I sit in a pool of October sunlight at my kitchen table, my legs drawn up on my chair, a cup of honey-coconut hot chocolate and a plate of fresh bread with jam at my elbow. I am alone, quiet in the stillnes of my house, feeling my breath deepen as I let go of all the tasks and responsibilities that consume most of my day. My journal is spread before me, cream-colored pages inspiring in their blankness, waiting for the touch of my pen.
I have been journaling since childhood. My collection of journals—twenty-five, counting the one on the table before me now—takes up space in two houses; my own small townhome nestled in sunny, arid Utah Valley, and my parents’ home in Hillsboro, Oregon. These journals run the gamut of experiences and emotions. These journals saw me from adolescence into my teenage years, and from there to adulthood, marriage, several moves, and the host of delights and difficulties that have come in the course of a well-rounded life.
My husband is a computer guy. A software programmer by trade, he would do everything digitally if given the opportunity—and does do as much as he can. He is most at home with a laptop perched on his knees or a tablet in his hands, and we spend a lot of time amicably bickering about whether or not printed books are a thing of the past. (He, of course, thinks they are. I maintain that if that’s true, I’ll happily consign myself to being the grandma with a library full of obsolete ink-and-paper volumes.) For him, the ability to write digitally means that he never puts pen to paper if he can help it.
Still, I prefer the scent and feel of paper and ink—the heft of a bound book in my hands, the way my pen glides across a fresh page. It’s soothing, centering, in a way that a keyboard and screen will never be.
With the morning sun on my face, I put pen to paper and begin to write. Words spool across the page, slow and measured; my thoughts have to slow down to keep pace with my hand. I feel my mind settle, my heart beat a little slower. Like the autumn itself, these minutes in the warm stillness of my kitchen are a time of inward-turning, of quieting, of introspection.
Sometimes I write about the doings of my day-to-day; other times, I write about my dreams, digging deep into my heart for inspiration. I make lists of things to do and lists of things I’m grateful for. And when I am finished, whether I’ve written a paragraph or a page, I feel renewed. My morning journal routine is a simple one, but to me, it is essential. It’s hard, in this fast-paced modern world, to remember to slow down, to reflect, to connect with the deepest part of myself. Writing by hand becomes a kind of meditation, a chance to be still, to work slowly, to rekindle joy in simply being alive.
For years, I have tried to keep up the old-fashioned art of letter writing, in addition to my handwritten journals. It feels somehow so much more personal than an e-mail, where everyone’s words look precisely the same. I keep a small box in my kitchen, filled with notecards, envelopes, and stamps. I make an effort to send out a few letters each month—to far-away friends, to people I want to thank, to someone who might be in need of a little mailbox sunshine.
And when I find a handwritten note in my own mailbox, my spirits are always lifted. I love collecting letters from friends—the newsy ones, the thoughtful ones, even the ones that are best described as “short and sweet.” I love the personality of handwriting, the way a person’s script speaks to their upbringing, characteristics, and worldview. I love looking at the way handwriting changes through history, both the history of the world and the history of one person’s life. I love the emotion of a hand-written page—unlike a screen, where ink will never be smeared and mistakes can be erased completely.
I imagine that in some future time—if my husband is right, anyway—people will laugh at the idea that writing things by hand is any better than using a keyboard.
But still, someday I hope that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will find my journals and my letters. And when they do, I suspect that they will be more interested in the shapes and swirls of my script, in the words I’ve crossed out and the times I’ve smeared chocolate on the pages of my journal, than in all the e-mail signatures in the world.
And it is for that, as well as for the meditative peace that I find each morning with my journal and my pen, that I will continue writing by hand.
Cindy Baldwin is a freelance writer and homemaker, in addition to being a lover of all things handwritten. Her work has appeared in Segullah and IDAHO Magazine. She blogs at Being Cindy.