Empress of the Universe

Ink is a touchy topic for me. I’m not an editor, but I spend a fair amount of time entering edits and making my own edits on manuscripts of academic journal articles.

I also spent most of a decade training my boss in stages: First, not to edit in pencil, but in pen. Then, not to edit in black pen, but in color pen. And finally, not to use blue or red or purple or brown or any other color but green.

Pilot G-2 green penHave you ever wondered why green pens are fairly widely available compared to novelty colors like pink and copper? It’s because professional editors use green pens. Green has the Goldilocks advantage of contrasting well against both black text and the white paper it is printed on.

Blue pens deserve more respect in the office than they get, though not for editing. Blue ink is accepted everywhere as serious, like black and unlike other colors; but much more importantly, documents filled in or signed in blue are readily distinguishable from photocopies, without the peering and holding up to the light and feeling the back of the paper that goes along with determining whether a  document is the original.

I got excited one day some months back and ordered about a dozen different green gel pens from JetPens.com. That is about three or four years’ worth at my rate of usage. I also threw in maybe a half dozen blue gel pens, maybe a year and a half or two years’ worth for me. I told myself that I wanted to try all those different brands to see what I liked best, and besides, JetPens ships free with a $25 order. But really it was my appetite for things, rampant and ravening, that placed the order.

Zebra Sarasa Port Red gel penI did not get red. I am not sure what the market is for ordinary bright red pens, other than teachers’ corrections. But I had to fight against the urge to get some dark red pens, also called port, burgundy, and black-red.

For editing purposes, dark red ink is approximately equal to blue, purple, brown, and forest green. They’re better than black, but inferior to plain old green. Still and all, burgundy ink is uniquely pleasurable.

Dark red ink is sensuous, lapidary, luxurious, and appetizing, the color of cherry juice (not “cherry red”) and the jus in “au jus,” and the hue of that extraordinarily delicious cabernet sauvignon of which I had a glass three years ago. It calls to mind the velvets and satins in old art. Dark red is the color of royalty and of power. (Tyrian purple was more like what we would call burgundy than what we think of as purple.)

PopeInnocentX Diego Velasquez 1650While writing in purple confusingly suggests both adolescence and USDA meat stamps, and brown connotes da Vinci’s intellect laboring over parchment, dark red signals the leisure to correspond. I want to write in burgundy and feel like the Empress of the Universe.

Jarringly, the shopper inside me adds cheerfully in a television-like blare, “Pens are cheap. Throw a few burgundy pens into your next order of blue pens, doodle with them, have some fun.” Then, quietly, the avaricious octopus that hides behind the cheerful shopper inside me whispers darkly, “And when you have them in your hands, they will make you feel like Empress of the Universe instead of a desk jockey.”

No! say I stoutly. What am I going to do with dark red pens? I have no need for them at the office; for personal paper correspondence I use blue; and for the holiday season I use green. I have too many pens in the pipeline already, and those are in colors I actually use. A dark red pen would be worth a few minutes of play, and then become junk in the chowder.

In an earnestly puritanical voice, I tell myself, correctly: It is with the accumulation of ounce after ounce of small items that I ended up with too much stuff. I must turn away from even these small cheap delights. I have enough pens. So I won’t get them.

But, my heart replies, no cries of “Sour grapes!” from me, these are sweet red grapes. I refuse to pretend that these pens are unappealing. No matter if I never own another dark red pen, I will never stop feeling that burgundy ink is specially luscious.

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3 thoughts on “Empress of the Universe

  1. Todd Mason October 6, 2013 at 4:03 pm Reply

    Color photocopies, however, lessen that advantage of blue ink. The only pens I’ve been seeking out of late, fwiw, are those with penlights at the non-business end.

    • asceticshopper October 6, 2013 at 5:49 pm Reply

      Yes. Though color copiers remain exceedingly expensive, it’s possible to scan a page signed in blue and print it in color on an inkjet printer. Nevertheless, most printers and copiers print in black, so there is still something of an advantage, as you say.

      You mean a pen with a light at the clip end like this?

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