Episode 188 - Real Writing
The Thursday Thesis - 13/2/2020
It was Monday, and the storm ebbed away after throwing her tantrum all weekend long, leaving a few gusts of rage hanging around like someone who knows they have lost the argument saying “and another thing...”
Outside, the blown-down trees were being cleared away, torn fences mended and ripped roofs patched up as the rain finally stopped and the wind piped-down.
Somewhere a tree has torn down the electricity lines to my little town, so I’m camped out in Costa coffee whilst the leccy company try to restore power, and I’m having a good time scribbling away at an idea I’m working on.
As usual I’m making a lovely inky mess as my fountain pen loops and scurries its way across the yellow pad I always carry with me, leaving a trail of deep magenta ink behind it, and I’m away with the fairies for a little while as my latte goes cold.
Suddenly there’s a voice, saying quietly “I hope you don’t mind me disturbing you, but it’s just so nice to see someone writing with a real pen for a change”. I look up to see a smiling, pretty woman whom I quickly thank before she wishes me a good day and trundles off.
The whole thing lasts maybe twenty seconds or so, and I take a sip of my lukewarm latte as I mull over the brief exchange and survey the other punters. Half a dozen of them are tapping away on laptops and tablet devices, the rest are phone-bothering. I’m the only person using a pen and paper: a singular luddite.
Gadgets have their place as a necessary evil of the modern world, but there are times when only a real pen will cut it: for real writing and the sheer joy of stringing ideas together, nothing beats a pen.
A proper pen.
A proper ink-pen with creamy silken paper and ink the colour of dragon’s blood.
I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I suspect it’s an act of rebellion against my schooling, against having my natural left-handedness knocked out of me and being made use my right hand because “left-handed people are the devil’s work...”
Bizarre, but true.
And it feels like I’m poking a finger in the eye of convention, raging against the crappy regulation biros with which I scratched away my school days.
And it takes me as far away as I can imagine from dusty classrooms and writing “lines”, the misery of detention , or the humiliation of the remedial handwriting classes which did bugger-all good and only left me feeling like an imbecile.
I now know that there wasn’t anything wrong with me: I’d just been told to do daft things with a pen which made it nigh-on impossible to do what I was told.
And many years later I came to recognise the stupidity of compelling a child to use their less able hand to write with, and to question the logic underpinning that decision.
Later still came the secret love of writing, the shape of words, and the appreciation of how beautiful the solitary act of writing could be...
My fountain pen is truly one of my treasures. Made from lava erupted from Mount Etna, heavy in my hand, yet poised and balanced; it sighs as it caresses the creamy page like a lover’s skin, kept safe between the hard covers of my old-fashioned notebook.
If only I’d been taught that the process of writing could be innately pleasurable: like a beautiful dance, from the first contemplation of the virgin beauty of the empty page and the first kiss of inky colour. The hand simply moves, and thoughts coalesce into droplets of dragon-blood condensed from the mind, now given the freedom to flow – unimpeded by touchscreen or keyboard
Ink on paper is permanent and immediate, it doesn’t crash, and handwriting is rarely corrupted and seldom deleted by accident. A notebook remains present and instantly accessible, unlike the oubliette of a hard drive where files are saved and never seen again.
Few things are as cool as flipping open an old notebook and discovering something which one has written and then forgotten all about.
There are practical reasons for writing longhand, too: research indicates that we think differently when writing – there’s a sort of reprocessing of ideas which improves cognition and retention.
Most of all, writing with a real pen is simply a pleasure, unseen by the disapproving spelling and grammar checkers.
Set free the vagabond pen to roam and twist, spiral and swirl across, or up and down – the page. And perhaps it is this - the freedom of real writing - that compels us most. As the hollow promises and hype of digital technology are exposed, and that which was supposed to set us free enslaves us, there is a growing resistance movement and a resurgence of real writing – a sort of analogue underground – and I for one am proud to wear the inkstains of the writer on my fingers.
© Neil Cowmeadow 2020
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