Last month, when I was in New York, my father gave me a pen. That this was a big deal only speaks to the particular, and peculiar, dynamics of my family. For as long as I can remember, my father has been a collector of pens. He keeps them in a cushioned carrying case. When I was young, they were mostly Parkers or Crosses (those elegant silver cylinders I came to love so much). But over the years, he has branched out to other manufacturers. When I arrived to see him and my mother, he had just bought a new pen from a German manufacturer named Diplomat. This is the implement that, during the final morning of my visit, he bestowed on me.
I should say that, when it comes to pens, my tastes are decidedly lowbrow. I prefer the Pilot G-2 07, with its gel ink roller ball. The key for me is disposability. I don’t want a pen I have to care for. I don’t want a pen that I can’t lose. And yet, this pen my father gave me is a stunner: black anodized aluminum with orange piping, like a mechanical bee or an artillery shell. I expressed my admiration the evening I arrived and used it a day or so later when he asked for help filling out a form. I’ve never enjoyed the heft of a large pen, but this one was so well-designed, so evenly weighted, that holding it felt natural. I offered another compliment, then thought nothing more about it until my father placed the pen in my hand.
The gift, I want to say, was a signifier. Of what? My father’s love, perhaps, his presence. Or maybe I just wish that it were. One aspect of my father’s aging is that he has begun to have trouble with his language, or more accurately, with his ability to speak. It’s not aphasia but shortness of breath, of stamina; it’s hard for him to push out the words. At the same time, he continues to read, a hundred pages a day most days. This is the essence of who he is.
I’ve been thinking about that as we put together this edition of Air/Light. I’ve been thinking about what we’re given, whether a pen or the legacy of reading, which is something else my father bestowed on me. I would never describe him as effusive, but his enthusiasms often overlap with mine. Much of my adolescence was spent sitting in rooms with him, alone together, as we both read in silence to ourselves.
For that, I am grateful, as I am that we still talk books. I am also grateful—do I even need to say it?—for the benediction of the pen. My father does not offer gifts easily; the dynamics of my family once again. But I have used it a number of times since I returned from New York, including to map out the warp and woof of this new issue, which means that (to me, at least) my father has played a role in what you’ll read here, the movement of the language, the pattern of the words.