My handwriting is getting worse, and by worse I mean sloppy, nearly illegible, the kind of script you’d expect from your physician but not from a Catholic-educated writer whose elementary school homework required cursive writing practice.
Come to think of it, my writing has deteriorated in inverse proportion to my typing skills. I spend so much time at my computer — mostly for work but also for fun — that my fingers now perform like acrobats on the keyboard. They dance, they flip, they pirouette. They find the keys as effortlessly as I once rounded curlicues.
Another sure sign that I’m not applying pen to paper as much as I once did: The callus on the middle finger of my right hand, once painful proof of all that manual writing, has all but disappeared.
This is hardly unusual. Think back to the last time your well-tended handwriting graced a blank sheet. It’s been a long while, hasn’t it?
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Cursive writing, in case you haven’t noticed, is an endangered art and penmanship in the classroom an afterthought. There are so many more things to teach these days — like keyboarding, like test taking — and so little time to teach them all. In the digital age, mandatory cursive instruction seems hopelessly old-fashioned, a waste of time in a fast-paced world. That may be why Common Core curriculum standards, adopted by most states, don’t require cursive instruction, though several states, hoping to preserve a cultural tradition, have made it mandatory. (My hometown public school system does incorporate the teaching of cursive in its Miami-Dade elementaries but not as a separate subject.)
As a result, you can pretty much guess a person’s age by the quality of their handwriting. My parents’ penmanship was a beautiful thing to behold. My children’s? Not so much, though they were taught cursive in elementary school.
Like most everything in life, penmanship improves with training and drilling, but few of us get much practice anymore. I now send emails instead of letters and keep my shopping list on my smartphone, along with my To Do list, birthday reminders and month’s appointments. I don’t even trade scrawled phone numbers with people anymore; I share contacts instead. Most teenagers and young adults I know prefer to block print and their attempt at cursive has been relegated to the signature page.
I get it. When I’m eager to jot down a brilliant idea but away from my laptop or desktop or smartphone, my hands simply can’t keep up with my racing thoughts. Typing on a keyboard is so much quicker and efficient. Little wonder this new generation has eschewed this more laborious method of putting thoughts on paper.
Recently Bic launched the Fight for Your Write crusade to save handwriting. Sure, it’s a marketing ploy to sell more pens, but the campaign website, which urges youngsters to become Handwriting Heroes, points out that writing promotes individuality, sparks creativity, boosts confidence and makes kids better readers. Handwriting also feels both more intimate and formal. Case in point: Wedding invitations invariably sport fancy calligraphy, a clue to the importance of the occasion.
Even as I tout the ease of moving paragraphs and documents on my computer I have to admit that there is an irreplaceable tactile pleasure in handwriting, in connecting one letter to the other, in the movement of pen across paper. I still handwrite notes on the margins of my book manuscripts, still plan longer form narratives on a legal pad, still enjoy the scribbled note from a friend. I suppose mine is the hybrid generation, one hand on keyboard, the other on ballpoint pen: the best of both worlds.
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.