The chemical scent of ink always makes me imagine white sterilized rooms with a palm plant sitting in the corner. I’m not sure why this is, but I assume it has something to do with my tattoos. While little pools of ink sit in a tray waiting for injection into my body, its pungent aroma pushes itself onto its feet to invade the surrounding air.

In my school days, one of the things I would do to occupy time was scribble on a page until it was filled completely black. I’d start at the corners and work my way to the center and the black ink would smudge the heel of my hand and the page would begin to curl softly under the weight of its new color. The ink smelled sweet as it softened the paper’s fibers. My pen would run dry and I’d remove another from my bag.

In college, amidst the tattoos and my margin sketches, I decided that I’d get my first journal. I hadn’t a mind for prose, so I instead used it as a poetry journal. I’d sit in the student union, overlooking the throngs of students bent over books, their headphones shutting them off from the world around them, and I’d use my pens to create a line, then a stanza and another. After I finished a poem, I’d shut my book and go buy myself a coffee as a reward. I wouldn’t revisit it until a few days later, after it had time to stew. Then my ink once again scribbled the page, but this time to cut, revise, and reshape my words. It would have been easier to use a pencil, but there was something about using a pen that made the whole thing feel more real.

My romanticism with ink continued when I bought a well and quill pen. I purchased a journal that had handmade pages and brought it home and set it on my desk with my writing utensils. It was a summer night and the air was thick, so I lit a candle and turned on a fan. Listening to its hollow electric hum, I practiced writing thick and thin solid lines. I practiced signing my name and tried my hand at some crosshatch shading. When I was comfortable using the pen and ink, I wrote little three line poems to loosen my mind. In that moment I felt how I imagined Milton or Tennyson did when they composed their poetry. There was no great weight to the words I had left on the page, but it wasn’t about my words, it was how they were written. A quick stroke, the ink running smooth on the white paper like caramel drizzle.

My poetry professor said it was impossible for him to write a poem on a computer. He’d tried, but it felt impersonal, mechanical, as if the machine hindered what needed to be said. And I agree. A computer doesn’t have a scent. You can’t feel the handmade fibers of glass and steel. You can fill the screen with black in just one click. There’s no scribbling, or margin doodles, and no chemical ink smell drifting into your nostrils. I need something tangible, something permanent that will stay with me even if the electricity goes out. Something like an inky tattoo, captured in the pages of journal, with the scribblings and random ravings of a college kid hyped up on too much caffeine.

Steven E. Athay is an aspiring story designer and connoisseur of all things awesome. Follow him on Twitter at @steveneathay, or read his blog Afflatus.


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