On My Best Behavioral Impulse

The Uniball Vision Elite. That’s the name of my favorite pen. It comes in an array of colors, including jeweled hues of pink and purple. The cap makes a very satisfying sound when I click it on an off to pass the time during the weekly staff meeting. But most of all, it has a lovely…there should be a word for this…it has a lovely write to it. A smooth, crisp write.

I’d say it’s been about ten years since I started having the impulse to color in my own lips with a pen like the Uniball Vision Elite. That’s a very indefinite estimate because I don’t remember the impulses themselves, or when or where they took place, as well as I remember actually having them. How badly I wanted to trace the rise and fall of the crest at the top of my top lip. How hard I had to resist the urge to fill in the curve at the bottom of my bottom lip.

I confessed my desire to my mother once, half teasing when I asked her, “haven’t you ever wanted to?” She suggested I restrain myself. Then she suggested using a lip pencil to fill the void, but I didn’t bother. If I had been fighting the urge to rub a greasy, flaky crayon across my mouth, I probably would have just gone for it. Pen has a different texture. My bizarre urge is as much about tracing my lips with a pen as it is about feeling the ink run on my skin. And there is no practicing with ink.

In the last decade, I’ve given this whole situation a lot of thought, and this is what I’ve come up with: There is absolutely no reasonable way to explain my own entirely abnormal thought process and I am certifiably insane and destined to spend the better half of my adult life bound up in a straight-jacket with very, very dark lips. Come on over and take me away. I’ll sign myself in, just give me the damn pen!

Alternatively, there is the theory that the pen-to-lips impulse may have stemmed from one of two events. It might have started around the same time teen beauty magazines entered the scene and became a regular part of my reading material. Visually impressionable and faced with so many human lips, how could one not fixate on our mouths’ lovely lines? But I tried taking a pen to the glossy girls on the pages of Seventeen and YM, and I wasn’t satisfied.

So there’s this other thing, and that’s the drawing and painting class I took at the private school in town for two weeks during the summer after sixth grade. I met a boy named Lawrence, who may or may not have been my first gay friend, and I painted two canvases. I still have both. One depicts a rock, a stone, and a pebble on the cross-bar of my borrowed easel. The other is a somewhat warped rendering of my right hand as if it were painting itself. My hand is wearing a different jelly bean nail polish color on each fingernail, just as I was, as every girl who read teen beauty magazines was, that summer after sixth grade.

I wasn’t really a fan of the painting assignments. Let me rephrase that; I really wasn’t a fan of the painting assignments. First of all, both were pretty steeped in earth tones, so I had very little opportunity to use my favorite colors. Second of all, rocks? Please. Stop holding me back. The next Starry Night could be right beneath my surface and you’ve got me painting rocks. (I never was very good at the whole ‘taking lessons’ thing.) And I didn’t want to stare at my own pink hand for hours on end, especially when I wasn’t doing a very good job of transferring its likeness to the canvas (I just told you, I wasn’t very good at lessons!)

My teacher, a man with tough, wrinkled skin and salt and pepper in his long ponytail and in his arm hair, sensed my displeasure. The unrelenting pout on my lips might have tipped him off. One afternoon, he pulled a metal stool alongside my easel in the cool corner of the art room. He watched me press the royal violet paint I’d blended for one of my novelty fingernails against the fibers of the canvas. I was awkward with the brush, unfamiliar with the nature of my media. I was also pretty grouchy.

“Do you know why women paint their nails, their lips, their eyelids?” he asked me, brushing his fingertips over his own features majestically as he named them. I said nothing, just offered a petulant shake of my head in return for his efforts. “Because all of these things come from the inside. The nails grow from inside the fingertips,” he placed one hand over the other and spread his fingers out like roots sprouting from a seed. “The lips curve out from the mouth,” his fingertips bloomed from where he held them close to his face. “The eyes open up from inside,” he held his hands up, palms out, as if he were seeing them for the first time. “Don’t you think?”

“I’d never thought of it like that, but yeah.” I could not hide my awe behind my pre-teen sullenness.

“Oh, don’t listen to me,” he said, swinging one leg over the seat of the stool and pushing it out from under him with the ball of his foot. The metal scraped against the cement floor. “I just made all that up.”

I was mad at him for tricking me and I wanted to grab him by the elbow and tell him that he was wise and right, right enough to send his ideas in to some magazine so everyone could read them. And now I’m twenty-two and I don’t really read those magazines anymore, but I still think about what comes from the inside every now and then, when I’m looking in the mirror. And when I jot a note or write a draft or sign my name with Uniball Elite Vision, or a pen with an equally great write, I imagine pressing the fine tip to the pout of my lips. Maybe I’ll go through with it one day, just to see what it would feel like.