Pen & Paper: a lost romance


While gazing admiringly at the many beautifully constructed scenes in the film “The Great Gatsby” 2013, a single facial expression from Nick Carraway stuck out to me in particular.

When Nick Carraway is handed a piece of paper and pen and asked to write down his story by his psychiatrist, two things happen. His expression is first filled with hesitation because, really? How could writing solve the long list of mental issues on Carraway’s file? But then he transitions into the second expression where he couldn’t imagine any other way to work through his life story.

He begins by saying, “but i’m not any good,” to the psychiatrist, completely filled with self-doubt.

Carraway hesitates while looking at the pen and paper because writing is an intimate process that many people are afraid to even attempt. We all instinctively know that writing is a gateway to someone’s exact thoughts and judgements. I myself am afraid of outsider’s thoughts, some along the lines of, “my god this person is mental,” or “seriously? you think what you have to say is important?”

Additionally, to make writing more dramatic, you cannot backtrack when writing in pen. Sure, you can cross a word or two out, but you can still see the inscription behind that darkened line. This could leave room for error, but really it means  that when the pen glides on the smooth surface of paper and makes particular indents– it is permanent. It will be left there until it either fades, or is burned (if it really disgusts you that much).

In short, writing is intimidating.

But as the psychiatrist explains that no one will ever read it, Carraway’s mind changes and you can see that he is suddenly attracted to the idea of a written story.

Carraway is “attracted” to that pen and paper because writing is a romanticized notion. It always has been. Take for instance the difference between a text message and a written love letter.

Your reaction to the thoughtful text would be, “aww, how cute.”

But open that mailbox, pull out that unexpected letter with your name on it, tear it open with confused excitement, because who the hell writes written letters anymore? And immediately feel overpowered by the idea that someone took the time to write out how they felt about you… tears, am I right?

Of course, hopefully you feel the same way about this person, otherwise that’s just an entirely different situation.

More importantly though, writing is an intimate experience. When you write down a personal feeling, story, or experience onto a piece of paper, it’s as if you are saving a bit of yourself for another time or place, only to feel the exact same way you did the first time you wrote it down.

Not to mention you are also relieving your mind of that memory. When you write something to save it for later, you don’t really have to worry about it anymore. It’s done. It’s in the past. You can find again if you’d like, but that’s your choice.

Which was the purpose of this particular scene. It was the beginning of a story that Mr. Carraway needed to relieve his mind of, to save for another time that he could revisit as a sensible man.

It’s probably something  we all need to experience once and awhile. Take a break from our clicking laptop keys and pick up a pen, lay it comfortably between your thumb and forefinger, explain that 234 awkward moment you just experienced and save it for another time.


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