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HomeCultureOde To

Gel Pens

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I can see it so clearly: a nine year old me, sprawled across the Pottery Barn comforter dupe I’d quickly grown out of liking, legs dangling in mid air behind the four foot something length of my prepubescent body. In front of me on the bed is my second or third diary. If you skimmed the entry from any given day, you’d find a chicken scratch rant about so-and-so and their childish, playground antics, or a love letter for my newest crush. And in my right hand: a carefully selected gel pen from my curated stash of rainbow ink. Blue for the sad days. Magenta was fair game for any mood. Yellow was for filling in doodles only, because who can read yellow? Purple or green was always faulty. And metallic for indulging my rebellious streak. Limited edition marbled pens were rare enough to trade for a week’s worth of ice cream money.

A fresh new pack of glitter gel pens was one of the highest priorities on any self respecting middle schooler’s back to school list. While mom ran after the 99 cent glue sticks, I’d make a beeline straight for the stationery aisle.

Back then, when we had no sense of duty or professionalism, we could use gel pens to decorate almost any type of written correspondence. They weren’t reserved exclusively for our private musings — art assignments, one-off doodles, math homework even, were all peppered with shimmery, inky strokes.

And then there was the technique. If you’re reading this thinking, “was there really some secret artist’s code for how to create the proper gel pen stroke?” — yes. Team OV’s creatively inclined generally concede that the key to a smooth, streak-less line is to go slow and steady. Meanwhile if you’re coloring in an area, “you’d draw in tiny spirals until you got a little pool of ink forming,” notes Lizzy, a designer on Team OV. If I close my eyes and listen carefully, I can still hear the faint, tinkly, Pop Rocks crackle of a fresh new gel pen getting into its groove across a page.

Now that I’m spending most of my time indoors and sedentary, (I’m not even talking about the current quarantine — my body is just not as limber as it was whilst competitively dancing), I think I’ll pick back up an old habit or two and, oh god, write my feelings down. Except this go around, there aren’t any playground romances to gush over. No “he said, she said” friend drama to chronicle. Just the occasional quarter life crisis that I’m not entirely sure I want documented.

Nonetheless, I’ve since traded my sparkly, feather-adorned, highly unpractical diary for a pragmatic, more respectable Leuchtturm1917 notebook. But maybe I’ll keep the gel pens around to flit a much welcomed touch of nostalgia across my pages when the weight of being an almost-adult is too suffocating. At the very least, it’ll make my frenzy-induced cursive look prettier, more pleasant. (The chicken scratch has only gotten worse.) Perhaps the beauty in these every day artifacts is that we’re supposed to take them out of storage every now and then. Take them for a test drive, break them in again. After all, who amongst us would ever dare turn down a go at that limited edition marble pen, even now?

Joanne Xu (@joannee_xu) is a Austin-based writer and lead editor at The Recreationalist. She enjoys existing at the intersection between storytelling about people and for brands. And pop culture. Definitely pop culture.

A fresh new pack of glitter gel pens was one of the highest priorities on any self respecting middle schooler’s back to school shopping list. While mom ran after the 99 cent glue sticks, I’d make a beeline straight for the stationery aisle.

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