Three Wishes

Did you do it?  Did you write a letter during Universal Letter Writing Week (January 8-14th)?  Maybe you received one? Not to worry, “now” is always the right time to acknowledge the importance of letter writing.

There are so many reasons to unplug, pick up a pen and a card or sheet of paper and write.  Seeing our life’s experiences through the eyes of a letter writer shines a light on limitless opportunities to create a handwritten letter:  notes of congratulations, condolence, gratitude, and love, to name a few.  In short, there really is no excuse not to write a letter.  Today, my motivation is to send a birthday greeting to someone very special to me.

Happy birthday to my sister and friend.

There really is no better way to share my best wishes for a happy year than to write a letter. Most birthdays offer us one wish if we blow out the candles but I have three wishes for you.

Firstly, I wish you a year of joy.  Each day gives us a finite number of minutes and you consistently spend your minutes joyfully, lavishing your time on family, friends and community.  We see you face each day with a burst of energy aimed at accomplishing great things.  But more than that, your energy bursts forth with style.  Always chicly attired, you meet each day with fresh curiosity, knowing that each day is a gift.  Your joy creates joy; may it continue.

Secondly, I wish you time to focus on yourself.  You so rarely carve out time for rest, exercise, or time alone. You deserve and need this to keep shining.

Finally, feel the love. Savour the attention and love that your friends and family send to you.  It is heartfelt. Although you are a sparkling hostess, I hope you also receive exciting and rewarding invitations to events that allow your original personality to shine as a guest.

I am deeply grateful for your friendship and hope these wishes and yours come true.

Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words. Plautus

Fresh Starts

The excitement has been building for months and last Sunday the moment arrived.  Yes, the first episode of Downton Abbey season 5 was aired.  Aside from the captivating drama, the series serves up a entertaining course on how etiquette not only keep the cogs of civilization turning but also adapts with the times.

Political and social changes can be rough seas for the individual to navigate but somehow etiquette helps us to move through the turbulence and land with dignity on the new shore.  Watching Downtown Abbey allows us to witness the progression and adaptation of behaviour.  Imagine black tie considered as casual dinner attire but it was an advance from the rigidity of white tie at dinner.  Of course some things do not change and that is the essential thank you note.

The New Year often finds us trying to improve various aspects of our life.  The early weeks of the new year are also the perfect time to acknowledge gifts and hospitality by writing thank you notes. Lord Grantham receives “bread and butter” notes thanking him for the hospitality at Downton, and they are the staples of social interaction.  Responding to a gift or hospitality promptly acknowledges your gratitude and commitment to the wider social order.  Pack a few thank you cards in your suite case so that your note of thanks can be written and delivered with ease. They are easier to write if you keep in mind swiftness, sincerity and simplicity.

Key to the success of any program of self improvements is the reward.  Aside from the intrinsic reward of achieving your goal, a reward doesn’t hurt. Happily there is no shortage of calorie free ways to reward the habit of letter writing.  Treating yourself to fine paper, a fun pen or a new shade of ink not only rewards past effort but inspires future  writing.  But the rewards do not stop there.  The recipient of your note also shares in the benefits.

Even if you aren’t caught up in the Downton craze, consider starting a habit that references the best part of traditions and forges ahead  on a path to meaningful communication.

“Habits are first cobwebs, then cables.” – Spanish proverb

Dear Santa,

If you have only written a few letters in your life,  a letter to Santa is likely one of them.  You may have struggled to hold a pencil or got help from an older sibling but somehow, you wrote that letter.  Did you write early as the season was ramping up, aiming to get your request in before other greedy little thugs? Or did you prefer to go with the magic of the moment and leave your missive out on Christmas Eve with enticements?

These innocent letters are actually sophisticated and reveal something of the writer’s character.  The Santa letter is written because the writer has faith and hope.  Not only will Santa read the letter but, to the best of his capacity, act on the request.

Like any well written letter, the Santa letter starts with cordial remarks as to the state of things at the North Pole.  Once that formality is dealt with, the writer gets quickly to the rather sticky point.  Gifts are given to those who deserve them.  It is wise to get this matter of justification out of the way early.  Some kids are brazen and boldly get to the point with their requests, deserving or otherwise.  Sometimes explanations are offered but this is generally thought to be an unwise bit of information to offer.  He knows.

Now for the heart of the matter: The Ask.  Some kids provide catalogue item numbers or web addresses, all in the interest of making life easy for Santa and assuring the right gift is delivered.  These requests are the most simple to fill.  The tough ones offer a different challenge. Reading a letter that asks for a job for Daddy, a cure for sick brother, or a re-united family provides the  reality check that speaks of the faith in Santa’s power.  Not all of these requests come from children.

When did you last write to Santa?  If it has been a while why not partake in this honorable tradition.  Write with the faith and heart of a child.  This letter could become the first step in creating the habit of letter writing.  Now, what will you ask for? 

“To accomplish great things, we must not only act; not only plan, but also believe.” Anatole France

Merry Christmas to all our supporters and readers and best wishes for a joyous New Year.

“Sorry, my handwriting is terrible!”

How often have you heard that said when someone attempts to write in cursive? Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  Maybe you have said it yourself.

With the resurgence of handwritten communication and the newly rediscovered fascination with fine pens, a lot of old skills are being dusted off and put to practice.  Legibility is a concern and there are ways to boost your power. But beyond basic legibility, there is the matter of style.

We can easily picture the “teacher style” of handwriting and it is a comfort to read.  Other styles suggest professional training:  architects and draftsmen seem to share a similar style.  My mother’s handwriting bore a strong resemblance to what I saw on letters from relatives in Germany, so culture also comes into play.  Handwriting is used to profile job candidates, diagnose medical conditions, and in forensic investigation.  But despite the extensive use of graphology, it remains a controversial subject because there are few apparent rules.

Handwriting analysis is described as a pseudoscience and for me that is a green light to develop your own unique style.  There are basic brush strokes to insure legibility but beyond that the canvas is blank.

Handwriting is an individual form of expression. Have fun and explore writing styles that are expressive and represent your image to the world.

Personally, I have “curated” my handwriting over decades.  My capital “A”, “M” and “N’s” are drawn from my grade five teacher, a woman whose fashion sense resonates with me even now.  In university, to take class notes quickly, I added Greek characters, hoping I would appear brainier by doing so.  Of course your choice of writing instrument; quill, pencil, roller ball, ballpoint, or a fountain pen, lends an accent to your style.

So from now on, offer no apologies for your handwriting.  Instead, enjoy creating your own unique mark.

A Christmas Gift, for You!

8 December 2014

A Christmas Gift, Especially for You

Made your list?  Checked it twice?  Yes, we are on the fast track to Christmas.  Maybe it is just me but somehow time speeds up as Christmas approaches.  Parties, decorating, cooking and the one activity that most of us dread: Christmas shopping.  This is a task with a hard deadline.  Giving to loved ones is wonderful but finding the Perfect Gift gets harder every year.  So what will you give that will delight and carry a unique message that says “I care”?

Tick, tick, tick.  How many hours will you spend braving the crowded malls or online shopping for gifts?  How much will you over spend?  I offer an alternative approach.  Pour yourself a cup of your favourite winter beverage, put on some music and look at your shopping list.  Now take a pen and a beautiful card or luxurious piece of writing paper and create  the perfect gift: a letter from you.

Captured with ink on  paper, the gift  is your handwritten thoughts.  There is something exciting and wonderful knowing that someone took their precious time, collected their thoughts and wrote them down FOR YOU. The value of a hand written letter is precious and rare.

Getting started is often the toughest part.  All that inertia to overcome . . . but do start.  In less time than you might have spent finding a parking spot at the mall you have created a unique gift that will surprise and delight.

This journal started out with a suggestion for saving time and stress at Christmas but what it really boils down to is this:  we are so focussed on the minutes that we are missing out on the moments.  Create some moments this Christmas: some for yourself as you write a note and some for the loved one who receives it.

“There was something very comfortable in having plenty of stationery.”

― Charles DickensGreat Expectations



Man o’Letters

November is a great month to appreciate all things MANLY.  We have noticed all the facial hair efforts and applaud the solidarity men are showing for the cause of men’s health.

There is much interest in defining what makes a gentleman. The Gentlemen’s Expo in Toronto, Men’s Fashion week and various male focussed blogs explore some time tested attributes that had been set aside for many years.   One particular trait that build the brand of “gentlemen” is the habit of letter writing. Worth checking out is a blog entry from the Art of Manliness which provides an inspiring list of letters a man should write before he turns 70.

Part of a man’s desire to prove one’s self is to leave a legacy.

Letters can be a unique finger print of one’s life and can build that legacy. A man’s letter captures his intellect, style, mental and emotional states even when the subject is a simple note of thanks.   A letter written by a father, grandfather or uncle, is certainly treasured.  Every aspect of that letter is remarkable.  Faded ink, spidery writing and fragile paper adds up to a valuable legacy.  Sadly, not everyone has such a memento so moving forward is the only option.

Start the creation of your legacy now.

Who do you write to?  Your letters will matter to others in your circle. Were you Best Man for a friend?  Mentored a colleague?  Supported an artist? There are an infinite number of worthy recipients for your written thoughts.

Aside from creating a legacy, letter writing pays off in many unexpected ways.  As you write letters, your dexterity and penmanship will improve. Writing,  instead of texting abbreviated comments, will hone your thought processes and allow for the possibility of insight and wisdom.  Those receiving your letters will be encouraged that you took the time to think of them and craft your note.  They may even reciprocate.  And in the end, your letters could one day be part of a historical link.

So take up your pen and become a man of letters.

Letters are like wine; if they are sound they ripen with keeping. A man
should lay down letters as he does a cellar of wine.
Samuel Butler

We Will Remember Them

Locked in my memory is a vacation that is not remembered for sunny weather or sandy beaches.  My vacation was a pilgrimage to the sites where Canadian soldiers fought in the Great War.  The weather was bitterly cold and damp.  It wasn’t fun.   But this vacation may be my most memorable.  I visited  Normandy and Belgium to stand on the very ground bitterly contested in a war that started one hundred years ago, this past summer.

A vacation visiting monuments and cemeteries  is bliss compared to the four hard years some soldiers and civilians experienced.  I had hoped that by visiting the sites, I would gain understanding of “why war”.  I learned only there is no answer to that  question.  There is no sense to be made of those battles and sacrifices.  The only thing that does make sense is to remember those who fought and suffered.

As we approach Remembrance Day, many stories have surfaced in film, television and print.  The stories that fascinate me are not the strategic analysis of battle but rather the tales told on the back of yellowed post cards or letters worn thin by handling.  The stories of ordinary men and their families are key to remembering their sacrifices.  In the heat of battle or under the pressures of survival, people took time to write letters.  We are richer for those letters and the sacrifice of time they represent.

The day to day details of our times may seems trite and unimportant.  Certainly we spare little time for letter writing.  But consider how important those details might be to someone a hundred years from now.  Your letters could also be a treasured legacy.

Each year we honour the legacy of sacrifice on Remembrance Day.  At our ceremonies we hear the familiar words of The Exhortation.  Those words are sobering enough but until my tour, I did not realize that the last line is meant to be echoed back by those listening.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.  Robert Laurence Binyon

(The poem was written in mid September 1914, a few weeks after the outbreak of the First World War)

It’s personal.

We are happy to present a guest entry from a friend.  Enjoy!

My love affair with the fountain pen began when, as an undergraduate student
in the English Department of a university in Ontario, I received a fountain
pen as a gift from a French exchange student whom I had been tutoring.  The
pen was slim, “electroplated” in gold, and engraved with my initials in a
lovely cursive script.  From the moment I drew that first word from the
delicate nib of the pen, I was completely besotted.  I felt instantly
elegant, writerly, eloquent, as though I were creating the very words
themselves and not merely writing them out on paper.  Since then I have
collected a number of fountain pens, some of which marked a special
anniversary or accomplishment, others of which I acquired “just because.”  I
treasure them all.

The fountain pen, for me, is more akin to the artist’s brush than it is to a
regular pen.  When I write with a fountain pen, I am keenly attuned to the
way in which the ascender of a letter such as d or k can take on a more
fluid aspect with even the slightest adjustment to the angle of the nib or
the weight of the stroke.  Little flourishes seem to manifest of their own
accord, as though the ink itself were engaged in a delightful dance with the
paper.   My writing becomes not just a practical means of communication, but
a higher expression of my soul’s voice. 

The interplay of fountain pen, ink and paper can be magical, particularly
when the paper is crafted for such a purpose.  A fine, smooth French paper
will allow the ink to sit on its surface, like ribbons of liquid silk, proud
and true.  A rough-surfaced, handmade paper will absorb the ink, and allow
it to bleed out slightly beyond the original borders of each letter, as
though they simply could not be contained.   Experimentation with fine or
medium nibs, different types and colours of ink, and a myriad of paper
finishes means that no two of my handwritten letters ever quite look alike.

Sometimes speed and immediacy are not the most desirable elements of a
written communication.  There is really nothing of me in an email or text
message I might send.  But I am truly (madly?) deeply embedded in the
letters and words that span line after line of my handwritten prose.  Some
days it is tidy, symmetrical(-ish), and straightforward; other days it is
demanding, unruly, a little wild.  Always it is my Self, expressed.

Do I contradict myself? 

Very well then I contradict myself.

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

                –  Walt Whitman

The Write Tool for the Job

You wake from a thrilling dream or suddenly, the solution to a nagging problem springs to mind, how do you capture those thoughts?  Do you call a friend or run to your lap top?  Call me crazy but my first response is to reach for a pen and some paper.  Transferring your thoughts and discoveries to paper is a hugely significant act that defines us as humans. To be honest, I cannot think or problem solve without a pen or pencil in my hand.  With a writing tool, the switch between my brain and the rest of the world is quietly turned on.  Of course, I appreciate my computer but my first choice in tools is a writing instrument.

Writing tools are connectors.  They connect us to our primitive past and propel us into a future built on experience, dreams and ideas.  At their most basic, a writing instrument is a tool that incises fine precise lines or marks into a surface and holds fast a thought or idea.  It could be a sharpened stone scraping against a cave wall, or soot blown through a reed like those in the Grotte du Pech-Merle in the Dordogne in France.  As crude as those marks are, they stop us in our tracks many thousands of years later and connect us to the people who made them.  The marks that remain today reach out to us, sharing what was important in their lives.  Want to go deeper into the cave?  Paleography delves into the history and development of handwriting.

Driven by our need to express ourselves and communicate, we have created a growing array of writing tools: bits of charcoal, reed pens, brush pens, quill pens, and dip pens .   Modern contributions to the writing tool box include the fountain pen, ball point, roller ball and ceramic tip pens.  Each tool has its advantages, some practical and some purely aesthetic.  The quest for a tool that creates a smooth, controllable line continues as new tools for specific writing and drawing task are patented. Writing tools will always be an essential component of civilization. Write on.

There is no lighter burden,nor more agreeable, than a pen. – Petrarch.

image source: Wikipedia

Scriptus 2014: the countdown begins!

Remember when you were a kid and the calendar was flipped over to the month of your birthday and you started to mark off the days?  Being in “countdown mode” is pretty exciting.  There must be quite a bit of “kid” left in us because we are counting down the days to  Scriptus 2014 the pen and writing show in Toronto on 2 November.  Knowing that is less than a month away is giving us goose bumps!

Just what is so exciting about pens and writing?  Well along with our voices, our handwriting is the most identifiable expression of our personality.  Pens and paper are the essential tools for that expression and are also style accessories.   So many choices . . . and the fun of finding the perfect combination of pen, ink and paper is obsession for many.

Who actually writes with pen on paper anymore?  Haven’t we put all that behind us and moved on the a better digital world.  Maybe, for some.  But there is deep need in most of us that is always on the lookout for a way to set us apart from the rest of the herd.  Your handwriting is and always will be that mark of distinction.

Handwriting can be a mirror of your life.  Even though most of us learned to write by copying a “standard” style, your handwriting grows and develops as you do.   Bumpy scrawls transition to awkward experimentation with dramatic flourishes. Hasty student note-taking with symbols morph to a mature and perhaps professional flow of characters.  Your story is reflected in your handwriting style.  It is all there in black/blue/green/turquoise and white/ecru/grey.  Looking at examples of your own writing from years ago is much like looking at a photo album.

Aside from being visually intriguing, handwriting is a sublime conversation between body and mind.  What a work out!  The hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder all get in on the action worked out as a pen makes contact  with the page.  The whole process is an amazing flow of senses and information that is repeated in surprisingly regular patterns.  Your mark!

We hope to see you at Scriptus 2014!

The fondness for writing grows with writing. Epictetus, 100 A.D.