Tuesday, March 2, 2010


I have ink on my fingers today---I just filled my new fountain pen for the first time.

That's a FEELING. I'd been admiring and picking up my graceful new bottle of ink since Christmas, for it came with the pen. It's shaped like a squat, very smooth hourglass, with, like a lot of us, a lot more sand run through than remains. The lid is like a wide-top shako, sans plume, and the whole thing is made of the smoothest glass, with the inky depths converted into gleaming onyx by the shining curve of the hip.

The pen came with a cartridge insert, which was blue, and since I have always had a preference for black ink, I've been scribbling grocery lists and phone numbers and jotting down and toting up with the new hand-heft of this pen.

The pen itself is a riotous purple, chosen by our GrandBaby, because it's her favorite color. The clip is exactly that, like a Gucci paper-clip, strong and sturdy and sleek. And I'll be writing today, a bit, REALLY writing, for almost all my words are set down in clicks of the keyboard. I CALL that writing, for it engenders a spark of satisfaction, but the real thing is done with hand and pen.

I would not trade my keyboard for a quill employed by the Founding Fathers, and I cannot fathom how the Classics ever came to be. How those persistent writers thought a thought and got it onto paper in the halting process of dip and drip and skip and dip again, I'll never know. Dear Jane and Anthony and all their kind, with the cupful of whittled feathers and the clotty, smeary ink, were geniuses of a level to astound, for they put down such graceful, such telling sentences and ideas and phrases as to entertain, delight, halt the breath and change how we think about things.

If Xanadu came to Coleridge in a dream, whole passages lost to an untimely knock at the door, how DID he get down what he did? Scrabbling for paper and quill and ink and a quick whittle at the nib, with perhaps a halt for finding his spectacles---then all that stop-and-start to the scribbling. At that one poem alone, I am amazed.

Backspace to erase a line, highlight a whole paragraph and send it into nothingness with a quick flick of the delete, type like the wind before the thought whispers out (and it was such a GOOD one, too---and now an enticing, frustrating tickle melting through the floorboards of my brain)---those are the tools which we've come to depend on. Lining through a phrase, or using a pen-knife for both quill and erasure, blade-smoothing away a word with painstaking care, for paper was dear---who could think two thoughts in succession with such rude methods?

I also have excessive admiration for the writers who just pounded an old Underwood, getting the thoughts into play through the clatter of that anvil-with-keys---Gone With The Wind was written on one such, I believe, and word has it that she piled page after page into a dishpan and slid them beneath her dresser. Dedication and hope and a story to tell, that's what it took.

When I was in grade school, I don't believe even a glance from that cute Fields boy in third grade would equal the joyful anticipation kindled by a new lined tablet and a fresh-sharpened Eberhard #2. Just the smell of the thick paper with its visible micro-tendrils pressed smooth, and the scent of the pine shavings and the powdering of the lead as that old hand-crank wall-sharpener put a point on the pencil---nothing was as heady or promising.

And now, a just-opened bottle of India Black, dark as campfire coffee, and this new medium-point fountain pen---fountain pen. With the four new journals, one-per-season this time, from Chris---I have a feeling I'll soon have the old familiar callus on my right middle finger, and the hand-tingles which literally DO spell Writer's Cramp.


Southern Lady said...

Oh, what a beautifully written post, Rachel. Once upon a time I had a REAL ink pen, too. In fact, I think I still have it in a box of treasures in the attic.

I can just picture you, with head bent, as dedicated and talented as those writers of long ago, lovingly covering the pages of your new journals with your gracious words and stories flowing from your new purple pen ...

Kim Shook said...

Lovely! I share your admiration for those writers who managed such feats of literature with 'scribbling' as Jo called it. And I also share your gratitude for a keyboard and the wonderful inventions of cut and paste and spell check!