At this time of year the cultural narrative centers on gifts—with the focus on the gifts we buy. While I enjoy those kinds of gifts as well as anyone, I’m cognizant that they are not the only kind of gift. Indeed other kinds of gifts can bring surprising joy. Sometimes the simplest written message can be significant– I’ve had just that kind of experience lately and it’s gotten me thinking.
In the last two years three elders in my family have passed away. They were all in their 90s—with long memories full of family stories. I inherited many boxes of memorabilia which contained, it turns out, some intriguing writings and drawings.
I came across one little chapbook my grandfather wrote to celebrate Christmas in 1920. In it, he wrote poems and stories to describe my grandmother at the piano, playing and singing and their happiness with their little baby, my mother. What a gift to find these stories and drawings now—this first Christmas without my mom! What a comfort to know that she was so loved within a happy family.
I was reminded that as a child, seeing my grandfather’s writings, inspired me to learn penmanship. So he is to blame for my fountain pen passion!
Being in the digital age, I could scan and in a moment share these precious stories from Christmas long ago with family members all over the United States. This juxtaposition of historical and present moments, handlettering and electronic transmission seemed almost magical. But it also highlighted the fact that today, much of our communication is ephemeral. While they may live on in an archive somewhere, our Tweets and posts are in and of the moment. In some ways our written word has become more like spoken word: it has meaning to those present, but little lasting power.
Of course we can make the choice to pick up the pen and record our thoughts and observations—as a letter to send now, or a journal someone may read at a future time. Either way, it is a gift unlike those that money can buy.
A letter makes a real impact on the reader. We may laugh about snail mail, but when something personal and real appears in the mailbox, it can make our day.
When I make the choice to give a written gift, I make a careful effort. I start with a choice of fountain pen-friendly paper or card. I collect cards whenever I travel, go to museums, or find small letter-press cards at craft fairs. My taste runs to fountain pens, so when writing a letter I use a pen with a converter, so I can use bottled ink in whatever color catches my fancy for the day.
The Pilot Knight is one of my new pen acquisitions, shown here with a bright blue Namiki Standard Bottled Ink. The Pilot Knight medium nib is, by my usage, slightly heavier than the Prera fine nib, and slightly lighter than the Pilot Metropolitan. As such it’s a pleasant and smooth pen for letter-writing.
At this time of the year, with gift-giving on our minds, why not take a moment to share some thoughts in writing? Whatever you have to say, your reflections will be a gift to your recipient!