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For me, the best kind of writing is done not on a touchscreen or a keyboard but with pen and paper. Years ago, a writing teacher recommended “eye-ease” green paper as it cuts the glare if you happen to be writing outside on a sunny day. And I like spiral notebooks for the way you can have just one page in front of you. Here’s my newest notebook along with two pen choices and a sweet plant that I pulled up from my brick pathway in front of my house.

I’m not sure where the bear pen came from, but I like to imagine it is from Bern, Switzerland, where I went with my family when I was 11. Bern is famous for its bears and its bear paraphernalia.

The fancy ballpoint is a Cross pen I found among my father’s things after he died, and frankly, it is too skinny to be satisfying to hold. I much prefer a cheap pen with the addition of a spongy cuff from Hastings Stationers in Amherst, MA. Hastings still lets you buy a few envelopes at a time, or just one packing box, and they have a stellar collection of penny candy.

The little flower and all its sisters and cousins and aunts emerge from rosettes of leaves that lie flat against the moss in the crevices between the bricks leading to my front door. Its long, thin root reminds me of the extraordinary journey I’ve been on, for many, many years, to go all the way back to the taproot of John Dixwell’s birth in the 17th century.

When you are researching your family’s genealogy you could go off on scores of tangents, but I just followed one thread, like this little root, and traced it back to his grandparents in the 1500s. I wanted to know what may have influenced Dixwell to make the decision to serve as the judge of a king and condemn him to death.

He never knew that thousands of Dixwell descendants have branched off from the small family he started, when he was already an old man, in the New Haven Colony. He was so elderly that his young wife Bathsheba lost him before she turned 40, but managed to bring a son and daughter safely to adulthood.

If my parents hadn’t named me Sarah Dixwell Brown, I suspect it wouldn’t have occurred to me to pick up pen and paper and eventually write an entire book. But I was already in the habit of keeping a journal in a long series of spiral notebooks. They tell the story of how I gradually learned enough to tell the story of John Dixwell.


Posted on: May 5, 2022

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