Saturday, March 7, 2015

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +1475

“A letter always seemed to me like immortality because it is the mind alone without corporeal friend.”
― Emily Dickinson

Call Me Mr. Nibs...

Yesterday, I stumbled across my old journals. Literally, I stumbled across them, as they had fallen from a bookshelf. Once again, the decluttering bug has bitten, and I’ve been throwing out considerable amounts of old paperwork and the detritus that accumulates around massive numbers of medical and insurance files and communications.

As I opened the journals, I stepped back to a time when I hand wrote all entries, or typed them out and pasted them to pages in sketch books. My journals were originally written on either lined paper in binders or wire-bound notebooks. The last few of them, however, were book-bound sketchbooks. I preferred writing on unlined pages, especially with a fountain pen or (more often) with a dip pen. I would paste in pictures that I printed or cut from newspapers or magazines. Sometimes, I’d paste a photograph on a page. I even drew images -- anything to break up pages with monolithic blocks of hand-written text.

Anyone who knows me well enough to have received a handwritten note or letter, will attest to my awful handwriting. My hands were damaged as a small child, and my writing  was so bad in school that my parents let me use an ancient Underwood typewriter until they bought me a portable typewriter. I used that portable machine until, when a freshman at Michigan Tech, I could no longer get ribbons for it. So, writing pages of my thoughts in an even semi-readable script was a big deal for me.

Jump to 2015

Now, my handwriting has morphed into a hodgepodge of cursive and printing, spiced with exotic aspects generated by finger numbness brought on by neuropathy and the magic of tremors. Writing with a dip pen now requires about the same level of concentration I would need to write with my right foot. Yesterday, I was holding the nib so tightly, I think I broke a blood vessel under the nail of my right index finger. Now that’s focus!

Needless to say, I don’t do all my scratching with a dip pen. After an appropriate time struggling with Mr. Nib, I switch to an appropriately thick ballpoint pen. The writing is easier and the text is more legible.

Why Write on Paper?

There is something magical about scratching letters on a blank sheet of paper, an empty page, with what essentially amounts to a sharpened stick and dirty water (ink). It transports me back to distant memories of correspondence -- writing actual letters and sending them physically to another person simply for the pleasure of sharing my thoughts and the hope of receiving a reply. There were no spell checkers, and usually corrections involved crossing out the mistake and writing the word correctly -- or trying to morph the letters on the page into something that looked like the right spelling. Note: If your handwriting is bad enough, it is much easier to get away with the morphing correction method.

However, there is another magic found in the effort to scratch my thoughts on pages in a blank book. The discipline and concentration help me control my tremors. The shakes come and go. For the moment, they are back and have become quite a nuisance. I have hopes that my efforts will tame the shakes, jerks, and spasms enough to prevent spilling hot tea in my lap.

Finally, pen and ink bypass the issue of keeping my electronic journal entries accessible and readable. I’ve used a variety of formats over the many years (22 since I started recording on the computer), and I still worry that future software will not be able to read my notes.

It's late, but I had one final thought before turning out the light. Many years ago, I would sit up in bed and write on a tablet with pen or pencil. Tonight, I'm sitting up in bed writing this on a different kind of tablet -- with stylus and fingertip.

Good night, and God bless,


“To write is human, to receive a letter: Devine!”
― Susan Lendroth