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The Antique Penman
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Posts Tagged ‘poor penmanship’
Our Flimsy Digital Words
Sunday, February 11th, 2018
From a letter from my mother as I was designing Texas Hero.

Page of a letter from my ma.

For decades I’ve ranked typing as the most useful class I took back in high school. I hated showing up for this particular summer school elective, my story goes, but by the end of the class I could type 40 words a minute. It was like magic. And now I can type 100.

Well, lately I’ve begun to regret my supreme keyboarding skills.

It took a good while to sink in. But just the other day, during my morning hike with Jack, my dog, the true ramifications hit me. Having somehow reached Retirement Age, I’d been ruminating on the written materials I’ve produced over the past 40 or 50 years, both personal and professional. And it occurred to me that—for the past 30 of those years, anyway—nearly all endure as but flimsy digital words. Many thousands of email messages, hundreds of letters in Microsoft Word, text files cram-packed with thoughts and notes and reflections. Intangible, ethereal. All stored, like thoughts, in memory.

A page from my dad’s diary.

A page from my dad’s Army diary.

Even the drafts and revisions of books I’ve authored abide only in digital form.

These things I’ve written exist on various hard drives, in cloud storage—even a few old Zip drives. Remember floppies? SyQuest disks? I’ve got a few of those squirreled away in boxes somewhere.

Projecting time forward a generation or two, I realized that the chances any of my stuff will stick around long enough to find its way into a historical museum somewhere (not that it should) are paper thin. Because none of it’s on paper. And the only way to get it there is to find a way to translate all those 1s and 0s into computer text and print it out. In any old font you want.

Boooring.

But project time backward a couple generations and, and you’ll find journals and notebooks and postcards and stationery filled with handwritten words. Whether cursive or printing, neat or sloppy, slanted this way or that—each style reflects the unique hand of its author. And none of it was put down at 100 words a minute.

From my grandparents to my great-grandparents, 10/22/1943.

Card from my grandparents to my great-grandparents.

I have handwritten letters from my mother, diaries written by my father, postcards from my grandparents. I recognize their familiar cursive styles on envelopes, on the backs of old photos—photos developed in a darkroom, I mean. There’s probably even an old handwritten recipe collection somewhere.

Yet where does my penmanship appear? On a few old love letters and poems perhaps, in a couple or three decades-old notebooks.

On that hike the other day I decided to pick up a pen more often, to write lists and notes, cards and letters, maybe even fill a notebook. My hand might not be practiced, or cursive, or neat. It might take me a while to get over the hand-cramp. But I expect it’ll mean more to the future reader than a bunch of digital words set in, say, Comic Sans.


Miscellanea

» See? “[A]ll that will be remembered of them is what they typed on a piece of paper from a computer.”

» Turns out this gang of fourth graders are diggin’ cursive these days.

» Some might even (like me!) become experts on deciphering old penmanship.

» But neatness counts: A doctor rediscovers the importance of a legible hand.

» The uniqueness of individual handwriting makes the news again (Roy Moore).

» Random aside: There’s actually a bull named “Penmanship.”

» And, hey, with Valentine’s Day coming, maybe it’s time to write a love letter—by hand.

 

My Cursive Handwriting Sucks
Sunday, September 17th, 2017
My cursive handwriting test.

My cursive handwriting test.

A confession: my cursive handwriting sucks. I write by hand so rarely these days, and when I do, it tends to come out as a sort of stylized printing I forced on myself thirty or forty years ago. So I just tried writing a few short cursive sentences on an index card to see what it looks like.

Yeah, it sucks. In fact, I couldn’t even remember how to write a capital “T.”

Alas, I’m not alone. What got me testing out my cursive today was a recent news item about how Cambridge University educators are considering dropping their handwritten exam requirement—after more than 800 years. The problem being that the faculty is having trouble reading students’ handwriting.

18th-century penmanship from Kentucky County, Virginia.

18th-century penmanship from Kentucky County, Virginia.

“There has definitely been a downward trend,” says history lecturer Sarah Pearsall. “It is difficult for both the students and the examiners, as it is harder and harder to read these scripts.”

Bummer.

A Need for Speed

But I’ve long predicted this. Our smart digital devices are feeding our need for speed when it comes to all forms of communication. I mean, let’s face it: it takes a lot longer to write a thank-you note by hand than to tap out a text with your thumbs. Sure, taking the time to learn cursive might be good for your brain, your manual dexterity, and your memory, but first-world humans just prefer living in the fast lane these days, apparently.

The handwriting of Meriwether Lewis

The handwriting of Meriwether Lewis.

This got me wondering (not for the first time) how things might change if the grid goes down. Say a computer virus, an asteroid, a natural (or nuclear) disaster, solar flares, or Siri Personified takes us all offline in an instant. How will we communicate over long distances in such a post-apocalyptic scenario? Well, I reckon we’ll have to go back to scribbling out notes using charcoal on birch bark and handing them to a courier, who will deliver them to our remote recipient in person. And I can imagine the dismay on the face of our correspondent who can’t read a word we’ve written.

“Return to Sender. Illegible.”

Learn by Doing

Perhaps at the very least it’s worth practicing—if not your cursive—your hand-printing every now and then. Maybe by jotting down a grocery list, composing a thank-you note by hand, or authoring an actual letter, inserting it into an envelope, and dropping it in the U.S. Mail. I daresay pen makers and the U.S. Postal Service will appreciate it, as will your recipients. So long as they can read your writing.

The irony is that, during the decades of the decline of my penmanship, I’ve taught myself to decipher various styles of cursive handwriting from centuries gone by. And you can bet there’ll be someone with similar skills to help us out centuries from now:

“Siri, read me that old cursive letter.”


Miscellanea

» Cursive makes you smarter: a wonderful essay about all this stuff.

» Another articulate argument for not scrapping handwriting instruction.

» To heck with handwriting recognition: recognizing handwriting is a moving experience.

» Geneva, Ohio, honors the master penman who created Spencerian Script.

» Yes, truly exercising the brain sometimes takes a little time.

» On the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, a graphologist reveals a few secrets.

» Finally, Darick “DDS” Spears has released a new hip hop album called “Penmanship.”

 

Hodgepodge: Miscellaneous handwriting news
Sunday, November 23rd, 2014
How they did it in the old days.

How they did it in the old days.

As the year winds down, and the photoperiod shortens here on the 44th parallel, I find my free days busy with autumn chores—e.g., earlier today I hauled away two pickup loads of  maple branches fallen in an early wet snow—and my free evenings at my desk, by the fire, wrapping up loose ends.

The loose ends I’m wrapping up this evening: a number of handwriting-related news articles I’ve collected over the past few weeks. So rather than attempt an inspiring essay, I figured I’d simply share.

First I find a piece in the St. George and Sutherland Shire Leader, of New South Wales, Australia, about a program in which occupational therapists help HSC (Higher School Certificate—basically, high school) students learn how best to hold a pen. Seems perfect penmanship translates into better HSC test scores. One such therapist is Jackie Peile.

“[Peile] said students who completed the course had seen notable improvements in legibility, speed, readability and endurance [and] a 40 percent decrease in pain.”

Ms. Peile attributes students’ bad handwriting form on the overuse of iPads. Meantime, school officials in New South Wales are thinking of doing away with written exams altogether “as students can no longer tolerate long writing sessions after years of using a computer for school work.” Oh, dear.

While we’re in NSW, it seems the daughter of former premier Neville Wran is charged with a drug-related murder. 9NEWS reports that twenty-six-year old Heather Wran and two others stand accused of stabbing a fellow to death, but the investigation could take a while. Authorities were estimating a three-month wait on forensic reports—and handwriting analysis. Perhaps someone didn’t know how to hold a pen.

Also from Australia comes this rumination by writer Mel Campbell on the history of handwriting in schools Down Under, including the awarding of “pen licences” and something called “Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS).” For handwriting, VELS specify that…

…by year three students should: ‘Write using joined letters that are clearly formed and consistent in size.’ By the time they reach secondary school, they should possess ‘a personal handwriting style that is legible, fluent and automatic and supports writing for extended periods.’

The teaching of handwriting is left largely to the discretion of individual primary schools.

Kid clamps down on pencil.

It’s worth a read. In fact, so is an opinion piece Campbell mentions—Teaching the write stuff: the forgotten art of penmanship, by retired teacher Marnee Wills, in The Age (Melbourne). Wills cites studies that show writing by hand improves brain function.

Children who have the capacity to write fluently, legibly and automatically are better equipped to generate and evaluate ideas, judge responses and organise their thoughts.

Campbell herself notes that she’s begun writing drafts in longhand. “Despite my crabbed, half-cursive handwriting,” she acknowledges, “I’ve never felt more inspired.”

Moving 10,000 miles northwest, The Herald of Edinburgh, Scotland, chimes in:

[B]eing able to write clearly is a basic skill every pupil should possess. Not only does it allow them to communicate effectively, writing a sentence by hand has also been shown to aid cognitive development and understanding. Writing in longhand may not be as common as it once was, but everyone in Scotland’s education system needs to be able to do it.

From Canada, meanwhile, comes this report of a University of Ottawa professor sitting in a detention cell, awaiting extradition to France in connection with a terrorist bombing of a Parisian synagogue, which killed four people thirty-four years ago. Hassan Diab vows that he’ll “never give up” his fight to clear his name.

What does this have to do with penmanship? Well, the key piece of evidence is a decades-old handwriting sample—“five block letter words scrawled on a check-in card for the Paris hotel where police believe the bombing suspect stayed”—that French authorities say matches Diab’s hand. But they compared the block letters, which defense counsel insists were written by Diab’s wife, with samples of his cursive script. The Supreme Court has refused to hear his appeal.

This man has illegible handwriting

Would-be robber.

Back in the USA, we continue our crime theme by letting you know that poor penmanship doesn’t pay. Down Houston way, the Deer Park Broadcaster reports the FBI is releasing photos of a would-be robber who passed a note to a teller at J.P. Morgan Chase Bank—a note the teller couldn’t read. The man fled the bank empty-handed. No one was hurt in the incident.

Police in Lakeland, Florida, arrested two eleven-year-old middle school girls for writing bomb threats that forced evacuation of their school for two straight days.. Officers told the Orlando Sentinel that one of the girls admitted writing the second note to “keep the momentum going.” Teachers recognized the handwriting. (Kids these days.)

You are what you writeHey—did you know that about 7,000 Americans die in the U.S. each year from bad handwriting? It’s true, apparently. The sloppy handwriting, of course, belongs to doctors, and Leonardo L. Leonidas’s commentary in the Philippine Daily Inquirer details several tragic case studies. While I disagree with Leonidas’s claim that “the bad penmanship of many physicians is impossible to change”—heck, if doctors can perform brain surgery, surely they can form a legible “B”—I do expect the practice of writing out prescriptions by hand to go the way of the dodo very soon.

Whereas if doctors did practice penmanship, it might make them better doctors: mounting evidence continues to suggest that handwriting is a lot better for your brain than keyboarding or tapping out texts with your thumbs. It’s also better for fine motor skills, notes this recent piece for The Week by Linda Thrasybule:

Children who have poor handwriting are also more likely to have visual-motor problems — difficulty copying shapes, letters, and numbers. In fact, one study showed a significant relationship between visual motor performance and the ability to copy letters legibly.

Better reading, better spelling, better memory, better motor skills. Don’t chuck your pens just yet.

Also, people who know how to write by hand can more quickly decipher old documents—say, in genealogical expeditions. Here’s a nice write-up on the subject by Dee Gibson-Roles from the Asheville (North Carolina) Citizen-Times.

And handwriting can tell a lot about a person. Witness the infographic on this page for The Pen Warehouse in the UK.

Or have a chat with Ken Nelson. Mr. Nelson, 91, is a handwriting analyst and numerologist who has a lot of years’ experience in such things. Plus, he’s still got all his hair—as you’ll see in this little bio by Jim Stingl for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Nelson is brims with accumulated wisdom about such things as ascenders and descenders and the crossings of Ts. In fact, he can tell a lot by whether we finish the loops below cursive letters like g, y, and z.

“So many people leave them unfinished. They’re always looking for something to be completed or fulfilled in their life,” he said. They might need some graphotherapy, which Nelson said changes your inner self by improving your handwriting flaws.

Police have consulted on cases with Nelson, who is a longtime member of the American Association of Handwriting Analysts.

Ken Nelson, handwriting analyst and numerologist

Ken Nelson

“The handwriting has to come back,” he says. “It’s a flourishing expression and it is beautiful.”

Now, that’s a declaration I can get behind.


Abigail Adams American Scribe Botanical Scribe Douglass Pen Emily Austin Houston Pen

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