29 January 2013

Handwriting

I've been amusing myself by writing with a dip pen lately. I was in the art supplies shop yesterday, and picked up a new pen holder for the nibs my friend gave me to go with my walnut ink. So I wrote her a letter, on paper, with pen and ink, and quite enjoyed myself doing it. The walnut ink is perfect for that; I can get almost four lines of writing out of one dip. If I use the Pelikan fountain pen ink, I have to dip for every other word, and it drips and splatters like crazy. Fountain pen ink is much more watery, so that it won't clog the mechanism of the pen. The walnut stuff is more like India ink; it has an almost lacquer-like quality to it and leaves a raised line when it's dry. Best keep that one out of my grandfather's fountain pen!

But writing that letter had me thinking again - about handwriting, this time. In the age of the telephone (i.e. last century), people were bemoaning the loss of letter-writing skills. Now, we're picking up those skills again in profusion, by writing emails or sending texts rather than phoning (I wonder if a generation down the line, grandmothers are going to bemoan the loss of telephoning skills?).

Charles Dodgson, Lewis Carroll, apparently wrote enormous numbers of letters, on the order of a couple thousand a year ("One third of my life seems to go in receiving letters, the other two-thirds in answering them", Cohen quotes him as having said). Well, I just checked my email program, and my "sent mail" folder has quite a few messages in it, too - maybe not quite on Carroll's magnitude, but it might well be approaching a kilo over the last year. I've been known to spend all morning on email, and that not terribly infrequently, either. I write lots of letters, and receive lots of them back, but they're written with QWERTY, not the quill. In the days of pen-and-paper mail, I usually had no need to look at the "sender" section of an envelope - all I had to do was to look at the address, and I knew it was from my mother, my aunt, my friend - I knew them by their handwriting, just as quickly as (if not more quickly than) I recognized their voices on the telephone.

Handwriting is extremely distinctive, very recognizable. And we're losing it. I've made quite a few new friends over the last fifteen years, since we got our first internet connection and I discovered the wonders of email. I write far more letters now than I ever did with pen and paper, and communicate with my friends more often than I did via the telephone. With those of my friends whom I met in person before we began email or social media correspondence, I at least know their voice - but with many of them, I have never seen their handwriting, nor they mine. And that's too bad.

Handwriting carries so much of the person in it. It's a form of body language, really, the personality in miniature on a sheet of paper. Handwriting analysis is a serious branch of psychology (granted, it's also a silly branch of quackery in some cases, but not always). It's akin to the handshake: a limp-rag-handshaker will also, likely, have a wimpy pen stroke, whereas the bone-crusher is probably also a paper-puncturer whose writing is engraved on the next four sheets of the writing pad. Or like the gesture: the overly-friendly person who leans forward to get in your face might have a slant to their handwriting that tips so far to the right it almost falls over, while the writing of a reticent, reserved individual might lean away from you to the left margin of the page. Some folks have writing that sprawls clear across the page, whereas scientists, I've noticed, tend to write in tiny script or print. Alas, I probably will not be able to follow up that line of research with more observations. Nobody writes by hand any more.

I did hear somewhere that the American military is working on a keystroke recognition program which can tell who's typing just by how they hit the letters on the keyboard (in my case, that would include overuse of the backspace key - "ah, this person backspaced to correct a typo a dozen times in the last sentence, it must be her"). Perhaps, when they perfect that program, someone can integrate it with a personalised font system, so that my computer knows it's me doing the typing, and automatically puts the font on screen in my own handwriting (which I've scanned and fed into the computer previously, of course). Wouldn't that be cool?

But I'm not holding my breath on it. Meanwhile, I'll go on qwertying the bulk of my letters, and then writing the occasional letter in old-fashioned pen and ink. Dip pen, and walnut ink, no less. Sometimes. And just so you can't say you've never seen my writing, I've attached a picture of it. Now you know.

Life, the Universe, and Writing by Hand. Try it sometime, so you don't forget.

10 comments:

  1. I recently started writing by hand in a journal again, which is prompting me to practice my handwriting - it truly is dreadful. Always has been, print and script. My problem is that my ideas run so much faster than my fingers, and I cram all my letters together trying to get all the ideas onto the page before they run out! But I do think it is a worthwhile skill to have, and so I will keep striving to make it, if not beautiful, at least legible.

    Even if few people ever see it.

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    1. For me, too, it was journalling that brought me back to using my writing and made me fluent in it again. When we were homeschooling, we used the "Italics" series of writing books, and I liked that style so much, I adopted much of it for my own handwriting.

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  2. I love handwriting letters, though don't do it very often any more. It's very satisfying to have a blank sheet of paper in front of me and a writing implement and to let the words flow.

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    1. Yes, the right writing implement makes a huge difference! I almost always write with fountain pen (was taught that way back in the old country - were you?), because of the flow. Ballpoint makes my hand cramp!

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  3. Alberta Education has taken cursive out of the public school curriculum. Schools can still teach it, at their discretion (and many do), but it is not longer a learning requirement for elementary school kids. My handwriting is horrible, but I think the loss of cursive is a tragedy, all the same. I mean, sometimes, for this writer, anyway, it's the only way to get back into the story, you know? I've got cursive workbooks on order for the summer. My kids will learn. :-)

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    1. Hmph - I don't think your writing is horrible (I've seen a sample of it, in the best-forgotten week last semester, remember?). Actually, a lot of people over here say their writing is bad. What's with that? Low self-handwriting esteem? Mine used to be bad - I got C's in penmanship in elementary school, and was told once my writing was "sloppy" (I was offended). But then in my teens, I made an effort to get better, and got to the point of liking my writing. Most of the time. Depends on the pen a lot.

      As far as teaching cursive in the schools, it doesn't surprise me it got taken out. I had to argue with my son's special ed teacher about pushing his *printing*; they were telling me that "today, you don't need that any more, it doesn't matter"...

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  4. Yes, it's not in the BC curriculum either, and what a shame. I will teach my boys as well - I think it's still important, even if only for brain development. I myself have pretty nice handwriting - there - I said it! LOL

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    1. And there you go. Good for you! :)

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  5. My handwriting is atrocious! I was constantly being told off for it in school.

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    1. Maybe that's what it is - Canadian teachers have overblown expectations, and teach kids that their handwriting is bad.

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