Saturday, September 03, 2011

Leaves on the Winds

It wasn't an addiction in the beginning. It was an idea.

I had just seen the mini series about John and Abigail Adams and had read some of the background material about their letters, those personal and intimate letters. That is how it began.

There was a little stationery in my cache of goods and all I needed was a little more stationery and a new fountain pen. I bought both and began writing, at first a letter to a friend or two and once in a while to family. Writing letters wasn't anything new. Letters and envelopes had poured out of the printer over the years. Now I wanted something more personal, a piece of myself offered to friends, a trail that led to the heart of me, to the often anachronistic me, in my own hand.

My handwriting had deteriorated after years of neglect, and after years of scribbling in paper journals, most of which are written in a coded kind of shorthand, not to hide information but to make the writing go quicker. Quick writing is seldom legible; it is scribbling. I can read the entries, often with a little difficulty, but I wrote them and I know the code. Letters would have to be neater, clearer, something anyone could read, and so I began.

Handwriting letters causes physical pain, mostly in the hands, fingers, and wrist of the writer, and cramps seized my hand at odd moments, increasing until by the end of the letters it ached. Anyone who says writing doesn't change you is wrong. It changed my hands. I had no idea how out of shape they had become, at least as far as dexterity and strength were concerned. Typing, which I have done a lot over the past 40+ years, uses a different set of muscles and makes different demands on coordination. Bluntly put, my penmanship needed work, a good bit of work.

Taking long breaks between letters while waiting for answers that never came left me with aches and pains and cramps after writing a few letters. The only answer was to write more letters, be more diligent. Okay, so no one was writing back (okay, one or two responded in kind once in a while); that could not be a factor in the plan to hone the art of letter writing. These were my messages written on leaves and sent on the winds of the U.S. Postal Service and must continue whether or not anyone responded in kind.

I flirted with sealing wax but deemed it unfit for letters sent by mail and not by pony express. Letters would jam in the USPS machines and would end up at the other end in shreds or perhaps one small corner in a plastic bag with a contrite message of apology. "Your mail was caught in our machines and we do apologize for your loss." As much as I like the idea and the whole fire melting wax and ornate seals pressed into the heated glob, it wouldn't work for modern machines, so it was out. There was a momentary sigh of loss and lost opportunity, but only a moment's worth.

The stock of stationery dwindled and was replaced with more of the same -- at least until I checked out another stationery site. There were cards: greeting cards, birthday cards, thank you cards, invitations, just because cards, and blank cards. Blank cards with space for writing little messages. That was a good idea, and so a small purchase was made.

The cards didn't last long, what with all the writing and keeping up my dexterity, strength, and writing abilities, so more cards were purchased. A few extra dollars in the budget and off I went to purchase more blank cards and occasionally more stationery. One fountain pen was followed by two and three and more until I owned six fountain pens and a dip pen. A cobalt glass inkwell with a silver lid followed -- there has to be a place to keep the ink since the ink bottles, utilitarian as they are, were not pretty enough, didn't make enough of a statement with the fountain pens and colored inks.

Yes, the switch to colored inks began innocuously enough with a sample pack of all the inks that Levenger offers. One cartridge of sixteen colors were tried and a winner selected. Not blue -- that is so common. A regal purple fit for a queen, fit for my letters. All I had really wanted was an ink light enough to show up on some dark blue envelopes that went with some special correspondence cards (I had added those to my letter writing repertoire) and I ended up with Regal, which is Levenger's name for that royal purple.

I often wonder if the ink is still made with the special shellfish that were ground up and used to color the satins, laces, silks, and velvets worn by royalty in days gone by.

At any rate, the addiction was full blown at that point. Boxes of blank cards and stationery and correspondence cards stacked in spaces once occupied by books and magazines fill the cubbies on my desk. A box of the latest offerings holds another cache of cards.

Such an addiction needs feeding. Birthday cards, get well cards, just because cards, and holiday cards fill out the list and I'm looking and lusting after a Waterman pen that is far more expensive than any pen I have previously purchased. A Venetian Murano glass dip pen twinkles at me and suggests I give it a try and there has been a brief flirtation with a real quill pen and not some modern hybrid with a nib to make it easier to use. A real quill pen will require a pen knife to shittle and shape and of course a supply of quills, should I find I enjoy the effect, may have to be worked into the budget. I can give up more of the clothing allowance and, since I'm on a diet and eating more packaged food (good packaged food), money can be diverted from that, and a second job to fund this addiction could be worked into my already over worked scheduled, but it's writing letters. Personal and private missives that delight the receiver and fill me with purpose and joy. What else can I do but give in?

I never intended to get this far into the whole handwritten letter thing, but I am caught and I want to continue. Few days go by without me choosing and picking up a fountain pen, checking the ink, choosing a card, and writing a little something to my friends and family. I began with a very small list that has become a much larger group of people that every week or two get some little glimpse of my life and my improving penmanship.

Imagining the look of surprise and maybe even the smile that flashes when they receive an envelope addressed to them gives me pleasure, and I am adding to the belles lettres (although probably not quite that belle) in the world. I need no longer look for pen pals or beg some stranger to write to me. I write the letters and look forward to the rare response that comes my way.

The addiction is mine. I own it. I admit it. I'm not going to stop it. I enjoy the time spent with pen and ink and paper. I don't even mind the cost in postage, to which end I have purchases supplies and a program and print out my own postage. It's an addiction that can be as expensive or as cheap as the addicted wants. I prefer quality in my tools and that costs money. So what if I don't have a closet full of shoes or purses and I didn't buy a brand new toaster or electronic toaster oven? I have boxes of stationery, boxes with changing contents, and I write letters.

My cooking might be remembered (it is quite something to remember) and someone might keep a memory of some stray comment or joke I once told, they might even pull out pictures of our times together, but there is nothing more lasting than a letter written by my hand and kept in a bundle, perhaps tied with a ribbon, and some day stashed in a trunk in the attic for some future someone to find, read, and smile over. While all that might be true, it still remains something I do for myself -- and for my friends -- a bit of the past alive and well in the modern world, a part of old technology with new tools, letters sent off on the winds like poetry written on leaves and offered to the fates, a piece of me and my world alive and well that brings someone a smile or a tear. What better way to spend a couple of moments or a quarter of an hour? I can think of none better.

No comments: