Amidst the stuff that was unearthed in the purging of my parents' house were several stories I wrote for school and for fun. I also went through a phase of making my own comic strips and comic books when I was 8. I assume most kids do this. If they don't, then call me a born geek.
My parents didn't save everything I ever wrote, drew or assembled. I was the youngest of three kids. By the time I started finger painting and fashioning construction paper into collages and gluing macaroni tableau my parents had seen it all project-wise. My brother was an especially hard act to follow because he had mad skillz when it came to repurposing paper grocery bags, string, aluminum foil and boxes into vehicles, buildings, catapults... But, between school projects, extra credit projects (yes, I was the kid who did the extra credit assignments (can you say diorama!) even though I didn't need the extra credit, go on have your way with me), scouting projects (including copious arts and crafts projects from camp), and illustrations and book reviews for our local library's "Reading is Fundamental!" contests and programs, I was a prolific kid project-wise. My parents kept the highlights. And the highlights were, apparently, my writing and illustration projects. No surprise there. (Although there were a few of the smaller, collapsible dioramas and a plaster of paris turtle that speaks to an interesting fascination with googly eyes and Picasso.)
The content of these written and illustrated childhood projects ranges from funny to surprisingly insightful to, mostly, innocent stuff of childhood. We could get into "what it means" and the foreshadowing (or conspicuous by its absence: a lack thereof) and a lot of child psychology hyperbole.
But as I sorted through the stuff and attempted to make a chronological timeline via those projects, what emerged was a shocking discovery about myself: My current penmanship is a disastrous abomination and an embarrassment to my parents, my education, and myself.
Blame computers. Blame apathy. Blame laziness. Blame whatever you want, but the appalling conclusion is that when it comes to putting pen or pencil to paper, I have let myself go. Badly.
Some people never really come into their own penmanship-wise. I have a cousin who struggled with penmanship in school and never fully conquered the art of writing legibly. Once that cousin started using email, and everyone could actually read what he was writing, we were all a bit shocked at some of the things he wrote. Looking back at holiday greeting notes sent pre-email, it explains, well, a lot. He's not writing manifestos, but...well...let's just say if we'd been able to decipher his hand written letters years ago we might not have been so surprised to learn about some of his, um, "hobbies."
Before I even thought about starting school my parents set me up with that line - dashed-line - line paper to practice my letters and numbers. I had alphabet flash cards. Alphabet and numbers with arrows indicating the process of creating those letters and numbers (not unlike dance-step instructions) adorned the top of a chalkboard/artist easel in my bedroom so I could refer to them any time I wanted to practice my letters and numbers. So. I had a lot of resources and support for learning proper penmanship. I'm pretty sure this is when my love of typography was born.
Penmanship, legible, proper penmanship, was never an issue for me. I did all the practice worksheets in class and worked on it at home, too. I remember being pretty driven to master the art of printing perfectly formed letters. I routinely got "nice penmanship!" comments on my school assignments. Looking at a few of those assignments my parents kept, I agree, yes, for a 6-year-old, I did occasionally display a nice penmanship technique. At the very least I obviously grasped the concepts of capital and lower case letters and how to properly form them.
I had an ulterior motive.
By the time I was born my brother and sister were all cursive, all the time, so I was itching to master printing and move into cursive earlier than a lot of the other kids at school. I wanted to crack the code my brother, sister and even my parents used when writing. My brother and sister used to taunt me with their elite cipher of cursive writing. They passed notes back and forth across me, read them, and laughed knowingly at whatever was written on that piece of paper. My brother was especially sinister. He'd affect an overly cloying tone and say, "Oh, I'm sorry, that was rude of me, I should have let you read it first. Here, read it, it's really funny. You'll love it." Asshole.
Occasionally I intercepted a note and raced to my mother and begged her to read it to me. She'd give it a cursory glance and say something like, "It says your brother and sister are going to do the dishes tonight while you watch Gilligan's Island
." I'd run back to my siblings brandishing the note, all sanctimonious, and say, "HA! I figured it out! You have to do the dishes and I get to watch Gilligan's Island
!" It pains me to admit that it took me a really long time to figure out that's not what the notes said. It really
pains me to admit it took me even longer to realize I should have known my mother was creating a bit of subterfuge, because why would my brother and sister write a secret note about having to do chores while I got a special privilege of an extra half hour of television, and then laugh about it? There's nothing
funny about a little sister getting out of chore duty and
being allowed an extra half hour of television.
One of two things happened: Either my parents were satisfied I mastered printing and could move onto cursive, or, they were sick of the whole note written in cursive game my siblings played. Whatever the reason, Santa gave me a cursive writing practice book for the Christmas of my 6th year. I was thrilled beyond sanity, and that wasn't just the candy canes talking. I may have wet my pajama bottoms a little. That is, until I saw the note he paper clipped to the cover of the book. It was written in, you guessed it, cursive. My parents were not assholes. A little unorthodox, perhaps, but not assholes. That note was all part of a plan. Anticipating my elation and subsequent confusion and disappointment upon seeing the cursive note from Santa, my father said, "Oh! A cursive writing practice book! That's exciting! Oh! And a personal note from Santa!" He read the note to me, which basically said that Santa was looking forward to next year's letter to him presuming it would be written in cursive.
And so, I diligently took it upon myself, with my parents' tutelage, to learn cursive.
The next year in school we started learning cursive and I was ahead of the curve - literally. The notes between my brother and sister diminished. The thrill was gone. We were growing up.
I didn't naturally have "a lovely hand," but I formed the letters according to proper procedure and more or less wrote with neat, concise, legible penmanship.
Somewhere along the way, in college, I believe, my penmanship began to deteriorate. I guess I took less pride in it, focused more on content than style. And then computers, email, all that...apart from occasional thank you notes, birthday and holiday cards, a postcard here and there, I didn't actually hand write much other than scribbled notes in meetings.
I'm not alone in this, I've heard other people lament the decline of their penmanship, and without fail they blame technology. Then they admonish themselves and shrug it off.
Which is what I did, too. But deep down it bothered me. Me! Me of all people! I pore over fonts and typography and proper typesetting as part of my career! Meanwhile, I can barely write a legible five-word message on a Post-it note. It's embarrassing and inappropriate on professional and personal levels.
But, I'd reason with myself, a lot of schools don't even teach cursive writing anymore. It's a useless and outmoded skill. It wastes classroom time. It wastes developing childhood gray matter. That classroom time and gray matter can be better spent on teaching and practicing keyboarding skills. In a few years kids will be graduating from high school without ever having done cursive writing drill, or even having laid eyes on the cursive writing reference cards that used to be standard elementary classroom decor. I don't know how they adorn the space above blackboards anymore, heck, do they even use blackboards?
I also wonder, frequently, how these non-cursive writing children will develop a signature. Sure, with online banking and debit/credit cards, very few routine financial transactions require a written signature. But occasionally there are legal documents to sign, you know, mortgages, licenses, job applications, marriage certificates? Will these cursive-less adults of tomorrow be reduced to making an "X" on signature lines like Dickensian illiterates? Probably not, probably printing and electronic signatures will suffice.
So why care about my penmanship?
Unearthing all those childhood projects, the neatly scribed stories, book reports, infographics and comics hit me like a punch in the gut. An artfully crayoned George Washington seemed to implore me from his Delaware River diorama, "People died for the right to write anything, any way they want, and this is what you do? Have you looked at the US Constitution lately, missy? It's legible and neat and speaks to a level of educated articulation. I weep for you and our nation." Neptune Natalie, the star of my serial comic book, cast me a smirking "pfft" over her shoulder as she rocketed through panels of the comic book. "We had some good times, you and me, blasting through the galaxy, but now I can't even decipher my own name when you write it. How am I supposed to act out the story line if I can't even read it? Cosmo the Cat writes better in his glitter box than you do on paper!" Caesar, vignetted against a backdrop of Egypt rendered in construction paper, colored pencil, and repurposed gold candy wrapper foil just motioned limply toward the carefully penned hieroglyphics on the pyramids, hung his head and said "Et tu, Trill, et tu?"
My penmanship was better when I was nine-years-old than it is currently.
That's when I decided: This stops now.
Why care about my penmanship?
Because it's a skill I mastered and I let it deteriorate.
So I devised what I call:
It's a three-pronged approach to bettering my penmanship. I would like to get back to at least my nine-year-old penmanship abilities. Basically I want to make a more conscious effort to write something other than the hurried scrawl that is the abomination I'm letting pass for penmanship.
1) At least twice a week practice sessions writing lower and upper case letters according to proper cursive technique.
2) Once a day write, in longhand, something I normally type.
3) Take the time to pay attention to my writing technique when jotting lists and notes to myself.
Guess what? It's not easy. Apparently I have lapsed into some very deeply entrenched habits. In order to check my progress I am writing the same lyrics at the start of each practice session: Once written in my "normal" writing, trying to not think about it too much, just writing a note; the second with concerted effort to write in proper cursive. In doing this before the practice session I'm hoping I'll be able not only track my progress on my cursive technique, but also to see if it's seeping into my "normal" writing. By using the same lyrics I have a baseline on which to compare other factors.
I don't know what this is, it's not printing, it's not cursive...prinsive? Whatever it is, it's what I let pass for hand written communication:
And this was the best I could muster when I gave my full effort to writing the same text in cursive:
I know. I mean, I knew it was bad, but I had no idea it was this
I found this super neat website that generates text into proper cursive writing
. Try it! The site is great for my purposes, lots of cursive writing worksheets and lessons. So, this is what those lyrics should look like:
I know. I have a long way to go. And no, I don't want to lose my penmanship personality, I don't want to write in a typographically perfect script, but, a little more legibility and uniformity is, you know, desirable. And the discipline required to improve is good for me, too. And using the learning sector of my brain can't hurt, either. But I especially love the brain ==> hand aspect. Writing is the only physical activity other that speech that gives physicality to the thought process. That's pretty darned cool and I figure it can't be a bad thing to redevelop the brain muscles required to guide my hands to proper writing.