Another Lost Art

The only "C" grade I ever received in elementary school was in handwriting. It was in third grade, and we were just beginning to learn cursive handwriting. I didn't think my performance was SO bad - perhaps my words were a little fat and wobbly and reluctant to stay neatly perched on the lines. Handwriting was a separate subject line on our report cards in those days, and I remember being completely appalled at that letter "C," sticking out like a scarlet letter amongst the "A's" and "B's." I redeemed myself by the end of fourth grade, and had developed a beautiful penmanship almost exactly like my mother's. It was elegant and feminine, and flowed neatly in a perfect slant toward the right margins of the paper. I was vain about my handwriting for many years, although sometimes I tried to mimic my friend Jill's writing which was completely vertical so that each word stood up smartly as it marched across the page. Her handwriting was very different from the way we were taught to write, and I envied the way it expressed her slightly rebellious personality.

Handwriting doesn't merit it's own subject line on report cards anymore, and isn't really worthy of much time or consideration in today's curriculum. Children are taught to print clearly, and given some rudimentary training in the basics of forming cursive letters. They focus on keyboarding skills, which will probably be their primary method of written communication. Keyboarding is more functional, but writing by hand is much more mysterious. It's always amazed me that each person has a unique way of creating letters on a page, even though we're all taught to form the letters in a certain prescribed way. Handwriting was once a way of expressing individuality, and now it seems all our digital advances just serve to homogenize us, lumping us into categories and numbers.

I feel a bit sad about that, just as I feel sad about not getting handwritten letters in the mail anymore. As a child, I loved seeing my grandmother's familiar handwriting on the envelope bearing a birthday or Valentine's Day card. My uncle, who was an engineer, always signed his cards in a distinctive slanted print of entirely capital letters. My father's handwriting fascinated me, for it slanted to the left instead of the right, even though he wrote with his right hand. Their handwriting was as distinctly personal as their voice or their fingerprint. And I was saddened to see their handwriting deteriorate with age, becoming weak and wobbly like my early attempts back in elementary school.

Most of my handwriting these days is confined to the pages of a journal or the To Do list on my kitchen table. My handwriting isn't so beautiful anymore, but if I set my mind to it I could probably recreate those lovely fluid lines I was once so proud of. Perhaps I should make a habit of writing by hand more often, before the art of handwriting is lost forever.

How about you? Does your handwriting express anything about your personality or individuality, or is it entirely functional?