Even "thank you" cards and invitations are an endangered species. But while the digital age has certainly ensured that newer generations will never know the joyful mess of a fountain pen, the slow death of writing began years before the internet and smart phones.
When I was in my twenties, in college, changing jobs, moving from city to city, living thousands of miles away from my parents and childhood friends, letters were a tangible thing, almost living and breathing, that kept me connected to the people I loved and missed. Their hands touched the papers I was now holding. Their minds were sealed inside the envelope. And that paper package journeyed across land and air (and sometimes sea) bringing with it the mystery and romance I have always associated with travel.
I enjoyed going to my local stationery store, the mom-n-pop shop that stocked the goods before Hallmark and Papyrus took over. Shelves full of different sized and colored envelopes, paper and journals. Ordering a personalized monogrammed set was and is a classic choice, but I always preferred to mix it up, buy sets that had designs, patterns, funny little drawings. I read somewhere that blue paper, of a sort of dusty periwinkle color variety, was considered chic and dignified. I had a blue phase. Botanical drawings are a personal favorite of mine hence a botanical phase. And the times when I ran out of my pretty paper and couldn't afford any more, lined school notebook paper would do.
Postcards were a whole other entity. A quick thought from a foreign destination with an Italian or French stamp that let me know someone was thinking of me was a thrill. However when friends would send me a postcard from another state in the U.S., I was a tad disappointed. Don't get me wrong, I liked it, but I judged it as an inability to give me more of their time in a few extra pages. Nowadays, I would love to receive a postcard, anytime, from anyplace from any one of my friends. A few thoughts are better than the disconnect of none at all.
And finally there is my prestigious pal, the pen.
Le stylo. La pluma. La penna.
I never used a dip pen, they are quixotic at best and I happily leave them to the calligrapher or pen artiste. I did dabble in a Cross fountain pen, on and off, for a few years but could never master it. Besides the additional cost of replacement ink, I found the ink reservoir would either dry up, run out or leak onto my fingers and so therefore it made for a quite unreliable writing experience. Ballpoint pens were clean and convenient, a fine tool to use for school, but the feel of the pen and the ink just didn't cut it for my letters and journal writing. When the rollerball pen made its appearance onto the marketplace, a perfect union of fountain and ballpoint was born and I have never looked back. The Pilot "precise grip" with an extra fine tip is my non-nib of choice, but I admit I do fall back on my gifted Waterman ballpoint on occasion. Perhaps I should try on one of their fountain pens. The French do know how to craft a good riding writing instrument.
Two large plastic bins full of a couple of decades of letters and cards sit in my hall closet. Whenever I spend a few hours reading through them, snapshots of a different time and place come rushing in. Some of those letters are from friends, ex-boyfriends, even family I no longer talk to anymore and probably never will again. Some of those letters are from friends and colleagues I barely remember. But all of those letters catch and suspend those friendships, those relationships and those stages of our development that are far removed from where we are now. The history is intact. My own personal history that is privately published and cannot be contradicted.
If "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" then truly the proof of a person is in those papers, in the reading.
The most recent letters I received were from an aunt in North Carolina and my mother-in-law in Tennessee. Both handwritten, both filled with news and love that was folded into an envelope, stamped, addressed, mailed and sent onto a plane to arrive in Los Angeles a few days later.
So I responded in kind. I whipped out my collection of Wonder Woman stationery, pulled out my inky Pilot pen, and poured out my thoughts at that instant. I don't remember exactly what I wrote, but my heart was open, my conversation was captured and another small piece of my story was recorded. I know, I'm not winning a Pulitzer here, but I am nurturing my humanity. That's my kind of pudding.