Still Life

            We invited writers, artists, and musicians to share a favorite creative prompt or craft lesson, or to tell us about a book, poem, song, or film that affected them. We asked them to offer opinions and experiences on creativity, artistic processes, and the role of arts in culture. We're offering their responses here as occasional features on creativity that we're calling Still Life.

            This edition of Still Life features an observation and rumination on the pen as a tool of power and freedom by writer and artist Larry Thacker. Larry’s poetry can be found in over a hundred publications, including Still: The Journal, Spillway, American Journal of Poetry, Poetry South, Tower Poetry Society, Mad River Review, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Mojave River Review, Town Creek Poetry, and Appalachian Heritage. His short stories can be found in past issues of the Still, Fried Chicken and Coffee, Dime Show Review, Vandalia Journal, and Grotesque Quarterly. 

            He is the author of Mountain Mysteries: The Mystic Traditions of Appalachia (Overmountain Press) the poetry chapbooks, Voice Hunting and Memory Train (Finishing Line Press) and the full collection Drifting in Awe (2017 Finishing Line Press), as well as the forthcoming full collections Feasts of Evasion (Future Cycle Press) and Grave Robber Confessional (Main Street Rag Publishing). He is a veteran of the US Army and seventh generation native of the Cumberland Gap area. His MFA in poetry and fiction is from West Virginia Wesleyan College. He is also a 15-year veteran of the student services field in higher education with multiple professional degrees. 

Every day, pen in hand - Be ready
by Larry Thacker

I help manage an antique/vintage store and run a couple of my own booths there as well. I got involved just over a year ago, and I’ve experienced so much pleasure from seeking out and re-selling what the world is letting go. I’ve been a history nut since I was an undergrad major in the field, but being amongst all this life material, with a constant eye for writing, makes for a newly layered appreciation of how the world gears itself up. I meet some of the most interesting people. Every day is writing worthy.
Like this morning. A lady walks into the store, appearing a bit distracted, in a mood or state we're used to seeing here with some folks who deal with issues that should make most of us feel very lucky with what few problems we really have. I ask if she needs help and she asks if I've got anything for fifty cents (probably not, I think). I wonder hard about it and muse that I could look around. But then she asks, as she pulls out a dollar and hangs it out in front of me, if I have a pen/pin.
I'm not sure what she's asking. The sort you wear? I ask first, referring to the glass counter cabinet which is full of pretty little things. Yes. Or to write with? Yes. (So it's yes to both?) Oh, I can just give you a pen to write with, I told her, handing her one of a thousand we have around. She seemed thrilled and grateful over something so simple, so mundane as an ink pen. I told her as she turned and immediately walked out: Everyone needs something to write with out in the world. And we do.
This something isn’t always a handy pen, which alludes us in times of need (and where do all those lost writing utensils go?). That something to write with may be the permission we need to express what we’ve got loaded up inside. That something may be a key to understanding, some epiphany. The pen – not a pen – might be some cathartic episode creeping up on us we’re not ready for, but isn’t waiting on our being ready. It comes anyway.  
When they claimed, way back when (and at the moment I don’t know who “they” were, nor when “when” was), that the pen is mightier than the sword, they weren’t including only quill pens and steel swords, of course. This was a reminder of how free expression can negate oppression. Sometimes.
I believe the very act of holding a pen in the hand is symbolic. Try it. Hold the nearest pen or pencil in a hand. What does it conjure. It calls up what might be said, but is only thought about in the safety of the mind. It calls upon an entire history of the written word and all its delights (and horrors). Having a pen close at hand makes us feel better, knowing we’re capable of tossing down important moments without the anxiety of forgetfulness. A pencil, with an eraser, is a little forgiving. The writing tool and the blankness of the paper meet on the level field, fight it out for expressive space. The pen is an extension of your power, however you define it.
We should all have something to write with out in the world, indeed. 

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