Take Pen to Paper


Feather Quill Pen and Ink

So many of you read this in the Providence Journal. And so many have written me, so I reproduce it here.

I fell in love with fountain pens when Miss Casey taught us penmanship in the third grade, though my penmanship was not good. My letters were small, did not slant enough, and hugged the bottom line, never quite reaching the one above.
“You should slant your letters a bit more, Edward, and make them reach. Look at Sandra’s wonderful full lines that fill the entire space.”
I thought Sandra’s writing was too big, but Miss Casey loved it. Though everyone’s papers were displayed above the blackboard, she always pointed to Sandra’s with the wide arching “L’s” and looping “E’s” that reached half as high as her “L’s.”
“And look how she crosses her “T’s” in the middle.”
I watched Sandra write. It was writing in rhythm. She concentrated with her tongue peeking out of the corner of her mouth (maybe that was the answer), starting with a low sweep with her arm resting on the desk, peaking to the top and then swooping downward to the bottom, barely bending her wrist. Her letters were angled with the same slope…tipping just enough to look a like a thin tree, never straight up, never leaning too far. It didn’t matter that I thought she wrote too big.
Miss Casey gave me the job of filling the ink wells which were in the right hand corner of the desks and flush with the tops. I had to take the inkwell out of the desk and fill it with a quart bottle with its narrow funnel. The ink had a smell I loved…. metallic with a deep purple tang and a hint of blue. The smells of ink, pencil shavings, glue and erasers meant school days.
The pens we used required repeated dipping into the wells, and they made a mess…ink everywhere…papers, desk, hands, shirt and sometimes pants. My Eversharp pen was special because it had a reservoir that needed only one dip and a fill. Alongside the body of the pen was a thin metal handle which when pulled out compressed a bladder in the pen and when released resulted in a sucking hiss. When the hiss stopped, the pen was full.
As the years went by, I stopped writing until one evening when I was watching a great old English movie. There was a scene where someone was writing a letter. It was beautiful. The only thing in the scene was gleaming white paper, a quill pen, blue black ink and two hands, fingers steadying the paper up to the left and the writing hand caressing the pen. Miss Casey would have given this writer an “A,”   …looping letters, smooth strokes. And the beauty of the ink. It brought me back to the days of the Eversharp, paper, ink, and my love fountain pens. And my thought was; this is what we should be doing rather than e-mail. We should be writing to people on paper with fountain pen and ink. Even broken penmanship can be as smooth as soft summer waves. And the waves can carry the thought.
So, that’s what I try to do; send a hand written note or letter. I use Parker blue/black ink that gurgles when I fill one of my fountain pens. I hold the paper and the pen like that person in the movie, wait a moment, bend my wrist and then try to sweep the strokes like Miss Casey would want. I pause at intervals to smell the ink at the tip of the pen while thinking of school days and of the person to whom I am writing. (Do you remember having pen pal)? I feel as if I am in a Bronte novel or an English movie with a camera over my shoulder. It feels good to hold a pen and to have the power for it to respond.
But all of it leads to my advice. Take pen to paper and write. Take time to write to friends, loved ones, ourselves. Be yourself in your notes or letters. Transcribing thoughts with pen and paper still is the best way to communicate because those thoughts in writing come from the heart. And the fear of getting ink all over you takes courage and makes it even more meaningful.
Today, with the flood of the non-written message…e-mail, text…the hand written message seems so much more meaningful. I love to send one. I love to receive one.
So why do I start my day at the computer looking at my e-mails? No longer.
My resolution is to start each day by writing with fountain pen and paper. My resolution is to fill the pen and fulfill the dream.
Dad gave me his Eversharp. Miss Casey gave me the tools. They started a life long affair with pens, ink and paper, and I thank them for it.

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2 Comments on “Take Pen to Paper”

  1. Ken Harris Says:

    I agree with the mess the old dip pens and early ball pens made. It was worse if you write left handed as I do. Back when I was learning to write, my teachers were all right handed, so i learned to slant the paper as a right-handed person would, meaning that my left hand was forever rubbing across the wet ink. My hand writing posture even today is like President Obama’s.

    Personally, I am glad to be in the age of email and computers. I love sending emails and now I am so used to typing that hand writing a piece of any length actually gives me writer’s cramp. Of course, today’s ball pens do not smear the way the early ones did.

    One of my strongest criticisms of Classical High School where Ed was one of my classmates was that I was threatened with a grade of C if I took typing at nearby Central no matter how well I did. Of course, fearing a mediocre grade on my transcript, I did not take it and learned to type from my mother at home.


    • Oh my goodness, Ken. Go back to fountain pens. They are wonderful and a note written with one is so very personal. By the way, did not ink on your hands mean that you were working hard?


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