H is for Handwriting

| February 9, 2014

The fourth chapter in Tom Ingold’s Lines really brought this concept forward for me, even though it’s one I’d been thinking about even beforehand. Ingold discusses how the art of writing has become less and less of an art—it has transformed from “drawing” to writing, and, nowadays with the advent of computers and word processors, perhaps even less than that.

Born on the verge, just before the technological revolution of writing took off, I still remember my own writing instruction. Penmanship was a part of the ELA experience in the first few years of elementary school. I remember very well the trace-paper and the dotted lines—the templates for correct letter shapes and sizes that Ingold touches on. Eventually, after all of the drawing-like practice, my own handwriting took form.

It’s fascinating to think of the impact that handwriting has had and continues to have. Handwriting is unique to each person, even if it follows the same template out of necessity for an alphabet to express a single language. Handwriting can be used forensically, and, said to reveal aspects of our personalities. (Books, whose names I can’t recall, come to mind, from (or taking place in) the 18th and 19th centuries, where a person’s handwriting in letters might reveal aspects of their character.)

Now, according to rumors, I believe that penmanship is no longer being taught to students. My brother, for one, would be so glad to hear it. He spent hours upon hours in kindergarten erasing holes into his tracer paper in order to try to “get the letters right.” While part of me rejoices (no more pointless tracing!), another part of me is a little saddened. Even though writing, even in cursive, wouldn’t be considered drawing by Ingold’s standards, there’s now a sort of intentional, nostalgic purpose behind its use. Handwriting stands for something. Cursive stands for something. Especially today, when typing technologies have eliminated a lot of the need to write at all. There is a difference between signing your name in cursive and simply typing it out. There is a type of power and personality behind it. Simply typing on a computer seems to be communication in its least artistic sense. Very little effort is required to hit a letter on the keyboard and have it appear on the screen. You can delete, add, change, move, format, and stylize within seconds.

Even though this is obviously extremely efficient and favorable for all sorts of means, part of the traditionalist in me still values the physically written word.  I find myself participating in a blend of writing styles and technologies. I write in print when it is efficient and I want to remember; I write in cursive when I am writing creatively or want to add an element of formality; I use my typewriter almost exclusively for nostalgic creative pieces or stylized cards for others; I type on my laptop for pretty much everything, since it is so efficient. The mode of writing reflects a kind of purpose or value, depending on the words I want to put down. I have an ownership over the way I choose to write, and my handwriting is uniquely my own. Even though some of these modes are outdated, I think still having the option to express myself through them (particularly cursive handwriting) is something I appreciate.