Why I Use a Different Pen When I’m at My Day Job

Those who know me best know that I’ve been using the same blue medium-sized Bic pens since high school, even though Bic redesigned this particular model six or so years ago.  (When I saw that the originals were getting harder to find I bought eight boxes of them from a reseller in South Korea and I’ve been using them ever since.  Don’t ask me what I’m going to do when I run out, because I’m honest to God not sure.)

From a practical standpoint, I prefer writing in blue because it forms a clearer contrast against black printed text, especially when I’m revising a draft by hand.  I also like that the cap on these pens comes off without sticking and that they’re easy to twirl around my fingers, since I tend to play with small objects like Slinkys or restaurant napkins when I’m thinking about something.

A lot of people might find me neurotic for carrying the same outdated style of cheap pen around at all times, but since I handwrite things pretty often, having a familiar tool on hand makes the entire process easier and more natural.  If I have to revise some writing or jot down a quick idea, I want to be focused on the idea itself, not the material conditions of whether my pen cap is sticking.


Now Cut to Exhibit B…



This is the pen I use at my Office Day Job.  It’s a blue click pen that I found in the pen cup on my desk my first day, and it happened to be the first one I grabbed to fill out my direct deposit form.  The clip was already broken off when I picked it up, and the broken piece has a slight edge that’s good for resting your fingernail under.

Even though I normally don’t like click pens (they tend to leave nasty scribbles on the insides of my pockets when they click open unexpectedly) I like clicking the pen in and out when I’m reading the computer screen as a way to keep my fingers busy.  I was surprised that I enjoyed this clicking so much, and since I never carry my work pen in my pocket and don’t need the clip, there’s no downside to using it.

My work pen also came with a blue removable rubber grip, but after a month of constant rubbing and stretching it wormed its way free during a meeting, flew off with a surprising burst of speed, and came within six inches of hitting a coworker who luckily didn’t notice it.  At that point I pulled the grip off permanently and now use it as-is despite some balance issues.


Why Am I Going On About Pens Anyway?

The point of this post isn’t to describe inanimate office supplies—I’m writing this because I use these two pens to symbolize my division between Day Job work and personal work.

I didn’t plan the two pen system, it just happened naturally.  It feels right to split up my pen use like this, since I want to keep Day Job-related work at my Day Job and not have to think or (*shudder*) worry about it when I leave the building.  Even though it’s just a pen, leaving it in the office symbolizes that I’m done with Day Job work for the day.


Physically Separating Day Job Work From Everything Else

When I was in Japan I learned about honne and tatemae, the Japanese idea of only sharing your true feelings (honne) in close situations while shaping a professional persona (tatemae) that fulfills your responsibilities so you can be a mature member of society.  The Japanese people I talked to didn’t like acting tatemae—they saw it as an unpleasant but necessary chore they had to deal with at their jobs, and they accepted it the same way we accept doing menial tasks like washing dishes and opening cans of corned beef hash that don’t have pull tabs.

The thing that really impressed me about the Japanese, though, was that when worktime ended and they didn’t have to follow the tatemae standard anymore, that unpleasant way of acting went away—like, completely away.  As in, the Japanese never, ever let work interfere with their off time.

One of the best conversations I ever had about this was with one of my students who worked an office job where (like most Japanese) he wore a black suit and tie every day.  When I asked him whether he was sick of wearing the same uniform to work, he said just the opposite: he liked wearing his drab work clothes to work because when he finished he could take them off and put on his regular clothes again.

For him, the uniform was a physical reminder that he was in the working world, and taking that uniform off embodied the transition from work to personal life where he was free to be himself.


I Don’t Like Thinking About My Day Job When I’m Not There

For me, leaving my work pen on the desk has become the surest way of telling my body and brain that Day Job work’s done for the day and it’s time to focus on other things.

Or, to put it another way: when I’m editing a piece of writing with my trusty Bic, I have exactly zero associations linking that pen with my Day Job, meaning that Day Job thoughts are much less likely to wander in and distract me.

This stuff matters—a lot.  Despite my hatred of long commutes, I actually like going to a separate building for my Day Job more than staying put for my old Work From Home Day Job because I had to do my Work From Home Day Job using the same computer, at the same desk, sitting in the same chair I used for working on my novel, which meant that the two activities sometimes got tangled up.  That made it a lot harder to leave Day Job thoughts behind.

Separating physical things like clothes, chairs, and pens that we associate with Day Job work has been a pretty powerful step towards my keeping a clearer head while I’m outside of the office, and it’s a trick I wish I’d figured out years ago.


One Last Thing…

…while I never take my Day Job pen home, I do take my regular Bic pen to work every single day.  That’s because if I ever get an idea for this blog or come up with some good dialogue, I can pull my pen out of my pocket and write it down in my notebook just like I would anywhere else, again keeping the Day Job thoughts separate.

Not to get too metaphorical, but while it’s a good idea to keep the Day Job work away from your personal work, you should always keep the personal work in the back of your mind even at your Day Job so you can plan what you’re going to do next—and that’s something no Day Job can (or should) take away from you.

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