An ode to penmanship.

While perusing Twitter today, I found a really interesting article about the importance of writing by hand. That’s kind of ironic considering a) I read the story online and b) I’m talking about it by typing into my blog. Oops. The gist of the article is that writing by hand develops cognitive skills, so all of our typing and texting may be endangering kids’ intelligence. Isn’t that scary?

I am totally reliant on email and texting now, but I didn’t start using email until my freshman year of college, when we were required by my English professor to sign up for the school email accounts. Back then, email was this little, blank DOS screen with a black blinking cursor. Even so, I used it to keep up with all of my friends who went to other schools. I even met people on an early listserv who are still friends today. (Then I was an early adopter; now I have become old and skeptical of emerging technologies.)

A couple of years out of school, when I was sitting in front of email/Internet at work all day, I started to think about how little I wrote anything to anyone by hand. I mean, I keep and treasure every scrap of mail I’ve ever received from my loved ones. If you sent me a Christmas card in 1998, I probably still have it. So, I can go back and read the letters and cards that my grandparents sent to me or the (hilarious) letters I sent to my mom while I was at camp. A printout of an email or online card, no matter the sentimentality, just isn’t the same.

There are people in my life closer to me than family, and I’ve never seen their handwriting. I think penmanship says a lot about personality, so handwriting can be a missing piece that you don’t know about someone until you see it. I find it fascinating when there’s a dichotomy — like the buttoned-up, left-brained types who have flowery handwriting. Perhaps there’s an artist trapped behind their starched Oxford shirts? I have pretty messy, loopy handwriting, which reveals my general disorganization and impatience. My mother’s is the opposite, with beautiful, carefully and slowly-drawn characters. Because she has the patience of a saint. My dad is an architect, so he and my stepmother (also an architect) write in the same architect-y block script that was drilled into them in college. I don’t have any idea what my father’s true handwriting is like. I’m sure he doesn’t either.

Back in those first post-college days when I was trying desperately to stay in touch with friends near and far, I realized the importance of handwritten notes. Well, really I made a pact with my friend Ann, lover of all things paper — who somehow always sends Christmas/birthday/Valentine’s/Halloween (yes, really) cards and gifts on time even with a busy job and family. She’s also really good at thank you notes, which despite my southern heritage I have yet to master. (Sorry, Mom.) Ann and I decided that we would not let handwriting become a dying art. During the last 10 years, she and I have exchanged many a letter and card when we could have phoned or emailed. When she got married, she wrote me the loveliest letter that made me cry, and it was all the more special because it was in her handwriting. I have added that and all of our correspondence to my collection.

In a calculated act of rebellion, my friend Caroline and her best friend, who live in the same city and both actively resist joining Facebook and all other forms of social media [Caroline was dragged kicking and screaming into texting even], decided to give up electronic communication entirely. They write each other letters about their lives and mail(!) them to each other. They’ve even made plans to meet or have dinner by writing that they would rendezvous on a certain date and time — and it seemed to work. How very Jane Austen!

My resentment towards social media as a primary method of communication has been building as of late — I’ve told you how I increasingly feel about Facebook. The article also reminded me of the writing class this summer that I keep referencing. My teacher stressed the importance of writing freestyle by hand for 10 minutes because it is important to physically use your arm and hand to divest yourself of what you have to say. That’s why, she explained, writing in longhand can be cathartic — you are literally using your body as an emotional outlet. Typing on a keyboard is fine; it just produces a different kind of writing and emotional/physical response.

All of that said, there are technologies out there to easily convert our handwriting into text, which solves the article’s brain problem but not necessarily my personal archiving one. A few months ago I stumbled on a fun site, semi-related to this topic, that helps … sort of. Check out this website from Pilot that allows you to convert your handwriting into characters so you can “type” an email to friends in your own handwriting. I tried it but wasn’t completely in love with the results — I think I need to do better on copying and scanning my letters. If you’re bored and/or interested in the concept, give it a try. Then “write” me an email!

Such technology is all well and good, but I’m generally just terrified of my brain turning to mush.  So I’m off to write you a letter. By hand.

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4 thoughts on “An ode to penmanship.

  1. Oh, the same kind of argument goes to texting and spelling. I had a student tell me the other day that her mother got really upset at her for using text shorthand – in an actual text, btw. But it made me think of the other kids out there using short hand all the time. Does it inhibit their spelling skills? I was never good at spelling and now shorthand is saving me, cuz no one says anything if i misspell things in emails or texts. Something to ponder as your brain is turning to mush 🙂

    • So true, Lynn! I wonder the same thing — do kids entering the workforce now type “b4” and “i will call u” in their professional emails?? If so, what is the world coming to? 😉

  2. Thanks to technology, I now have the handwriting if a serial killer. Or a doctor with a prescription pad. I actually find myself having difficulty writing by hand.

    Strangely, I don’t miss it. Plus, who says that pounding on a keyboard emphatically isn’t cathartic? 🙂

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