I'm here today to extol the virtues of self-improvement projects.
I'm not talking about the obvious undertakings - like taking a more strenuous fitness class,
learning a new skill for your job, keeping current with technology - net
obvious results. Those types of endeavors, while not vital
on a rigorous daily basis, are
up on the necessary scale. Ideally, we should all make time for those
types of projects on a regular basis.
And I'm not talking about the big
psychological issues that require
outside help. Those
self-improvement projects certainly land high on the
necessary scale, too, but they require, well, a lot of effort and
planning and outside help. All of us could benefit from
some professional counseling because we all have emotional hurdles
that are too high for us to jump on our own. We know what they are and
we know we need, um, guidance, to deal with them, but that takes a lot
of effort, time and money. And day in, day out, does is really matter
that we're carrying baggage about one of our parents or that we
collect white porcelain unicorns? Sure, the bigger issues that could
hurt ourselves or other people are a different case. My friend with the
horrible road rage knows
it would be good for her (and those around her) to "do" something about
her anger associated with driving. In her case counseling is the
only real solution.
Which is why (I think) she doesn't confront herself with it and make
herself work on it. Counseling, therapy...those are big concepts. She's
not stupid. She knows it's a problem. She knows she's already infected
and affected her children with her road rage. And she does feel bad
about it. And she wants to do something about it. But. Finding a
therapist and going to those sessions means admitting to other people,
people outside her circle of trust, that she has a serious problem. That's some heady terrain. I'm not going to tackle that.
referring to the very personal, specific self-improvement projects. We
all have at least one aspect that we know could stand some polishing, an
aspect that doesn't require counseling. An area of our brain that we
haven't exercised enough, or perhaps a skill that we once spent time
perfecting and then let lapse, presuming we mastered the skill and could
let recess to the basement of the brain to make space for bigger skill
sets. How's your high school French? Can you still conjugate any French verbs? Can you even still correctly spell conjugate in English
? What about those years in band you played saxophone...could you still squeak out Mary Had a Little Lamb
? You probably devoted some time to studying, learning, something and attained some skill level at it. The knowledge is somewhere in your brain. It may or may not be like riding a bike, but, given some time and tutelage dusting off that skill set the synapses will start firing again.
Several weeks ago I decided it was time to do something about the
deplorable state to which I've let my penmanship lapse. In the grand
scheme of life penmanship rarely matters anymore. Many people argue that I'm
wasting time redeveloping my penmanship skills.
friend "caught" me doing a little practice on a cocktail napkin.
(Penmanship practice has become my new doodling.) I hadn't told her
about The Penmanship Project, but when she saw my doodling she immediately said, "My handwriting is so bad,
I've really let it slide..." I smiled knowingly and told her about The
Penmanship Project. She's now working on hers, too. She bought us both a dry erase board that is printed with penmanship practice grids.
A few days ago she
told me that she told a friend about "our" handwriting awareness
program. That inspired her friend, who, thanks to hand-held devices, has
let their "real" typing skills slide, to improve her classic
keyboarding skills. She's setting aside a little time every week to do
classic typing drills and playing Typer Shark to re-establish her
keyboarding skills. Does her "real" typing skill set really matter? Not so
much. She's a stay-at-home mother who thumb-texts everything
But. There are greater rewards than the skill
itself. Most of them are the lofty ideals our parents and third grade
teachers tried to instill in us: Discipline is its own reward.
Exercising your brain is never a bad thing. Nothing and no one is
perfect, everything and everyone can always use improvement. Small
accomplishments lead to big rewards.
And: You never know when you'll need to use a particular skill, so best to learn to do it well.
I was, a few weeks into The Penmanship Project. My skills were already
showing signs of improvement, I made a hasty to-do list that I could
actually read several days after I wrote it. It wasn't the neatly
scribed penmanship of my yore, but it was definitely better than what I
was trying to pass off as penmanship prior to The Penmanship Project. It
was a tiny triumph that served as encouragement to continue my practice
And then came the moment of truth.
I had to send sympathy cards. The death was a truly tragic and untimely
one, and the family of the deceased are suffering horribly. There are
parents who had to bury their child, sisters left without their little
brother, as well as very young children who no longer have a father. My
generic note cards wouldn't suffice, and Dollar Store cards were not
Yep. I had to find the money to splash out for Hallmark cards. There simply wasn't another choice. The situation demands good
cards. And not the good
cards they sell at Walgreen's or the card aisle at the grocery. The situation demanded good
cards chosen from a huge selection and variety of good
cards, the ones that smell like they came from a quality specialty stationery store.
this was sympathy situation, I knew where I had to go. The cute and
eclectic little indie shops are great for different birthday cards and
funny boxes of note cards, but when it comes to sympathy cards there's
only one real emporium. It's what I call the Cheese Shop, where they
have a variety of assorted cheese trays from which to sample and choose.
Most Hallmark stores devote at least 15% of their retail space to
sympathy cards. That's a lot of sympathy. There's a card for every ilk,
and if they don't have your specific sympathy need on display there's a
good chance they have one stored in the drawers below the racks or in
the back room. This is why I've come to rely on the Cheese Store for
life's difficult card sending situations. When a situation demands a good
card, which is usually also when I'm at a loss for words, Hallmark always comes through.
ago, when I was in a funk about my chosen profession, I considered
opening a card shop. Not to compete with Hallmark, but to augment it.
But my market research showed me that there were already too many indie
card/gift shops and the failure rate was high. While most of us like the
smaller, boutique or artsy cards we find at places other than the
Cheese Shop, Hallmark reigns supreme in the card shop game. Why? Because
there are times in life that require really good cards. Funny, savvy,
artsy cards are great for birthdays and get well as you recover from
your gall bladder surgery, but certain situations require the distinct
type of sensitivity that is Hallmark's forté. Period. And that's how
they stay in business, even in the modern age of egreetings. There's no
way I'm going to send an ecard to the bereaved family members who just
lost a son, brother, husband and father. There is simply not an option
other than something from the Cheese Shop with a hand written message.
When my dad
died I received a lot of sympathy cards. So many it was overwhelming. The
outpouring of kind thoughts, many from very unexpected sources, was kind
beyond articulation. I had to read them in small batches because
I'd get a little overemotional if I read too many at one go. All of them
were the super good ones from the Cheese Shop. And every one of them had a personal handwritten note. It's just what you do.
It's one of the things that separates us from animals.
handwritten sentiments included with the cards were hugely appreciated.
Those cheesy Hallmark verses and handwritten sentiments meant a lot to
me. Most of us struggle when we have to compose those types of
sentiments. But having been on the receiving end I can attest that
something as simple as a "thinking of you" packs a powerful punch of
comfort when you're in the throes of grief. It's the handwritten aspect
that makes it so personal and by association, so touching. Seeing a
person's handwriting brings them to mind. Email and texts don't do that.
So now, there I was selecting sympathy cards from an
assorted cheese tray at the Cheese Shop. The super long verses were a
personal, so I opted for short and sweet sentiments on cards
that weren't adorned with flowers. I got home and, as I began signing
them they seemed a little sparse, a little impersonal considering I've
known this family most of my life. So, I spent a lot of time toiling
over the right thing to write on the cards to the deceased's parents,
sisters and wife.
And then it came time to write the right sentiments in
the cards. I got out the good pen. Assumed the proper position at a
desk and began writing the personal notes on the sympathy cards.
was at that point I realized The Penmanship Project is worth more than
personal satisfaction over my efforts to regain whatever it was I lost
when I let my handwriting decline to state of barely legible scratches.
It's times like these that penmanship matters. You're writing heartfelt
words to people who are grieving. It matters.
While not completely satisfied with my progress, I was hugely relieved that I've been diligent in my practice and had several weeks of penmanship study under my belt. I shuddered at the thought of how my penmanship would have looked on these sympathy cards had I not decided to do something about my penmanship. I have a long (long) way to go to get back to my former penmanship glory, but I already feel better about my handwriting. Yes, it's still awful, but, I am
working on it and it is
I'm finding there are rewards beyond the obvious. The discipline is good for me. Using a dusty part of my brain is good for me. Gaining control over something
, even just one
aspect of myself, is a confidence and morale booster.
And, I'm part of an apparently small but devoted group of people who believe that penmanship does matter.
Maybe we're all dinosaurs, clinging to an old fashioned, outdated skill. Or, as I am coming to see us, maybe we're an elite corp of scribes who see the value of cursive writing beyond an outmoded form of written communication. Developing a skill that allows us to express ourselves in a personal, unique manner is a rare treat. Hand printing and digital messaging remove us from the words, strip the personality from the message. And, yes, in some cases, especially professional communication, that's not a bad thing.
But if you were grieving, what would touch you more: A handwritten or a digitally typed note?
With sincere sympathy and fond remembrances