My Last Christmas Gifts as a Student

I may have bought the penultimately useless Christmas gift for myself; my friend may have bought me the MOST useless gift. I am typing on a brand-new Apple magic keyboard I recently purchased while darting sideways glances at a red Lamy fountain pen my friend got me – as I requested.

I just finished my Master’s program, which by the way is communication studies, and till this day I still have great trouble explaining what it is to anyone who decides to ask the awkward question: what exactly do you study? Communication, duh. I don’t know EXACTLY what I studied, to be frank, although I do know I wrote more stuff than I have ever intended for my entire life. My words production curve should be plummeting here on out and never bouncing back up, which makes my recent purchase a waste and my friend’s gift a futility. Who even writes with a fountain pen now (the noblesse, fountain pen manufacturers and the president)? and who spends money on a keyboard right after graduation (gamers, programmers, keyboard connoisseurs and keyboardists)?  What was I thinking? I was not thinking apparently; they were impulsive shopping.

Handwriting and typing have been long friends of mine since primary school. My old man is a university professor who teaches Eurasian arts and history, he forced penmanship upon me and I remember hating it. The rest of the family thought it was only reasonable for my dad to do so since he was, and still is, a rather famous calligrapher himself. Looking back on the days when I hated practicing handwriting, I wish I didn’t and I am glad that my dad forced me.

Penmanship has become almost a lost art to many millennials and I, for one, think it’s a pity. Not that my handwriting is majestic AF, I am just not embarrassed by it, which is more than I can say about a few people I’ve encountered. In all fairness, most people didn’t voluntarily choose to forgo handwriting, it was the standardization of computerized documentation that pushed them further away from the more conventional approach. Many of my family who professionally work in the publishing and education industry are not entirely sold on the digital workflow, they still carry a pen and a journal everywhere they go; I guess that is why many tech companies are making handwritten tablets nowadays?

For my 12th birthday, an uncle of mine who worked as a chief editor at a local newspaper gave me a golden fountain pen. I used to flaunt it in class just to see the jealousy on my peers’ faces. In China, middle schoolers were expected to have a good handwriting, but it was still considered a plus by many teachers, and a plus-plus if one wrote love notes, which sadly never really worked in my favor. I practiced writing with it diligently – it was hard to say whether driven by its flashy appearance or my love for penmanship (it was indeed a very FLASHY pen) – and carried it around everywhere I went. Homework was not enough for me to write with the pen so I started copying lyrics of my favorite songs into journals that were too fancy to be used for school purposes. My dad was very happy to see my handwriting getting improved and I stopped hating it because I was good enough at it to showcase my works.

Then came college, a place where Control+C and Control+V replaced handwriting, sometimes even typing altogether. Oh, Command+C and Command+V? I knew two friends who owned MacBooks, they were, and still are luxuries in China. The only time in college I remembered people writing with their biological hands was when they petitioned to join the Communist Party, which till this day still stipulates that applicants need to handwrite their petition & oath. Not many assignments nowadays are to be handwritten anymore; professors only collect printed papers and that is just one more reason why people are less prone to write things with their hands. Nonetheless, typing out papers had been pretty satisfying for me.

Typing was a pure hobby I developed from writing my own sci-fi story on a Window 98 PC – may it rest in peace – when I was around 12; the sound of clicking mechanical keyboard was weirdly pleasant to my ears and sometimes I would type randomly just for that. If the old-fashioned typewriter was a common writing tool today, I would gladly buy one singularly for the sound it makes. Laptop keyboards are fine, but I never use them unless I have to; it is one of my pet peeves – I always buy a separate keyboard and use it instead. Auditory comfort is paramount when I type.

However, I am no longer a student. Among many confusions perplexing me now, how often I would write in the future is actually a major one. I guess the reason why I bought a fancy keyboard and asked my friend to give me a fountain pen wasn’t as irrational as I thought it had been. I guess I just wanted to give myself one more motive to keep writing, and typing. After all, those two were the best memories I had and, all I have left of being a student.

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