As you know, I recently acquired a Kindle electronic reader, and I’m very satisfied with it. Since the beginning of this month, I have read a number of English books which I have enjoyed. And on this reader, there are a number of black and white images which serve as ‘screen savers’, or more accurately, a way to let me know that the reader is asleep. If I turn it off completely, the page is slightly off-white. But if it’s only sleeping, I see one of those images. The images are beautiful… photos of typewriters and pens, and other pictures connected to the process of writing. These images have brought back old memories.
My earliest pleasant memories are of reading and writing. As difficult as life was in my immediate vicinity, once I learned to read, I was able to find refuge in other times and places, and to forget my own troubles for an hour or two, as I learned new things and identified with far away writers, and adventures that excited and inspired me. Those books filled my head with images and ideas that were brought to me by letters on the page. As lonely as I was, I got to know people and social conditions that I couldn’t experience personally. And I became a dedicated reader and student. Soon after learning to read, I began writing. At first I wrote in a journal in which I recorded interesting things I had learned, and references to other books that I found mentioned in the books I was reading. I wrote with pen and ink, using a fountain pen, or a pen which was nothing more than a wooden handle to which was attached a nib, which I would dip into the ink, and then be able to write a number of words till I had to dip the pen once again into the ink well.
My teachers showed me examples of proper handwriting, and of exceptional writing. And I aspired to write as beautifully as some of the examples I saw. And since Hebrew has a number of accepted alphabets, including two separate scripts, aside from the well known square letters, I practiced writing both of the scripts, as well as the square letters which I admired from the first time I saw them. There was a solidity and a balance to those square letters that enchanted me. After a couple of years of writing with a regular pen, I bought a set of graphic nibs, with which I was able to control the width of the line I was drawing, and this enabled me to write more beautifully. The physical act of writing the words on paper was as important to me as the meaning behind the words I was writing. And this focus on the craft of writing continued for many years.
Over the years I had quite a number of pens of all sorts, and most of them are still with me, though I haven’t written by pen for almost 20 years. Yet each of the pens I wrote with is precious to me, including the first ball point pen, which was called a ‘globus’, and was a very simple utensil made of cheap plastic. It could write forever… at least so it seemed after writing with fountain pens. But at times it left a little puddle of grease on the paper, and because of that, I continued to write with fountain pens. Later on, I switched to typewriters. And for many years, I had two typewriters; one that wrote with Hebrew letters, and another that wrote with Latin characters. I could reminisce about the different typewriters I wrote with over the years. But today I’m reminded of the pens, and each pen brings back a period of my life, my dreams and accomplishments, and what I studied in those days.
The pen that accompanied me for the longest time, was a Parker 51, gray in color, with a very fine point. It was the most dependable pen I had, and held a lot of ink, so it could write for days without a refill. It was also light in the hand and comfortable to write with. I remember only once that it leaked in my shirt pocket, and that was when I was flying in an airplane. But unlike most of my other pens, it’s line was so consistent, that I was unable to emphasize a word by pressing a bit harder on the point. And so, I didn’t usually use it for letters and documents that were meant for the eyes of others.
There are two pens in my collection that I love most of all. One was given to me by a dear friend, and is considered one of the finest pens ever made. It is called a Mont Blanc, and was well known as a luxury item since the 1920s. It has a gold nib which allows a certain flexibility, so that one can express himself in handwriting much as one can express one’s self in speech. And I was always reminded of my friend when writing with this beautiful instrument.
Another pen that was exceptionally precious to me… was the very pen that my mother gave my father when they were newly married, and he was forced to travel abroad. He wrote her love letters, and tales of his efforts in countries beyond the seas. When he was getting old, and no longer used this pen, he told me that he had intended to leave the pen to me, but since he didn’t use it anymore because it was a cartridge pen that used glass cartridges of ink, that were no longer made. He wished to give it to me while he was still alive, as a souvenir of the love that bound my parents together through the years. The pen was beautifully made, and had a gold nib. It was one of the first that employed a cartridge as a reservoir of ink. It’s body was built before the use of plastics for such articles. It was made of Celluloid.
As soon as I received the pen, I set about, trying to make it a working tool. There had been an excellent pen repairman in Jerusalem, by the name of Moshe Cohen, and I looked for him, but it turned out that he had moved to Tel Aviv. I called him up, and explained to him that I wanted to write with this pen, but the cartridges were unavailable. He told me he thought he could install a reservoir in the pen, which I could refill, and so use the pen. I brought the pen to him personally, and found his pen store inspiring. I watched him as he wrote with his own fountain pen, and loved his handwriting. He was a man I could trust. A couple of weeks later, he called up to inform me that the pen was ready. I baked a loaf of bread and bought a bottle of wine to celebrate with him the rebirth of this pen, and we celebrated in his shop, after he delivered the reconstructed pen to my hands.
These stories belong to the past. Nowadays, I write with a computer. It’s better than a pen, actually. No problem to emphasize a word, or to write in italics. And you can change a sentence without rewriting the whole page. But I’ve never felt as personally attached to a computer as I was to the pens I wrote with.