Inked–A Theme, Revisited


Some days I sit at the keyboard, and (despite my truly dismal typing skills) my fingers fly.  Words appear on the electronic screen; they jostle and play, multiply and grow; they form a mass, sometimes a monolith, a thing that occasionally pleases or amuses me…at least for that moment of composition.

Some days the right thing to do is to tap out an email, reaching out to a friend or touching base with a colleague, making sure a family member knows I remembered the significance of this date–that, today of all days, I am thinking of him.

There are days when I want to share something with a broad range of friends and family; those days only FaceBook will do. So I post the picture of my granddaughter, face soft with amazement, feeding a spine of romaine lettuce to a loppy-lipped giraffe. And I know some folks who will appreciate my cell phone shots of calmly curious mama deer and her spotted fawn, parked in front of the neighbor’s bronze-colored Chevy Cruze, enjoying a nice hosta nosh of an evening.

And some writing I need to think through carefully, typing on my IPad keyboard–an essay, a story, a poem, a little shard of memoir–a thing that pushes up insistently. It needs to be aired, but it needs, also, to be carefully crafted, kneaded, gentled into a structure before putting it onto my WordPress blog.  When I finally hit ‘publish’, I think I am sending out a missile into unknown lands, a missile loaded with questions:  Have you felt this way? Do you know what I mean?  Can you relate to this?

Sometimes those missiles land in just the right place and my IPhone trills and I see a response: “Exactly! I feel exactly the same way about treadle sewing machines! Here’s a post I wrote about them last month…” And I follow the link and–oh, my–this person started where I started, but went down the path a little further, turned in a whole new direction.  I ponder her words.  I learn. My tightly bounded universe loosens and expands.

Sometimes, though, I have a need to push the technology away.  I ignore the flat insistent donks signaling newly arrived email, vow to check my blog responses LATER.  I pick up a pen, pull a sheet of blue-lined notebook paper toward me, and I begin to write.


In the best times, noises fade to background humming, and my hand races. If I am quick enough, if I am focused enough, the persistent Inner Critic subsides, pouting, and words tumble out, unedited, joyful or angst-ridden, thoughtful or raucous,–the words that need to be, that day, loosed and acknowledged.

I think of scenes from old movies I remember, of lumberjacks pushing a saw back and forth through an enormously thick tree trunk. My mind is one lumberjack; my hand is the other. Together they push on, back and forth, back and forth, diligent and cooperative.  Together, they try hard to get the job done.

In a grad course called “The Teaching of Thinking” I learned, and in richly written books about the art of personal journaling, experts remind me, that there is a connection between the thinking mind and the scripting hand–a loop not always completed with keyboard strokes. Writing, with hand-held pen on sheets of paper, unlocks the stiffened and reticent places in my mind.


The pen matters. To try to use a cheap pen, or an old one, a pen with ink that sputters and stops, forces me, in all my obsessive perfectionist glory, to go back and round out my ‘a’, to fill in the connector line between my ‘p’ and my ‘l’, to completely finish the saucy, pointing arm of a final ‘w’.  This quenches and quells the whole process. I need my ink in a continuous, reliable flow. Here’s a place where it really does pay to buy the brand name–store brand pens, in my experience, often being stop-and-starters.

I started out, early on, leaning toward Bic Stics and Flair pens; I have explored pens, abandoned pens, and adopted, then discarded, pens.  Now, I use Pentel RSVP’s; and for truly special, thoughtful writes, I indulge myself with Uniball Vision Needles. Once I tried costly pens, fountain and ball point, the kinds requiring frequent refills from a specialty store.  They scared me, those pens; they were haughty and demanding. They wanted every word to be fraught with both meaning and melody, worthy of their illustrious ink.  I put them away, only bringing them out for solemn jobs,–the writing of a sympathy note, inking a firm, bold signature on a resignation letter. And I went back, coupons in hand, to the supermarket school supply section. I hunted down a crisp cellophane bag of ten stick pens, a cardboard packet with two Uniballs in their fitted plastic bubble. Those give me ink for months, and it’s ink that never judges.

I buy reams of notebook paper and I set aside a binder, and that becomes my journal.  I keep it all in the dining room, behind the lefthand door of the sideboard, close to hand.  I write in the morning, in a little bubble of time when pen and brain can shake hands, engage.

I write letters, even to those people who are easily reached via electronic connections. The different medium changes that connection, deepens it. The time lapse between my pen and her eyes seems important.

I take notes.

I make lists.

I draw goofy pictures, and I scribe borders around chunks of foolish, frivolous, free form, cursively-delivered, prose.


Sometimes, in the pen-to-paper odyssey, I excavate what I need to pluck out and address in an electronic medium.

Sometimes I set the writing aside and return to it later, when I discover something–I realize what the name of that pebble is that’s been rolling around the empty shoebox of my mind, rattling and irritating. I name the issue that I must address before that rattling gains complete dominance. Or I feel a hot blush creep from neck to hairline: I am mortified that I indulged myself in thought and emotion so petty, so resentful, unkind, or shallow. I grab the handle, lever open the trap door, jettison the garbage out into free space.

And sometimes, the writing is just a good vigorous sweep–the bony corners of my thinking space have grown cobwebs, gathered dusty piles of debris. The stuff gets in the way of clear thought, of pure feeling.  The only housecleaning method that works for me is to handwrite it all away.


It amazes me afresh each week, as I walk through my living room, straightening. I scoop up IPhones to charge them. I relocate laptops to move their long trailing cords from high traffic areas. I return my IPad to its dock, put my Surface back on my desk. I may be a Luddite, but I’m a Luddite with typing technology. I value and appreciate its uses and its ease.

But: handwriting.

I remember reading, in a book on handwriting analysis, about a woman who lost the use of her right hand.  When she mastered writing with her other hand, her left handwriting was identical to the way she used to write, right-handed–all the loops and slants and dots: the very same. If she learned to write with her toes, or with a pen gripped in her teeth, the author said, her own unique script would still emerge, so that those who knew her would say with certainty, “Oh, Annie wrote that.” Whatever appendage holds the pen, the brain is what’s revealed.

What an amazing, mysterious, powerful, connection. Thank heavens, for sure, for my keyboards and my keypads–the time they save, the eyes they reach. But let me never lose the itch to grab my stick pen and scrawl some words, to connect my waking thoughts with those that slumber, waiting to be discovered.  The power of that pen, held in hand, accessing mind, sustains, regains, illuminates.


20 thoughts on “Inked–A Theme, Revisited

  1. Oh Pam – I’m glad I saved your post to read with a cup of coffee and a quiet moment. I never want to rush through your words. I savor them. Thank you for this beautiful post. I am not a writer like you, though sometimes I long to be. The power of a handwritten note, letter – WOW! So personal, such a treasure in these electronic days. How I cherish handwritten notes and letters. I, too, love technology, and sometimes hate writing because I can’t express the thoughts in my head as fast as typing and my hand actually tires – those writing muscles aren’t used so much any more. And I get sloppy and lazy. I loved how romantic you made it. You make me long to go write on lined notebook paper with a good – but not too good 🙂 pen!

  2. Awh! Thank you! I do enjoy writing. Sometimes I just don’t know what to write about. If anyone would care to read it. But that is not always the point – is it?? Some of my blog friends have asked that I do just write more. I have so much about my life and history that I would love to write, but where to start and how much to say before it sounds like complaining or the possibility of hurting feelings…. Not sure if I am expressing coherently in these brief words, but sometime I would love to have coffee with you and just talk about life and writing. Maybe some day 🙂

    1. That would be rare treat! Maybe we can make that happen.

      When I taught writing, I always told my student not to worry about starting, just to jump in—in the middle, if that’s where their thoughts were. We can always go back and writing the opening, but starting can be so intimidating it shuts us down! You have such a rich life, as your blog shows, you could write about any of it…your art, your kitchen adventures, your love of nature and family… Lots of people are interested!

  3. Vibrant

    Dear Pam,

    From my “lumberjacks” to yours:

    I so enjoyed reading this post. I have had the distinct pleasure of scribbling rapidly on notepads, in college, during work and travel. I also experimented a lot with my fonts as I was a student of Graphology.

    But: I feel old school people like you are biased towards certain things 😀

    I seriously believe that there could be a grapho-typo-logy and I could be a pioneer in it 🙂

    Just teasing you a bit. 🙂

    This is a wonderful post. 🙂

    I had a question:
    “When I finally hit ‘publish’, I think I am”

    Here–do you think ‘publish,’ with a comma inside quote marks is better over ‘publish’,–a comma outside? I use it inside. I feel both of them might be right. 🙂

    Thanks a lot,

      1. Vibrant

        Then I consider it me proofreading for you 🙂 I would do that for you whenever possible. Thanks for considering this dear Pam. Anand 🙂 🙂

    1. Hi Anand, cute joke about “old school people.” 🙂 I would take exception except that I don’t really mind. My childhood schooling was in the 70s & 80s, so of course everything was done on paper. I therefore have deep muscle memory of writing (and typing, too, as I learned how to type in high school even before it was called keyboarding). I also retain a fondness for handwriting, for I can call up memories of scribbling in a diary and writing letters to my girlhood friends, penpals, even little notes exchanged for fun in college. But as for a bias, nope, no bias here: I go with the best tool for the job. When I don’t know yet how a piece will turn out, when my ideas are still vague, then it’s time for pencil/pen & paper. When my ideas come together, then it’s to the keyboard, whether to outline or compose. Like the author of this article,, I like the uniformity of font and how it makes my writing look more professional. Interestingly, Navneet Alang also discusses using a stylus for the Surface 3 and the new Edge browser and wonders if “Writing may find a rebirth on screens.” That would be cool.

      1. Vibrant

        Interesting 🙂
        I was indeed being playful. I have scribbled for long and now I mostly type–I am no expert but I find both have their merits.
        Regarding handwriting, yes it’s a nice experiment–I also heard they have installed Einstein’s fonts for typing?

        Great changes technology is bringing 🙂

        Thanks Nancy.
        Have a great day,

  4. PAM!! Thank you so much for visiting my blog, so I could find yours!! 😁
    You describe here, ever so eloquently, *exactly* how I feel about writing, right down to your pen choices–the RSVPs ROCK! 😜
    More and more studies show the connections between mind, body, and emotion that occur when we write–maybe you have already seen the book _How the Body Knows Its Mind_, by Sian Beilock? She is a psychologist at The University of Chicago and studies this, among other things.
    Fewer of us survive each year, we who cling to pen and paper. The good news is we are appreciated. Just ask our friends who get our letters and cards! 😊 I get so happy when I can carve out some time, choose the perfect stationery and pen, and write to a loved one. That they experience joy at receiving it makes it that much sweeter.
    I so look forward to reading more of your work! Best wishes to you! 😊

    1. I have not read How the Body Knows Its Minds, but I know how I’m using my Barnes and Noble gift card! I believe you’re right–people really DO appreciate thoughtful, hand-inked letters. Nice to think we may be keeping that traditional alive; I’m now receiving letters from my eight-year-old grand-niece, which tickles my heart. I’ll keep you posted as I find and read Sian Bellock, Catherine. Thanks so much for visiting and your wonderful response!


  5. A very good and insightful post and I appreciate how you went into detail about pushing technology away to just write, with your own hand, down to the details of what each pen type meant to your writing. 😉
    Wonderful work.

  6. I have some friends whose handwriting I rarely, if ever, see…unless perhaps they had to write me a check. Even holiday cards can be ordered pre-signed. I do miss letter writing and have tried for 2 success Februarys to participate in a letter-writing challenge (there’s a website for it, which I can’t remember off the top of my head). But I gave it up this past year. Sadly, I think my recipients felt somehow burdened when I sent them a letter…even when it was only a postcard!

    Thank you for this most interesting post. The lumberjack metaphor is vivid; makes me wonder what image would best describe my own mind to hand coordination. Also very intrigued by a course called “The Teaching of Thinking.” Sounds fascinating!

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