Your Little Trace

My friend presents me with the most beautiful cobalt blue Cross fountain pen–the kind with the ink cartridges that you pop in (I love that sound!)–because she knows I’ll be signing books.

First of all, I love fountain pens. Oh! When I think of writing with flair, I think of fountain pens.

And I know what I’m talking about: I worked at Staples from 9th grade all the way through my 3rd year of college. I was the Fountain Pen Expert and stood behind the Service Desk and showcased the most extraordinary fountain pens to customers. I loved unpacking the shipments of pens boxed in velvet. I displayed Waterman, Mont Blanc, Pelican, Parker, Sheaffer, and of course, Cross. I knew ink filling mechanisms, inlays, nibs, and barrel composition. I kept them under lock and key because some pens sold for thousands of dollars.

I pop in the cartridge and use that nib for the first time. I pause and consider how smoothly it writes, how uniquely to my own hand, and how the words seem so connected to me as I write them. Nobody will use this pen but me; every fountain pen owner knows the nib conforms to only one hand.

I think about the journey of my own handwriting: the lessons in grade school from a precise military father; the i’s dotted with hearts in middle school; the backward slant of rebellion in high school; the tiny clipped letters of debate and college lecture notes. I realize that there’s something in the conversation about what it means to be human (and to know oneself) that involves our handwriting.

I consider the number of people who hand me my own book and ask for my signature. They want the trace from my hand–my unique script–because somehow the words I wrote and were typeset in that gorgeous font weren’t enough. They wanted me, my own signature, because they know that it’s a human trace of something authentic.

They want my signature self, so I write it gladly.

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