Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Writing on the wall


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A BOYHOOD FRIEND, who has been living in England for the past four decades, sent me an unusual gift a few months ago. I didn’t know what to make of it. I remembered “Emmy” as quirky and possessed of a disarming sense of humour.
The gift was a gold-plated fountain pen and fountain lead, by Waterman of Paris, along with a refill of ink and a tiny notebook. To make sure that I did not run out of ink in a hurry, he also sent a 57-milligram bottle of black Parker Quink – and some blotting paper.
Several weeks later “Emmy” called to say: “I sent you that gift to remind you that you used to have the most stylish handwriting I have ever seen.”
I was floored, but begged to deflect the compliment to another now deceased resident of our village – Leon “Pug” Jones, for many years an employee of the Government’s Agriculture Department.
Emmerson Harewood belongs to that aging species of Barbadians who knew the joys of handwriting. In his way, he might have been reaching out to me to help keep alive the dying art of penmanship. Sadly, that art is on its way out. It’s about to vanish from our lives altogether.
Writing letters is one of the most enjoyable pastimes a person can develop. I find it so much more worthwhile, and cheaper, than going to a bookstore and buying a card with words that come from someone else’s imagination.
It’s a wonderful feeling to receive a pleasant note from a friend, an admirer, anyone expressing thanks for an invitation to a function, or agreement with something you said, or to congratulate you on a promotion. Equally welcome should be a note of correction, a suggestion on how to improve something, or even a criticism. A note of condolence at the time of bereavement can do wonders for one’s morale.
Napoleon is said to have been one of the most prolific letter-writers of all time. One wonders how he found time to fight wars and still pen thousands of letters to Josephine. He once dispatched a note to her saying: “Coming home soon; don’t wash.”
The written word not only lives longer than the spoken word, sometimes writing a letter is the most effective way to communicate. After an argument, anger and pride can have such a grip on the combatants that speaking directly to each other is quite difficult. A letter, on the other hand, has an uncanny ability to leap insurmountable walls with a single bound. Resentment, misplaced pride, hurt feelings, disappear before the appeal of a reasoned and sincere letter. A short note consisting of a few well-designed sentences can settle the matter.
No one understood the power of a short note as well as the French philosopher Blaise Pascal. He once wrote to a friend apologetically: “I have made this letter longer than usual because I lacked the time to make it shorter.”
And few can appreciate a note arriving out of nowhere more than the late Doris Provencal who told me of the day the Cecilian Singers stopped at a quaint little tavern in New England while driving from New York to Canada. While waiting to be seated someone suggested that the choir should sing.
Several months later, back in Barbados, the moment now a distant memory, Doris received the most beautiful “Thank you” note from someone who just happened to be in the tavern that balmy afternoon in Vermont. It was one of her treasures.
Cursive handwriting (also called script or joined-up letters) is headed to the museum. With billions of text messages traversing the Internet daily, few people in the future might need to know how to write.
You might have noticed the weak spot in my argument.
If smartphones and tablets had existed back then, we in the 21st century might already have been writing with our thumbs.
• Carl Moore was the first Editor of THE NATION and is a social commentator. Email carlmoore@caribsurf.com

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