One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2018 is to take up writing by hand again. I bought my first ever fountain pen, a Pilot Metropolitan, and the most un-holiday-ish Christmas cards I could find on after-holiday discount at my local big retailer store. I also picked up a nice journal and some color pencils. My tools are ready for a year of putting pen to paper. I’ll see how it goes, one page and one day at a time.
It seems a retro, nostalgic thing to write this way, but I’m not alone. The Internet of all places is a good place to find pen pals. The prospect of having to wait a week or more for a response to a message when we have multiple, popular direct messaging platforms, Twitter and Facebooks public posts, email, and blogs for instant communication, whether to whoever is interested to read it or to a more restricted audience.
So handcrafting a letter for one person runs counter to the crazy pace of communication that has become our normal.
And waiting a month perhaps for a response makes the experience that much more precious and singular. It’s the writerly equivalent of a musical performance that is experienced only by the audience in the room where it happens.
So that’s the lure of the pen pal for me.
The pen is a key part of the process. Writing with a fountain pen, I learned, is a skill unto itself. I scrawl with ballpoint pens at work and home then toss them away when they’re spent. They come four to six in a pack and are relatively cheap. A fountain pen is a different animal entirely. The leaf-shaped metal tip (that’s the nib) demands more of the writer. You have to hold the pen at the correct angle to get the ink to flow properly. My first few attempts left inkless scratches on the paper. With further practice, the pen becomes a fine tool for expressing not just words but subtler things through how flowing or cramped the hand. Did you write this quickly or take your time? With an email or DM, who could say by the words alone? The fountain pen like a paint brush leaves behind something more of the artist in their art.
And so each letter is a handmade gift, a single performance of thought and feeling captured in ink and paper. Sending one out is reaching out to one recipient, knowing it will take time to reach them, and so you take time to do it properly. Receiving a letter is in 2018 like opening a time capsule, knowing a star whose light you see left it eons ago (but on a smaller scale of course). It is an occasion for joy, whether the words are many or few, good news or ill. This letter was made just for you.
As I think forward to the new year, handwriting letters with a fountain pen is one thing that gives me joy. I hope that you find reason for joy in 2018. Embrace that precious spark, nurture it, and spread the light and warmth it promises.
Keith A. Manuel works at a library by day and writes fantasy fiction by night. He can be found on Twitter @KeithAManuel and on his blog borrowedworlds.wordpress.com