My Lousy Handwriting
It’s one thing to get older and gradually notice aches and pains, especially first thing in the morning. (Putting on my socks never used to be such an effort, but at 4am my back isn’t on board with my get-ready-for-work routine.)
But it’s another thing to notice something else deteriorating, something I’ve done pretty well for half a century.
My handwriting has gone straight to hell. There was a time when I was proud of my penmanship, thanks to some wonderful elementary school teachers and to my mom, whose cursive was practically calligraphy. But now, if this post hadn’t been composed on a laptop you’d need a Rosetta stone to decipher it.
I thought it was just me until we discussed it on the radio show and my inbox filled up with kindred spirits. And, like me, the tone of the writers was one of despair. I think we’re all saddened to lose the skill.
This is not some pathetic whine about good ol’ days, which weren’t any better than today and certainly not as easy. Disagree? Go spend a couple of days with no cell phone and enjoy your payphone experiences - if you can find one.
No, this is more of a spiritual lament. Spiritual because there’s much more of a connection with handwritten language, as if the words pour directly from our mind onto the page. But my laptop seems like a middleman, a filter of sorts. Just having a backspace key takes away the intimacy of our original words.
Think of the intimate power of a handwritten thank-you card compared to a slapdash “thanks” via text.
During a recent move I found an old diary I’d kept for a fifth grade assignment. The life and adventures of 10-year-old Dominic really came through in the scribbled words: My joy at another school snow day, the excitement of staying up late to watch a creature feature, and the absolute heartbreak of being ignored by Emily Hummer.
I honestly don’t believe those words could’ve evoked the same emotions if I read them as type-written text all these years later. Then it would’ve seemed like someone else’s life, not mine. My handwriting made it unique, made it my life. Today, my Times New Roman and your Times New Roman are identical.
The use-it-or-lose-it principle seems to apply here. I spend the bulk of my day at a keyboard, so when I actually take pen to paper the result is a sloppy mess. The pen often feels alien in my hand, like I’m five all over again, trying to grasp how to simply hold the damned thing.
So this is where we are, and I’m a little surprised at my sentimental sadness for what’s really a natural progression of communication. I wasn’t upset when rotary-dial phones faded away. I didn’t mourn the passing of cassettes and CDs, and I shed no tears because VHS and DVD were made obsolete in a streaming world.
But handwriting? I can’t help it; I feel like the keyboard is not entirely a step forward. It is in terms of convenience and speed, obviously. But this is about soul. The infernal blinking cursor has zilch, and the always-perfect fonts rob us of a smidge of our personality. The content of the words can salvage a bit of that soul, but handwriting could be likened to the shoes of an outfit. Maybe not vital overall, but important to us.
I’m left with the question I can’t answer: Did my handwriting deteriorate because I’m aging, or was it a victim of disuse? Maybe it’s a combination of both. And perhaps our generations will be the last to ever wonder about this.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to scribble and sigh.
You can hear the original discussion from the radio show below: