I’ve become, unwittingly, a micrographer. I don’t mean that I’m gathering information for the oxymoronic “intelligence services” and putting it in a microscopic format; but, rather, that I’ve begun to write in a very small hand indeed. My wife’s friend, the French-Argentinian screenwriter, Santiago Amigorena, is a fellow micrographer, and I’ve written a letter to him, of not less than 350 words, on a single, 5x4cm, post-it note.
I did this using an ultra-fine dipper pen nib made by Leonardt’s of Birmingham and Noodler’s X-Feather ink; the latter being specially formulated to prevent the – you guessed it – feathering effect of ink bleeding into the weave of the paper. I know I can go smaller, though – and am working on a letter to one of my sons at the moment, that will be over 500 words, also written on a single 5x4cms, post-it note.
Why? I hear you, gentle reader, not so much cry, as weakly exhale – as if a baby had farted through a muted trumpet. Why this latest idiocy? Well, I’ve long since been suited up to freefall down this particular rabbit hole, having had an interest in the very small since I was. But the handwriting in ink is, indeed, another way – for me – to go “Through the unknown, remembered gate / When the last of the earth to discover / Is that which was the beginning…”
All last year I was writing a novel based on my mother’s experiences in 1954-56. A compulsive diarist, over about 18 months, she wrote 500 or so pages, by hand, and in ink. It must be the biggest chunk of handwriting I’ve read in 40 years – basically, since I wrote my finals papers at university. To begin with, withal that mother produced the well-rounded, smoothly aligned script of a well-educated American woman of her era (lessons in penmanship at high school, stenography and shorthand training incorporated into college courses), it still felt an effort to propel my eyes from one loop to the next curlicue.
But after a while, I began to get it – and then to positively enjoy it; the inevitable sequel of which was picking up a fountain pen one of my brothers, who’s an ink maven, had given me a few years ago, and which I’d footled about with, to no great effect but smudgy frustration. This time it was different: an almost pervy sensation of smooth abandon as the nib unspooled the long line of effort – and, one still hopes, of beauty – along line after line.
Not that I have good handwriting – on the contrary, it’s crabbed and painfully unreadable. Nevertheless, inspired by the sense of my own hand being gloved by that of my dead mother, as I tried to realise the feelings and thoughts of the character I’d based on her, I ended up writing the entire first draft of the novel with the Kaweco Sport. In the process buying a couple of other fountain pens, the aforementioned dippers, assorted inks, wells and blotting papers.
Perhaps it’s the mise en abyme of handwriting the novel about my mother’s handwriting (flesh of her flesh… logos of her logos and all that semio-jazz), but when I finished the book, I kept wanting to write smaller, and um… smaller. A strange sort of compulsion – almost as if I, too, were about to collapse down into the mulch of history, along with mum and her writings. An encounter with a teacher in the debatable town of Berwick, put me on to the still more debatable Noodler’s X-Feather.
Why debatable? Because while I may be a micrographer, I’m glad to say I’m not a chud. The youngest told me that “Nathan Tardif, the man behind Noodler is a chud – which is to say a Carnivorous Humanoid Underground Dweller. C.H.U.D. was the title of a 1984 sci-fi horror movie, which was then adopted by the hosts of the Chapo Trap House podcast (a talk shop of wiseacre left wing NY hacks and comedians that ran from 2016 to 2021), to refer to those libertarians who, wittingly or not, end up being the amplifying mouthpieces for the alt-right; Tardif ran some obviously antisemitic labels on his inks, which he withdrew and apologised for, but really, a lot of that Wendell Berry, third-generation Whole Earth Catalog fountain-pen-journalling culture you end up echoing with your Luddite scrivening, could be seen in a sim…”
“Whoa!” I cried, “that’s enough out of you, young man!” And I sent him to bed without even a stub of candle to light his way.