Sunday, October 18, 2015

Your Little Trace

My friend presents me with the most beautiful cobalt blue Cross fountain pen--the kind with the ink cartridges that you pop in (I love that sound!)--because she knows I'll be signing books.

First of all, I love fountain pens. Oh! When I think of writing with flair, I think of fountain pens.

And I know what I'm talking about: I worked at Staples from 9th grade all the way through my 3rd year of college. I was the Fountain Pen Expert and stood behind the Service Desk and showcased the most extraordinary fountain pens to customers. I loved unpacking the shipments of pens boxed in velvet. I displayed Waterman, Mont Blanc, Pelican, Parker, Sheaffer, and of course, Cross. I knew ink filling mechanisms, inlays, nibs, and barrel composition. I kept them under lock and key because some pens sold for thousands of dollars.

I pop in the cartridge and use that nib for the first time. I pause and consider how smoothly it writes, how uniquely to my own hand, and how the words seem so connected to me as I write them. Nobody will use this pen but me; every fountain pen owner knows the nib conforms to only one hand.

I think about the journey of my own handwriting: the lessons in grade school from a precise military father; the i's dotted with hearts in middle school; the backward slant of rebellion in high school; the tiny clipped letters of debate and college lecture notes. I realize that there's something in the conversation about what it means to be human (and to know oneself) that involves our handwriting.

I consider the number of people who hand me my own book and ask for my signature. They want the trace from my hand--my unique script--because somehow the words I wrote and were typeset in that gorgeous font weren't enough. They wanted me, my own signature, because they know that it's a human trace of something authentic.

They want my signature self, so I write it gladly.

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