My husband gave me two fountain pens for Christmas. I love them so much that I bought a third for my office. I also bought pretty inks in emerald, violet, and aqua.
During quarantine, I’ve journaled each day with my pens, just as I did before quarantine. Journaling is an echo chamber, though. It’s just me and… me.
A few weeks ago, I had a some dollars burning a hole in my pocket. I was restless and felt boxed in. I wanted to buy something novel, something I wouldn’t normally buy except as an extravagant and maybe never-to-be-used but I-love-it-anyway treat.
Even though I am a homebody and think I am perfectly content being home and not socializing IRL in the world, I am weary of all of my interactions with humans being electronic. Until they were gone, I didn’t realize how much the “Good morning!” from the aquatic center staff meant, or the nods to other swimmers as we jump into cold water, or going to the nursery multiple times per week in spring to see what new plants are in, or standing in line at Starbucks or Mezeh or Kroger, or people-watching anywhere that’s not from my living room window, or simply moving through different physical space than inside and just outside my home. I didn’t realize how meaningful those non- to minimal-interaction interactions were for feeling connected to humanity.
To build those connections again, as an extravagant (and possibly never-to-be-used) gift to myself, I used the money burning a hole in my pocket to buy stationery. I browsed online and found mid-weight ivory paper that my fountain pens’ ink won’t bleed through. A delightful wildflower garden sprouts from the bottom of each sheet, with tiny flecks of gold leaf that sparkle if you turn the paper in the light.
I’m pretty sure I’m not a good letter writer. The few I’ve written so far are likely very boring. Also, I’m dubious of my handwriting’s legibility. But something I’ve noticed that’s different from digital communication, including text, phone, and video, is that writing a letter with pen and ink feels distraction-free. When writing a letter, I am completely focused on the person to whom I am writing.
To sit without a screen, with just my thoughts to the person, pretty ink, and pretty paper — it’s kind of nice.
After the first rambling letters I wrote, I thought, wow, these are pretty bad; they’re not thought-through, they jump around, they’re kind of stream of consciousness. I’m accustomed to journaling, blogging, texting, and writing for work, which is typically done with a keyboard and a delete key. I wondered, what makes a good letter good so I make this better for the people I write to?
As soon as I got a few more dollars I could spend, I purchased The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor. Now those are some letters. I sit on the couch or out in my garden to read them, and I giggle. Flannery O’Connor is sharp and funny, and she tickles me.
Of course, letters were her only means of communication. The odd thing about writing letters now is that I write them to people I communicate synchronously with, so by the time they receive my letter, what I’ve written is already outdated; we’ve likely had other conversations since it was written.
I don’t intend to let that stop me, though. I enjoy the process of the writing, the one-to-one focus of it, the physicalness of it. More than that, I have a fun little secret when I sit down to write a letter: the person I’m writing to has no idea. Won’t it be a surprise for them to receive something personal in the mail — something that didn’t require payment and better yet, isn’t asking for payment either!
I have one struggle I haven’t quite figured out yet, though. I have embraced emojis as part of my writing. I use them in blog posts, Slack messages, texts, Telegram, even internal work communications. Aside from instantaneousness, emojis are my favorite feature of digital communication. Now, when I write paper letters, I find I want to end sentences with 😂and 😬 and 😍. Those are not easy to replicate with pen and ink. The writerly solution is to use better words, I suppose. Maybe I can find stickers instead.