They mutilate they torment each other
with silences with words
as if they had another
life to live
they do so
as if they had forgotten
that their bodies
are inclined to death
that the insides of men
easily break down
ruthless with each other
they are weaker
than plants and animals
they can be killed by a word
by a smile by a look
“So…scratch my name on your arm with a fountain pen
(This means you really love me)”
-The Smiths, “Rusholme Ruffians”
Everything old is new again. This holds true for so many things, but today it’s the venerated fountain pen.
“Over the past 10 years, during which the world has adopted smartphones and social media, sales of fountain pens have risen.” The Nakaya Fountain Pen Co. in Japan saw this trend brewing and jumped on it.
I’ve written about fountain pens and their aficionados before, mostly because I find the passion people feel about this so fascinating. Apparently it can be addictive, as all my conversations with fountain ‘penthusiasts’ attest, and even the article linked above, which describes the “handfeel” of holding a pen in your hand as though it’s a transformative experience, even for the novice (not to mention the overwhelming sensory experience of being confronted with the massive choice in the stores, as described):
“The ideal way to experience a Nakaya, though, is to hold it and feel it in your hand*. The best way to test the pens is at one of the many impressive fountain pen emporiums in Tokyo: the vast Maruzen bookstore, a few blocks from the Imperial Palace; the airy rooms of stationery superstore Itoya, hidden among Ginza’s luxury boutiques; or the well-stocked specialist shop Kingdom Note in bustling Shinjuku.”
*The ‘feeling it in your hand’ entreaty is a part of the Nakaya tagline: “For your hand only”. Each pen apparently takes a minimum of three to six months to craft – just for you.
“But even a novice can identify products from Nakaya. The first clue is the color palette, which explodes in reds, greens, pinks, ochers, cornflower blues, even bright oranges, all so shiny the pens almost appear to be underwater.”
Quite sincerely, as you read about the craftsmanship that goes into a Nakaya, it starts to become clear, even to someone almost unmoved by the quiet ‘explosion’ in fountain pen ownership and use.
“The faint lines on her face seemed to have deepened. She looked severe and competent and suddenly much older, not even very pretty anymore—a woman used to dealing with emergencies, ready to take charge.” Eleven Kinds of Loneliness – Richard Yates
Wading my way through the writing of Richard Yates a few months ago, I found the repeated statements about characters “not being very pretty any more” (or a variation on this) distracting. Perhaps it was a hallmark of the time – to write about a woman’s beauty (fading as it might be) as though it were the only real currency she had. Even if in the quoted case, Yates gave the ‘severe’-looking woman a new competence and ability to take charge, she virtually becomes invisible because she looks both older and less beautiful.
It occurred to me, though (and this is no lightning-bolt of revelation – it’s pretty much something that smacks us in the face daily), that while it might have been more common to write about a woman’s appearance in literature in earlier decades, it’s still the same.
I grant that when dealing in literature, the writer is creating a person: a description, physical as well, is warranted. It is also fiction, so the writer is creating a space, a scene, in which the character must exist and those around him/her react and perceive. Yet, the writer frames the physical appearance as the highest-value sum of the female character’s total worth. And that’s a choice.
My reaction to Yates was more a trigger to thinking about contemporary writing in media. While not every media outlet is the Daily Mail, with its headlines on so-and-so’s weight loss or weight gain, there are still more subtle value judgments associated with age, with beauty, with “health” – it’s all just couched in different language.