Another Lost Art

The only “C” grade I ever received in elementary school was in handwriting. It was in third grade, and we were just beginning to learn cursive handwriting. I didn’t think my performance was SO bad – perhaps my words were a little fat and wobbly and reluctant to stay neatly perched on the lines. Handwriting was a separate subject line on our report cards in those days, and I remember being completely appalled at that letter “C,” sticking out like a scarlet letter amongst the “A’s” and “B’s.”

I redeemed myself by the end of fourth grade, and had developed a beautiful penmanship almost exactly like my mother’s. It was elegant and feminine, and flowed neatly in a perfect slant toward the right margins of the paper. I was vain about my handwriting for many years, although sometimes I tried to mimic my friend Jill’s writing which was completely vertical so that each word stood up smartly as it marched across the page. Her handwriting was very different from the way we were taught to write, and I envied the way it expressed her slightly rebellious personality.

Handwriting doesn’t merit it’s own subject line on report cards anymore, and isn’t really worthy of much time or consideration in today’s curriculum. Children are taught to print clearly, and given some rudimentary training in the basics of forming cursive letters. They focus on keyboarding skills, which will probably be their primary method of written communication. Keyboarding is more functional, but writing by hand is much more mysterious. It’s always amazed me that each person has a unique way of creating letters on a page, even though we’re all taught to form the letters in a certain prescribed way. Handwriting was once a way of expressing individuality, and now it seems all our digital advances just serve to homogenize us, lumping us into categories and numbers.

I feel a bit sad about that, just as I feel sad about not getting handwritten letters in the mail anymore. As a child, I loved seeing my grandmother’s familiar handwriting on the envelope bearing a birthday or Valentine’s Day card. My uncle, who was an engineer, always signed his cards in a distinctive slanted print of entirely capital letters. My father’s handwriting fascinated me, for it slanted to the left instead of the right, even though he wrote with his right hand. Their handwriting was as distinctly personal as their voice or their fingerprint. And I was saddened to see their handwriting deteriorate with age, becoming weak and wobbly like my early attempts back in elementary school.

Most of my handwriting these days is confined to the pages of a journal or the
To Do list on my kitchen table. My handwriting isn’t so beautiful anymore, but if I set my mind to it I could probably recreate those lovely fluid lines I was once so proud of. Perhaps I should make a habit of writing by hand more often, before the art of handwriting is lost forever.

How about you? Does your handwriting express anything about your personality or individuality, or is it entirely functional?

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10 thoughts on “Another Lost Art

  1. The only handwriting I seem to do anymore involves hastily scribbled notes to myself: my work ‘journal,’ to-do and grocery lists, and the like. I recently came across a folder of stories I’d written in high shool. Some were typed, but others were pages of handwriting. I almost didn’t recognize my own writing, although further inspection did reveal that I still make my letters with basically the same shapes, just not as neatly.

    I’ve heard rumors lately that “they’re” thinking of not teaching handwriting in school at all in the near future. For the same reasons you stated, I think that would be a great loss. Not that I can remember the last time I received a handwritten note in the mail….

    By the way, I love your opening paragraph. I can see Andi’s influence in your writing! 🙂

    • I know what you mean about looking at handwriting from high school..I don’t recognize mine either!

      And thanks for your comment about the first paragraph. I consider that high praise! Hope your class is going well.

  2. Just the other day I was sending something in the mail to two people. I can not remember the last time I mailed a payment through postal mail. I wanted to write a short note to each of the recipients and asked my wife if we had a writing pad anywhere. Katy looked at me with surprise and said, a writing tablet? I said, yeah, you know, a note pad of some sort that I can write a quick handwritten note. Needless to say, that was never found and I wound up printing up a quick note through MS Word and printing it out and stuffing it in the envelope. It has been several years back but I did write a letter to someone, not even sure who that someone was now. My hand started to cramp from the exercise. My cursive writing sucks so badly I have to print when I do write by hand. The only cursive writing I do is my signature. Just the other day we bought a car and they wanted me to write out my middle name. I felt like I was crippled because I have not written my middle name cursively for more than 30 years. I certainly do not believe that they should stop teaching people how to write by hand. Good grief, how said would that be?

    • It would be sad, but you’ve illustrated why it will probably happen. Most of us just don’t handwrite things anymore, and I include myself in that category.

      Maybe you should practice handwriting by sending little handwritten love notes to your wife…I bet she’d love them:)

  3. You know, Becca, sometimes I feel like I’m 116 years old!

    Even though I don’t do any journaling, I write “by hand” all the time. I don’t conduct any business online – I pay bills and such by mail. And just today I picked up a get-well card. I usually send paper birthday cards and such, and always include a hand-written note. Same with Christmas cards. The only people I send electronic cards to are folks I know online, where I don’t know the home address.

    My handwriting’s changed over the years. We learned the Palmer Method in school, using lined tablet paper – and we had those letters marching around the top of the blackboard. I finally threw away my penmanship pins – a green one, and an orange one. I remember I was very proud of them.

    Today, my hand is cleaner, less “frilly” than Palmer penmanship. I like it. Not only that, when the great electromagnetic pulse wipes out all the gadgets, I’ll still be able to write!

    • I still send “real” greeting cards too, and have no intention of stopping that practice. At least as long as they keep making them..those are probably the next thing to go all digital!

  4. My handwriting used to be very neat and bubbly. As I grew into adulthood, I changed the way I formed some of letters… particularly the “A” in my signature. I used to make the rounded cursive “a” and now it’s a more dramatic version of the print “A” — pointed at the top with some added flair.

    But more often than not, these days, my handwriting is just downright messy.

    I loved how you described what you remember about your loved ones’ handwriting. I can remember my mom and dad’s and my grandparents’ handwriting so well. It was so distinct and evoked a feeling about their personality.

    In a post coming up, I’m going to talk a little bit about how in Kindergarten, my son is learning how to form letters on primary ruled paper. But the post is more about technology in the classroom. In many ways, his classroom setting is very much the same as I remember… and yet technology is ever-present. It’s so interesting.

    • I went through a stage in middle school where I spelled my name with an “i” on the end (Becki), and made a little heart shape to dot the “i.” That was my cute and bubbly phase! So even when we’re young, we have a sense of handwriting saying something about our personalities.

      I’ll look forward to your post about Dillon’s class. I’m really interested in how elementary education is evolving these days 🙂

  5. Handwriting hurts my wrist these days, it is quite pathetic actually. But if I write more than a page it becomes quite painful. Could of course just be plain arthritis but I only get it when I am writing by hand. Which is a real shame as I used to LOVE cursive writing! It was a class when I grew up, too, and it was my best one, I was a straight A student every single year. My mother and grandmother (father’s side) had the most distinctive scribes and beautiful handwriting and mine is getting closer to that of my mother. Alas, even though I have never learned to free-type I have always loved using a typewriter, and now a keyboard. Mind you, the other day I sent a long handwritten note to my former boss and I gave it my best attempt at writing neatly, just like I used to at school. It felt great!

    • I find that handwriting tires my hand and wrist too. I handwrite in a journal every morning, and by the time I finish my requisite three pages, I’m hurting, and the writing is pretty illegible. I’ve lost a lot of good ideas I’m afraid, because I couldn’t decipher them when I went back days later!

      I have to concentrate quite hard to write nicely now. It makes me feel like that little schoolchild of old!

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