Many moons ago, when I was just beginning my educational career, we spent a lot of time practicing our penmanship. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Smith, was a formidable woman, with a head of curly reddish-orange hair and a habit of standing over me and my classmates and making us nervous as we carefully copied letters and printed words in our handwriting and penmanship workbooks.
In spite of the anxiety caused by Mrs. Smith’s looming presence, I fell hopelessly in love with writing.
There’s just something about holding the notebook in my hand. There’s something about flipping open the cover and thumbing through to find an blank page, and seeing those empty white spaces trapped between the rigid blue lines. There’s something about the way the pen fits between my fingers, something about pressing the tip against the page and watching the words form beneath it like a sculpture emerging from a block of stone.
My brain works differently when I sit down to compose my thoughts using a pen and paper, and I’d wager a guess that the same is true for anyone. Handwriting forces you to slow down, to think, to form your thoughts and your words more carefully. It can even help you remember things, which is why I also take notes by hand instead of typing them during a class or a lecture. Give me a choice between the keyboard and the pen, and I will choose the pen every time.
Don’t misunderstand me, I love computers. Hell, I’m sitting here typing up this blog right now. But when time allows, I much prefer to handwrite everything before typing up the final draft. Call me silly and old fashioned if you want, but handwriting is one of those things that keeps me sane. I’ve been known to handwrite dozens of drafts when I’m working on an essay or a story, crossing words out, adding sentences, making notes and sometimes even doodling in the margins, and then setting each draft aside as I write up the latest.
I pity the poor soul who will be cleaning out my file cabinet when I die.
I think it is a shame that handwriting is slowly dying in favor of typing and texting and instant messaging. Things like spelling, grammar and punctuation are languishing. Creativity and imagination are being stifled. And penmanship? Trying to decipher the handwriting of anyone under the age of 20 these days is like trying to decipher a meaningful sentence in a bowl of soggy Alpha-Bits cereal.
Many people believe that it won’t be long before things like pens and paper will be completely obsolete. Perhaps they will even disappear from the face of the earth altogether, like floppy disks and public pay phones. One day here, the next day gone.
There are dozens of things that have gone the way of the dodo in my lifetime, and I can’t say that I was really sad to see any of them go. Okay, so maybe at first I was a little peeved with CD’s and DVD’s replaced cassette and video tapes. After all, I had amassed quite a collection and was suddenly faced with the burden of replacing them all after my last tape deck and VCR finally crapped out on me during college. But the impending demise of good old fashioned handwriting? Now that has me on edge.
See, I’ve never been completely comfortable in front of a computer. Sure, I like to surf the internet and catch up with my friends on Facebook, and I’ve even been known to hammer out a last minute essay or two and then sprint to class so I can turn it in on time. But even so, the computer will always play second fiddle to my notebook and pen. And I sincerely hope and pray that it will be the same for my daughter, and that she will continue the good fight against the death of the pen. After all, it is the only thing that has ever been mightier than the sword.
Tonight’s 365 Project entry is dedicated to all of the other hand writers out there. No matter what, I hope you’ll keep writing, keep writing, keep writing.