Thursday, February 19, 2009

Where it all began

Can you remember your first foray into writing? I mean, your very first steps?

I can still remember learning to write my A-B-C's as a first grader in Jacksonville, Florida, during the mid 1960's. We used lined tablets made of paper that was about the quality of newsprint. Those writing tablets had wide-spaced lines inter spaced with dashed lines to help us with lower-case letters. I remember fat, green pencils with huge barrels (or so it seemed to at the time) that filled my small fist. Those were my first wobbly steps into the world of writing. Those big bludgeons of graphite scratched terribly at the cheap, fuzzy paper - threatening to tear through with my early, clumsy scrawlings. But I didn't care - it was fun!

I was fascinated to see how these letters could be strung together to create actual words. (C-A-T or D-O-G . . . I was hooked!) Soon, words were strung together to create sentences, then paragraphs, and so forth. Alphabet paper soon gave way to ruled notebook paper that fit handily into three-ring notebooks - contraptions of cardboard and canvas with very sharp steel teeth. The fat, green pencils gave way to the ubiquitous yellow #2 pencils and even pens! Bic ballpoints with their gloppy, blue ink were my intro to this permanent writing medium until my parents allowed me to try a real fountain pen when I started the third grade. It was a Schaeffer - a silver and blue instrument with ink that wicked through cheap notebook paper like the varicose veins of my grandmother. I didn't care - somehow I knew this was a real pen with real ink! (I had the blue-stained fingers to prove it).

The allure of writing faded as I entered junior high-school, becoming a chore instead of an art-form. Pens lost their allure and I reverted back to utilitarian Bics and the slightly less cheap Paper-Mate. I still enjoyed writing the occasional short story, but my eye and fingers wandered to an elderly Underwood typewriter that my mother had used in her college days. Pen, ink and paper were relegated to mundane note-taking in classrooms. The Underwood gave way to a Smith-Corona in college that saw me through both bachelor's and master's degrees. This, in turn, gave way to a Panasonic electronic typewriter (with spell-check!). Computers were on the horizon and I heard rumblings of paperless offices in the not-too-distant future.

While looking for a birthday card in a greeting card shop, I noticed a stack of hard-back journals by the cash register. They were on sale (very cheap!), so I bought three on a whim. That was in 1988. It was the beginning of my turn back to pen, ink and paper. Then, my father gave me a Mont Blanc pen as a birthday present. My return to the inky side was almost complete.

I can't say I've kept a journal consistently, nor am I a sketch artist. But I've embraced pen and ink as my media for keeping notes, writing articles, compiling to-do lists and, yes, put down thoughts, quotes and events from everyday life. Sure, I've dallied with PDAs (two Palms languish in a desk drawer) and I use my laptop consistently (a boon as I completed my doctorate). But there's something about ink flowing smoothly onto high-grade paper that's soothing. It makes writing worthwhile, at least to me.

Some of you know exactly what I mean.


  1. I remember the first story I wrote, probably in the first grade. It was about a lost dog. Written in pencil on that lined learning-to-write paper. It's still around somewhere, almost 40 years later.

  2. I can recall our first lesson in writing with a dip pen in the 5th grade (1957). I have this vivid memory of our teacher (Mrs Morehouse) pouring out Shaeffer's ink from a quart bottle into our inkwells. We used steel-nib pens for the exercises. I still have the Esterbrook fountain pen I used in high school!

    Glad you are out there. Best of luck to you. =Paul