How’s your writer’s bump?

Anyone under the age of twenty may not know what I’m referring to. (To what I am referring? Go away, Mrs. McCartney and your eighth-grade blackboard.) Even people born as late as 1985 may have developed that permanent callus that their boomer parents wore like a frat pin, that tough little malformation that grew on our right middle finger where the pencil or pen pressed as we spent twelve years chewing on our tongues and writing out the answers on a test paper. Or a job application. Or an honest-to-God handwritten letter.
I used to have a beauty of a bump, right above the nail on the left side of my finger. In those days before Facebook, I wrote letters. Lots of letters. To friends, to penpals in foreign countries, and even to Aunt Mary if my mother nagged. Such happiness, to fold the sheets perfectly, tuck them in an envelope and imagine the pleasure of my friends when the little package arrived.
I never wrote them on a typewriter, not when I was young – typewriters were for Della Street or Hildy Johnson or for writing the Great American Novel. No, I took my allowance (all one dollar of it) and went to Woolworths to shop for the latest in lovely fashionable stationery. I would spend hours picking through the shelves of boxes, unable to decide between lined stationery with kittens at the top or unlined with a breathtaking border of roses. And sometimes I’d try a new pen, if I had twenty-five cents left over. Most of the time Mom bought packs of ink refills and we’d unscrew the pen body and poke a new supply of ink down in it. My father grumbled about how lucky we were – they had to dip fountain pens in bottles of ink and it went everywhere.
I never noticed when the bump began to soften and disappear. It probably started some years ago when holding a pen to write more than my signature on a check caused my hand to seize up in a painful claw. I figured “hooray for the keyboard” and happily tapped blog posts, Tweets and entries on that twenty-first century form of family togetherness known as Facebook.
Until I posted a picture on my Facebook page and the entire file of photos, including the professional portfolio of an actor friend, ended up on the page as well, and I can’t remove it. I was so enraged that I seriously considered dropping Facebook entirely.
The problem is, I’m not sure my grandchildren or even my nieces and nephews have ever written a letter in their lives, and just try catching them on the phone. I compromised by continuing to read their posts, and made the decision to go back to writing letters.
I’m not comparing myself to Jane Austen or John Steinbeck, but who knows? Maybe someday my great-grandkids will be as intrigued by the quaint things I write about (and the quaintness of paper and pen) as I am by my father’s letters to my mother when they were young lovers separated by World War II. Voltaire left us novels, plays and essays, but how well would we know the man and his times without the twenty-thousand (yes, 20,000) letters he wrote? I can’t help but wonder how future historians will mine information about our era from “Tweets” and Facebook posts, even should these bits of our lives survive in virtual archives.
So I spent a few days trying to find stationery that’s not “letterhead” meant to roll through a printer, enduring blank looks from pimply-faced clerks at Walmart and everywhere else. I finally resurrected a miniscule selection at Staples. I bought new pens reputed to “flow easily”. (Boy, do they ever. My father would recognize the ink splotches all over the page.) I did some relaxation meditation, chewed a few aspirins and worked at producing a long letter for my kids. I didn’t do badly; it’s mostly legible. But, OUCH, my flabby unexercised writer’s bump is yelling like my thighs did after my first trip on an exercycle. I guess Aunt Mary will have to wait a few days for my genius.

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