Ye Olde Pen Shoppe

Writer Adam Hochschild talks about “travel close to home.” You don’t have to go very far, he says, to enter into worlds other than your own.

So lately I’ve been exploring routes off my beaten track, trying to enlarge the map of my everyday world, and just as Hochschild promised, I’ve been making some marvelous discoveries.

Here’s one of them.

On West Hastings Street, directly opposite the Simon Fraser University Harbour Centre campus, there stands the Vancouver Pen Shop. I stumbled upon it during one of my lunch-break wanderings. I stood outside it for a few moments, looking in, not quite believing my eyes. It’s a long, narrow store, lined on both sides with shelves and counters containing fountain pens, calligraphy pens, inks of all colours, nibs of all sizes, notebooks, and other such artefacts.

I felt like a person who, not knowing there is such a place as heaven, suddenly finds herself at the pearly gates.

In a world of computers, digital organizers, “smart” phones, and the like, we may find ourselves tempted to question the need for pen and paper. And yet, human beings I believe are still largely tactile creatures. We need to touch and smell and taste things, not just see and hear them, in order to fully appreciate them.

I myself have always loved the feel and smell of paper and ink. I love to go to bookstores and stationery stores and walk up and down the aisles just running my hand over the merchandise. On opening a new book or journal, before I start reading it or writing in it, I literally put my nose into it—and sniff.

I remember spending hours poring over the Griffin and Sabine books, admiring the beautifully illustrated pages, taking the letters out of their envelopes, reading the backs of the postcards—and reflecting that we are in a sad state indeed, if we have been reduced to reading someone else’s mail—fictional mail, at that.

Handwritten letters are something I still send to family and friends, but rarely ever receive. Emails are unbeatable for keeping in touch, but no email will ever be able to impart the same pleasure as seeing a loved one’s handwriting on an envelope in your mailbox, drawing out the pages and knowing a beloved hand has touched them too, and finally reading the letter and knowing that for as long as it had taken to compose it, to hold the pen in hand and form the words, the thought of you had also been lovingly held in the writer’s mind.

And so, the Pen Shop. If such a place still exists, then it must be because there are still letter-writers and diary-keepers out there, and I am glad. Now I know that instead of throwing in my lot completely with modern technology, part of me – specifically, my writing hand – can still hold out, hold fast to a pen, let a drop of ink draw my thoughts out in ribbons of words that spin over the clean and blank expanse of paper.

On this particular journey in my travels “close to home”, maybe I didn’t quite discover a whole new world. But I did find out that there are some worlds which – in spite of us –continue to survive. And what’s more, they will always welcome us in. All we need to do is remember the way back.


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