The writing instrument takes this human existence another step, a very elaborate step. Stories and abstract thoughts can be stored outside the cranium and be made portable, by which I mean communications can breach far distances and long periods of time between humans. (When are you reading this? I am typing this version of my essay in Cardiff, Wales, 11th November 2021 at 2:56 in the afternoon.) Long before our ancestors in Europe were making a Sistine Chapel of their caves, earlier ancestors had already produced symbols 77,000 years ago in the Blombos Cave of South Africa.

We come to the subject of the writing of letters. A personal letter is a holograph reserved exclusively to the one in possession of it. Although a letter can be copied or reproduced, the original retains a special distinction. Just like a fingerprint or a cave wall painting, it carries subtle qualities distinct to its author. It is unambiguous proof of a specific individual’s existence and their testimony.

Better than a machine printed message or even a telephone call, the letter is artifact. It can serve as an objet d’art worthy to be a keepsake for the recipient.

For me, writing is a handicraft, not unlike woodworking, and so I prefer hold­ing and manipulating a pen, the tactile experience where one is pouring a wet, saturated line on to paper.

Also for me, fountain pens enhance the experi­ence of existence. I find it the most comfortable of writing instruments. The elaborate decoration one often sees on this practical tool is typical behavior for humans. Earliest humans decorated their tools. Such creative enhancements are the root of culture.

When I pick up a fountain pen, the specialness of the instrument reminds me not to take my writing for granted, not to be jaded with the endeavor. The fountain pen gives me pause to appre­ciate and respect language, to understand that I am about to partake in magic. The fountain pen is the magic wand. With such an instrument it is possible to cast spells. All writing instruments can produce magic. To someone who does not have a written language, the ability to communicate with symbols must appear to be magic.

I am in awe of the distinction this ability to write has given our species. This incredible human invention, the ability to store any kind of information outside of the skull-bound memory has no equal in power and the meaningfulness it confers on our species. This one achievement makes all other achievements possible. It must be an obvious realization, a cliché of the mind, that many have independently noted the significance of writing and have been struck with wonder.

 – Bruce Harris Bentzman

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