I have purchased a self-illuminating pen. One thing this tool allows me to do is write at night. To roll over, write down the thought which prevents me sleeping, then fall asleep. To put the thought down. This putting things down means I can forget about them. Nite! And I can do this silently because the tapping of a keyboard echoes in the dark house and wakes Vivian. There is a click. The click clicks the light on and off but muffling the pen under my pillow hides the click, from my ears at least.
But what turns out to be astonishing is the way this pen illuminates one word at a time. This pool of light is only big enough to illuminate ‘illuminate’. So I only see the word I am writing. Not the word gone. Not the word past. The here-and-now word. Given this situation, I could say the pen shines a light on which tense writing is. There is actually an intense dot of light under which each word unwinds, and a gentle nimbus catching the dither of my hand. What all this does is make writing into a sequence of words, one after the other, rather than a sequence of sentences or paragraphs or pages.
This action of writing is using up my capacity for other things—I tend to hold my breath—which begs the question, what kind of exertion is happening? Very little reflection is going on with this one-word-at-a-time process. The full stops become something else entirely. And hesitation becomes an empty spotlight. And this is what I wanted to tell you, the empty page has gone. Composition has gone. Here, beneath this hesitating nib, is some place new. And it feels like the words can go anywhere. Anywhere they like. And as they go, I feel lighter.
This new space appears only at the moment of pointing the nib downwards, in the position of about-to-write. Because I do not point my nib until the word is tumbling out. Until its self-importance wakes me, until it won’t let me be. Until, rolling over, feeling for the self-illuminating pen, I write down the word, empty my hands, and fall asleep. You’ve got an honest face when you’re sleeping.
I’ve noticed when I am thinking I tend to raise the nib by rolling my hand back onto its fleshy rim. It’s not that I can see nothing when the pen is in repose, enough light falls for me to see there is a page and where to point the nib if I want to fill it. But, and this is vital, I cannot read what I wrote. I can go back one word at a time but I cannot see the whole. So, I am always burrowing onwards, or backwards along the same tunnel.
The other thing that disappears is the rest of my body. It is mainly my writing hand which exists—a creature extending beyond the hem of my sleeve—exposed and bleary.
The Self-Illuminating Pen was also published as a limited edition notebook by MAP Editions in November 2020 and made available free. Designed by the artist and with cover artwork by Ciara Phillips, it includes the 5 letters, 5 special writing exercises devised by Sarah Tripp and over 100 blank pages.
Sarah Tripp is an artist, writer and lecturer based in Glasgow. She lectures in Scotland and the United Kingdom and guest lectures at international universities. Her work has been published by Book Works (London), F.R. DAVID (Berlin), 2HB (Glasgow), Space Poetry (Denmark) and The Happy Hypocrite.
Isobel Lutz-Smith is a Scottish moving image artist based in Glasgow. In 2016 she graduated from the Master of Fine Art at Glasgow School of Art, as part of this programme she spent an exchange semester in Tokyo. Her work will feature in an upcoming issue of the Drouth.
Creative Scotland awarded Sarah Tripp Open Project Funding to support the production of the book and performance project Guitar!