Sunday, July 27, 2003

The Fountain

After six weeks, I have not adapted to being unemployed. I am adapting myself to job-hunting—quite a different thing, really. During the time between jobs, I’m doing my best to keep a steady, healthy, realistic self-image. I know I am not my job. I keep telling myself that. Despite personal loyalty to my company, despite my pride in doing good work, I am more than my job. (Say it three times; maybe I’ll believe it.)

I didn’t just lose a job. I lost my whole company. (Michele asks: Do you know where you might have set it down?) In some ways that makes the change easier; I’m not going through as much self-blaming as I otherwise would. (Enough, though.) But it also makes me feel like Arthur Dent, wandering the universe in his bathrobe.

One important step in keeping myself going is to keep writing, no matter what’s happening with resumes and recruiters. I’ve also found myself reclaiming a lost skill. For two decades, I’ve done virtually all my writing on a computer keyboard. Before that I usually wrote on a manual typewriter. Writing by hand has been limited to writing the occasional check or signing my name.

But I’ve felt an urge lately to take up fountain pen and paper and write in longhand. I’ve always loved beautiful pens and paper, but my good pens were packed until recently. Now I’m rediscovering the pleasures of writing with a smooth-nibbed pen on a flawless page.

What I savor about a good fountain pen is the sheer sensual and aesthetic experience of using a perfectly designed instrument. I prefer a slim but solid pen with a fine to medium nib. If I want to lose myself in writing, I use a keyboard; fountain pens, for me, are a way of enhancing awareness. It's not only the sensation of the ink sliding onto the paper, but also the weight in the hand, the play of light on the barrel, the texture of the paper, the thought formed and phrased in the mind before the hand moves to record it.

I’ve been playing with different weights, widths, and ink colors. The Cross fountain pen in matt black was my gift to myself for getting my MA; its fine black line is still smooth and clear. The old Waterman Diplomat, dignified in black lacquer, writes in forest green. I’ve bought a couple of new pens, too: the Pelikan Pharo, a slender brushed chrome barrel flaring to a trumpet cap, has a silky nib and turquoise ink. And the Lamy Vista is miraculously transparent, showing the deep plum ink inside, and it writes with ease.

The effect has been to slow down time as I write. I’m freshly aware of the weight and fit of words. Maybe I’ll even be able to write poetry again, something I haven’t done since I was 23 or so. I can’t write poetry on a keyboard, unless you count snarky haiku, a specialized form invented by a friend.

I’m still using the computer for most writing: email, this blog, fiction, essays, even daily task lists. (Thank God for Palm Desktop, which is keeping me better organized than the awkward Excel lists I used at work.) Yet I’m taking pleasure from occasional journal entries written by hand. Moreover, the fountain pen is a cure for writer’s block: a phrase that’s intractable on the keyboard often flows when written by hand.

Using the fountain pen, the plain but good paper, reminds me again who I am. Lynn Kendall, writer. Have pen, will travel.

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