Friday, July 1, 2011

The Handwriting on the Wall

I believe I have forgotten how to write.

Not that I have forgotten how to assemble words into a pleasing and/or informative whole – that I can still do at least as well as I’ve ever been able to do it.  Yes, I understand that this is considered a "straight line" in the comedy business, but there it is.

So it's not that.

Instead, I seem to have lost the ability to wrap my hand around a writing implement and produce something that could convey information to someone besides me.

On the one hand, this is not all that big of a step. My handwriting has always been a study in how meaning could be smuggled across the borders of legibility even in the best of times. It manages to be both jagged and loopy at the same time, with long swirling crossed t’s that one of my grade school teachers said looked as if someone had turned the paper sideways and drawn lines up and down. There are at least three letters that I make in obviously non-standard ways, none of which would I change for anyone. Getting from this situation to impossible was never going to be much of a trip.

On the other hand, though, writing was something I did for decades, every day, and if it wasn’t exactly Copperplate neither was it chicken scratch.

Somewhere in the last decade and a half, however, I stopped writing by hand for any audience other than myself. If someone else needed to see it, it got typed. And if I were the only one who needed to see it, it got printed in my own increasingly personalized scrawl of short and tall capitals, superscript abbreviations (an import from studying all those 18th-century documents) and acronyms that only I understood.

This morning it was time to pay the bills, and since I refuse to pay bills online that meant I had to haul out the checkbook and write out things that other people would correctly interpret so as not to cause late penalties by being unable to interpret who the money was for or bankrupt me by moving a decimal over or something.

And it was disturbingly hard.

The schools here in Our Little Town still teach kids how to write in cursive – apparently there are a number of places where this has been given up, along with slide rules and ink wells. Perhaps I should go back for a refresher course.


TimBo said...

I've always had a terrible time writing in cursive. I learned cursive in grade 2 and looking back at my old scribblers (well named!) I see that my writing hasn't changed in the least. I used to get lots of hand-writing homework and criticism, but I could never seem to improve. I felt very bad about it all.

The only saving grace is that when I went to work for my father briefly when I was 18 the rest of the staff had a big problem: They couldn't distinguish my handwriting from his. I had simply copied his writing from the beginning.

Now I just print everything. I can print very quickly and I can usually even read it as long as no more than a week has gone by. After that it is just chicken scratches.

David said...

My problem is just stubbornness plus being out of practice. I rather like my nonstandard letters, and I just don't write anything by hand anymore unless I'm printing - and nobody has ever been able to read that.

In 7th grade my teachers decided that my nonstandard capital D's needed to become standard, which I did not care to do. This is why my signature today is essentially printed, though you'd be hard pressed to tell.

TimBo said...

Sounds like an interesting signature. Care to send me a sample on the bottom of one of your cheques? ;-)

David said...

Well, it probably wouldn't do you much good. I'm a historian, after all.

"Who steals my purse steals trash."

Unknown said...

French kids don't learn to print block letters. They learn cursive from the get-go.

Furthermore, they have points taken off for bad penmanship.