Sunday, February 17, 2008

On Penmanship

I'm vaguely obsessed with handwriting. Not in a graphology sort of way (although this guy I dated for seconds in college dabbled in that and told me I must be a crazy person because my first name slanted hard to the right and my last name was straight up and down. Apparently it's not supposed to do that. He's a movie producer now. And chubby.), just a "golly that's beautiful" way.

My handwriting's always been crappy. My mom's is lovely and feminine and simple. My oldest sister's is a fancier version of it, and my other sister's is a simpler version of it. My dad was told that being left-handed was evil, so they made him write with his right hand. Needless to say, his writing is not wildly legible. My brother's writing looks like a tiny tiny chicken with inky feet minced across the page. He's left-handed like my dad, but grew up in a modern age in which it was not considered a mark of Satan. (Interestingly, he rotates the page so much to write, it's basically vertical, and when he writes in Japanese, which he can actually do, he writes it horizontally. Wacky.)

I wanted to write like my mom and sisters, but alas, no, I wrote like a boy. A young boy. A young retarded boy. (Sorry if that's not PC. I swear, some of my best friends are retarded.) And instead of teaching me how to write better, my teachers just gave me low grades. I'm not sure in what grades one was actually given letter marks for handwriting instead of just checks in a box. But I got Cs. They didn't even notice that I was holding the pencil wrong! It wasn't until high school that a friend pointed it out. Sheesh!

I started to describe to you just now how I was holding my pencil, when I remembered this is a visual medium. So I grabbed my camera. My hands are actually quite beautiful (she said, humbly), but they appear to be rather nicked up (and chewed up) in these pictures. I chew my cuticles, okay! You wanna stop reading my blog because of it? Fine! I also chew the inside of my cheeks, which is giving me wrinkles, but my boyfriend chews his cheeks, too, which makes him perfect in every way and means I don't have to stop doing it. So there.

Here's how you're supposed to hold a pen (I don't know where that Advicor pen came from. I'm not advertising for it.):

Here's how I was holding my pen for most of my life:


Ya think a teacher might have noticed that I wasn't even holding my writing implement correctly! (or that I was chewing my damn face and fingers off!)

My elementary school principal, Mrs. Kjolhede (pronounced CO-heed) (you can not imagine how far and wide I've looked for the spelling of that name. It's actually sidetracked me from finishing this for about 24 hours. It began some serious "where are they now" thoughts which may lead to some future blogs, you lucky bastards.) had exquisite handwriting. Epic in its beauty. She told my mom that she'd always hated her penmanship and had taken a correspondence course in order to relearn how to write. Ah, how this intrigued me. Even at eight I knew I was going to have to someday take my own cursive education in hand.

In high school I had this substitute teacher. Don't know his name. Balding. Beard. Professorial. Only had him a couple of times. But one day I glanced at his notes to our teacher on a legal pad. Oh my god! Dude was writing in copperplate! It was a dream.

Let me emphasize, not calligraphy, copperplate. I wanted to write like that! It was only when I became an adult that I realized it would be ridiculous to write like that. Can you imagine? That man was certainly eccentric. And I'd always have to write with a fountain pen, which would make me inky because I'm the kind of girl who gets inky.

So one day several years ago I was reading Martha Stewart Living, which is basically like reading an encyclopedia (in a good way) and that dear woman told me about books on penmanship! That article would have been in there quite a while ago because I'm five or six years behind on my MSL. And I was poor at the time, so the books (which I couldn't find in a store) were on my Amazon wish list for a few years.

You know why this came up? I was watching "Woman of the Year" with Katherine Hepburn and toward the end she picks up a cookbook which has been inscribed to her by Spencer Tracy's character's mom (can you imagine Spencer Tracy having a mom?). The inscription is so simply and beautifully penned. It reminded me that my studies had gone by the wayside, so I hopped up and got my book and started practicing for the first time in years while I watched the TV.

I originally wrote my "before" sample on January 8, 2002, according to my workbook. The fabulous "after" I wrote on February 16, 2002. It's really heavenly. I'd scan it to show you, but that smacks of effort and I already took pictures of my hand, what more do you want from me?

Sigh. I really do want to always have beautiful penmanship, even when I'm scribbling off a quick note (which is pretty much all the writing I do these days). I must practice. And I really must practice because I have some issues. When my young friend Sigg was diagnosed with dysgraphia I was like, wait a minute, I have that! I do not have it bad, and it only barely hampered me in school. As an adult I've noticed it when taking classes. It rears its ugly head in Dialect class (remember, I'm a voiceover artist) where it's hard enough taking notes, but when your hand is a nutcase, it's even harder. It's like my hand has schizophrenia. It hears voices. I leave out letters but then just as quickly go back and squeeze them in. And cursive generally isn't even an option because as my pen sweeps (my pen never actually sweeps) through the connector my hand can't tell it which way to turn next. Silly hand.

And why does this matter? (to me, certainly not to you. Can't believe you're still reading. Fool) I do believe penmanship says something about you. Don't get me wrong, I think what it generally says about people is incorrect. It's not a great way on which to base a first impression, but we still really notice it. At my high school reunion Buffy Schechter reminded me that I often complimented her handwriting and wanted to use it as a model. And I always had a girl-crush on Buffy which may well have begun with her penmanship. And she was lovely (still is) and kind and seemed very grown up.

My dad is a lawyer. He's very good at appeals work and therefore is assigned a lot of it by The State. So he's not a criminal lawyer, but he gets a lot of mail from prisoners. And for some reason that I'm sure sociologists have studied, without fail prisoners have great handwriting. In fact, it's almost girlish. Very neat. Round. In pencil, 'cause that's what they're allowed. Needless to say, it breaks my heart, but that's beside the point. Criminals (and my dad assures me they are criminals) have better writing than me!

Okay. I'm pretty sure that's every thought I've ever had about handwriting. Isn't blogging something? It's amazing how it allows nitwits to indulge themselves. I'll go stir my Cream of Wheat now and go practice my penmanship. I think I need a fatter pen. I think I'm a fatter pen kind of girl.

I am awfully fond of you,

Jo

3 comments:

joanna said...

Buffy Schecter. God damn it, I want that to be my name. It's so good. Alas, it has been taken. Damn Buffy Schecter.

In 3rd grade, my class learned italic and italic cursive instead of regular cursive,and I always had nice penmanship (I think largely due to this fact.) And my brother writes like a graphic designer/architect, which is to say, in neat, legible, caps. Ditto my pop.

My mom writes like the 2nd grade teacher that she was. Which is to say, just like your balding, bearded, Copperplating substitute teacher.

But my sister. My older sister wrote like a 5th grade boy. She's 41 now, and still writes like a 5th grade boy. Weird.

Figure that one out. I am for sure going to check out her pen-holding technique the next time I see her.

Not that you asked...

Jo said...

Italic and Italic Cursive are just what my book teaches!! I can't believe they taught you that in elementary school. I'm terribly envious.

BarBaby said...

I so understand. I still have my report card from 3rd grade which marked me below average for penmanship --- my first ever mark that was not an "O" for outstanding. Very painful.

btw-this is Erin, not Barnaby. Can't figure out how to change this.