Because life is a series of edits

The Write Stuff

In Writers on September 16, 2010 at 9:21 am

Handwriting

A funny thing happened on the way to choir drop-off Wednesday night:
due to a change in plans, I ended up without my MacBook.

This was significant because, since my two oldest daughters'
children's choir rehearsal is just far enough from home to weekly
justify spending two-and-a-half glorious hours in a very quiet part of a
county library to write, it doesn't take much convincing for me to
"take one for the team" and do the drop and pick-up. On Wednesday night,
I'm happy to serve.

Still, the problem: no computer. What was I thinking? Should I go
home, get it, and come back? Seemed silly, but this was my writing night
(it's not like I get to do this every evening).

Not wanting to waste the time driving, I pulled into the library
parking lot, grabbed some paper from the floor of the van (there was –
and always is – plenty), found a pen, and walked in the door strangely
giddy at the prospect that I was about to publicly go "old school" by
putting pen to paper to crank out some content. I anticipated the scrawl
sound of my Pilot
Precise V5 rolling ball
scratching across the paper. I recalled the
joy – yea, even the novelty – of not having to delete wrong words and
phrases before continuing, as I could just scribble them out and keep
moving forward.

I found a table. I sat down. I spread out the paper. I pulled out the
pen. I wrote.

Somewhere Wendell
Berry
smiled…and it was good.

"I don't do this enough," I thought, moving my right hand almost –
but not quite – silently over the flat surface of paper on table. I had
no desire to do anything else but to embrace my kinesthetic side and
write, letting my words come not just from my brain but through
my body as well.

This was not a foreign sensation to me. I was 15 years an avid
hand-journaler before I crossed over to the kinesthetic Dark Side of
blogging nearly ten years ago, but even my experience now seemed novel,
for I was writing on loose-leaf paper that was indeed as loose as leaf
gets, having been ripped out of the crumpled notebook in the van.

In my handwritten habit of the past, I usually wrote into bound
journals, but I was hesitant to write without some degree of
concern that what I wrote needed to look somewhat presentable
should I die and someone (God forbid) read my journals. I was a victim
of the literary version of thinking that if you're going to be in an
accident, at least have on clean underwear. Like a new pair of
tighty-whities, my journal writing was clean…but it was tight. But no
more!

But then I stopped. My left brain caught up with my right brain long
enough to bring to mind articles – myriads of them, it seemed – with
titles meant to remind me of my position in this world of twenty-first
century and the land of all things digital. Having found their way to me
because I'm a teacher, the articles psychologically attacked my
handwriting bliss with their theses of why "Some Blogs I Like, and Why Teachers Should Be Using Them,"
and why handwritten expression should not even be considered as part of
"21st Century Excellence."

I recalled an article I read just a few weeks ago about wired
Chinese college students who could not remember how to write out their
language because they were so used to typing pre-formed characters that
their hands physically – kinesthetically – once learned to form, and
that's when I wondered: Was I the last person in the world – at that
moment – writing by hand? Was I the last hand standing?

I thought of my four daughters, all to whom Megan and I
have stressed the importance of good handwriting AND proper typing
skills (not to mention fundamental English grammar instead of text
graffiti). They're learning the aforementioned joy of free writing,
scribbling, and progress that handwriting provides as well as the
digital version of diction that the educational elites are hurriedly
hurtling us toward.

At least I thought they were learning. Weren't they
learning?

I hoped so, but then the thought crossed my mind: were they learning
from my enjoyment of writing – from my experience of the
convenience of the scribble; the brevity of the note; the flow of the
letter? Did they even know what Daddy's handwriting looked like? Could
they read not only the meaning of my handwritten words, but the subtext
beneath their father's flair? Could they do so in a personal letter from
me in the future? Would they even know what a letter – a personal,
intimate, handwritten letter that crinkled at one's touch and so often
smelled of its sender – was?

I wondered. And I wonder.

So many ideas; so many dilemmas. And all this because I forgot my
computer on the Wednesday night choir run. What post might I have come
up with otherwise if I'd been able to type? I have no idea, but here's
what this one looked like before my keyboard took all the fun out of it.

Handwritten

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  1. Do more of this! I so enjoy your stream of consciousness coming from the pen and paper you have used here. Of course, I enjoy all of your writing, but this piece seems to really come from within, becoming richer with thought as it makes its way from the brain to the paper, not being filtered with technology. The girls will treasure the crumpled letters from Daddy as they are able to read them over and over again, rather than feel sad that they have been deleted to make room for more space on the computer.

  2. Wendell Berry has an essay (which you may be familiar with) called “Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer.” He says that “when somebody has used a computer to write work that is demonstrably better than Dante’s, and when this better is demonstrably attributable to the use of a computer, then I will speak of computer with a more respectful tone of voice, though I still will not buy one.”
    Maybe your hand-scribbling is the right way to go?

  3. Thanks, Char. I appreciate your encouragement (as well as your bias).
    Jake, that essay is one of my favorites from Berry’s What Are People For? book. Not sure I can compete with Dante, but that’s only because I don’t think I’ve ever read him (I’m a bit of a literary classics Neanderthal).

  4. You’ll be borrowing my copy of Dante- starting tomorrow.

  5. Only if you’ll read it through with me, Ann (he scares me a bit). Don’t bother loaning me your copy, as I’ve got his books (just because I haven’t read him yet doesn’t mean I’m not planning to).

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