Lynette Fay: The art of writing by hand and using a “good pen”
I heard myself say “It will be great to get back to a routine” for the first time in my life last weekend, as I looked forward to the end of summer vacation and back to work.
Until I became a parent, I was never a fan of the routine.
“Back to routine” for many means “back to school”. The response to the boring, often overzealous comment “not long before you get back to school”, made in an attempt to create little chats this week, offered yawns, rolling eyes and unhappy expressions in response – it is from the children. For parents, the summer of 2021 may have been a new confinement.
In August, I was the kid who couldn’t wait to go back to school. I loved the idea of switching to the new school year. I received pieces of a new uniform every year because it was too expensive to buy the whole rig. For me, the great pleasure of going back to school was the chance to have new stationery.
For years I have been the benefactor of damaged goods in the Wellworths Stationery Department, thanks to my mother working there for a while. Every night mom came home from work with a bag of goodies from work was like Christmas to me.
Having said that, the ultimate pleasure was walking to Murray Richardson’s stationery, which was on Church Street in Dungannon. It was the finest old-fashioned shop selling opulent pewter pencil cases and fancy pens and pencils.
I’ve always been a fan of a good pen and even in the digital age, I never go anywhere without a notebook and a “good pen”. When I’m working, even when I’m reading, I always have a pen in my hand, just in case I need to write something down. I feel naked without one.
I remember learning to write. We learned cursive writing in P5 and I remember wanting my handwriting to be as good as that of my teacher, Mrs. McQuaid. I always try to keep my writing as crisp as possible – and the result of my efforts depends on the pen I use. It really is.
We used pencils in elementary school, and getting a diploma to use pens in high school was a huge deal. Having a fountain pen then a Parker pen were highlights, although most of the time my hands were covered in ink and I had a big bunion on my middle finger from the way I was holding my pen .
I realized I had been a stationery nerd for years when I heard an interview on Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 this week. Presenter Emma Barnett spoke to Jenna Meyers of Fargo, North Dakota, which has a huge collection of pens and 500,000 subscribers on TikTok.
Part of the interview was previewed on Instagram so I could see Jenna’s vast collection of pens behind her as she was interviewed. I couldn’t wait to find out what “good” she had.
As the conversation progressed, I learned that there is a social media channel called Pentok where people log in to watch people write with different types of pens.
Jenna says that “looking at the pen” is mostly the preserve of women. Last year £ 3.5bn was spent on stationery in the UK alone.
Putting the pen on the paper brings order, it’s cathartic. In the Woman’s Hour interview, the act of writing was called the act of mindfulness. I hadn’t thought of it like that before.
Perhaps the act of writing in a diary is just as good for us as the joy and importance of documenting a particular moment in life. I know that if I have 15 minutes to jot things down in the morning, the day starts off much better – making lists, interview notes, work ideas; when they are written, they stay there longer. I should write more though.
I received a handwritten letter in the mail this week – remember? It was very touching to think that Catherine, 93 from east Belfast, who listens to my radio shows, took the time to write to me.
I don’t have a return address so I hope someone will let him know that his letter has been very well received.
PS Catherine’s handwriting is magnificent.