The Pen is Mightier: Than the Keystroke

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I’m Cari Ray with another installment of For A Song. It was October of nineteen ninety something and I was as yet unkissed by the all-consuming, appetite-stealing, drunken lips of first love. Ironically, by then I had already accepted a proposal of marriage, and subsequently broken that engagement. I certainly thought I was in love…my feeling for him seemed to have all of the components that I understood to define it. But once the swinging sandbag of love knocks you for a loop for the first time, you understand that love is not something to be understood with the mind at all. Likewise, you’re heart is no good to you as it has burst into a pile of pieces…none of which belong to you any more anyhow.

Today, that love is just a sweet, faded memory that I take out of the box now and then like some old photograph…lovingly rubbing my thumb over those young, bright-eyed faces full of promise and uncertainty. That first love left me with more than just some cherished memories and an unwillingness to settle for anything less than the real thing…It left me with another love…one that endures to this day.

You see, my first beloved was an avid journal-keeper, and lured me to the practice as well. It was sickeningly romantic really…journaling to each other. Initially, my tools were a standard composition book and my trusty, if geeky, mechanical pencil loaded with .9 mm 2 or 3B lead…a little softer and darker than the average, which satisfied. At least one entry every day…often more…frantically scrawled out on cheap, wide-ruled, saddle-stitched pages. I was pouring out my idealistic, love-drunken heart, after all! The more I journaled, the better I seemed to be at observing and understanding myself and the world around me. And what started as a love game became something more…something that was about me and me.

But enough about me…back to my love. Now it had come to Christmas of our first year together and we hadn’t two dimes to rub together between us on our work-study income. I don’t even recall the gift I gave, though I have no doubt it was given with more thought than ever I had given a gift before. That said, I will never forget the one that came to me in a Service Merchandise jewelry-department box. An honest-to-goodness-gold-nibbed vixen of a Waterman fountain pen. And when I first experienced the nearly drag-less glide of that gilded, medium point depositing wet indigo across fine rag paper, I fell in love for the second time…and couldn’t wipe the ink-stained smile off of my face for weeks.

Today, I certainly employ the tick of the keys often enough. Efficient, clean and fast. But I have believed…for as long as I can recall…that there is a magic that occurs with the cursive. handwritten line that cannot be digitally duplicated.

It’s a time-honored tradition. Many famous authors opt for the meticulousness of writing by hand over the utility of a typewriter or computer. In a 1995 interview, Susan Sontag said that she penned her first drafts the analog way before typing them up for editing later. “I write with a felt-tip pen, or sometimes a pencil, on yellow or white legal pads, that fetish of American writers,” she said. “I like the slowness of writing by hand.” Novelist Truman Capote insisted on a similar process, although his involved lying down with a coffee and cigarette nearby. “No, I don’t use a typewriter,” he said in an interview. “Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand.” A 2009 study from the University of Washington seems to support Sontag, Capote, and many other writers’ preference for writing by hand: Elementary school students who wrote essays with a pen not only wrote more than their keyboard-tapping peers, but they also wrote faster and in more complete sentences.

Other studies have shown that learning cursive is an important step towards cognitive development, particularly in training the brain to integrate sensation, movement control and thinking. Even the brain imaging studies show that cursive activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding. Further, using paper forces the brain to slow down and more readily explore abstract ideas. For the love of all things analog, I’m personally a major fan of anything that causes my brain slow down.

By now, I would guess that you have divined the nature of my advocacy in this area, but in case it has yet to soak in, I am advocating that you do at least a bit of your writing the old-fashioned way. And while you’re welcome to employ finger and cave wall, mallet and chisel, or reed brush and papyrus, I think you’ll do just as well with pen or pencil and paper. Rest assured that you will reach the desired creative destination no matter the type of writing instrument and grade of paper, but find a flexible nib, some wet ink and fine paper and you’ll enjoy the ride just as much as the arrival. And it really is about the journey after all, isn’t it? I’m Cari Ray, signing off, and hoping you’ll join me next time on For A Song.