I was signing my credit card slip at ol’ Sherwin Williams today buying a quart of touch-up paint, when the young cashier commented, “Wow, you have nice handwriting.”
Oh my God. I got tingly. As I turned to walk away, I politely said, “Well, thank you.” Before I made it to the door, I stopped in my tracks, turned back towards him and said, “You can thank the nuns for that.” (Mmmm, deer-in-the-headlights look…he was probably thinking…what’s a nun?)
Penmanship. I like that term much more than “cursive.” Cursive gives it a scary connotation, sort of like the nuns themselves, who used to scare the holy ba-jesus out of me. But the word “penmanship” is nicer. It’s flowery, almost Shakespearean sounding – an art in itself.
It is not required by schools anymore, and that makes me sad. Shoving memorization and facts down students’ throats prepares them to “not be left behind” in today’s schools, and the art of penmanship has sadly gone by the wayside. No more perfecting the “loop the loop” of the f, or the curly pig tail on top of the o. Technology has evolved to the point where people simply hammer away on a computer keyboard, text on a cell phone, or twitter on their Blackberry. And although some would say it really doesn’t matter if anybody learns handwriting, it’s a beautiful, lost skill that is interesting and historic and basic.
I can’t imagine a world without old civil war papers to discover, journals from grandparents to dig out of moldy attic trunks, artifacts or love letters found tucked away in old walls and dug up from dusty, creaky floor boards.
I admit that – as I blog away on my keyboard – even I can type much faster than I would be able to write this post. I can create, compose, cut, paste and re-arrange ideas with the click of my mouse and the swipe of a cursor. But I always have a pencil sharpened and my handy pen nearby in case of the untimely demise of my Mac, because I was once forced to sit at a desk and concentrate on the repetition of swirls and loops.
It was actually the most relaxing part of the school day, after a mundane morning of memorizing useless, boring historical dates and the complexities of math problems. The pencils smelled good. The paper was a blank canvas. The eraser was your best friend. I believe it was the only time the class was completely quiet. We were still. We were in the zone.
Handwriting developed our fine motor skills, and was an important component of physical and neurological skills as we grew up – the lack of which now has produced a generation of students – and even teachers – who are content with poor grammar, fractured sentences and the inability to think and communicate logically.
Another disadvantage of this disappearing art is that many people actually have a hard time reading somebody’s writing when they do come across it. I once worked for an attorney who scribbled his work on napkins, scraps of paper taped together – even toilet paper – and would plop it on my desk for me to translate into a well executed, readable document. Many of my younger co-workers would roll their eyes saying, “How can you read that!?” I just could.
And you can thank the nuns for that…