it flow.” That kind of process might be organic, but it’s not organic to me. And I know there are other writers like me. Black, for one. We may just be in the minority. 

So, I’m trying the index card outline/laying out of the story for the novel. This is exactly the kind of exercise I need to be able to see its shape and to securely go forward knowing how things fit. It might even take me months. I want to learn from this too, so the next time someone tells me just to just let it flow, I might stab them with my pencil.

MISC. THINGS // Pencil Ciggies

I keep thinking about these pencils that look like cigarettes that I saw online a couple of months ago. You can even get a pencil sharpener that looks like a lighter to go with them. It’ll be September soon, the traditional month to re-stock stationery supplies, and I kind of want to order a pack of those pencil ciggies.

Ten years ago yesterday I gave up smoking. I had smoked for just over a decade—Exports, Dunhills, Camels, Marlboros, Bensons—but mostly pouches of Player’s Light for rollies when I was poor(er) and DuMaurier King Size when I was less poor.  I was a committed smoker and so was my then-spouse of eight years. We quit smoking together. We were regulars at a website called, which was created by a smoking cessation expert named Joel. We clicked on “Motivation” and “Education” and adapted Joel’s motto: “Never take another puff.” We quoted him to each other: Joel says drink plenty of fruit juice. Joel says quit smoking one day at a time. Joel says be proud that you’re not smoking. Then, shortly after quitting smoking, we quit each other. Both things induced temporary insanity, but were two of the best things I ever did.

I took up coffee stir sticks, gnawing on them whenever I craved a nicotine bonbon. And I learned to play slightly better guitar so my hands had something to do. There were times though when I wanted to mug strangers for a cigarette. I wanted to feel the white paper tube stick to the slight moisture of my lips, to reach for my monogrammed Zippo, hear it tick open and woof to life, then touch, suck and inhale. OH GOD, I wanted it—as badly as I’ve ever wanted anything—sex, chocolate, a warm bed—but after I’d kicked its toxic little ass out of my hierarchy of needs I didn’t want it huffing and puffing its way back in, so I stayed quit. 

A decade later, I still miss smoking in a sort of abstract, romantic way. I haven't ever got over thinking that smoking looks kind of sexy and I like standing next to smokers. I also miss getting down with my bad girl self. These days if I feel like being a little bad, it usually means having dairy. Or, apparently, ordering up some pencils that look like cigarettes. 

DOMESTIC ARTS // How to Pit a Cherry with a Paperclip

I have a confession to make: I love the domestic arts. I’ve debated whether or not to have a Domestic Arts column in the mini-mag since day one. I’m giving in. I can’t help it; it’s just who I am. I’m a feminist and I love to stuff a mushroom/alphabetize my spices/clean everything with vinegar. 

I’m also a fan of a MacGyvering things (these days, called “life hacks”). My cousin used to call me the “faux tailor” because I’d perform flawless repairs on my clothing with staples and a hot glue gun. So I got excited when I read that you can pit a cherry with a paperclip. Stationery supplies + the domestic arts = bring it.

Because it’s cherry season, I’ve had a hankering to Nijilla up a cherry galette (I prefer the rustic, free-form galette to a traditional pie). The pitting of the cherries was all that was deterring me. Not now. Now, I know that all you have to do is unfold a paperclip then poke one of the looped ends into the cherry, wiggle/twist it a bit then pull that pit out like a boss. 

Not convinced? You can watch a YouTube tutorial here.