We were traveling, so I almost missed it. Yesterday, January 23, was National Handwriting Day. Given the current trend away from teaching cursive writing in schools, it would be easy to assume this is a new observance, started by concerned calligraphers, Palmer Method purists, and letter-writing grandparents who are afraid their grandkids won’t be able to read anything sent to them except the numbers on their birthday checks.
Nope. National Handwriting Day has been around since 1977. It is observed, not by accident, on the birthday of John Hancock. (You remember him, right? He’s the Founding Father whose elegant, oversized signature is front and center on the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, the story that he said something like, “King George will be able to read that without his spectacles” turns out not to be true. But his name is still used as a synonym for “signature”—as in “Put your John Hancock right here on this line.”)
Appropriately, then, I wrote the first draft of this post with a pen, on the wide-lined notebook paper that I stock up on every fall during back-to-school sales. I can’t say I did so in honor of John Hancock or National Handwriting Day. Nor as some sort of statement in favor of cursive writing. I just prefer to write that way.
It’s not because I can’t type well, or because I’m a Luddite who is terrified of technology. Quite the contrary: I routinely did 75 words a minute on an IBM Selectric typewriter back when I worked as a secretary, and if the house caught on fire today my laptop is the very first thing I would grab. (Unless a grandchild happened to be in the house, of course. In that case, I would have the kid grab my Kindle while I took care of the laptop.)
I write by hand because I like to. Something about the pen forming words on the page helps me focus and discover what I’m thinking.
Maybe my enjoyment of handwriting stems from my pleasant memories of learning cursive, which the teacher in our tiny rural school allowed me to do in first grade instead of making me wait until it was officially taught in second or third. I remember writing exercises on lined paper, repeating row after row of careful capital letters meant to be the same width and to evenly touch the top and bottom lines.
But my favorites were the slanted up-and-down lines with little flourishes at the beginning and end, which looked somewhat like bunches of grass. If I do say so myself, I was quite good at these, and they are still my doodle of choice if I’m stuck on hold or in a meeting that doesn’t seem to require my full attention.
Possibly my fondness for cursive was related to the fact that no one in my school was ever made to write “I will not something-or-other” over and over, which still strikes me as a barbaric and counter-productive form of punishment. Or maybe I just had no idea that there was anything strange about finding it fun to practice penmanship. The word “nerd,” after all, was not in my vocabulary back then.
Despite all that practice, I don’t have particularly beautiful handwriting. The best you can say for it is that it’s reasonably neat and mostly legible. But I still find pleasure in forming letters and words on a piece of paper. And calligraphy is one of my favorite art forms. The elegant sweep and swirl of curves and flourishes across the page is satisfying to my soul.
But what if my technologically advanced descendants never learn to write or even read cursive? Oh, well. I hope some of them will still appreciate calligraphy. And if I’ve shared any shocking secrets in my handwritten journals, they will never know.