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Handwritten is a place and space for pen and paper. We showcase things in handwriting, but also on handwriting. And so, you'll see dated letters and distant postcards alongside recent studies and typed stories. 

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Filtering by Tag: Essay

Whisper-Thin Cursive from the Musty Corners of Antique Stores • Carolyn Porter

Brett Rawson



I collect old handwriting specimens. They are impractical things to buy, but I would rather acquire a whisper-thin piece of paper filled with distinct cursive than buy a new pair of shoes, a new handbag, a new anything else. 

My collection isn’t limited to a specific kind of script. That is, I’m not exclusively drawn to Spencerian or Copperplate. The cards, letters, ledger pages, and envelopes I’ve rescued from musty corners of antique stores or found online aren’t tethered to a specific era either, though I often find myself drawn to handwriting from the late 1800s. The pages that catch my eye seem to hold hints of intriguing moments from lives long since passed. 

Sometimes the content doesn’t turn out to be compelling; a few acquisitions, however, have contained surprisingly provocative and emotional content. Here are ten of my favorite handwriting specimens from my collection, with a little information on each one.


Carolyn Porter is a graphic designer and self-professed typography geek who designed P22 Marcel Script. Released in 2014, this font has garnered four international honors, including the prestigious Certificate for Typographic Excellence from the New York Type Director’s Club, typeface competitions by Communication Arts and Print magazines, and was a selection for the 2015 Project Passion exhibition. “Marcel’s Letters: A Font and the Search for One Man’s Fate” combines the story of the design of the font based on Marcel Heuzé’s beautiful handwriting with Porter’s obsessive search for answers. The book was released in June, 2017 by Skyhorse Publishing. Learn more at www.carolyn-porter.com.

Collecting Words • A Reflection on Lenore Tawney by Kathleen Mangan

Sarah Madges

Kathleen Mangan, the Executive Director of the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation discusses the role of handwriting in Lenore Tawney’s daily life and in her artistic practice. Tawney was a regular correspondent and diarist who filled dozens of tiny journals with fine script, but she also incorporated  handwriting in collages and constructions. Fine, thread-like script was superimposed upon lines of text from old manuscripts; written lines were piled atop one another so they could not be deciphered; and at other times delicate lines on translucent paper were turned upside-down. Tawney’s goal was to make “visionary” experiences “visible.”

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Jackson Pollock's Calligraphy in Composition • A Reflection by Helen A. Harrison

Sarah Madges

Helen A. Harrison, the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center weighs in on the intersection between Jackson Pollock's art and handwriting, such as his "use of calligraphic imagery as an integral compositional element" in some of his drawings that contradicts the awkward, halting script used outside of his artwork for personal and professional correspondence.

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Thomas Eakins's Precise Pen • Akela Reason

Brett Rawson

"Eakins learned his elegant copperplate hand from his father, a skill that was reinforced at Central in his drawing classes. To the nineteenth-century mind, good penmanship and draftsmanship were seen as interrelated skills that reflected clarity of thought."

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Sweetly Unadorned Bits of Proof • Lexi Wangler

Brett Rawson


“What are you writing?”

Sadie, my best friend’s fifteen-year-old sister, paused on the porch. On her way to the hair salon, she surveyed me over her sunglasses, the bridge slipping down her nose. 

“The ceremony,” I told her, and ripped another page out of my notebook. 

“Oh, God.”  Underneath the layers of heavy-handed wedding makeup, she paled in horror. “I’ll, uh, let you finish then.” 

I could have called after her, defended myself and explained to her the nonlinear experience of expectation, the impossibly rapid speed of time devoured by just existing, let alone creative expression. But with forty-five, no, forty-four minutes to go, I just decided to keep writing. 


Last September, my best friend asked me to officiate his wedding. He’s been my best friend for going on seven years now, and at first, I thought it was a sop for not asking me to be his best (wo)man. I remember asking him, clearly, repeatedly, “Are you sure?”

But he and his fiancée were. They didn’t find it surprising when the wheels of my plane touched down in the city I used to call home without a single ceremonial word written. Well, to be fair, I filled out the paperwork, joined the American Ministers of Marriage, and mailed the affidavit to the court house. I took a risk and didn’t buy the officiating kit with an embossed certificate, but I did buy a dress — floor-length, fire-engine red with mesh cut-outs. That’s as far as I went until about forty-eight hours before the ceremony. Between cocktails at the rehearsal dinner, I typed out the first half of the ceremony on my phone, riding that familiar edge between writerly hubris and an absolute terror of failure. This was before I realized I probably shouldn’t be reading from an iPhone screen at the wedding. 

I borrowed a bit from the Corinthians, and a little from a speech that Roxane Gay gave at St. Louis University about Catholicism and feminism — ironically, since the happy couple asked me, the atheist, the fallen Catholic with a vengeance, to presumably perform a secular ceremony at a refurbished airport decimated during Hurricane Katrina.

The word “millennial” gets tossed around a lot to describe our generation, commonly linked with, jeopardy-style, “What is the worst?” Sometimes our elders have problems processing how we can ever mature, how we can contribute, how we can function, having been raised not only attached to increasingly smaller screens, but in a world that keeps getting increasingly darker: politically, environmentally, globally. The answer, of course, is hope. By coming here today, you have shown incredibly deep reservoirs of hope, in each other and in the joint future you began to build the day you met. You show the world the difference between growing up, and growing older. 


Before and after the wedding, I explained several times that no, I do not do this all the time, that I am not a minister, but simply a girl who happens to be friends with the groom, a friend who has been known to occasionally write things down. 


“Love suffers long and is kind. It is not proud. It bears all things, believes all things. Hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. [After all else], these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  (1 Corinthians, 13:4) 


I’m told it’s a rising trend nowadays, having a friend do for free what you used to have to pay a churchman to do. For a millennial couple with no particular religious leanings, it was a cost-effective choice, though vastly more personal and intimate. In the South, however, it still raised a couple of eyebrows. Despite mandatory compliments and platitudes from attendants following the ceremony, I wasn’t actually sure how it went. I cried through most of it, the maid of honor patiently passing me tissue after tissue. I only cry when I’m happy — weddings and other moments of intense joy are something of an emotional minefield for me. More so when you watch friend after friend find what looks like incalculable joy in the arms of someone new, someone you haven’t grown up with, but someone you nevertheless would like to know.  It’s a joy tinged with fear, envy, sadness, wondering, sure, but it’s still the kind of joy that leaks out of you. 


You met by chance. You fell in love by chance. You are here today because you are making a choice. You have chosen hope. You have chosen faith. You have chosen each other. By being here, you promise to both provide the best version of yourself and to also accept nothing less than the best version of each other. These promises are ones you intend to keep. You vow to take care of each other, to stand up for one another, to find happiness in the other. Each vow shares the same, simple premise; you promise to experience, to share, to be there. You promise.


There is more, of course. I opted at the end for “You may now seal your vows with a kiss,” as opposed to “You may now kiss the bride,” and I switched out “I now pronounce you man and wife,” for “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” fervent little feminist that I am. They wrote their own vows, sweetly unadorned bits of proof. But these are not mine to share. Writing down my speech for the ceremony, my hand cramped over the teeth of the pages that have been torn out of my notebook. At the reception, Sam asked for them to keep.  He showed me Meghan’s vows in his pocket, lettered neatly, firmly on a notecard like the lawyer she is, and his own, scrawled on notepaper with the letterhead from the hotel that morning, a list of things he promises never to do, followed by a list of promises he’ll always try to keep.  

He wanted the three of them together, maybe to frame, or maybe just to hold onto. In this moment, I am glad to have something tangible, firmer than memory, to give them. Something handwritten.

Lexi Wangler holds an MFA from The New School in Fiction, soon to be joined by a dual concentration in Writing for Children. She works as an assistant at a literary agency and has so many books she has begun stacking them in her kitchen.

The Everyday Mind • Chad Frisk

Brett Rawson



I’d never before considered handwriting to be an art form. 

For me, handwriting was always a tool. I used it to build thoughts on a page, or just to fill out forms. It was slow. It was blunt. It was annoying. That’s how I had always thought of handwriting in English, and for a long time I thought of handwriting in Japanese in the same way. That is, until I met Takemoto Sensei.

“Make sure you use an extra soft pencil,” Takemoto said.

I went to the college bookstore and bought one. Slouching in a hard wooden chair, I pressed the gray tip to the off-white page of the worksheet he had given me. I could hear his voice. "Trace the lines," he said. It came with a smile that was mildly irritating.

The work was both boring and a little bit humiliating. I had written those characters for four years as a high school student, but there I was, tracing lines like a fourth-grader. The connection was appropriate, however, because I actually spent the first week of fourth grade crying over my handwriting. Ms. Ramcke had given me back a writing assignment covered with red pen. “This isn’t fourth grade writing,” the comment read. My letters still used the kindergarten stencil, filling three lines. Ms. Ramcke wanted me to shrink them down to fourth-grade size. That night I told my mom I didn't want to go to school anymore. I was curled into a lump in the corner of my bed. She did what most parents would do. She said she was sorry and rubbed my back. But then she did something else. "Maybe Ms. Ramcke is right," she said. And before I could wipe my nose, she was poking me in the back with a notebook. "Let's practice."


English letters aren’t very complicated. There are twenty-six of them (a few more if you include capitals). They don’t require you to make very many strokes. You don’t even have to take your pencil off the paper most of the time.
Japanese letters aren’t like that. There are three writing systems: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Two of them – hiragana and katakana - are relatively compact, with about 46 characters each. There are thousands of kanji characters, however. And neither hiragana, katakana, nor kanji are easy to write – at least, not if you want to write them well. In high school, I didn’t stand a chance. But in college, Takemoto gave me one.

I heard voices as I tried to control my soft pencil: "Trace the lines," Takemoto said. "Let's practice," my mom added.

I sighed and continued to trace. Slowly, something strange started to happen. As I sat there, moving the pencil from top to bottom and right to left across the page, I found myself enjoying it. I stopped to look at my handiwork. 

“That’s not bad,” I thought. 

I kept writing. Before long, all of my notebooks were covered with Japanese. Hiragana, katakana, progressively less misshaped kanji. I was hooked.


Takemoto Sensei's approach to handwriting was totally new to me. For me, handwriting had always been an annoyance; for him, it was a craft. There were ways to apply pressure to the pencil. There were proper paths to follow, angles to be aware of, particular compositions that looked better than others. I came to love writing because there were ways to do it better.
That was almost ten years ago. Since those days, I’ve occasionally exchanged the pencil for a brush. The game changes entirely. Kanji are fun to write with a pencil. Writing them with ink, however, is a trial. If you stop the brush, you will end up with blobs. If you press too softly, your lines will be weak. If you press too hard, your lines will blend into black mush. If art is about degree of difficulty, then the brush is the tool of a master.

I am not a master. In a normal calligraphy session, I write the same kanji character fifteen to twenty times before I feel satisfied. It’s hard! With a brush, every mistake compounds. One small mistake gets me thinking about what I’ll do better the next time which causes me to make another mistake which causes me to drown the rice-paper in ink.

For me, it’s about maintaining focus from the beginning of the first stroke to the end of the last one. If I do fifteen to twenty attempts, I’m usually able to maintain that level of focus one time. I used to think that there was nothing I could do about it. But now I’m not so sure. Obsessive reading in cognitive science and a semi-regular meditation routine have made me think that focus is something I can train. I thought maybe I could use kanji to do so. 

So I decided to try an experiment. I chose to write one kanji compound every morning, selecting a word that I thought would put me in a constructive frame of mind for the day. Furthermore, I only gave myself one shot.

Fumei, Uncertainty

Fumei, Uncertainty

Sitting at the table, the stars still shining in a dark, winter sky, I stared at the blank piece of paper. I tried to map the coming kanji onto it. 不明. Fumei. “Uncertainty.” I looked at the brush, sitting in the black inkwell. “You only get one shot,” I thought. Then I picked up the brush and started to write. 

Ideally, the lines would have flowed out of me. Ideally, the brush would have regulated itself, increasing and decreasing pressure on its own, flicking between strokes, pausing, trailing away as I held it. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. I caught myself thinking of something else when I would have liked to be thinking of nothing but the tip of the brush. “Too bad,” I told myself, and, after scribbling some English in the margins, went to the sink to clean out the inkwell.

I came back the next day. “What word do I want today?” I asked myself, and waited for a response. I didn’t have to wait for long. 挑戦. Chōsen. A hard word to translate, but one that is often rendered as “to try”, or “to challenge”. I wrote it quickly, hoping that speed would equal elegance. It turned out alright. 

Again, the white space at the corners of the page caught my eye. “Life is a challenge,” I felt myself writing. “It’s better when you accept.”

The word echoed in my mind throughout the morning. Chōsen. Did it make me act differently than I otherwise would have? It’s hard to say for sure. But even months later, the word still pops into my mind. I think it gives me a jolt of strength.

The next day I chose – again – the first thing that came to mind. Kansha. “Gratitude”. I felt a little bit nervous because I had been posting the calligraphy to Instagram. “Will people think I’m posting this just to look good?” I worried. The next thought was even more worrisome: “Am I actually posting this just to look good?” 

I thought about it for a second. "Maybe not just to look good,” I reasoned. Then I paused. “But at least a little." 

Then I posted it.

For three weeks, I didn’t run out of words. I found that every day I had something in my life to work on, and I was eventually able to find a word to express it. Here are some of the words that came to mind as I thought about what I wanted to bring to the day.

Nobiru. To grow. I’ve found that holding the intention to grow is enough to transform what would otherwise be the meaningless detritus of the everyday into (what at least feel like) important lessons.

Shuchu. Focus. Sometimes focus happens naturally, but usually I have to maintain it in the face of distraction. Intending to do so (and continually reaffirming that intention) is the first step.


Junan: flexible. Hansei: reflection. Norikiru: to get by.


It was an interesting experiment. It lasted three weeks. It changed from a morning ritual to an evening one. It ended not because I ran out ink, but eventually, the drive. I also ran out of words. Once or twice, my first attempt was so bad that I had to allow myself a second. But more often than not I waited out the impulse.

What made one day better than another? What conditions allowed the brush take over one day, and prevented it from doing so on another? It’s hard to say. Sleep quality, maybe. My mood, definitely. To tell the truth, there were some, or maybe many, days that I really didn’t want to write anything.

“Let’s skip it today,” a voice often said. "Do you really want to take all that gear out just to write on kanji?"

“I know,” I always forced myself to reply. “It’s kind of annoying. 

“But we’re doing it anyway.”


Handwriting has taught me that I don’t always want to do what is good for me. It started in fourth-grade. I didn't want to shrink my letters to fit in one line. My letters fit perfectly fine into three lines. But I needed to grow up; I would be in trouble today if my letters were still six-inches high. Ten years later, I didn’t want to change my Japanese handwriting either; however, if I hadn’t, I would have missed out on a chance to participate in what I now consider to be a very meaningful art form. 

The lesson I took from the calligraphy experiment is the same: writing the characters took effort. I had to expend the energy to set up the equipment; I had to think of a word, either to jump-start my day or to encapsulate it; I had to submit myself to the pressure of having only one shot; and I had to live with whatever I came up with, though sometimes I failed at that.

But the effort was worth it. Takemoto gave me a seemingly remedial homework assignment that lead to a craft. In a lot of ways, life is also a craft – one that I’d like to master. Sadly, without conscious effort I tend to produce a scrawl, both in handwriting and life. 

Happily, I think I know what to do about that. Now the challenge is to actually do it.

The Distance Between our Public and Private Selves • Aine Greaney

Brett Rawson

In this essay on deleted pasts and new beginnings, Aine Greaney takes us around the world in an old composition notebook: the only one she brought with her when she emigrated to America. With the start of the new year just behind us, we find this piece more timely than ever, as we revisit filled pages from the past, and look toward the blank ones of the future.

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Artistic Expression is as Essential as Breathing • Mary Fratesi

Brett Rawson

In this micro-reflection, Mary Fratesi finds delicate words for the most difficult of experiences: watching a loved one in pain. While this piece began as a pairing of two images, which has a fluency of its own, Mary takes us beneath the tree, and between the lines.

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The United States Postal Service Squares off with a Squirrel, and Loses Hard.

Brett Rawson


On January 20th, a mailman tried to deliver a piece of mail to an ordinary home. It was the XFINITY envelope you see above. Urgent, we can only imagine. But when the mailman reached the property, he approached a problem: the house was guarded by squirrels. How many, we'll never know, but there were enough. That much is clear. The mailman left the premises promptly, likely by sprint, and much later, he penned the reason for, and date of, undelivery: Squirrels, 1/20. Days later, the mailman returned, the squirrels were gone, and the bill was delivered.

The story could end there, but thankfully, it doesn't. The envelope was addressed to Glenn Tachiyama, an (ultra marathon) trail runner and (adventure) photographer. Glenn's images combine these passions with symmetry, capturing bodies in motion. But he also takes tons of pictures of squirrels.

It's a hobby of his: snapping photos of these shadow-seeking, nut-lovers. We've liked every single one we've seen on Instagram: those little concrete-colored cuties frolicking through meadows, the quasi-confused fuzzy rats nibbling on round shards of asphalt, and the small puff-balls plumping up before winter. You could be thinking that all of this was just some freak accident: that a mailman who just happened to be afraid of small furry things arrived to a residence with more than a normal amount of them. But plot-twist: January 21st just so happened to be Squirrel Appreciation Day. So now, like The Usual Suspects, your mind is going back through the clues.

It was all there: the day the mail was delivered, hundreds of squirrels darting around the lawn, unable to contain their appreciation for each other, gathered together for the annual celebration around none other than the home of Glenn Tachiyama, famous photographer and lover, or should we say leader, of squirrels. Is it that far-fetched to wonder whether the squirrels were just prepping for the photo-shoot of their lifetime? 

Obviously, we here at Handwritten lost our marbles. We reached out to Glenn. "Glenn, that squirrel picture is hilarious," we wrote. "What if," we said cutting to the chase, "you sent us 4 - 5 of your fave squirrel images, and we put that in the context of this story?" Glenn replied. "As long as I don't have to write much," he wrote. "Not at all," we responded, "it'll be a visual story."

And so, with permission to use Glenn's images, but without his permission to tell a completely fictional tale, we present to you, on this pseudo-gloomy Monday, the untrue story of the mailman and the squirrel, handwritten by us, of course.

handwritten by Handwritten
illustrations by Glenn Tachiyama 

I Saw in My Mind a Vision of them Sparkling with Joy • Adrienne Harvitz

Brett Rawson

This micro-insight from Adrienne Harvitz reminds us of an important tradition: to create brand new ones. Ignoring the standard "To" and "From," Adrienne created gifts out of the paper wrapped around the presents for her children. Did most end up in the recycling bin? Sure, but one didn't.

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The Pen Thing • Ali Osworth

Brett Rawson



The Pen Thing started with my mother. She kept a small yellow notepad in the kitchen, and she would write on it with a blue felt tip pen—the edges of it smooth and round, curving a u-shape up to the tip. It had metallic flecks in it—the barrel of the pen, not the ink. She had other colors—red, green, and black—all kept in the junk drawer, scattered around with twine, two rulers with marker all over them, and my father’s construction-strength tape measure. She made lists and wrote notes to my brother and I with these pens, always only these pens. She’d start her letter B from the bottom, way below the soft straight line when she wrote her name, Berit. The first letter almost looked like a heart. 

When I sought out one of her pens, standing on my tip-toes to reach into the junk drawer, my mother would warn me: don’t grab the permanent ones. Back then, I thought it was because if you wrote on your skin with permanent marker, it would never come off. I was convinced that’s how my grandfather got his Navy tattoo. And so I used Crayola for longer than was reasonable. But now I know: she didn't want anyone else using Her Pen. 

The first sign of The Pen Thing came in college when I bought a pack of three extra-fine-tipped Sharpies. After first use, I ignored every other writing utensil I possessed. I think I was looking to make an indelible mark upon the world. They resembled my mother’s pens — the felt tip ones — but differed from them just enough that I felt like I was individuating. I kept long lists of verbs I could use in my acting training — “You can’t just feel — you have to get on stage and do.” — all written in Sharpie. I wrote on my scripts in Sharpie. After college, I started keeping a journal and I wrote that in Sharpie, too. It didn’t matter that it bled to the other pages. Sharpie was the most permanent, and I feared death. Sharpie was the most consistent, and I feared change. 

Someone borrowed one of My Sharpies once and wrote on the rubber sole of their sneaker with it like a heathen — the tip was no longer the sleek, immortal ink delivery service that attracted me so to the Sharpie. It was frayed. I began to carry around My Sharpies and other Sharpies — a whole box that I could give away when someone asked if I could lend them a pen. "Keep it. Don't worry about it, I have a whole box." I won't want it after you've used it, were the words I did my best to keep to myself.

The Sharpie era lasted a good long time. My journals are proof: the smudges and spidery bleeds are telltale. It was my father who broke the spell. I was in South Carolina for Christmas, about to finish a journal and start a fresh one. Oh, what a holiday! New Journal Day! I usually had at least two of My Sharpies in my backpack, the one with all the patches from Europe. I scoured it and couldn’t find either one of them, nor the backup unchristened third Sharpie, which I swore I’d left in the front pocket in the same place as emergency tampons.

On that day, my father lent me a pen. It was the one he used to write with in his Franklin Covey planner before he retired — ink black with gold fountain tip and clip, a small Pelikan pelican embossed on it if you look closely. He led me into his library and showed me how to load ink into it. “You can keep it, if you like,” he said. "I'd never steal your pen," I replied. "But I will borrow it."

I took it to the table and wrote an entry in my journal: it wrote like a dream. I filled the yellow journal and sitting nearby was a new red one, and I saw an opportunity to be a continuous person for an entire Moleskin. I walked over to my father. He was watching television with my mother. I asked him if I could steal his pen, and he laughed — he put one hand on his chest and threw his head back like he always does. He never did replace his pen. Perhaps I should feel sad and return his pen. I will not return his pen.

Fountain nibs mold to a person’s hand, you know, just like felt tips. But they are so much more permanent. When a felt tip pen comes to the end of its life, it goes in the garbage. A fountain pen is like having a pet that knows your voice and lives forever. I thought there was something special in that — that the nib on that pen had gotten used to my father and was then getting used to me. Part of me feels like I betrayed my mother in this moment — I did not steal her pens. 

I wrote with my father’s pen for seven months. During that time, I lived in the attic of the house my father and grandfather built in 1954. I made it through the whole red journal with that pen. Once, I thought I lost it. I started hyperventilating and my fiancée made me check all the closets. One of our cats pushed it through a crack under a door that looked like it was made for a gnome — it lead to the eaves. When I retrieved it from the dust and the cotton candy insulation, I remember crying a little. But I can’t find the journal entry to prove it.

That’s when I decided that not losing the pen was more important than being a continuous person. So I bought a ballpoint seven-year pen from the bookstore on the corner. It’s called a seven-year pen because it’s supposed to have enough ink to write meters and meters per day for seven years. That’s a lot of years for me to get attached to a pen! But ballpoint — what am I, a madwoman? I chose the one with a bicycle on the clip because I aspire to be a better person than I currently am, transportation- and fitness-wise. I took it with me on a trip to the Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree National Park; research for a novel I imagine I will resurrect someday. I wrote fast, drunk with ballpoint power, on the edge of a desert staring into the great bowl of the sky.


It broke recently, that pen. I could sense it happening. The clip came loose and I knew it would crack. It still writes, but it is no longer My Pen. Other people can use it now, if they want to use a broken, imperfect, mortal pen. Sensing it was about to break, I bought a set of Staedtlers triplus fineliners. There are ten of them, each a different color, and I tote them around in the clear case they came in. They’re called “porous point pens.” That means “felt tip pens,” in pen addict speak. My friend asked to borrow one recently, and I looked her in the face and said, “No.” Even though there are ten of them, they are all Mine — the “porous tips” have now bonded with me and I’m keeping them. She has since purchased her own set. 


I tried to use the pens evenly so they wore out at the same rate. My journal, the one I just finished, is a veritable rainbow inside. And the clear, easel-prop storage case began to break. I devised a plan that consists of attractive Washi tape and ignoring the death of things.

Since beginning my latest journal, I am using only the black pen in the Staedtler set. It may seem like I’ve thrown caution to the wind, pentropy be damned. But no — it’s because I can get a million more black fineliners. When these pens break and break my heart, the black one, at least, can be replaced. The barrel is a metallic silver; it is triangular, but the corners are round. Smooth. That I am marching ever toward being my mother is not lost on me. Sometimes I write with the fountain pen in the safety of my own apartment, when I need to channel my father. My need to individuate is gone. I could do with a bit of permanence, a bit of history. I could stand to write with the pens and the preoccupations that got used to my family’s hands.

Permanent Ink For Self-Love’s Sake • Mickie Meinhardt

Brett Rawson



“So what do your tattoos mean?”
I get this a lot. Anyone with ink does. People love to ascribe meaning to tattoos; as if to say that to make such a decision, to put permanent markings on your skin, has to have gravitas. But often it does not. Some even seem offended when I answer that, well, most of them don’t “mean” anything. The anchor on my left bicep? Just really wanted one. The mermaid on my right? A beautiful work of art from an artist I admire. It’s a lot like buying a painting, except instead of hanging it on a wall, it’s on my body. Forever.
But some do have symbolism. Like the smattering of line drawing on my wrists: the Deathly Hallows, an octagon for my math-teacher grandma, and wave for my beach hometown dappling my wrists. Of these small but significant ones, there are two I’m particularly fond of, both hand-drawn by me: A heart on my upper right thigh, and the words “NO TIME” on the inside of my right ring finger. Both represent the culminations of periods of extreme personal, emotional, and mental turmoil, and have become symbolic mantras to a better self. In the absence of religion — I’ve been agnostic since I learned what the term meant, though hold beliefs in various universal phenomena that one could, I suppose, call spiritual — they and the feelings they represent have become like small visible prayers to myself, without which I would certainly have been OK, but perhaps not so quickly.  


The heart was my first tattoo. I got it in tandem with the small bicycle on my ribs, never seen, the summer before my senior year of college, to celebrate the end of what was and remains one of the worst period of my life.
I was living in the Bronx, commuting nearly an hour to Manhattan to intern at a fashion news website for no money and waitress after at a midtown beer bar for barely-decent money; days frequently began at 8am and ended around 2am with maybe $150 bucks in my pocket, if I was lucky. After rent and bills, there wasn’t much left over, and I was often unable to feed myself anything other than cheap college staples — bananas, beans, booze — or whatever I could scrounge from the restaurant. My apartment life was in turmoil; one of my roommates was experiencing a terrible, life-altering personal situation that, for no fault of hers, oozed into everyone’s life around her and caused a rift in our friendship. Home was not a safe or happy place for me when I very much needed it to be.
That summer, I was in the throes of battling my way out of years-long eating disorders. Three years of on-and-off anorexia and bulimia had caused deep personal revulsion and body image issues. And at that point, whatever reasons the disorders began and were perpetuated were long gone. I felt terrible all the time. Constantly tired, sore, sick of looking at myself in bathroom mirrors with hatred-filled, watery eyes. I was repulsed by what I was doing to myself. So, as low a point this was for me — over-worked, under-paid, stressed, and feeling completely alone — there was a twisted silver lining: Under the pressure of those months, I finally cracked. I resented myself for what I was doing to my body, and my mind, so much that I vowed to kick it all for good.
In hindsight, I wish I had told someone, anyone. But admitting how incredibly fucked up I was to another person was impossible, unfathomable, at the time. It would mean admitting what a serious problem I had. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want anyone watching me when I ate, looking for signs of deep-seated issues. So I told no one. I was isolated, depressed, and a mess. I drank a lot to forget my anxieties, or try to quiet them. If school hadn’t started when it did, giving me a distraction and getting me out of my own head, I probably would have lost it. Years later, a doctor would ask me, incredulous, how I managed to get over the disorders without therapy or serious treatment.
In truth, it would be years more before the aftershocks of those psychological earthquakes would finally die down, but at the time I was determined to quell the actions of the disorders as best I could on my own. I remember this decisive moment of “You will learn to get better” mostly because of an unconsciously-drawn doodle. It was on the late train ride home after a long shift at the bar. As a writer, I was always scribbling, even when bone-tired. With one of the black pens I always carried, I drew a tiny heart on my right inner thigh just below the hem of my denim miniskirt. I stared at it for a bit, willing myself to love my body more.
“This would make a good tattoo,” I thought.
A week before classes began, I took a few days to visit my hometown, Ocean City, Maryland, for beach relaxation and decompression. On the last day, I accompanied my brother to get a tattoo and decided I would, too.
I sketched the heart over and over in my journal. I’d doodled absentminded hearts into margins my whole life, but this wasn’t a college-ruled notebook. It was important that it was imperfect; not symmetrical, not too clean. I drew quickly, rapidly, trying to conjure “the one” with literal stokes of brilliance. Some came out longer, swoopy, with a flick to the point. Some were plump and short, like Sweetheart candies. The ideal was something in the middle: Curvy and cute but not comically plump.
It finally materialized, and I triumphantly circled the nickel-sized symbol and handed the notebook to the tattoo artist to scan. I sat down on the padded chair, jean shorts hiked and leg splayed, and watched.  I remember how the ink welled up and sank into my skin, how I did not bleed, how surprised I was at easily enduring the pain, having always been afraid of needles. When it was over, I had a permanent reminder to be a better person to myself that would be seen, as I once told a friend, every time I sat down to pee. This was important — as any recovered disordered eater knows, the bathroom is where your indiscretions manifest. So several times a day, there it was: Love me. Love yourself. Love.
I can’t pretend it was an instant elixir, but it helped a lot. When I became an avid yoga practitioner, it took on a new form.
“Look how strong you are! You’re amazing! I love you!” It seemed to say, as it warrior-ed and stretched and danced through the poses. I came to think of it as a friend who never leaves, and always has the same good advice.


The second meaningful tattoo is relatively recent, inked impromptu on my 25th birthday this past summer, though I’d been contemplating it for some time. I swore I’d never get a words tattoo — I felt out-of-context quotes were cliché, and I’d seen some bad ones — but finding my own handmade mantras changed my mind.
As a creative, self-doubt is a constant companion. Internal body image issues aside, I've always been a confident, outgoing, and capable person, especially in my work as a writer. And, fortunately, depression has never been a clinical or recurring battle for me, like it is for many creatives. But your early twenties are a tumultuous time, and in them the melancholy demon can creep and make itself at home, often to paralyzing effect.
In the later part of 2014, I went through a messy breakup. It felt easy to actually do at the time, to say “we’re done” and walk away, but there were devastating aftereffects in the following months. The relatively short relationship was my first legitimate one as an adult, and, unprepared for the feelings that follow after you lose a love, its dissolution rocked me in unexpected ways. A lot of my body dysmorphia issues came rearing back, and while I was long past the actual disorders themselves, my image of myself was shattered. The breakup had also occurred right before Thanksgiving, meaning I had to trudge through the holidays as if they weren’t making me feel worse about being alone. And finally, I was in the terrible purgatory of waiting to hear back from graduate schools, having finished applications to various MFA programs at the end of the year. I had nothing to do except wait, wait to get better, wait to be accepted—and nothing good comes from an idle mind. Not usually one to wallow, I found myself unwilling to leave my apartment, pathetically curling up in bed with a laptop most nights, or getting wine-drunk and watching the ceiling fan while listening to sad girl music. I knew I was not OK. I saw it, and didn’t like it. But even then, I wasn’t sure how to fix myself. A go-getter who rarely sat still, I’d never been in this situation before. I’d never felt so deflated, like my will to be a person had leaked out of my pores and evaporated.  There was a lot of denial, a lot of “I’m fine,” until my roommate finally sat me down and said, “No, you’re not.”
It took a while. But by spring, I’d eased out of the hole. I got into my top school, took on new projects, and started to feel like myself again, in part from the cheesy recitation of several mantras. Say what you will about “quotes” (I did), but they can help more than expected.
One is a poem, “The Laughing Heart” by Charles Bukowski, which begins: “Your life is your life. Don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.”  I printed it and hung on my bedroom wall, and on moments when the gray cloud loomed I would remind myself: This is your life, and it is bright and full and amazing, if you let it be. It ends “You are marvelous. The Gods wait to delight in you.” That is true. For everyone.

Another is an aphorism that I found on the source for all aphorisms, Tumblr. It is a photo of a piece of paper that the feminist teen blogger Tavi Gevinson had taped to the back of her door. It read: “There is not enough time for hating yourself. Too many things to make. Go.”
I remember seeing it and feeling like someone had just clubbed me with a reality stick. I can’t tell you how many times I repeated those lines to myself through this past year.  
“No time for hating yourself,” in front of my mirror on my way out for the night, when perhaps I didn’t feel like I looked my best. “Too many things to make,” on the mat after weekend yoga, getting psyched to go write something. “Go.” On good days, on bad days. Almost every day. I also liked the way it synced with the meme phrase, “Ain’t nobody got time for that,” which had become something of a tagline for my “no fucks given” attitude — adopted as a way to keep my positive, yes-to-life perspective high and distracting negativity low.

These three combined served as driving forces to betterment. If I wanted to be a successful writer with a great life, if I wanted to pursue more creative projects, if I wanted to be the best version of myself, if I wanted to be GREAT and MARVELOUS, then I did not have time for things that could hold me back: sitting and being sad, worrying about what anyone else thought of me or my choices or my work, stressing about how I looked underneath my clothes, thinking about insignificant, small-minded men — or anyone, really — who did not appreciate me. It all went out the window.
Thus, the “NO TIME” tattoo was on my mind for a few months by the time I got it; I had been waiting for something, but I didn’t know what. A little buzzed in a taxi on my way home from birthday day drinks, I decided that was the moment. I redirected the cab, walked into a trusted shop, and scribbled the words a few times in crooked uppercase chicken scratch. I’d never liked my uppercase handwriting — it’s a block-y, barely-held-together sans serif. My lowercase is loopy, a half-print half-cursive hybrid that I’ve always found interesting and pretty. But uppercase it had to be, a stressed point, a shout, a directive.
It hurt worse than any tattoo I’d gotten — fuck the foot or ribs, FINGERS are some serious pain, right on the bone, close to millions of nerve endings. But it was the best one yet, and so worth it. I walked out as the sun was setting over North Brooklyn in that spectacular summer pink-orange array, head clear, feeling maybe one year older but definitely years wiser thanks to those changes in life and attitude in recent months.
Now, the black ink has softened — fading slightly, as finger tattoo tend to do — and it feels more like a firm but gentle reminder, rather than an “or else” angry shout.
Despite not ever believing in mantras or prayer, or at least not the ones I’d seen so far, I unknowingly unwittingly created my own in times when I needed them the most. Two little shout-outs to the universe, establishing my voice in it as one that often wavered but came back stronger, wiser, each time. And written in my own hand, they feel immensely powerful. Like I composed an unbreakable contract to my body to be a better person and signed it to, and on, myself. I don’t think I would feel the same if they were in a pretty font or pre-packaged shape.
I see both these tattoos quite a lot — when I type, when I pee, when I put on rings, when I change my jeans — and when I remember to look at them, I smile.
Because I know, now: I got no time for anything, except a lot of love.

Mickie Meinhardt is a multidiscplinary writer of fiction, essays, and (for her Brooklyn rent) copy, currently working towards an MFA in fiction at The New School. She has a weekly cultural longform newsletter, The Interwebs Weekly. She tweets sometimes but Instragrams often.

No Writer Should Live in Fear • Justin Sherwood

Brett Rawson

The instagram does not exist. In it, a patch of white-gray sidewalk frames a loose circle of dead leaves. In the top left corner, the curb of the road. At the center, yellow graffiti. The graffiti is a crooked arrow pointing into open space, and next to it the words FAG PARKING. You can tell from the way that FAG is scrawled the graffiti first marked something else, that when the text was painted it wasn’t graffiti at all. There are other signs nearby: a pink flag, some white tubing. But there it is, revised: FAG PARKING.


No writer should live in fear

A photo posted by Justin Sherwood (@justin.sherwood) on


I came across the parking space on a run. On shorter runs, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, I perform the same loop. I run from my apartment on Ditmars Boulevard to the northernmost avenue in Astoria, then west to Astoria Park, around the park, back to the avenue, and home. I’ve run the avenue hundreds of times. And then this drab, fall day, as I near the top of the hill that marks its middle, I find the inscription. I must have been sensitive that day. The sky was clear and pale, the wind was calm; I’m full of pride, I’m well adjusted. And yet. FAG PARKING. I feel that hot and unmistakable pang: shame.

And then I think, let this be funny. I’ll capture the image and say, “If you’ve ever tried to find parking in Astoria, you know how considerate this is.” The day passes and I go for another run. As I crest the hill, I keep my eyes peeled for the graffiti. I must have missed it—I’ve passed the place I know it to be. I’m nearly in the park and there’s no sign. I make a small circle, run back up the hill, nothing.  I stop at the top to catch my breath. Another sideways glance, then down. 


Justin Sherwood's poems and essays have appeared in Women's Studies Quarterly (WSQ), New Criticals, H_NGM_N, and The Poetry Project Newsletter, among other places. He's also a contributor to Scout: Poetry in Review. He teaches at The New School, where he received his MFA in Creative Writing. Find him on Twitter @JustinSherwood

The Screen Test • Joyce Chen

Brett Rawson

Is the notebook half-empty or half-full? In this essay, Joyce Chen sets out to test and trust her hand, a routine tethered to time, with the hopes of avoiding the pitfalls of resolutions by resolving to reflect. Are you up for the screen test?

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