I’ve always hated my handwriting. Not the childlike printing that everyone seems to use these days, but the careful, flowing script we were taught in grade school. Oh, I learned how to do it, alright, but somehow I never developed a distinct style; I’ve never quite managed to put pen to paper with panache. (And don’t even mention my signature. Yuck.) This is, perhaps, why I’m such a procrastinator when it comes to tackling personal correspondence. I would much prefer to send off a quick (but always well-edited) e-mail than to handwrite a letter or thank-you note.
In Canadian schools, cursive writing is being phased out or has already been dropped from curricula. The other day, when I gave some handwritten notes to my youth archery class, I had to ask my students whether they could understand my cursive script! (Some of them could; some couldn’t.) I suppose the reasoning for the decision – if there is any, besides lack of classroom funding – is that in the Digital Age, people can communicate instantly with their thumbs (you don’t even have to learn how to type, for crying out loud) or even voice-activation, so handwriting is obsolete. Add to that the seeming abandonment of proper spelling and grammar, and you have, my friends, the downfall of civilization as we used to know it.
So perhaps, in reaction to these alarming things, I developed an interest in calligraphy and fine writing instruments. Murano glass dip wands and marbled fountain pens, silver nibs and inkpots filled with jet black India. Rosewood writing desks with secret drawers, crisp ivory parchment and red wax seals. Sepia postcards and lavender-scented billets doux, tied with a silk ribbon from a lover’s hair!
I’ve treasured a small collection of writing-related paraphernalia for many years, and I was fortunate to have been given, as a teenager, an old writing desk (shown here) to put it in. What fun it was using that desk, with all its pigeon holes and tiny drawers and two hidden compartments! It sat in a corner of my bedroom, lit by a Victorian-style lamp, its fall-front lid providing a sturdy surface to practice my calligraphy or hold the old Underwood upon which I tapped out all my school essays!
A particular interest of mine, if you haven’t already guessed, is the fountain pen. I love the great variety of styles, from filigreed antique ones to sleek, modern designs, available today. I have a couple of utilitarian examples from my youth and have recently added one or two (or three) more! (I’m waiting for the delivery of a plum-coloured Pilot right now.) Outward appearance aside, weight, proportion and balance in the hand are important factors in deciding which model to buy, as well as its ink delivery system (cartridge, piston, squeeze converter). And, of course, it’s hard to decide upon just the right ink from a dizzying selection of colours and effects: Diamine’s Shimmering Seas, Noodler’s Nightshade or Herbin’s Eclat de Saphir, anyone?
While I may never have the money to buy a 1920s Waterman sterling silver fountain pen, I do have a few items on my wish list. I’m saving up for a Platinum Plaisir fountain pen with rose gold-tone finish (I think I’ll fill it with a Diamine ink called Ancient Copper), a demilune rolling ink blotter, and a vintage cut glass inkwell.
Now, it’s time to lay down a fresh desk pad, dip my quill into that bottle of encre de Chine and put my head, and hand, to those long-neglected thank-you notes!