When I write with a pen, I find an important way to relate to people and to love them.
I’m enamored with pens. The glide of the inked metal, the well-designed fit to the hand, the miniscule sweeps of my fingers. It’s all so delicate and beautiful.
There is this section of the Communist Manifesto where Marx and Engels discuss the possibility of an “openly legalized community of women” when Communism comes to pass. I have often thought that such a community of pens does exist, and I find the pens of others and myself flowing in and out of my possession like private property is going out of style. Such is the common admiration I have for all pens I can comfortably tuck behind my ear.
I like to handwrite letters. I don’t do it regularly, nor casually. It’s when I need to say something, or something needs to be said. It’s when thinking must be writing and writing thinking.
I suppose for me it is an extension of journaling, in that respect. The fact is that I do not know what I think until I have written it, and written it indelibly. Then there comes a fair bit of strikes-through, or outright defacement. Arrows are not uncommon, and thankful I am for the marginalia.
This is my typical practice for writing. Whether for a 700 word post or a 15 page paper, I have a hard time organizing my thoughts without these pen-and-paper techniques, at least for the basic outline.
When I sit to compose a letter, then, a rough draft must come first. Some serious occasions have called for my time in recent months – death, the anniversary of important events, recollections on my marriage – and I want to give them their due. Stream-of-consciousness notes are like blind snakes, and they are even harder to handle than they are to follow. A bit of forethought will pay off handsomely for me and for the recipient.
It’s important to have the draft, because it gives me the opportunity to cross out a lot and discard entire trains of thought – thoughts that please me, but I’d have to say objectively they are not supporting my intentions in the letter. Solace, studied recollection, finding grace and care in daily habits: these things are precious and easily disturbed by stray remarks.
Sections of my letter, then, will never be sent. They are only for me, and the Lord. The whole process takes some time, and I usually do not sit down until these thoughts and phrases have been knocking around for a few days. They have disturbed my prayer and foreshortened my sleep. I perhaps have made a note here or there. Finally, I sit and create in one Spirit-driven fury.
As I said, the process is barely linear. Marks and dependent clauses are all over the place. When it’s ready, I have to consciously shift my mindset and my pace in order to make my writing legible on the fresh paper. I am like a monk, a Brother Bryan, hunched over my desk at the scriptorium to generate a pristine edition.
The result, I hope, is something unique. I can communicate in terms that I have trouble speaking. I do not think I have given all of myself into a relationship or conversation in my immediate interactions, because that is not my strength. There is something more to add, there is another flavor of love, and it is in the time I take to consider and meditate on my friend, my prayers, my wife. When I am scrawling with a ballpoint, I am not just pouring my thoughts onto paper, but there is a certain give and take between what is going on in my head and on the paper. I would say there is something like a steady electric current when I place the pen down on some college rule, electrons moving to and fro. The handwritten letter is a product of that energy and it is something I can give. It is a blessing and it is a creation and it is a symbol. It is worthwhile.
Bryan Wandel works in government finance and has studied history, accounting, and religion. He is a member of the editorial board at Humane Pursuits. Bryan’s writing has appeared at Comment Magazine, First Things, and elsewhere.