Writing with a fountain pen should be a meditation. It is torture: I am back in the first grade, gnawing my upper lip and watching the nib, then my fingers, the right hand holding on to its dignity in the grip of the pen, and finally, the person ludicrously failing to flow with the pen.
Jotting with ballpoint pens, pounding typewriters, and tapping gadgets have hardened muscle memory that rejects this medium for rumination.
Why do I think of cows “ruminating” in pasture, chewing cud? The nib measures the spread of ink saturating the paper, the acquiescent blankness that is handmaiden to an unbovine rumination.
Or a list of items sent out for laundry. The tallying of books read and lines for savoring. Even in its ephemera, writing hints of an interior life. The nib leaves a bead that unspools into the person hovering behind the veils.
In the past, the hands of a maid were appropriated for everything except writing. Bienvenido Lumbera and Cynthia Nograles Lumbera contrast the precolonial “mujer indigena” who, alongside men, composed the songs, poems, and oral lore passed on by the tribe against the silenced women of colonial times, when the printing press introduced by the Spaniards published no work attributed to a woman.
Not only were they denied education, the culture seeded doubt in women, who questioned whether they were worthy of picking up a pen.
When a Sister Catherine was told to write down the apparitions of the Virgin Mary that she experienced in 1830, she viewed the task “with repugnance” and only did so out of obedience to M. Aladel, the Director of her community, the Daughters of Charity.
“(S)he judged herself incapable of doing so, and, moreover, in her opinion, (writing) would have been contrary to humility,” goes the Archconfraternity of the Immaculate Heart of Mary’s account of St. Catherine Laboure who wrote not once but thrice to document the explicit supernatural visions recreated in the Miraculous Medal of Our Lady of Graces.
After the French nun’s death, Aladel decided not to publish the first account; the other two were made public.
Why was the first narration not published? What happened to this? Why, after waiting for 45 years before confiding to her Director, did she write three accounts?
“She was standing, clothed in a robe the color of auroral light,” Sister Catherine wrote in her extant notes of those Marian visions. So unexpected a harvest from a reluctant writer, its incandescence nevertheless casts in deeper gloom the rest of her words, lost to history.